Native Studies in Ontario High Schools: Revitalizing Indigenous Cultures in Ontario
Chaput, Paul Joseph Andre
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I hypothesize that specific aspects of education are central to the revitalization of culture amongst Aboriginal peoples in Ontario, and that this revitalization is integral to cultural continuity. I will show the relationship between key aspects of education and cultural revitalization as I track and assess the impacts of Ontario's high school Native Studies suite of courses. The key aspects are: the ability to generate and control content, the content itself (who it targets and serves and how it is applied) and how innovative ideas are implemented, through what processes and with whose help. Recent trends emerging from the analysis of Ontario Ministry of Education (OME) data on the implementation of its suite of ten Native Studies high school courses suggest that the consistent efforts of several generations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit educators working behind the scenes since the late 1960s have resulted in significant and meaningful increases in the number of Native Studies courses offered, the number of schools and school boards offering them, and the number of students enrolling. Considering the context of Aboriginal education in Ontario since the 1960s these general results may certainly be interpreted as progressive. I discuss seven catalysts that have had an indisputable influence over the ability of Indigenous educators to exercise an increasing degree of control over the Ontario Ministry of Education Native Studies curricula. While acknowledging the perspectives of scholars such as Taiaiake Albert, Maria Battiste, Pamela Palmater and Marie Brant-Castellano who argue for “Indian control of Indian education” based on the inherent right of Indigenous peoples to self-government - enshrined in Canada’s “Constitution Act” (1982) - my findings indicate that, given the resources and opportunity to lead the creation of Native Studies courses in Ontario, many Indigenous educators, leaders and communities have opted to take proactive roles in the process, all the while participating in the struggle for the Indigenous constitutionally-inherent right to control all aspects of their education. I argue that we are seeing a resurgence of Indigenous cultures in Canada, and more particularly in Ontario.