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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Aboriginal literacy : making meaning across three generations in an Anishinaabe community Hare, Jan


The changing functions, uses, and value of literacy in the lives of three successive biological generations of Anishinaabe residing in the same community form the basis of this study. Aboriginal people need and value western notions of literacy for participation in mainstream society. They are, at the same time, aware that western literacy has been imposed upon them, damaging their own forms of literacy which are closely rooted in their cultural traditions. The study describes three prevailing ideas about literacy among these seven sets of Anishinaabe families. The cultural traditions rooted in their relationships with land and family represent the understandings of Aboriginal literacy for the first generation of Anishinaabe, the oldest of this study. These Aboriginal women and men have constructed broader meanings for literacy that include print traditions and dominant languages, but also respect Aboriginal ways of knowing and incorporate cultural practices that give meaning to how people live and make sense of their world. A shift in cultural traditions and language is apparent as members of the second generation discuss their understandings of literacy within the contexts of family, school, and society. Formal schooling attempted to supplant Aboriginal literacy with the traditions of print in official languages that characterize western literacy. Western literacy becomes the means by which members of the second generation have re-asserted their rights to self-determination. The third generation, the youngest of this study, experience a greater orientation towards western literacy. The features that distinguish Aboriginal literacy are in decline. At the same time, their hold on western literacy allows them to assert their identities and prepare for a future beyond their community. The thesis is intended to challenge western notions of literacy, which privilege the written word and English/French languages, arguing for a broader conceptions of literacy which include languages, narrative traditions, and rich symbolic and meaning-making systems of Aboriginal culture.

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