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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 3, January/February 2004

Aboriginal educators say BCTF should take action against racism

Teachers of Aboriginal ancestry say that the BCTF should take action to challenge the racism that is still present in some school situations. This is one of the messages from a survey carried out among the 325 B.C. teachers who self-identified as Aboriginal.

Participants in the survey were asked, "Do you believe that Aboriginal students face racism in the school(s) where you work?" Sixty-six percent said yes, 23% said no, 11% said they do not know or did not respond. When asked to identify which groups are sources of racism, participants identified students as the largest, but a number also identified teachers and administrators.

Systemic elements of racism were identified by some respondents. Comments ranged from "very little awareness of privilege, power, and race relations" and "systemic by its exclusion of Aboriginal curriculum" to "I am not seeing any in my school." Others feel its presence but that it is "not intentional, but (due to) lack of knowledge of issues of First Nations culture and history; denial of differences."

"Racism experienced by Aboriginal students has come in the form of verbal and physical threats," one respondent said. Another said it is seen "on the school bus to and from home/ school." Invisibility was also identified as an indicator that racism exists: "Those who can avoid letting people know they are Aboriginal still do. A sure sign of no acceptance."

A number of respondents identified racism faced by Aboriginal teachers as an area that the BCTF should address. They suggested training on how to deal with racism involving staff, colleagues, or parents. Non-Aboriginal staff should be "made aware of what being Aboriginal means: history since colonization, including residential-school experiences and/or fallout from the residential-school system (i.e., loss of parenting skills, abuse, loss of culture)." Cross-cultural training for all teachers and employment equity at local levels were also suggested.

The BCTF has recognized concerns of Aboriginal teachers and communities through the work of the BCTF Task Force on First Nations Education. Following the report of the task force, the BCTF Aboriginal Education Program and Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee were created. The task force report, "BCTF policies on Aboriginal education and links to teaching resources," can be found at bctf.ca/social/AboriginalEd/ .

The co-ordinator of the BCTF Aboriginal Education Program, Merle Williams, points out that the BCTF has a number of workshops available to school staffs and school districts. In addition, the First Nations Education Steering Committee has an antiracism program and workshops headed by Nora Greenway, former staff person in the BCTF Program Against Racism.

Most Aboriginal teachers are also concerned that the cuts to general educational services will have a significant impact on the education of Aboriginal students. Several areas of possible impact stand out in the responses: loss of resource teachers and learning assistance, particularly one-on-one LA time; more students "slipping through the cracks" and less support for "grey area" students; and less attention from teachers in classrooms because of increased class size.

Improving the achievement and success of Aboriginal students falls into several categories in the survey. Work with families and provide extra supports for students were common suggestions. More curriculum content for all students throughout K—12 should focus on Aboriginal history and culture. Culturally relevant materials that meet First Nations needs are important. Positive results will come only when teachers, administrators, students, parents, and First Nations communities work together.

The full research report on the survey is on the BCTF web site: bctf.ca/social/ .

Information about the Aboriginal Education Program and workshops is on the BCTF web site at bctf.ca/social/AboriginalEd/brochure/brochure.html.

Merle Williams, BCTF Aboriginal education co-ordinator, can be reached at 604-871-1854, toll free: 1-800-663-9163, fax: 604-871-2286 or mwilliams@bctf.ca.

Nora Greenway, FNESC antiracism officer, can be reached at 250-675-2866 or norag@fnesc.ca.

Eric Wong, FNESC antiracism co-ordinator, can be reached at 604-873-4095 or ericdwong@telus.net.

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