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Indigenous Teacher Education

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Indigenous teacher education has proven to be a powerful influence in the resurgence of indigenous cultures and languages globally. Within Canada, the proliferation of such programs was a direct result of the landmark policy document Indian Control of Indian Education. This document, written by indigenous leaders in response to the Canadian government, was the culmination of a decades-long, relentless commitment to creating the best possible schooling system for indigenous students. In light of the persisting colonial model, which assumed assimilation, and the disappearance of indigenous people and cultures, this articulation served as a wake-up call to government officials and educators alike. Since the 1970s, such programs have transformed the faces of universities and schools. They have prepared innumerable indigenous teachers, have led to significant curriculum reform across the education system, and have provided the basis for similar models in other disciplines. Guiding principles of the programs, arising out of indigenous philosophies, are relationships, respect, responsibility, and relevance.

A number of specific examples encapsulate the varied models. Although most programs emphasize indigenous knowledge, history, and current issues for indigenous peoples and communities, they also address other recognized curriculum areas—known as “teachables” in common parlance—in order to offer thorough and rigorous preparation for student teachers. With some exceptions, graduates achieve university degrees and are qualified to teach in any provincially approved school. Some choose to teach in rural communities, some remain in urban contexts, and a notable number go on to earn additional undergraduate degrees in other disciplines or choose to pursue graduate work in education. Similar moves by Māori scholars, within the very different context of Aotearoa (New Zealand), have had a profound effect on their schools and universities as well.

Since the incursion of Indian Control of Indian Education into the education landscape, several government commissions have re-emphasized its major focuses. Both the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996 and, more recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its follow-up to the Indian Residential Schools Agreement address the importance of teacher education in transforming relationships between Canada and indigenous peoples. Increasingly, indigenous philosophies are being re-created and taken up in contemporary context as people strive to imagine a future of equity and sustainability for all. In keeping with these understandings and in response to the federal initiatives, universities for the most part ensure that their teacher education programs incorporate a focus on indigeneity, with many including a required course for degree completion. While indigenous teacher education continues to be associated with programs specifically for indigenous people, it has now also become an integral part of most teacher education programs within Canada.