Holistic Education

In discussions with other researchers and fellow students recently, I found that one of the key aspects of learning for Indigenous people is the concept of holistic learning. Another is equal access to quality education for all Canadian students.

Like many others, I have wondered about the best way to incorporate Indigenous concepts of learning into the traditional Western education system that is currently in place in Canada, and how to provide equal access to quality education. One of the key questions for me is how to ensure that Aboriginal students would still obtain the necessary academic skills that would allow them to participate in the economy in any way that they wished.

I recently read the discussion paper produced by the Assembly of First Nations, entitled Taking Action for First Nation Post-Secondary Education: Access, Opportunity, and Outcomes. I found this segment of the document's Education Statement particularly helpful in understanding the vision of the Assembly of First Nations: "The primary role of holistic balanced learning systems is to transmit First Nations ancestral languages, traditions, cultures and histories, while at the same time preparing and making accessible to the learner the support and tools that will allow them to achieve their full individual potential in any setting they choose."

This may be a very useful component of any educational policy that hopes to address the educational needs of Canada's Aboriginal people. The final part of the statement by the Assembly of First Nations "in any setting they choose," is key, I believe. I know that my perception of this clause represents something different than the intent of the Assembly of First Nations.

To me, "in any setting they choose" means that any policy for Aboriginal control of education should strive to allow Aboriginal students the opportunity to learn through an Aboriginal cultural lens (rather than simply an add-on class on Aboriginal culture). What it also means, though, is that, if an Aboriginal student chooses to learn in a traditional Western educational system, then that choice should be respected. If we strive to "de-colonize" traditional educational systems, that goes a long way in ensuring that those Aboriginal students who choose to study at traditional institutions are empowered to succeed.

This brings me to another matter in terms of education, and that is the need for all Canadians to understand the entire history of Canada, and that means the history of Aboriginal people. Should this be only an option for students in Canadian schools? Some may say yes. However, I would disagree. I think many would agree that the current situation in which Aboriginal people have endured generations of racism that has forced many of them to live in absolute poverty in substandard conditions is a direct result of our collective history. Thus, I see no option in this regard. We cannot hope to have positive relationships with those whose life stories we do not know or understand. In my opinion, every Canadian has a moral obligation to understand the history of Canada as it applies to Aboriginal people. Unfortunately, I only see this occurring if it becomes policy in every geographic area of Canada.

Find the Assembly of First Nations discussion paper here...

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