I grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, very near the Aamjiwnaang First Nation reserve. The students on the reserve were bused into my elementary and high school, so we always had friends who took Ojibwe classes at school. I learned how to make bannock when I was 6 or 7 in class, and we had a yearly Powwow. I can tell you all about Nanabush. A good friend of mine was a jingle dress dancer. I thought all of this “native stuff” was pretty cool.

When I got to high school, though, all of these things disappeared. The students from the reserve came to school with us still, but my high school didn’t host or participate in any of these sorts of activities. I don’t think it was because the school didn’t want to– I just don’t think there was enough student representation or anyone willing to lead anything. I also recall now that not many of these kids I grew up with from the reserve attended any of my Grade 11 or 12 classes–they just seemed to all disappear.

With the new curriculum, we now have Native Studies courses, and schools are trying to do a better job of incorporating aboriginal texts into classes, and having specific lessons and units about aboriginal life and history. I certainly think this is a step in the right direction, but I think we’re a long way off giving First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students’ culture all of the consideration it requires.

I think if we’re going to encourage FNMI students to take online courses and benefit from e-learning, we need to give their culture and beliefs room to breathe in an online platform. Using aboriginal texts, videos, and activities are of course, a good step in the right direction, but we also need to teach with aboriginal values in mind. We need to encourage students to collaborate and be given a chance to lead. We need to teach bravery, humility, perseverance, respect…
These traits are not just important for FNMI students–they can be important for everyone. I don’t think any parent would begrudge a little humility in their 15 year-old.

Check out this video: Voices of Wisdom: Learning from Elders