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Kindling Conversations

March 12,2014

The Werklund School of Education hosts symposium to tackle the barriers faced by Indigenous people in education

Greg Cajete discussed the importance of respecting, retaining and maintaining traditional ways of knowing and learning when developing curriculum for Aboriginal learners. | Download Powerpoint Presentation

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The importance of inclusivity in creating First Nations education policy was evidenced in the recent challenges faced by the federal government as it worked to bring forward the First Nations Education Act.  So when the Werklund School of Education decided to focus on Indigenous education, it was imperative that members of Canada's Indigenous communities be included.

At the University of Calgary last week, the tables were full as almost 300 came together with the Werklund School of Education's Indigenous Education Task Force for a day-long symposium aimed at determining the barriers faced by Indigenous people in education and the measures that can be taken to be inclusive of Indigenous perspectives.

"Kindling Conversations: Weaving Indigenous Perspectives into the Werklund School of Education" was supported by a grant from Imperial Oil, and attended by students, academics researchers, government and community leaders, as well as representatives from across diverse Indigenous communities.

Jacqueline Ottmann, a co-chair of the Werklund School of Education's Indigenous Task Force and co-chair of the conference, says the significant achievement was to bring together the diverse groups--particularly Indigenous peoples from different communities--to discuss Indigenous education.

Jean Phillips' and Allan Luke's extensive study of Indigenous education initiatives in Australia involved close to one thousand teachers and school administrators | Download Powerpoint Presentation

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"It's only through collaboration and the guidance of Indigenous peoples that deep-seated, systemic change can take place within our School," says Ottmann.  "And their many perspectives offer valuable insight and wisdom to the process of change. "

"It's also through the exercise of intentional and active listening that we can formulate meaningful solutions for positive and sustainable change. In this way, each representative group invests and has a stake in the change that will occur."

The symposium was opened by Elder Casey Eaglespeaker, who led a prayer in Blackfoot; Provost Dru Marshall brought greetings on behalf of the university, and Werklund Dean Dennis Sumara welcomed everyone to the symposium. 

The day included two keynote sessions: the first, by  Greg Cajete, Director of Native American Studies and an Associate Professor the College of Education at the University of New Mexico, discussed the importance of respecting, retaining and maintaining traditional ways of knowing and learning when developing curriculum for Aboriginal learners.  The afternoon session presented the work of Allan Luke, Adjunct Professor in the Werklund School and Emeritus Professor at Australia's Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and  Jean Phillips, Adjunct Associate Professor at QUT, whose extensive study of Indigenous education initiatives in Australia involved close to one thousand teachers and school administrators.

The symposium participants were involved in two table activities, where they first discussed barriers to meaningful and sustainable change in indigenous education; they then followed up with suggestions to enable strong and more deliberate inclusion of Indigenous values, principles, knowledges and experiences in the Werklund School of Education.

The next steps in the process are to analyze the information received and to determine the themes that arose for the day's presentations, conversations, and story keepers' response.  The Werklund School of Education will draw upon the knowledge gained from the symposium to guide future directions in weaving indigenous perspectives into the Werklund School of Education.

To read what some of those in attendance had to say about Kindling Conversations, view the Storify slideshow below.