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The time is now that educators begin to develop school curriculum that would reflect the true Indian perspective, Ovide Mercredi, Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, (AFN), told the Onion Lake 7th annual Education Conference. "I would have preferred to learn about Big Bear than Europeans," Mercredi said.
Though progress is being made in addressing the Indian identity through the school curriculum, the ultimate band educational system would be controlled by the Indian community, according to Mercredi. "We have excellent thinkers who would develop the curriculum, and the educators would implement the material," Mercredi suggested.
He acknowledges that the role of Indian people in Canadian history is being taught in the school system, however, it is always from the White man's perspective. "Prejudiced and biased recording of events is not history," Mercredi said. The present school version of historical events involving Indian-People tends to shed a negative conjectation on the role Indians had in the building of Canada, according to him.
Indian leaders must begin to wrestle away power from governments so that total education control would be administered on the band level, Mercredi told the gathering.
"The days of demanding,... die days of requesting are over, we must begin to take action,... We must take responsibility for what is being taught to our children," said Mercredi.
He made reference to the fact that during the residential school era, Indian students were being taught all about the various European nations, and at the same time they were not allowed to speak their Native tongue. "Talk about a contradiction, we weren't permitted to converse in our own language, and at the same time, they taught us tlnc wrlucs of others," Mercredi commented.
Today, they do teach Cree and study the various Indian dialects in the classroom, including post-secondary institutions. To acquire this change was a slow and often painful process, said the national leader of AFN, He urged regional Indian leaders and educators to be more aggressive in seeking improvements on the school level. "Governments must eventually relinquish that control, its our responsibility to shape our children,... and in effect, shape our future," Mercredi said.
This year's theme for the Onion Lake education convention was, `Education for Empowerment', and the opening keynote speaker, Mercredi, emphasized that only through education, Indian people will indeed become a stronger, and much more prosperous nation. However, the bands must begin to implement the proper curriculum changes that he spoke about.
Mercredi went on to mention what the role of the educator should be, to achieve maximum learning potential in the classroom. "You as educators are carriers of the greatest task," said Mercredi. "You must
Educators, Indian and non-Indian alike, must realize as well as appreciate the spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional, requirements of the Indian student, says Mercredi. He says they must approach their profession with the wholistic philosophy of teaching in mind.
According to Mercredi, a student has to appreciate their cultural, traditional, and spiritual values, that are in reality a huge part of the Indian individual, and which uniquely sets them apart from other nationalities. "The student must be proud of their heritage, the students have to appreciate the qualities that make them unique as Indian people," he said. When educators instill this level of self-esteem in their students, the learning process becomes much easier, said the keynote speaker.
"When a student has healthy self-esteem, they will develop confidence in themselves. And when they possess this sense of confidence, this feeling of self worth, their learning capabilities become magnified," Mercredi added. Basically, the educator becomes the medium for building and maintaining a student's self-esteem, before the full potential of absorbing knowledge can be realized, according to Mercredi.
The Grand Chief of the AFN called this approach to teaching the Double Understanding Method. It is, quite simply, the relationship that exists between student and teacher. Mercredi told the assembly that the educator must acknowledge the values of the Indian pupil, and then incorporate those beliefs in his teachings, in order to establish a double understanding relationship.
This teaching approach, Mercredi says, is the most effective way of presenting knowledge. Using this method, the AFN Grand Chief says, the educators will create a classroom environment where they'll be the master of information, and the student becomes the vacuum of knowledge. This teaching procedure is what Mercredi refers to as the wholistic philosophy approach, a method, he strongly believes, will achieve maximum learning.
"We must always remember, today's children are tomorrow's leaders. And if we as leaders and educators succeed in the classroom, we will in reality succeed in ensuring a brighter future for the Indian Nation," Mercredi concluded.
The AFN Grand Chief received a hearty round of applause from the approximately 170 participants at this year's convention, for sharing his views and philosophies on education.