We are increasingly having critical dialogues about what knowledge and stories are shared, and importantly who is sharing them, and we are asking about the authenticity of what is represented as Indigenous. In BC, in an effort to help educators choose stories or resources for their students that authentically reflect First Peoples, the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and First Nations Schools Association (FNSA) created a definition to help K-12 teachers make more informed judgments about which materials to use. In many of the teacher resource guides they created, the following definition is included:
Authentic First Peoples texts are historical or contemporary texts that
- present authentic First Peoples voices (i.e., are created by First Peoples or through the substantial contributions of First Peoples);
- depict themes and issues that are important within First Peoples cultures (e.g., loss of identity and affirmation of identity, tradition, healing, role of family, importance of Elders, connection to the land, the nature and place of spirituality as an aspect of wisdom, the relationships between individual and community, the importance of oral tradition, the experience of colonization and decolonization)
- incorporate First Peoples story-telling techniques and features as applicable (e.g., circular structure, repetition, weaving in of spirituality, humour).
It is important to understand that some resources that may be considered appropriate for one context, but not appropriate for other contexts. For example, specific teachings that are based on Anishinaabe perspectives in Eastern Canada might not be completely applicable in BC contexts, and vice-versa. Similarly, within BC, there are teachings that vary between First Nations, and protocols can differ from Nation to Nation. It is important to think critically about the contexts in order to not perpetuate a “pan-Indian” approach to First Peoples’ worldviews.
Also, there are some resources that are never considered appropriate such as resources that promote a simplistic or stereotypical view of Indigenous peoples, or contain appropriated or mis-represented content.
While educators are encouraged to integrate Indigenous knowledge into schools and classrooms, it is important to also caution against appropriation. Appropriation occurs when non-Indigenous people take elements of Indigenous knowledge as their own. Much Indigenous knowledge is context specific, and as a result when taken out of its context can be misinterpreted, mis-represented or mis-used. This is a form of cultural exploitation. For learning activities that helps older students explore the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation, see the “Digital Trickster – The Complex Interaction of New Media and First Peoples” unit is the FNESC/FNSA English First Peoples 10-12 Teacher Resource Guide.