Week 9: Silencing Aboriginal Content Through Multiculturalism

This week I am dedicating an entire blog post to Verna St. Denis’s (2011) article Silencing Aboriginal Curricular Content and Perspectives Through Multiculturalism: ‘There are other children here.’  The article focuses on the use of multiculturalism to limit the incorporation of Indigenous content and ways of knowing in schools (p. 207).  This provides an opportunity for educators to cop-out of the important work that needs to be done.

Multiculturalism fails to address Indigenous sovereignty and the on-going land issue.  The failure to address these issues distracts from the goal of reconciliation and redress of Indigenous rights and continues to dilute the true meaning of decolonization and reconciliation. This is shown, as St. Denis states, “multiculturalism permits a form of participation on the part of those designated as ‘cultural others’ that is limited to the decorative and includes ‘leisure, entertainment, food, and song and dance.’ (St. Denis, 2011, p. 308).  This can be highlighted in Regina festivals such as Mosiac: A Festival of Cultures highlighting entertainment, food, song and dance. Festivals such as Mosiac do not address the real issues. Indigenous peoples face, further allowing us to be complicit and avoid the truth issues around Indigenous issues. Multiculturalism ultimately provides a harmonious view of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous people insist that there needs to be a strong understanding of the historical relationships to understand Indigenous sovereignty (St. Denis, 2011). The colonial practice of multiculturalism refocuses on a western lens, refusing to understand or recognize Indigenous history.  The notion of multiculturalism places settlers in a place of innocence. Settlers appear to be innocent because of multiculturalism’s fluffy success stories and multicultural practices in Canada. Settler Canadians (racialized or non-racialized) become complicit in the on-going land theft and colonial domination of Indigenous people in how we occupy the lands.

Within the Education System

St. Denis repeatedly states that the education system is a microcosm of the political and national levels regarding Indigenous people’s claims to sovereignty and land issues. Showcased in Saskatchewan, there is a focus on Treaty Education and discussion on Indigenous People’s rights.  This mandated curriculum is not held accountable in many school divisions, as teachers are not required to assess the Treaty Education outcomes in the same way as other outcomes. Often in education, we see surface-level attempts in including Indigenous content. As St. Denis states, Aboriginal culture and history must go beyond cultural artifacts: ‘We need perspective, not just beads and feathers'” (St. Denis, 2011, 314). These attempts at education may be sincere, fail to address the larger issues needed for reconciliation and decolonization. The education system needs to address and learn Indigenous content and ways of knowing and challenging western ideologies.  Education through a lens of multiculturalism is not sufficient.

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