Native underachievement





Native Underachievement 2

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

Native Underachievement 3
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

Native Underachievement 4
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