Native Underachievement Essay, Research Paper
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A comparison of native students and their non-native peers quickly brings one to the realization that native students are not experiencing a comparable degree of education success in Canadian schools. It is vital that native Canadians address this issue thoroughly, to insure that the nation is no longer faced with a semi-literate, unemployable population, requiring financial support. In order to fully address native educational underachievement it is important to examine the historical causes of the problem, the issues we are faced with today, as well as, identifying possible viable solutions.
Early European settlers in Canada unfoundedly conceived the white culture to be superior to that of the native population they encountered. This rampant feeling of superiority led the Europeans to desire domination of the native nation, which was to be achieved through assimilation. The [European settlers] believed that “Indian children were best prepared for assimilation into the dominant society if they were removed from the influences of home, family, and community” (Barman, Hebert & McCaskill, 1986). In the opinion of these settlers residential, or boarding schools were a superior means of achieving native assimilation. After a century, native assimilation through education was forsaken as the official goal of the Canadian government. However, Kevin Busswood, speaking on behalf of the Members of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges states, ” educational institutions fail to recognize the hidden agenda through which they are presenting the industrial of life as the only way to go”. He further stated, “it is not very useful to lament the effects of colonialism when its institutions are still alive and well in Canada” (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1994). Therefore, it is possible to conclude that through the hidden curriculum the educational system is continuing to promote
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the superiority of a non-native lifestyle. Thus, this is the reason many natives stood in strong opposition to early residential schools. Susan Awashish of the council of the Atikamkw of Manawan Nation states, “If one…society imposes its [institutions] on the other, the latter will react with hostility, adopting an adversarial attitude, because it feels restricted where its most fundamental rights are concerned…We believe that a dominant society has the responsibility to protect its minorities from eventual assimilation” (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples,1993). This is also the reason many natives today view the education required in white schools to be irrelevant with regards to the traditional native lifestyle.
It is apparent that to many degrees, cultural assimilation through education did not work for a variety of reasons. Although early native students were culturally displaced in white schools, they continued to take tremendous pride in their heritage. It was impossible for the early aboriginal student to apply anything learned in these early schools to anything he had previously experienced. Subjects taught in residential schools did not generally interest the native student. Native indifference to early formal education can be found. One student enrolled in the early schools recounts his experience, ” I do not remember any book learning acquired there. A bell was rung each morning to announce that school was opened. We all usually showed up with painted faces, breech cloths and a blanket” (Barman, Hebert & McCaskill, 1986). Documentation such as this, shows the pride the natives had in their culture, and their unwillingness to surrender to the missionaries and early educators. Demonstrated in this passage as well, is the failure of the early education system to adequately prepare the students for what they would face in these schools. The education system itself was inadequately prepared to teach native students. One clear example of the irrelevance of the material taught in these schools was the Dick, Jane, and
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Spot stories presented to native students. Few people on the reserve were ever named Dick, or Jane, presumably few dogs were named Spot. Even though natives were forcibly subjected to a predominantly European way of life they continued to retain many aspects of their native heritage. Continual subjugation to European education, however, is proving to be detrimental to the rich native heritage. Presently natives are calling for education which caters to the preservation of the native heritage; including instruction in native language, history, cultural values, and traditions. As has been stated, “one of the things that I would like to see is equality in the education system for our people. By equality I don’t mean we should apply all [these European ideas] to our education system. I mean our people run the education system the way it should be [for] Native students. We want our people to know not only their own heredity being, but their own background, their history, their languages and everything, everything that should have been part of the education system right from the start” (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1993). This is primarily due to the present absence of native students in the Canadian curriculum, while the curriculum contains many of these aspects for white students.
In the European attempt to assimilate the natives, natives were faced with an ominous obstacle, discrimination. The prejudicial views toward the indigenous people were incorporated into the educational system. “The formal education offered to the natives was not only separate from but unequal to that of their non-Indian contemporaries” (Barman, Hebert & McCaskill, 1986). This further propagated the belief that Indians were stupid. This repeated sentiment was finally so indoctrinated that the native people began to believe that, indeed, they were stupid. This attitude, which developed simply because the natives ?were not wise to the white ways’, has caused a host of social problems which the educational system, and society, must face today.
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“We have seen some of our youth commit suicide, we have seen the gradual increase in our youth taking drugs and alcohol and also child abuse, sexual harassment…We need to prevent all of these” (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1993). The solution presented by natives is a self sufficient educational system. “We want our children to understand and appreciate their heritage. We, as parents and role models in our communities, convey the pride of our nation” (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1993). Breaking the cycle of native under achievement, instilled by the forefathers of Canada, is an essential step in furthering the education of the native population in Canada.
Statistics have proven just how poorly the majority of native students in Canada are doing. In 1930, only one third of all native students progressed beyond the sixth grade. Statistics from the Ministry of Education in Canada  state that seventy two percent of all registered natives in Canada have not obtained a high school diploma. It is clearly seen that natives have not progressed significantly since the days of the early residential schools.
In order to counteract the growing trend toward illiteracy, the aboriginal people of Canada have taken the initiative to begin to form their own schooling system. Organizers of these new systems believe firmly that schooling by natives for natives, is better able to suit their needs. One example clearly illustrates the effectiveness of such a system. Aboriginal control of school in Quebec has been accompanied by sharp increases in school participation and declines in the drop out rate. Among Inuit in northern Quebec, for example, school participation has risen from eight percent  to as high as ninety eight percent in the five to fifteen years age group today (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1993). Aboriginal literacy programs, now in effect, enable students to gain an appreciation, and knowledge of their history, culture, and their
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individual potential. These programs are experiencing a very high degree of success. Natives are able to learn their mother tongue, as well as, English or French. The association that natives are able to make with what they are learning to what they know helps them to understand why the material is relevant.
Without programs such as the native literacy campaign, Canadians face alarming statistics. Almost sixty nine percent of all registered natives are either unemployed, or are not members of the labor force. Forty five percent of all registered natives in Canada are functionally illiterate. People who are not trained to work, rely on assistance to survive. Members of the working class in Canada, support these native people. This brings on a whole host of other problems including, social conflict, and discrimination. We are only beginning to uncover the many difficulties faced by native Canadian students. Armed with the knowledge of what causes these problems, we must strive to further the advancement of viable solutions. Including adding native studies to regular classroom curriculum, and train native teachers to teach all students. Cross cultural education is beneficial to the entire society. Natives comprise a large segment of Canada’s population, and it is to the benefit of all citizens that we make the most of our resources.
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Jean Barman, Yvonne Hebert, & Don McCaskill. Indian Education in Canada Volume: 1 The Legacy. University of British Columbia Press Vancouver. 1986
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. University Education and Economic Well being: Indian Achievement and Prospects. Ottawa. 1990
Friesen, John. People Culture and Learning Detselig Enterprises Limited. Calgary. 1977
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Public Hearings Toward Reconciliation Overview of the fourth Round Ottawa. 1994
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Public Hearings Discussion Paper 2 Focusing the Dialogue. Canada Communication Group Publishing. 1993