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UBC Theses and Dissertations

On being a “sama7” teacher : reflecting on colonization, white identity, relationships, and responsibility in Indigenous contexts Liston, Vanessa Marie


Since the majority of teachers of Indigenous students in Canada are non-Indigenous, the current efforts to decolonize Canadian schools are largely dependent on these teachers’ understandings of Indigenous education, as well as their approaches and accountability to decolonization. As a white teacher of Indigenous students, this thesis represents critical self-study of a teacher’s role in decolonization in particular educational contexts. The research considers being a dominant-culture teacher with Indigenous students in terms of the teacher’s relationships, professional identity, and pedagogy. Further, this body of work inquires into the effects of (neo-)colonialism on the above, as well as on educational policy and curriculum in Indigenous contexts. Inasmuch as it is manuscript-based, the thesis reads differently from those written as single studies. Chapters Three and Four are essays based on my first and third-year teaching experiences in two distinct Indigenous communities, and each focus on different aspects of those locations and circumstances. For example, the third chapter is an analysis of the multi-levelled policy setting of a northern Québec school, and the fourth chapter employs a hermeneutical lens to examine my pilot of a culturally responsive curriculum in rural British Columbia. The introduction and literature review (Chapter Two) provide the context for both of these analyses, while the concluding chapter connects the two manuscripts with reference to current literature and my present teaching position. As a whole, my study offers an understanding of the challenges and responsibilities for dominant-culture teachers in decolonizing their classrooms and schools through policies, pedagogies, and relationships. While it does not address the entirety of the experience of being a dominant-culture educator and ally working with Indigenous students, it confronts and inquires into several pivotal and interrelated areas in teaching for social justice. In considering different aspects of my experiences, this study speaks to broader themes of (neo-)colonialism and decolonization, culturally responsive curricula and pedagogies, educational policy, and crosscultural relationships. Individually, these critical reflections on my practice have yielded intimate, yet significant portraits of teacher identity, and as a whole, they offer rich insights and multiple perspectives on some of the most pressing issues in educational politics today.

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