University of Saskatchewan

September 17, 2014   

“Our Ancestors are Teachers” 2004 Kevin Pee-Ace
“Our Ancestors are Teachers” 2004 Kevin Pee-Ace

Making Waves

for Indigenous Peoples

Transforming Education—and Lives

Marie Battiste knows the challenges Aboriginal people face in education. A Mi’kmaq from Nova Scotia, the U of S education professor is internationally renowned for her efforts to improve education for Indigenous Peoples.

The University of Saskatchewan offered its first course in Aboriginal Education in 1961. Since then, the College of Education has gained an international reputation for teacher training and research that supports and improves education among Aboriginal learners.

While positive strides have been made, 70 per cent of Aboriginal high school students in Canada do not complete their programs. Those who do go on to university are less likely to enrol in graduate programs, and the number of Aboriginal students in science and mathematics is far lower than their non-Aboriginal peers.

Marie Battiste, director of the U of S Aboriginal Education Research Centre (AERC), is committed to fostering excellence in Aboriginal education. Battiste’s work has influenced policy nationally and internationally.

She is currently on the executive committee of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, a member of the Circle of Experts for the Aboriginal Task Force for Heritage Canada, a board member of the International Research Institute for Maori and Indigenous Education, and a United Nations expert on the protection of Indigenous knowledge.

Marie Battiste
Marie Battiste

Valuing Traditional Knowledge

In the next three decades, the Aboriginal population is projected to increase dramatically in Saskatchewan. Battiste notes that prospective teachers must be aware of the implications of changing demographics to contemporary schooling, and the issues of cultural and racial prejudice that affect student attitudes and achievement.

Cultural practices inspire pride, motivation, and a sense of self-worth. AERC researchers are working to instil an understanding of diversity and a respect for Indigenous knowledge into the philosophy of teaching.

Essential to Battiste’s research—and the mandate of AERC—is developing programs in partnership with communities, organizations and elders that acknowledge Aboriginal culture, history and language.

Since AERC was established in 2005, researchers have created several key partnerships and initiatives. Among them:

Sylvia Abonyi
Sylvia Abonyi
  • A partnership with the National Science Foundation explores the relationship between contemporary knowledge and Aboriginal heritage.
  • A project explores a Virtual Aboriginal Health Training Centre of Excellence with First Nations and Métis people and the provincial and federal governments.
  • An initiative aims to improve the participation of Aboriginal students in math and science.

Recently, Battiste was selected to co-direct the Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre, a national network of more than 50 members from the Prairie provinces, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The centre will enable sharing of existing research, identify gaps, and provide the knowledge required to improve learning opportunities and outcomes for Aboriginal peoples.

Understanding the Role of Culture in Health

Canada Research Chair Sylvia Abonyi is studying the relationship of culture in the health of Aboriginal populations.

As an anthropologist and health researcher, Abonyi believes we need to understand cultural values and beliefs in order to improve the well-being of Aboriginal communities.

Key questions she is trying to answer are:

  • How does the support of cultural practices contribute to the health of a community, such as longer life expectancies and lower incidences of diabetes and obesity?
  • In communities where incomes are low and food prices high, how can traditional foods fill the gaps?
  • How can homes be designed to accommodate distinct family and social arrangements?

Reducing Health Disparities in Indigenous Communities

Caroline Tait and team

U of S researcher Caroline Tait is working to reduce disparities and improve the health of Indigenous and marginalized women.

A Métis from MacDowall, Saskatchewan, Tait is trained in medical anthropology and is an expert in Indigenous health.

Caroline Tait
Caroline Tait

In a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)-funded project, Tait is working with First Nations communities to reduce the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in northern Saskatchewan. FAS is a leading cause of preventable birth defects in Canada. Her research aims to provide policy and programming direction that reflects First Nations values and needs, and helps prevent FAS by improving the health of women most at risk.

Tait and an interdisciplinary research team are also examining the migration experiences of Indigenous and immigrant women settling in Saskatoon. They are working with communitybased organizations, policy makers and health practitioners to address economic and social barriers that affect the mental health of disadvantaged and marginalized women.

Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre

Tait is a member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC), a collaboration among the First Nations University of Canada, the University of Regina, and the University of Saskatchewan.

The IPHRC works to promote and increase research in areas of Indigenous health such as chronic diseases, delivery of health services, and prevention measures. The IPHRC is also working to expand the role Indigenous people play in finding solutions to their own health needs.

Keith Thor Carlson
Keith Thor Carlson

Reclaiming the “Words” in Broken Promises

Historian Keith Thor Carlson’s research examines the Stó:lo First Nation oral history with the aim of redressing historical injustice. His work is also aiding ongoing treaty negotiations in British Columbia.

According to Stó:lo oral tradition, the Crown promised the Stó:lo people one-quarter of all revenue from the sale or exploitation of their land and resources. The Stó:lo cite the fact that no payment has ever been made as proof that the government has broken its promise.

Their claim is significant because B.C.’s Coast Salish people currently assert title over Vancouver – Canada’s third largest city – as well as the lower Fraser River—home to the world’s largest salmon runs.

Carlson’s research underscores the need to harmonize Native-newcomer relations as well as historical perceptions. He has been examining Stó:lo history to determine the effects of their transition from an oral tradition to literacy in the late 19th and early 20th century. His research aims to bridge the chasms between academic literature, government records pertaining to Crown–Native relations, and Stó:lo oral history.

Healing Old Wounds

In 1884, a 14-year-old Stó:lo boy from British Columbia was hanged by an American lynch mob for a murder he did not commit. As a result of Carlson’s research into the event, both the British Columbia and Washington governments have recently resolved “to promote healing among the Stó:lo people and reconciliation between Natives and non-Natives on the Pacific Coast…to ensure that such a tragedy will neither be forgotten nor repeated.”