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Aboriginal Learning Services - FAQ


Here are some frequently asked questions our staff gets asked:

Q:  Resources: “Where can I find authentic Aboriginal resources? Where do I find books on specific Nations, customs? Is there a place to find books on the topics I am covering?”

A: Surrey has an  Aboriginal Resource Centre (ARC) with an online catalog you can browse. Materials can be borrowed by emailing Cathy Norton and they will be sent to your school via courier. Your own school library also has Aboriginal resources that have been purchased by your teacher-librarian or by the district. The District Cultural Facilitators can also provide some background when they present on topics in schools. A  number of FNMI publishers and distributors such as  Strong Nations offer authentic materials for purchase.

Q:  Terms and definitions:  “I am not sure what terms I should use when talking about various communities and members. Is it First Nations, First Peoples, Aboriginal?”

A: The term “Aboriginal” is the umbrella word that all members of the various communities can stand under. Aboriginal includes First Nations + Métis + Inuit. (Synonyms for Aboriginal include the terms  “Indigenous”, and “First Peoples” and the acronym FNMI. While it is becoming more common to see the term "Indigenous" being used in the place of "Aboriginal", both are still accepted. It should be noted that that  "Indigenous" will likely become the more standard designation in the near future.) The term First Nations can also be used to refer to a specific band. UBC has a helpful terminology  page, as does  Indigenous and Northern Affairs. In Surrey, students with the designation “Aboriginal” could belong to a local band, be a member of a First Nation elsewhere in the province or country, have Métis background or identify with their indigenous heritage without having band membership.

A note regarding word origins: the term "Indigenous" is from Latin via French, meaning "born within a place", indu (prep.) "in, within" + gignere (v) "to beget". The term "Aboriginal" is from the Latin name for the original peoples of Latium (Aborigines), from the Latin phrase "ab origine" which means "from the beginning", ab (prep.) "from" + origine (n.) "origin, beginning". "Métis" is from the French noun "métissage" via Latin "mixticius" meaning "weaving from different fibers." The noun "Inuit" is from the Inuktitut language and means "the people". The singular form is Inuk. The adjectival form is Inuit.

Q:  Duties of Enhancement workers:  “What is your job? Is an AEA the same as an ACYCW? What services do you provide?”

A: Aboriginal Enhancement worker is the general term that describes the various staff we have working in schools. AEAs are Aboriginal Education Assistants whose job is to provide enhanced academic support. ACYCWs are Aboriginal Child and Youth Care Workers who provide Social-Emotional Learning support. (They will connect with families and advocate for students under their care.) This work is not meant to replace the regular services that all Surrey students are entitled to. The funding we receive is intended to provide an enhancement to existing services and programs. 

Q: Allocation of staff:  “Why does staffing vary from year to year? How are service levels determined? Why do you work at so many schools?”

A: Staffing is based on numbers of Aboriginal students in a school for each year, and on perceived demographic needs. Our total FTE is generated by the funding we receive. Schools with very few Aboriginal students will be assigned fewer days of support.  Every attempt is made to group staff together around geographically close buildings to create “Family of Schools” teams. Schools with very low numbers of Aboriginal Learners are grouped together and supported by the Low Number Support Team. Support for LNST schools is more episodic and may include ISPARC activities, Healthy Living and Eating programs, or other events.

Q:  Aboriginal background:  “Are all Aboriginal Enhancement workers Aboriginal themselves?”

A: We endeavour to hire Aboriginal people into Enhancement workers into positions themselves, so many of our staff have indigenous backgrounds. They may be Métis, or from local First Nations, or may be far from their traditional communities. Some staff have mixed heritage but are proud to connect to their aboriginal background.

Q:  Cultural Presentations - “First Peoples in Residence” Week:  “How do I book cultural presentations? What is the limit on bookings? Where do I find the presentation topics? How do I know my booking is confirmed?”

A: Cultural presentations are delivered by our District Cultural Facilitators. These staff members are hired because of their knowledge of particular traditional teachings and practices, and share them with schools. Schools can book what we are calling a "First Peoples in Residence" week.

We are asking schools to pull together a committee of interested teachers to organize the event. Once you've picked a week, and thought about a suggested theme or grade level, we will send you a team of 2, 3, or 4 cultural presenters depending on school size. Your week would begin with an assembly Monday morning to introduce the presenters to the student body. There would also be a meet-and-greet lunch for your staff to meet the presenters in a more informal setting.  

Presentations would then be made throughout the week in classes determined by the school committee (you may, for example, wish to target K-1s or grade 7s, etc.). Divisions not covered in presentations would do their own Aboriginal focused activities (music, art, story, video, etc.) The week ends with an assembly on Friday morning thanking the presenters, giving selected students to share what they learned during the week. Schools may also choose to invite additional presenters (i.e. dancers, singers, storyteller, etc.) to supplement the work of our cultural workers.  

Once your school has chosen a week, you will email the registration form to Paula James, and we'll do our best to book you in as close to your choice as possible.

Q: Indian Residential Schools:  “This is a difficult topic to address, especially with young children. What should I cover?”

A: Although this can be a challenging subject, it is part of the curriculum. Teaching about this terrible time in Canadian history is part of acknowledging the truth about policies and practices that have harmed Aboriginal peoples, culture and communities. There are many books, web-based resources and downloadables that will help, along with support from the Aboriginal Helping Teachers. Every year, Orange Shirt Day allows schools to introduce this topic in age-appropriate ways.

Q:  Aboriginal Identification:  “How does a parent identify their child as an Aboriginal student? What criteria are used? Why is this important?”

A: The province provides funding to the district so we can deliver enhanced education programs and services for Aboriginal students. At registration, parents are given an opportunity to self identify as being of Aboriginal ancestry. In addition to self-identification, parents can opt in (or out) of receiving services from Aboriginal Education. From year to year, Surrey typically has in the neighbourhood of 3200 students with Aboriginal background.

Q:  Teaching Aboriginal content:  “Who can I call on to help me deliver content in my classroom?”

A: Because it is part of the provincial curriculum, all teachers are entrusted with teaching Aboriginal content and perspectives in schools. Teachers are supported by our 3 Aboriginal Helping Teachers (two Elementary, one Secondary) who provide workshops, work with individual teachers and offer email support. District Cultural Facilitators can be booked as part of the “First Peoples in residence” program. While your AEA or ACYCW may have individual expertise to share, this is not part of their job expectations.

Q:  Orange Shirt Day: What is Orange Shirt Day? Is every school doing it? What can I do with my students or at my school?

A: Orange Shirt Day was created during the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project in Williams Lake, BC, in May 2013. As a way of helping to educate our students and communities on the history of Canadian Residential Schools. Teachers are encouraged to embrace and explore this topic within their classroom leading up to September 30th, and use the colour orange as a way of bringing attention to this issue. Our district has had very good participation, and most schools are making it a “calendar event” for September. Activities and suggestions can be found  here.  

Q:  BC First Nations:  “How do I know where the various BC First Nations are located? How many Nations are in the Lower Mainland? Why have the names of some BC First Nations changed?”

A: British Columbia is home to many First Nations as well as Métis. There are 198 distinct First Nations and over 30 languages spoken (60 dialects.)*  The Ministry of Education has a map that shows traditional territories along with the current naming conventions and a pronunciation guide. In some cases, Nations were named using English names or mispronunciations of Native words. (Profile of Metro Vancouver First Nations.)

Q:  Acknowledging Territory:  “What does acknowledging territory mean? Why do we do this? When should I acknowledge territory? Is this the same as welcoming? Does an elder need to do this?”

A: Acknowledging Coast Salish traditional territory respects the ethical principle of promise-keeping and recognizes that we are meeting on land that is still inhabited by living traditional cultures. The Canadian constitution and the treaty-making promises to respect First Peoples, rights to languages and cultures.

We suggest the following wording in official gatherings:

“We would like to acknowledge the shared unceded traditional territory of the Katzie, Semiahmoo, Kwantlen and other Coast Salish Peoples on which we work, play and learn.”
“We would like to acknowledge that our school, where we work, play and learn, is on the shared unceded traditional territory of the Katzie, Semiahmoo, Kwantlen and other Coast Salish Peoples.”

(These two links give a sense of the length of habitation in BC: Triquet  Island:  Wapato  Gardens:)

Q:  Cultural Appropriation:  “What is cultural appropriation? Why do many indigenous people object to being portrayed in Halloween costume?” Why is there a reaction to such teams as the Washington football team or the Cleveland baseball team? What is the concern about logos or mascots? 

A: Particularly at Halloween, the conversation often turns to the question of appropriate costumes, which includes issues of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation. This is especially true of “Aboriginal costumes.” Typically, these costumes take elements from various Nations (i.e. Native designs or symbols, head dresses, medicine bags, etc.) and weave them together in a mishmash meant to be “Indian.” However, regalia has specific and often spiritual significance. Wearing it in a haphazard or inappropriate way trivializes its meaning. In addition, because Indigenous culture has a history of being eroded and repressed in mainstream society, treating identity as a “costume” is simply another form of that erosion. Just as wearing a grab-bag of liturgical vestments from a variety of religions would be seen bad taste, so too is wearing an “Aboriginal” costume.

For more reading on cultural appropriation, visit this link.

Q:  Who can teach what? “What about teaching students how to weave, make dreamcatchers, do beading, etc. Are we able to teach the kids about First Nation art? (ie. making dream catchers or other items.) Are we allowed to “tell stories regarding First Nation communities, nature or teaching stories?”

A: Here are some basic principles that may help:    

“It’s in the curriculum”

Aboriginal worldviews and content are part of the redesigned curriculum, at all levels and in all subjects. So it is a given that educators will be sharing Indigenous material and perspectives. Teaching this content is a shared responsibility.

“Culture, not crafts”

Teaching what some would call “crafts” (ie weaving, beading, dream catchers, etc.) can be a perfectly appropriate activity when embedded into meaningful learning outcomes that emphasize cultural tradition. For example, we could teach about the  Anishinabe people and then look at the dream catchers as cultural artifacts; talking about their purpose respects cultural origins and gives a context to the item. Likewise, beading takes many forms depending on which  Aboriginal tradition, designs, styles and stitches we want to explore. As with the dreamcatcher, this is a great opportunity to talk about a variety of cultures and emphasizes the importance of embedding this in a particular nation’s culture. Weaving (whether it be wool or roots or cedar) is another such example.The key idea is to see these activities not as crafts to be done in isolation, but as part of coming to greater understanding of a particular First Nation.

“Sharing stories is what we do”

Recounting or narrating published stories is not a problem. If we are reasonably certain of the provenance of the material (ie. do we know the Nation? Are the stories authentic?) then teachers can feel confident reading these to students. We do want to give context to the material, but sharing these with students is part of what we do as teachers.

While there are some stories that are “family property” and aren't for sharing, generally speaking these are not the ones being published and sold today, and then recommended by FNESC, ERAC and vendors such as Strong Nations and Good Minds. There are many beautiful picture books that let educators share both ancient and modern stories that spring from the many Nations in BC and beyond. Look in your school library for recently published, attractively presented stories and share these treasures with your classes. 

Q:  What is the Windspeaker Youth Leadership Program?

A:  The purpose of Windspeaker is to provide Aboriginal learners with outdoor and placed-base experiences. Students develop relationships with each other, their community and themselves, and learn more about the traditional territories on which these experiences take place.  It provides opportunities for students to develop interpersonal, cultural and social skills that harness their strengths and builds on their potential.  Typically, the activities are field trips that happen during the school day, once a month and supervised by ACYCWs. For more information on this program, please contact the department..

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