Aboriginal classes mandatory for Education students

New course to focus on how to teach Aboriginal topics

Bonnie Jane Maracle teaching a Mohawk Language and Culture  at Queen’s.
Bonnie Jane Maracle teaching a Mohawk Language and Culture at Queen’s.

Starting next summer, all B.Ed candidates will take a 12-week course on Aboriginal education.

The new course will focus on training B.Ed candidates to teach Aboriginal topics and create an inclusive environment for Aboriginal students. It’s one of several changes to the teacher’s college program that followed a provincially mandated switch from a one-year, two-semester program to a two-year, four-semester program.

Students taking the course will complete 12 hours of content spread across 12 weeks. According to the Faculty of Education, the course curriculum will be designed after an instructor has been hired.

Lindsay Morcom, coordinator of the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP), said the course is a step in the right direction for Queen’s. 

Canadian post-secondary institutions don’t have a collective strategy for Aboriginal education, despite the important role they could play, she said. 

“There’s a strategy for elementary and secondary [schools], and that’s really good work and they’ve put a lot of effort and energy in it,” Morcom said. But teachers in those schools must be equipped to teach Aboriginal topics, she said.

“If we have teachers in elementary and secondary schools who don’t have enough awareness of Indigenous issues, Indigenous intellectual tradition and culture, then they’re not going to be able to appropriately enact those strategies,” she said.  

Morcom said it’s pivotal that Canada’s teachers are equipped to handle intercultural issues in the classroom. 

According to Morcom, an education gap exists between Aboriginal students and non-Aboriginal students. She said only one out of three Aboriginal students graduate from high school.

“That’s just something shameful,” she said. “If we can turn out teachers who are able to engage those learners, and make them feel comfortable in the school and give them a culturally appropriate education where they can see themselves in the classroom, we’re all going to be better off.” 

Although the curriculum has not yet been set, Morcom said an important part of the course will be teaching the culture of present-day Aboriginal people along with Indigenous history.

“We find a lot of erasure in teaching about Aboriginal people. It’s always taught pre-contact [with Europeans], but we’re still here,” she said.

Peter Chin, the assistant head of education, said Aboriginal education isn’t new to the Queen’s B.Ed program, but the new course reinforces the faculty’s commitment to Aboriginal education.

“Just because we [now] have a course in Aboriginal education, doesn’t mean we weren’t doing aboriginal education elsewhere,” he said. 

Chin said several courses in the program, including two during the first year of the teacher’s college program, already include content on teaching Aboriginal topics and creating an inclusive teaching environment. 

“It’s a required element, because we believe it’s important,” he said. 

Chin said the faculty also engages its students with Aboriginal cultures through regular events on West Campus, including weekly smudging ceremonies and an Indigenous welcoming at the annual Bachelor of Education opening ceremonies. 

“We’re a faculty of education. We teach about inclusion,” he said. “The best way [to be inclusive] is to understand who it is you’re teaching and to model what we stand for.” 

— With files from Sebastian Leck

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