Indigenous Cultures and Globalization
This page was originally authored by Ken Heales (2008).
This page has been added to and edited by Jason Lui (January 2009).
This page has been added to and edited by Kris Hancock and Emily Jarvis (March 2010).
This page has been added to and edited by Catherine Larmand (February 2013).
This page has been added to and edited by Jo-Anne Chrona (March 2014).
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Contact and Change
- 2.1 Colonization Then and Now
- 2.2 Teaching About the Residential School Experience
- 2.3 Cultural Homogeneity Amongst Youth
- 2.4 Indigenous Culture as a Marketable Item
- 2.5 Global Forces on Indigenous Land
- 3 Self-Determination and Technology
- 3.1 Preservation and Revitalization of Language and Culture
- 3.2 Using Technology to Speak Out
- 3.3 Cultural Appropriation
- 3.4 Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP)
- 4 Technology and Change
- 5 Cultural Considerations and Education
- 6 Technology Enhancing Educational Opportunities in Remote Indigenous Communities
- 7 Conclusion
- 8 References
Globalization can be described as the increasing interplay of cultures  as the world is brought closer both physically (ease of travel, for example) and virtually (through development of the internet). The impact of globalization on indigenous cultures can be viewed as both positive and negative with varying consequence between the two extremes. While the growth of globalization has brought new opportunities to indigenous people of the world, it has also impeded their ability to retain their cultural practices and indigenous knowledge.
Indigenous culture, in many cases, has been supplanted by the overriding western view of the world through increasing access to digital media, satellite communication, and increased interaction with peoples of different cultures through tourism and trade. The exploitation of large parts of the world previously untouched by western culture has resulted in indigenous groups being exploited for the benefit of global entities.
Not everything has been negative, though. With the emerging connectivity provided by technology and technology-based services, there is now better and more extensive access to programs and services that may have been unavailable before due to isolation or low populace. There are examples where globalization has created employment in previously economically-challenged regions. The internet has opened up new possibilities for indigenous groups to preserve and share their cultural heritage as well as their traditional languages. In some cases, indigenous groups have found new venues to share culturally significant stories and practices with the non-indigenous world and with each other.
Globalization brings unavoidable change and "indigenous groups, perhaps more than anyone, have realized there is no going back" (Marker, 2010, para 7).
Contact and Change
With improved technology comes the notion of the global village, and as such, there are few regions that can still be considered inaccessible or untraverseable. Greater contact means ongoing interactions and changes impacting indigenous cultures. Globalization "constitutes an unprecedented threat to the autonomy of Indigenous cultures", but also offers "an unprecedented opportunity for Indigenous empowerment" (Smith, Burke & Ward, 2000, p. 21).
Colonization Then and Now
Colonization is the establishment of external political control and economic disposition with the creation of ideas around race and skin color that position colonizers at a higher evolution than the colonized, whereas neo-colonization refers to more subtle and current forms of control over Aboriginal populations in contemporary society (Kelm 1998). The history of colonization has strongly influenced Aboriginal cultures in Canada and beyond.
Historically, colonization in Canada has had devastating effects on Aboriginal populations. One of the federal policies enacted as a part of the process of colonization in Canada was the Indian Residential School system. The impact of this system has been wide-ranging and long lasting. In 2008, the Canadian Prime Minister issued a formal apology to Aboriginal peoples of Canada for the trauma suffered as a result of residential schools.
The intergenerational legacy of the Residential School system is still evident in Aboriginal communities, with ongoing attempts at healing for individuals, families and communities affected by residential schooling, and ongoing challenges faced by Aboriginal students within the contemporary school system.
Teaching About the Residential School Experience
In the 2008 Canada established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and in 2012 the Commission released an interim report that included a recommendation that every Canadian provincial and territorial department of education develop educational materials to teach about the Residential school system. Aboriginal history is Canadian history, not an optional subsection of it. In order to move forward, every Canadian needs to know both sides of the residential school experience. Sensitive material such as the residential school system needs to be a built in theme with established protocols supporting students, teachers, and communities, particularly with a difficult subject so long avoided (McGregor, H.E., 2012) . The intent cannot be to sensationalize or shame, but to honour the stories, both good and bad, and to encourage students to think critically on the lessons of history so they may make changes for their future (McGregor, C., 2012).
Curriculum Resources in British Columbia
Arising in part from recommendations made by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, new resources were developed to teach about Residential Schools in Canada. In British Columbia, the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and the First Nations Schools Association (FNSA) developed elementary and secondary school level teacher resource guides for teaching about Residential Schools in Canada, entitled Indian Residential Schools and Reconciliation. According to FNESC, the grade 5 teacher resource guide helps teachers use children's books to teach about the Residential School system in an age-appropriate manner, and the grade 10 and 11/12 teacher resource guides use primary sources and video interviews to help students learn about Residential Schools and explore the historical and contemporary relationships between Canada and Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Both resource guides include information about how to deal with the topic sensitively, how children were educated prior to the imposition of the Residential School system, age-appropriate information about what life was like for children when they were in the schools and what life was like for them and their families when they eventually returned to their communities.
Stop Motion Artifact on Globalisation and Indigenous Cultures
The following Wiki Stop Motion Artifact provides an animated presentation of the impacts of globalisation on indigenous cultures
Globalisation and indigenous cultures – Flash Stop Motion animation created by Laurie Stott on February 8, 2015
A course entitled The Residential School System in Canada: Understanding the Past - Seeking Reconciliation - Building Hope for Tomorrow (Nunavut Department of Education & Northwest Territories Department of Education, Culture and Employment, 2012) is available in schools of Canada's north. The Department of Education in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut made the 12 module social studies course mandatory for all its grade 10 students in 2012 (McGregor, H.E., 2012) . A majority of the course materials are available in both Inuktitut and English languages. The course begins with a description of Aboriginal education prior to residential schools in order that students may compare and contrast. Then, as students begin to understand the assimilative policies that were at play, they begin to appreciate why parents and grandparents might act the way they do and why multi-generational effects linger (McGregor, C., 2012) .
The course is taught from the unique perspective of the north. According to an interview presented to an ETEC 521 class on November 3, 2012 with H.E. McGregor, one of the course designers, assimilation policies arrived later to the north than to the south but they affected that unfortunate northern generation with a greater intensity; every single child was taken and every adult was faced with sudden and total government intervention in every aspect of a previously independent Inuit life.
The participation of parents and the community in the devlopment of the course was noteworthy and welcomed, according to McGregor. Tools and support for teachers are included in both the kit of resources and the fully laid out program of activities (McGregor, H.E., 2012). Although in-service training is challenging to arrange for Canada's remote northern regions, particular effort was made for the inaugural session so teachers could forge connections and networks before teaching this difficult subject. There is additional support at the Legacy of Hope website  and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation website .
Cultural Homogeneity Amongst Youth
Access to the predominant western consumeristic ideal is becoming increasingly available worldwide through such things as the internet, satellite television, and international trade. The group most susceptible to these influences are the younger generations who are exposed to a growing variety of entertainment, consumer products, and lifestyle ideals, more than their parents had previously. The far reaching arms of consumerism have wrapped up most of the world with little hope of them letting go (Adams, 2007). The widespread appeal of western music like rap and hip-hop speaks to the indoctrination of world youth to the cultural influence of the western world.
This homogenization of world youth is the result of exposure to these cultural ideals through the new media (Grixti, 2006). There is a greater range of choice for the youth of the world today when it comes to how they wish to represent themselves. In some cases, the influence of western culture is incorporated into their local identity to create a hybrid version of two cultures. This acquisition of culture often pushes tradition to the background. Increasingly, these youth are choosing what they see in the mass media instead of looking to their cultures and traditions (Grixti, 2006).
But not every interaction with the web leads to homogeneity amongst youth as the March Point movie demonstrates. Encouraged by Longhouse Media , an organization providing opportunity for indigenous youth to tell their stories in the new digital media, three First Nations youth were challenged to make a video on their tribe and the refinery located next door. They credit the process of making this 2008 award winning short film with reigniting their connections to their people and their land.
Indigenous Culture as a Marketable Item
As technology improves, the world becomes smaller and travelers seek out previously inaccessible regions with greater ease. These travelers often originate from the dominant, western culture (Dransart, 2000). Their quest to accumulate novel experiences often includes aboriginal sightseeing and culture sampling (Dyson & Underwood, 2006). Globalization in the form of travel has lead to an increase in the cultural interaction between indigenous and western cultures causing alterations, both positive and negative, to the indigenous cultures.
An example of Indigenous peoples as tourist attractions are the Maasai people of Africa. The growth of tourism in their area has brought in much needed tourist dollars, but there has been a price paid for this increased economic activity. The Maasai live in an area rich in African wildlife. As a result, there are limitations placed on them by the government as to what they can hunt so that they can appear to be conservationist in their policies and thus appease the western ideals of conservation of wildlife (Azarya, 2004). The desire by the government to appeal to western sensibilities severely impacts the traditional lifestyle of the Maasai people. The creation of national parks in traditional Maasai territory also limited their traditional activities as they could no longer hunt as they always had and, in some cases, were forced out (Azarya, 2004).
On the other hand, the growth in tourism in the area has resulted in an increase in the economic opportunities for the Maasai people. With tourism comes the need for guides and labourers. As well, the culture of the Maasai themselves becomes a tourist attraction that can be exploited for the benefit of the tourists and a fee extracted. Local cultural items can be produced for the tourists to buy and take home as a record of their African expedition (Azarya, 2004). Cultural performances for the benefit of tourists raise the question of authenticity. The argument could be made that there is a loss of cultural significance when rituals are performed for entertainment purposes.
Global Forces on Indigenous Land
With globalization comes a greater exploitation of the world's resources by multinational corporations. This impact has severe implications for many of the world's indigenous peoples, some of whom traditionally farm the land to survive. A good example of global forces moving into a traditional environment can be found at the Amazon Rainforest.
The Brazilian government  actively encouraged large scale projects such as cattle ranching, mining, and timber extraction - practices which are in direct conflict with the traditional harvesting practices of local indigenous peoples such as the Yanomami. Local governments, however, gave their blessing to the Yanomami efforts against these multinational corporations exploiting traditional lands for economic benefit (Todd, 2003). The Yanomami were also able to utilize global media to promote their struggle through contacts with international organizations and environmental groups sympathetic to their cause (Todd, 2003). The support of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) give indigenous groups, who often lack the funding or the infrastructure, an opportunity to fully express their concerns to the global audience (Todd, 2003). Because of the support of NGOs, indigenous peoples of the Amazon Rainforest have been able to further their cause to to the global village. The Yanomami 2012 website reflects pride in a twenty year effort  to maintain their indigenous lifestyle.
Self-Determination and Technology
Dyson and Underwood state "the multimedia nature of the Web is proving ideal for cultures which are oral and pictorial rather than written" (2006, p.70), and this accounts for the multitude of Aboriginal websites representing the varied interests of aboriginal communities and their own distinctive concerns. The focus of some Aboriginal websites (p. 69) include:
- the maintenance and revitalization of their cultures (including language revitalization)
- the promotion native title claims and political activism
- the promotion of intercultural dialogue with the mainstream community
- community rebuilding and social welfare
Preservation and Revitalization of Language and Culture
Using Technology to Support Indigenous Languages in Australia
Many Aboriginal communities are exploring ways of preserving the knowledge and culture of their ancestry, elders, and history in digital formats. Some have taken the approach of making their cultural stories easily accessible with the provision of open access to audio files in both English and their original language (Beaton and Fiddler (2002) cited in Dyson & Underwood, 2006, p. 70). In Western Australia, the Wangka Maya Pilbara Language Centre provides access to their history via the Internet:
- "The Wangka Maya collection is a living, growing one based on new recordings, videos, photography, music, and language materials as well as repatriated digitized copies of old recordings, photographs and documents that were taken by anthropologists in the past and are now held in museums, art galleries, libraries and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies" (Injie and Haintz (2004) cited by Dyson & Underwood, 2006, p. 70).
Using Technology to support Indigenous Languages in the United States
Many projects around the world are determined to maintain Aboriginal languages against the harsh possibility of extinction. One of these projects is the Dena'ina Language Archive. Funded by the United States National Science Foundation and located in the State of Alaska (Holton, Berez, and Williams, 2006), the archive "brings together a wide range of audio recordings, texts, grammars, word lists and field notes, most of which were previously in accessible to the Dena'ina community. These have been digitized, stored at the Arctic Region Supercomputing Centre to ensure permanent preservation and then made available via the Dena'ina Qenaga portal" (Dyson & Underwood, 2006, p. 70). Archiving a language is one thing, having a community use it is another.
Using Technology to Support Indigenous Languages in Canada
In British Columbia, the First Peoples' Cultural Council developed First Voices a group of web-based tools designed to support language revitalization for BC First Nations. First Voices works with Aboriginal communities to record their languages, including words, phrases, songs and stories. Teachers can use the website to help with language teaching. The First Voices website allows contains games that people can play to help them learn various First Nations languages.
First Voices also launched FirstVoices Chat, a computer based technology tool developed to allow people to “chat” or text on their mobile devices using their indigenous languages. The app, available by download for Apple “i” devices, contains custom keyboards with characters specific to indigenous languages in North America. People download the keyboards to their i-pads or i-phones and are able use language specific characters to create written language for electronic messaging. After downloading FirstVoices Chat, users log in to Facebook or Google Talk, choose a language, then press a button to replace the touchscreen QWERTY keypad with a First Nations language keypad, complete with all the necessary characters needed for that language.
Using Technology to Speak Out
Many indigenous cultures are taking advantage of globalization and technology in order to promote and share their culture with the rest of the world. One example of this in Canada is the foundation of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). Established in 1999, APTN is a television station run by First Nations people with a focus on indigenous content and artists. The channel is now available nationwide. One of the mandates of the station is to create cross-cultural bridges with other members of society while still promoting an indigenous identity (Baltruschat, 2004). The establishment of APTN has given indigenous peoples in Canada a voice through modern technology. APTN sees themselves as a a voice for indigenous groups outside of Canada as well. They will often carry programming with an aboriginal focus from places such as Australia and New Zealand as well.
An interesting dichotomy with APTN is that, even though they are presenting an indigenous voice to be heard by the public, much of their operations have to occur in the modern, technological age. Ultimately, the station operates in the global economy and is susceptible to the same pressures and forces as mainstream television (Baltruschat, 2004). This creates somewhat of a contradiction as the traditions and cultures that APTN is trying to present to the public are couched in the technology of the modern world.
Aboriginal people have also developed and established websites "to support political activism in their attempts to succeed in self-determination, the regaining of land, and in several cases, the achievement of self-government" (Dyson & Underwood, 2006, p.70). For example, the Inuit people of Nunavut, Canada established a website as a channel of communication for various topics such as government tenders and media events, employment and taxes. The Nunavut website (http://www.gov.nu.ca/english/) is significant in offering a general but clear picture of Nunavut culture and the issues which impact on them historically and presently.
Despite the desire to record their endangered history and languages, some Aboriginal communities balk at exposing their culture to the "overseeing gaze" (Prins, 2002, p. 71) because of their previous, hurtful experience with colonizers. The Plains Apache struggled with this issue when they decided to make a film about their endangered ancestral heritage, a subject normally reserved for the initiated. They finally decided to proceed with the film because they wanted to present their story with their point of view; however, certain details were withheld.
The more indigenous culture is shared, the more is the concern for content theft and dilution. Some non-Aboriginal people, sometimes referred to as 'wannabees' by Indigenous website monitors, will create their own websites with seemingly Aboriginal content seemingly plucked at random, reinforcing unfortunate stereotypes and dispensing inauthentic and disrespectful misinformation (Zimmerman, Zimmerman, & Bruguier, 2000). Protecting Indigenous cultural rights from online plundering will be extremely difficult until internet copyright laws are settled and the issue of Indigenous rights to cultural property are determined which is why due consideration must be given before posting any tribal or cultural information to the web (Zimmerman et al., 2000).
Different goals call for different measures of control. Sharing indigenous culture between community members (i.e. urban aboriginal students) allows for celebrating, protecting, and developing of the culture. Sharing indigenous information beyond members (i.e., intercultural) creates a different goal, one of being understood, creating dialogues, and sharing strengths so a respectful space can be created for the Indigenous culture (ETEC 521, discussion thread October 14, 2012). Granting website access via password is one way to maintain control and protect website information.
Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP)
In order to provide a framework for the use of indigenous knowledge by non-indigenous peoples and protect against cultural appropriation, some First Nations organizations and communities require any research done with or about them to occur only if it follows the the principles of OCAP, developed by the Canada's First Nation Health Committee in 1998(Schnark, 2004). The principles of OCAP can be seen as even more necessary in the 21st century with increased global technological communication.
Technology and Change
Aboriginal Peoples' Access to Educational Technology in Canada
Aboriginal populations in Canada face a number of ongoing challenges with access to educational technology in relation to their marginalized social positioning in society. The root of the problem however is complex and must be contextualized within its correct historical/political/economic framework. Colonization and neo-colonization have had a number of devastating affects, one being that of poverty. Aboriginal people in Canada continue to bear a disproportionate burden of poverty and economic marginalization as compared to the non-Aboriginal population. It is this burden of poverty and economic marginalization that contribute to the challenges of keeping up with computers and technology - which usually come at a high price. At the same time, Aboriginal populations face other challenges in the area of digital divide. For the middle to upper-class Canadian population, the usage of, and access to, educational technology has become an essential and integral part of mainstream educational process. Of course, Aboriginal people wish to achieve the same level of education and digital attainment as other non-Aboriginal Canadians, however they face a number of challenges in doing so.
In an effort to counter this disparity, provincial governments have introduced programs aimed at improving access to computers, internet, and technology-based services and educational programs both on and off reserve. With improved access to internet, through programs such as CommunityNet in Saskatchewan, and SuperNet in Alberta, along with federal government sponsored delivery of infrastructure, the access issue is beginning to be addressed (Bale, 2005). As access improves, the door to educational technology solutions opens.
Distributed Access to Services and Communities
Information communicative technologies (e.g. Internet) ease communication between different Aboriginal communities and groups. These technologies have also helped in "rebuilding community in cases where colonization practices and forced re-locations have created diaspora, or where people have moved away looking for work" (Dyson & Underwood, 2006, p. 71). For example, following the collapse in 1996 of the Koror-Babeldaob Bridge in the Pacific nation of Palau, the established website for that community area provided an email list where expatriate Palauans were kept up to date and in contact with the community back home (Kitalong and Kitalong, 2000).
Aboriginal communities have been frequently economincally marginalized, and as such have poor access to services regarding medicine, youth, employment, and/or disability. Aboriginal organizations have been taking the initiative in attempting to address this disadvantage using the Internet as a platform. For example, the Keewaytinook Okimakanak First Nation in Northern Ontario, Canada, established a telehealth program in 1999, starting with weekly videoconferenced sessions from psychiatry hospital in Winnepeg (OECD, 2001). Following vast local support and extensive local consultation, mental health services were targeted because of the lack of qualified professionals in the area. Since then these services have extended to 14 telehealth centres with a complete range of medical specialists (Dyson & Underwood, 2006). This telehealth program is supported by K-Net, a website maintained by the Government of Canada and its technology network (accessed 2008).
Several online resources in the world support the aspirations and achievements of Aboriginal sportsmen and women according to Dyson & Underwood(2006), for example, Aboriginal Sports Circle in Canada, the Native American Sports Council in the USA , and the National Aboriginal Sports Corporation in Australia . These sites give visitors sports news, access to apply for awards and special programs, testimonies of sporting role models, and other services (e.g. links to coaching material and drills). Generally, all these online sites are under the control of Aboriginal people and are "well funded, kept consistently current, and are well designed" (Dyson & Underwood, 2006, p. 72).
Current Distance Education Opportunities
The market for influx of educational technologies and distance education solutions that are culturally-appropriate and responsive is growing in remote and Aboriginal communities. Some examples of distance education programs targeting Aboriginal students in Canada include Saskatchewan-based Masinahikana School and Alberta-based Sunchild Cyberschool.
Connected Classrooms is a distance education model being developed by the First Nations Schools Association (FNSA) in British Columbia for schools located on First Nations reserves. This project which uses real‐time, interactive video conferencing and other technologies to connect classrooms across the province to increase student access to specific courses. Connected Classrooms allows schools work together to set up an interactive video conferencing network, allowing a teacher in any of the schools to teach students in other schools on the network, allowing schools to share teachers for specialty courses. The instruction is in real‐time, and students and teachers interact as if they were located in the same room. For example, one school may have a biology teacher while another school has a teacher with math expertise. Through strategically placed ICTs, each teacher can teach a class over the network and provide course access to students in all of the networked schools.
Another example of an e-learning initiative developed by and for First Nations is Keewaytinook Okimakanak’s internet High School (KiHS) in Ontario. KiHS provides learners in grades 9 and 10 from remote and isolated First Nation schools in northern Ontario the opportunity to receive a secondary school education without having to leave their families and home communities. Unlike many other Internet based secondary school programs, KiHS requires students to attend a classroom in their community each day. In addition, they are supported by a certified teacher who provides individual support. Each KiHS teacher is also a specialist who teaches two courses to classes across the network. KiHS does not use Blackboard or any other Learning Management System. Instead, KiHS has developed its own platform that has been created to suit the needs of the Aboriginal communities (Walmark, 2005)
In the United States, a large-scale project that has focused on culturally-responsive learning is the Alaskan Native Knowledge Network.
Cultural Considerations and Education
Every culture has its own value set and worldview, and Aboriginal populations are no exception. Aboriginal people in Canada have traditional and cultural beliefs that guide their day to day interactions and experiences . Traditional stories, rituals and wisdom greatly influence the worldview of Aboriginal Canadians. The beliefs of all Aboriginal Canadians are different; however certain common cultural values and understandings appear multiple times and from varied places. In their broadest interpretation, these include:
- an emphasis on the holistic, integrated nature aspect to life and education
- the importance of relationship
- connection to sense of place and land
The Holistic, Integrated Nature of Education
In Aboriginal worldviews, humans are not separate from the world, and do not have a special or dominant place in it. Humans have a responsibility to preserve the world for all its current and future inhabitants. The holistic nature of life and education reveals itself in multiple ways.
There is not a natural separation between the concept of education and the rest of a person’s experience. Learning is not viewed as an action separate from any other part of life. In a contemporary context, a person’s experiences in school needs to be an authentic part of students’ life experiences rather than be designed or experienced as a preparation for a life to be lived later. This emphasizes an understanding of education as contextual and integrated into all aspects of daily life.
The holistic and integrative nature of life and education also manifests itself in the concept of the four aspects of a whole and healthy being. Many Aboriginal peoples use the concept of the Medicine Wheel to identify four aspects of being: mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional (Brown, 2004; Cajete, 1994; Calliou, 1995 ; Regnier, 1995; Weenie, 1998). These aspects do not exist in isolation from each other; they are viewed as equal and integrated parts of the whole, and each must be attended to simultaneously in the development of the person. Learning is understood to be a holistic process that simultaneously incorporated each of those dimensions (Cajete, 1994; Kirkness, 1998).
A complete integration of the four aspects of the person can be seen as running contrary to a “western/European” worldview, which some might argue compartmentalizes these aspects of people’s existence, with only some being contained within the domain of education or schooling. There is a perception that “[w]estern science has habitually fragmented and measured the external space in an attempt to understand it in all its complexity (Ermine, 1995, p.103). Ermine (1995) contends that this paradigm for understanding our existence hinders the ability to fully appreciate the holistic nature of life.
The Importance of Relationship
A recurring theme in Aboriginal perspectives of education is the importance of relationship. Relationship between teacher and student is often considered one of the primary indicators of student success for Aboriginal students. The concept of relationship also encompasses relationship to self, relationship to others (current and past) and relationship to place and space (Cajete,1994). There is a sense of belonging and relating to others. This is tied to the idea of collective identity and responsibility(Cajete, 1994; Greenwood & de Ledeeuw, 2007; Kirkness, 1998).
Connection to Sense of Place and the Land
Living and learning is inextricably tied to sense of place and connection to the land. The community and natural environment are regarded as the “classroom”, and “land was regarded as the mother of all people” (Kirkness, 1998, p. 10). In contrast with a perception that people “own” land, is the understanding that people “belong to the land” (Hampton,1995,p.39). Education is tied to place; the two cannot be separated.
In addition, in Aboriginal worldviews, everything in the world changes in recurring cycles. The seasons change several times a year, and animals and plants have yearly cycles of migration and birth. Human life also follows a cycle; we are born, grow up, become old, die, and pass onto the spiritual world. The circle is also an extremely important metaphor in Aboriginal worldview, as it represents many things such as the interconnectedness of all things in the world.
The Canadian educational system promotes Aboriginal worldview and culture in both the K-12 system, and the post-secondary system. As jurisdiction for education resides in the provinces and territories, each Ministry of Education has its own approach.
In British Columbia, the First People Principles of Learning are being used to help guide curriculum transformation. The First Peoples Principles of Learning were articulated in 2006/2007 when the Ministry of Education partnered with the First Nations Steering Committee to develop English 12 First Peoples, a provincial grade 12 course. The Principles are:
- Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.
- Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
- Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one‘s actions.
- Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
- Learning recognizes the role of indigenous knowledge.
- Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
- Learning involves patience and time.
- Learning requires exploration of one‘s identity.
According to the Sacred Teachings of the Midewinwini Spiritual Way, the Ojibwe practice the Seven Gifts of the Grandfathers. These gifts - quoted by James Dumont in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1993)- describe the basic values of the Ojibwa people:
- To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom
- To know love is to know peace
- To honor all of creation is to have respect
- Bravery is to face the foe with integrity
- Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave
- Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of creation
- Truth is to know all these things
Technology Enhancing Educational Opportunities in Remote Indigenous Communities
Belcourt et al (2005) conducted a two year discussion on the perspectives of First Nations people on e-learning that found that Aboriginal community leaders see technology as a way of helping Aboriginal people overcome social, political and economic challenges, and as a way to create and sustain diverse Aboriginal cultures (Sharpe, Philpott & Bourgeois, 2011).
Challenges for Education in Remote Communities
For the approximately 40% of First Nations people in Canada who live on a reserve, formal education opportunities come with significant challenges. In 2006, only 39% of First Nation people aged 20 to 24 living on reserve had completed high school (or obtained equivalency). In comparison, the average high school completion rate for non-Aboriginal people aged 20-24 was more than 87% (Statistics Canada, 2006). Within those numbers there is indication that Aboriginal peoples in rural locations achieving lower academic levels than their urban counterparts (Philpott, Sharpe & Neville, 2009). The remote location of many First Nations communities in Canada continues to present challenges for students from these communities. Due to the generally small populations of many First Nations communities, where schools exist within communities, they are often very small, and may only offer schooling from Kindergarten to grade 7. Many rural or remote First Nations communities do not have high schools in the community due to limited resources and challenges associated with small numbers of students. Students as young as 13 or 14 are often required to leave their home communities and board with people in larger towns or cities to attend high school. This relocation creates significant challenges for students. Lack of family and community support, often coupled with culture shock, contribute to high dropout rates among students who leave their communities to attend high school (Sisco, 2010). Transitioning from home and communities to provincial secondary school schools is often unsuccessful as many students find it difficult to adapt to the new environment and larger schools. Haldane, Lafond and Krause (2012) indicate that students who are required to relocate to continue with their education often identify “the experience of isolation and lack of acceptance and support for their unique cultural identity and circumstances” in addition to experiences of racism and the low expectations educators have of them (p.14).
E-learning as One Possible Solution
While e-learning cannot hope to attend to all the challenges faced by Aboriginal learners in Canada, it has been touted as one possible solution to some of the challenges faced by First Nations learners in remote or isolated communities because it has the possibility of mitigating some of the challenges to a quality education that geography and a small student population can create (Canadian Council of Learning, 2009a; Sharpe, Philpott & Bourgeois, 2011; Sisco, 2010). E-learning provides students with the option of remaining in home communities for more of their formal K-12 education, and relocating to larger town or cities when they may be better equipped (both academically and emotionally) to cope with the challenges of larger urban environments (Walmark, 2005). It also limits “out-migration”, where families feel that they have to move to ensure quality education for their children (Sharpe, Philpott & Bourgeois, 2011). In addition, e-learning also provides the opportunity for small remote schools are to offer courses (including those needed for high school graduation) that might not be available otherwise.
E-learning allows the remote student important access to unique and necessary learning opportunities while maintaining the integrity of family and community support. Meaningful e-learning for the Aboriginal student must incorporate and implement specific cultural constructs inherent to the learners’ community and environment . The structure of e-learning programs for Aboriginal students should reflect the holistic aspect of life, the importance of relationship, and a connection to the land. Programs should also place emphasis and value on Indigenous knowledge and perspectives which include the broader community and elders . A successful balance of technology and Indigenous cultural knowledge can guide Aboriginal youth to realize their full potential and achieve more than they may have previously thought possible.
Considerations for Designing E-learning Environments for Aboriginal Communities
Formal education for Aboriginal peoples in Canada is steeped in a history of assimilation through education. The imposition of the Residential School system is the most obvious example of this intentional process. However, even since the dismantling of the Residential School system, there are still significant issues with respect to acknowledging and valuing Aboriginal cultures, perspectives and knowledge in the public school systems. Generally, formal schooling often lacks First Nations content and fails to accommodate First Nations’ traditional ways of knowing and lived realities (Sisco, 2010). One of the less discussed challenges to the use of e-learning in formal education is the “homogenizing potential” of traditional ICTs, especially the use of the internet, due to its commercially driven content (Bredin, 2001). The result is that students are immersed in learning technology that has little reflection of local cultural context or social needs (Bredin, 2001). Aboriginal peoples in various provincial jurisdictions across the country are working to ensure the inclusion of Aboriginal knowledge, understanding and perspectives into their education systems (Council of Ministers of Education, 2010). The degree to which this is occurring depends on the specific jurisdiction, and while non-Aboriginal controlled education departments in provincial education ministries play a significant role in facilitating and supporting the inclusion of Aboriginal knowledge, understanding, and perspectives in public school systems, there is generally a recognition that this can only be done ethically and effectively with, at the very least, meaningful collaboration with Aboriginal peoples (Council of Ministers of Education, 2010).
Literature suggests that simply providing technological access to e-learning is not enough to ensure success for; it is imperative to take into account the cultural constructs of Aboriginal learners (Bredin, 2001; Canadian Council on Learning, 2009a; Faries, 2004: Kawalilak et al, 2011; Sisco, 2010). Kawalilik et al (2012) refer an assertion by Berkshire and Smith (2000), that “pedagogical decisions require full consideration of students’ personal histories as learners, [their] linguistic strengths and obstacles, group mores relative to academic performance, and ]the] wider social and cultural realities” (p.5).
These understandings and perspectives include recognizing the role of Indigenous knowledge ( (Afan Lai, 2011; Canadian Council on Learning, 2009b; Kawalilak et al, 2012; Sharpe, Philpott & Bourgeois, 2011; Sisco, 2010), and ensuring that Aboriginal communities are deeply involved in the development of e-learning opportunities (Sisco, 2010). This requires a willingness of curriculum developers for distance education courses and programs to work with community members, or others with expertise in Aboriginal peoples and pedagogy, and an understanding of the realities of the communities where the learning occurs.
The Canadian Council on Learning (2007) has proposed that there needs to be a re-evaluation in the way that learning by Aboriginal people is measured and defined. To this end, several options  have been proposed to explore ways in which to envision and structure learning activities for Aboriginal learners of diverse backgrounds (First Nations, Inuit and Metis).
E-learning for Indigenous Peoples in Australia
The Australian Flexible Learning Framework has published a checklist(pdf) that can be used in the design of e-learning environments for specific Indigenous cultural groups. They stress that the diversity of Indigenous groups cannot be under-emphasized, and that learning activities and environments be developed in consultation with, and in the context of, local communities. Their checklist is divided into categories for consideration that include:
- cultural protocols
- Indigenous partnerships
- cultural inclusivity
Indigenous courses can be designed in keeping with worldviews of Indigenous peoples, while still preparing graduating students for the rigours of professional life. Indigenous content can be the "hook" to engage students, but it "shouldn't equate to replacing the core curriculum areas that are designed to actually prepare students for their future and for the professions" (Trounson, 2011, para 13) according to Professor Martin Nakata, chairman of the University of New South Wales' Australian Indigenous Education. Nakata maintains that Indigenous students will do well as long as they are supported. It may be that the "government has set the agenda to increase the number of graduates but I would like to see more emphasis on the resources that help deliver the quality of the graduate," Nakata adds (Trounson, 2011, para 7). As Nakata points out, professions need the unique perspective Indigenous graduates can offer.
Blended Delivery of E-learning
How relationships significantly impact learners and learning processes cannot be underestimated when supporting Aboriginal learners, and the impact this has on e-learning is significant. Opportunities for online discussions and forums, web conferences, and other forms of student interaction can help to develop a sense of relationship; however, a focus on the development of relationship would suggest that e-learning not be the sole mode of learning. A more effective learning environment would include multi-modal or blended approach to leaning, and a tendency toward synchronous versus asynchronous learning opportunities.
Where possible, e-learning opportunities should extend themselves outside of the classroom in order to anchor themselves with sense of place and community. This might include the incorporation of activities/ learning experiences that connect the learner to community events and people. Learning experiences that reflect a holistic approach also tend to be cross-curricular in nature, and provide learners with opportunities to explore their learning though a variety of avenues. This would suggest that although e-learning is primarily an electronic interaction, it also need to be meaningfully connected to other ways or styles of learning and interacting that incorporate opportunities to make physical, emotional and spiritual connections with their learning.
First Nations people in Canada have a deep bond with their land and on-line courses may not represent this connection. Place is a way of knowing, experiencing, and relating with the world, and that the understanding of this anchors Indigenous peoples (Coulthard, 2010). To overcome potential dislocation caused by distance learning, blended courses with face to face interaction could anchor local information to the online portion of the course.
Globalization certainly has had an impact on indigenous cultures around the world. In some cases, it has compromised their traditional lifestyles and cultures. In others, it has afforded them a venue to express their culture or promote their interests to a wider audience with the capability to institute change. Ultimately, it will be difficult for indigenous cultures to exist in a vacuum without being affected by globalization. Indigenous cultures will need to adapt and evolve to incorporate these new influences into their individual realities. Those indigenous groups that will be able to successfully survive globalization's influence will ultimately take ownership of their cultural evolution.
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