Guided by Local Elders and Teachers: How Non-Indigenous Teachers Can Support First Nations and Métis Students in Northern Saskatchewan
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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action report demands the better preparation of teachers to deliver Indigenous content (2015, p. 7). A major problem is that non-Indigenous teachers have not been adequately trained to teach Indigenous students (Bissell & Korteweg, 2016). The lack of Indigenous cultural knowledge and perspectives among teachers has been identified as a significant factor in the limited achievement of Indigenous students in the Canadian public-school system (Kanu, 2005). Non-Indigenous teachers require appropriate historical, cultural, and place-based knowledge to build positive relationships with Indigenous students and families who have been and continue to be silenced, marginalized, or failed by institutions that reproduce settler-colonial relationships through Eurocentric curriculum, texts, and teaching methods (Battiste, 2013). The purpose of this grounded study is to describe the expectations the Indigenous community has of non-Indigenous teachers in a northern Saskatchewan context, and to explore why some non-Indigenous teachers make long-term commitments. A post-colonial Indigenous research paradigm informs the study that is framed by decolonizing theory (Chilisa, 2012) and a de/colonizing theory of reconciliation (Madden, 2019). First Nations and Métis Elders and teachers in the study have asked non-Indigenous teachers to support Indigenous students by engaging in learning about students’ worldview and cultural identities, the historical context of the area, and systemic racism in education. Non-Indigenous teachers have been encouraged to continuously reflect to address personal privileges, biases, and assumptions that inform their relationship to the territory and its people. By respecting and including the community in students’ learning experiences, non-Indigenous teachers can form positive relationships with students that foster wellbeing. Student achievement should be locally defined and can be supported with collaborative goal setting and ongoing, respectful feedback. Indigenous content and perspectives should be taught every day, in meaningful, accurate, and positive ways, using appropriate resources from Indigenous sources and domains of knowledge, with the inclusion of land-based learning. Non-Indigenous teacher participants relocated to teach in northern Saskatchewan and have stayed for a minimum of five years; they have attributed their long-term commitment to a willingness to learn, community-mindedness, and positive relationships with the students and the land.