Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Indian Control of Indian Education

Dizzy Decentering the Center: How?
Opinion and Commentary
By Sharilyn Calliou
Thinking Aloud About Theorizing Indigenous Ed

I read a blog entry that had me revisit need to understand cultural/political standpoint when I use authority of position to deliver curriculum (any subject, any grade, etc.). [1] What acts of praxis to transform schooling for students of First Nations ancestry? I asked this question throughout a career as classroom teacher. It is a centuries long struggle of resistance to assert independence of thought, historical record, identity, protocols and et cetera. This is a given for all indigenous peoples, whether Dené, Mohawk, Cree or Mi'kmaq. For indigenous peoples the classroom has not been a tame environment, but rather an environment to tame. Thus, a new generation of educators emerged at 1972. [2]

Praxis: 'Hands On' Tradition

Their/our modern roots are grounded in the policy statement Indian Control of Indian Education [ICIE], issued by the National Indian Brotherhood in 1972. [In 1982 the NIB became the Assembly of First Nations.] This does not imply that self-determination was new. By 1970, the Dené were developing a statement of inherent independence, with assertion that 'We the Dené of the N.W.T. insist on the right to be regarded by ourselves and the world as a Nation.' This was unanimously accepted and declared in 1975. [3]

There is a history of self-determination: students ran away from or parents/guardians kept children out of residential schools; communities continued to use heritage languages; leadership signed (or not) treaties as Nations; leadership sustained traditional acts, for examples, of political governance, art, healthcare, spirituality, environmentalism, agriculture. These acts of Ancestors produced concrete examples about how we live today because of the strength of cultural knowledge (now called Traditional Indigenous Knowledge [TIK] in modern lit).

These acts are praxis; a term, first used by Ancient Greeks to describe the 'acts of free men'. The emphasis is on men in Ancient Greek culture, unlike Mohawk or Cree understandings of women as equal, although role differentiation is understood. For Marxists, the term meant that people act to change/transform the world and not just theorize. For educators, Friere brought us critical pedagogy to deconstruct oppression by the oppressed. [4] I have lived long enough to understand more deeply that we do not save the culture but it is the culture that saves us.

For indigenous peoples, praxis is the 'acts of free people', self-determination a Gift of the Creator. No one can take away a gift of the Creator ― although some may try again and again. Does indigenous praxis suggest anarchy? I was asked this once. 'No,' I said, 'Aboriginal communities were not lawless.' Then I would be asked, 'What is self-government' As an academic, I could recite text and chapter. More now I recall the words of an Elder who repeated what he heard from an Elder senior to him. He said, 'See that little bird up in the tree. See it sit. See it fly away? That is self-determination.' Another Elder once remarked, 'Every time you decide to get out of bed in the morning that is self-government.'

Self-Government and Staying Focused

For me, life in classrooms became assertion rather than resistance. One of the goals of ICIE is reinforcement of identity (NIB, 1972, p. 3). But do we have to resist to be, or can we just be?

Resistance can keep us very busy. Better to talk Cree or Mikmawisimik than write about saving a language? [5] Use time to scour for thought-speak from our voices and not too handily rely on Gramsci's theory of hegemony? I lived the experience of the business of busyness (Smith, 2003) when living in Hungary the summer of 1984. I needed to experience standing in line-ups for food and basic toiletries and to observe how newspapers were not read but deconstructed. Marketing could take a full day. As I stood in line, the exhaustion helped me understand how I might tire of resistance, struggle and praxis. Yet, the Magyars persevered to reclaim traditional territory and preserve their language, despite a few generations forced to speak-write-read Russian.

Life in classrooms today continues to be self-surveillance about whose knowledge, tradition, history, standpoint takes precedence. Given what First Nations Ancestors survived, it is good to revisit Indian Control of Indian Education, policy adopted in 1973 for students of indigenous Ancestry within the borders of Canada.

ICIE (1972)

In 1972, we used 'Indian'; we still do in particular circumstances. In 1974 the Canadian School Trustees adopted ICIE stating, 'any transfer of educational jurisdiction from the federal [Canada] to the provinces must be done with prior consultation with Indian peoples,' and school must be a place where Aboriginal students 'learn their own language, history and culture in the classroom, with curricula revised. [6, 7] This is policy of Assembly of First Nations and Canadian government.

So when I/we wonder about how I/we will transform the classroom today (whether bush camp or post-secondary lecture hall), it is sometimes good to reread the policy adopted on behalf of parents/guardians, youth and children.

The policy is in play so we can act as our Ancestors did. My think of this post reminded me of Kirkness' (1998) recipe that First Nations need to cut the shackles, cut the crap and cut the mustard. [8]


[2] See: Calliou, S. (1999). Activism and self-determination in First Nations education (1972-1988). In J. Hylton (Ed.). Aboriginal self-government in Canada (2nd Edition, Chpt. 8). Sask, SK: Purich Publishing Ltd.

[3] Full text: http://www.denenation.com/denedec.html. By 1970, parents of Rae-Edzo reclaimed the elementary school because they knew they would provide a more relevant education, including heritage language. There is a checklist for teacher self-assessment. See: http://www.newteachersnwt.com/culture_based_education2.html

[4] Freire, P. (1969). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This idea discussed previously; e.g., Sartre described 'digestive' or 'nutritive' aims of education, where knowledge is fed by teachers to 'fill them out'. Sartre, J.P. (1947, Paris), Une idée fundamentale de la phénoménologie de Husserl: L'intentionnalité, Situations 1.

[5] Mikmawisimik, is an Algonquian language spoken by 8000 Indians in the Canadian Maritimes (particularly NS) and a few US communities. . . . Mi'kmaq is written alphabetically today, but in the past it was written in pictographs, which predate European contact.' Jesuit missionaries modified to teach Christian prayers. Micmac hieroglyphics do not resemble Ancient Egyptian or Mayan. Mi'kmaq is not linguistically related to Ancient Egyptian or other Semitic languages. See: http://www.native-languages.org/mikmaq.htm

[7] Re. history of overturn of use of 'Indian', the Hon. F.A. Calder, Nisgha, spoke as elected MP in Canadian Parliament, 'This may be the time to mention that the native people of Canada do not appreciate being lumped together as a faceless body known as Indians. We would prefer to be recognised by our own distinctive national, linguistic, and cultural characteristics'. See:

[8] Kirkness, V.J. Aboriginal education in Canada: A retrospective. (1999). Journal of American Indian Education. Vol 39(1). Special issue #2. Available @

Editor's Note:
Dr. Sharilyn Calliou, is a status band member of the Michel First Nation, located in Treaty 6 Territory, Canada and is descended from the Mohawk, Cree and Lakota Peoples. A career teacher, she has served in many capacities in inner city schools, as well as in an on-reserve isolated northern community. She received her Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of British Columbia, where she taught in the Native Indian Teacher Education Program and Ts''kel, First Nations Graduate Studies in Education. Doctor Calliou has been published in English Journal, the Journal of Native Education (Canada) and the Canadian Journal of Community Education. Her daily blog Word Zoo can be found at http://wordzoo.spaces.live.com/?_c11_BlogPart_pagedir=First&_c11_BlogPart_BlogPart=blogview&_c=BlogPart&partqs=amonth%3d1%26ayear%3d2009

© Sharilyn Calliou. 20 January 2009. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for educational use but NOT commercial use.

Native Rights News is publishing this article with express permission of the author without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society. The image used in this article was obtained from the Visual Resources Database of the Minnesota Historical Society and is published in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of the United States Copyright Act.

Posted By Alliance for Indigenous Rights to Native Rights News at 1/30/2009 10:35:00 AM

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