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Canada: Teachers bring National Aboriginal Day to life

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) has invited teachers to highlight National Aboriginal Day which takes place on 21 June to celebrate the culture, heritage and contributions of the original peoples of North America and their descendants.

More than one million people in Canada identify themselves as belonging to one of the three main groups of Aboriginal people in Canada: First Nations, Inuit or Métis. The CFT reaffirmed its commitment to Aboriginal issues and education by releasing a major study on the topic in March, entitled « Study of Aboriginal Teachers’ Professional Knowledge and experience in Canadian Schools » . The purpose of the study, developed with the CTF Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Education and financed by the Canadian Council on Learning, has been to address the urgent need to improve and promote Aboriginal education in public schools. The study’s author, Dr. Verna St. Denis of the University of Saskatchewan, interviewed 59 Aboriginal teachers to find out what could be learned from their professional knowledge and experiences about how to better promote and support the success of Aboriginal students. A strong view that the Aboriginal teachers who were interviewed emphasised was that, while initiatives such as Aboriginal Day and national heritage programs were helpful, it was “not good enough to teach Aboriginal content one week or one month; rather the infusion of Aboriginal content and perspectives must happen regularly.” The CTF study highlights the importance of integrating Aboriginal content into the curriculum in a transversal way, that is, without isolating it from the other content. In the words of one interviewee, “up to now it is being seen as ‘the special class’ but it needs to be an everyday content.” CTF President, Mary-Lou Donnelly, added: “The classroom is a perfect venue to showcase the unique diversity of these peoples.” On October 2009, CTF-FCE urged the Canadian government to become a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). The declaration is not binding but it established benchmarks that can be used to assess a country’s treatment of indigenous peoples, said CTF President Mary Lou. Among the four countries that voted against the declaration, Canada remains the last one in the path of approving the declaration. Australia signed the declaration in 2009. Last April, New Zealand signed the declaration and the United States has decided to review their position.

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