Should we teach Indigenous cultures and other matters concerning Indigenous peoples in our EAP classes? I’ve been reading about this lately. Here are some things I’ve learned.
First, I learned that the University of Guelph is located on the ancestral lands of the Attawandaron people and the treaty lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. Although I was educated in this area, this was new information for me.
I also learned that our universities are designed to maintain the dominance of Western-European norms and cultures. For example, while the written word is central to these institutions, many Indigenous cultures use story-telling and oral communication for teaching purposes.
I believe Indigenous matters do belong in Canadian EAP classrooms for the following reasons:
- Indigenous people have rich cultures that have influenced and continue to shape Canadian culture. Why would we deny our students the opportunity to learn about them?
- Our students come here not only to learn English, but also to learn about Canada. What is Canada without Indigenous people? Long before settlers came, and ever since, Indigenous people have helped to shape the society of Canada, so their influence should be recognized in our classes.
- According to Judge Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, education will provide the best solutions to healing the schism that exists between Indigenous and Settler people. By acknowledging Indigenous cultures in our classes, we are honouring a group that has been marginalized in our schools and communities for too long. Afterall, we teach values as much by that which we choose to focus on as by that which we choose to ignore.
- Finally, since Settler and Indigenous communities live side-by-each throughout the world, the question of how we treat each other and learn from one another might be common ground between us and our students.
What’s stopping us from teaching about Indigenous peoples in our EAP classes?
There is very little Indigenous content in my EAP courses for reasons similar to those stated in the TESL literature referenced at the end of this article.
- I lack knowledge about Indigenous cultures and
history, and I fear that I would misrepresent the culture or over-simplify the
struggle of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
- Generally, I depend on class texts for support, especially in areas I’m not well-informed on. However, there seem few readily available curricula materials and resources on this topic.
What things have others done in their classes to teach students about Indigenous matters?
- After reading and listening to lectures on the lived experiences of Indigenous people in Canada, students in Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. were encouraged to reflect on Indigenous histories in the places they call home. (Reid, 2019)
- At Vantage College of the University of British Columbia, Jennifer Walsh Marr asks students to focus on the language and content used to recount historic and present-day struggles between Indigenous people and Settler Canadians. She encourages international students to think critically about the use of active and passive language in assigning blame or avoiding it. (Walsh Marr, 2019).
- Wishing to educate the educators, Mount Royal University in Southern Alberta created a faculty learning group that read relevant texts, participated in Indigenous-led workshops and experienced aspects of Indigenous cultures, such as a sweat lodge, a night in a tipi and a Holy Hand Game Ceremony. (Yeo et al, 2019)
In conclusion, what can we do to bring Indigenous content into the EAP Programs?
- We can begin with small steps, such as acknowledging the ancestral lands on which our institutions reside at our opening or closing ceremonies.
- We should encourage publishers to find qualified Indigenous educators who can assist in producing resources and materials for our teachers and students.
- We can search out and invite Indigenous educators to speak at our TESL Ontario Convention, our staff meetings, and professional development events.
Have you ever discussed matters relating to Indigenous people in the classroom?
Reid, R.E. (2019), Intercultural Learning and Place‐Based Pedagogy: Is There a Connection?. Teaching and Learning, 2019: 77-90. doi:10.1002/tl.20331
Walsh Marr, J. (2019), An English Language Teacher’s Pedagogical Response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Teaching and Learning, 2019: 91-103. doi:10.1002/tl.20332
Yeo, M., Haggarty, L., Wida, W., (Thomas Snow), Ayoungman, K., Pearl, C.M.L., Stogre, T. and Waldie, A. (2019), Unsettling Faculty Minds: A Faculty Learning Community on Indigenization. Teaching and Learning, 2019: 27-41. doi:10.1002/tl.20328