UBC Graduate Research

Reflections on engagement with a First Nation elder : four lessons for Canadian teachers beginning their careers in northern Canadian First Nation communities McDonnell, Robert


Many provincially licensed teachers with degrees from southern Canadian universities are hired to teach in Northern Canadian First Nation communities each year. In fact, the year I was hired to teach in a small, First Nation community in central Yukon, there were four other new teachers moving up from cities in the south. Yukon Government's website states, "teachers who wish to apply to teach in one of the Yukon's 29 schools must hold or be eligible for certification in a Canadian province" (YE, 2011). I quickly learned that being a non-First Nation teacher in a First Nation community is very challenging. After three years, I chose to leave and accept a teaching position in the capital city, where the vast majority of students were non-First Nation and had been brought up in the city. I left the village feeling disengaged from the people of the community and professionally deflated. I am unsure if I provided anything of lasting value to my students. Years later, through a process of further education and reflection on my past experience, I have learned several lessons about what non-First Nation, beginning teachers ought to understand, so they may appropriately engage with the local community and with their students. In the article that follows, I share the following four lessons: 1) Reach out to those in the community, and remain a learner, open to community knowledge, 2) facilitate authentic experiences for students, 3) facilitate the teaching of traditional community skills to assist students’ spiritual development, and 4) bring the school and community together to create culturally relevant education. My hope is that other teachers traveling north to teach in Canadian First Nation communities may learn from my experience and be positioned to create more positive relationships and meaningful learning opportunities.

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