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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The life history of a First Nations educator : never too old to learn Cardinal, Maisie

Abstract

This dissertation begins with the loss of my immediate family and search for healing. I share my life experiences because I want to move beyond the pain and suffering but also because I want to leave a written monument to honour the memory of my family. My research purpose for writing my Indigenous life history focussed on my search for healing; correcting stereotypes of Aboriginal women and Aboriginal students; understanding the impact of major federal government policies upon Aboriginal people; and examining the role of Aboriginal parents in their children's education. I chose the Indigenous life story methodology because it allowed me to remember and be reflective about critical incidents of my life stages: childhood, adulthood, motherhood and educator. These Indigenous life stories exemplified the relationship between an Aboriginal family and the wider Canadian society regarding the impact of major federal laws and educational policies. The Indigenous life story methodology also challenged me to critically explore the following research topics/questions: ways of healing from deep emotional pain; overcoming stereotypes about Aboriginal women and Aboriginal learners; examining parental involvement; and facilitating Aboriginal student success. My search for spiritual and emotional healing has led me to face the difficult challenges with the assistance of others. When elders mentioned that I must return to Nanaimo, my birthplace, I followed their guidance. I returned and visited my parent's graves every year for four years. With the assistance of my paternal uncle and later with my maternal aunt, I was able to complete this task. On the fourth year, I walked the land where our home once stood with my maternal aunt. Even though this experience was difficult, I remember thinking that I could not change the path of my immediate family but I had to accept their passing. Besides discussing the loss of my family, I included my children's and my educational experiences to illustrate that First Nations children and adults are often stereotyped as being inferior and therefore, not able to achieve at the same level as mainstream students. One of my sons was told that "he was only average and would not amount to anything." No matter how hard he worked, he was only average. The teacher had decided where he felt my son's achievement level was and maintained this academic grade. Today, he is a lawyer with a Master's in Law. This dissertation includes one story from each of my children plus my own experiences with education. As an educator I emphasize the importance of Aboriginal identity. Students need to be able to identify with their Aboriginal or Native background in order to meet the challenges of post-secondary education. Once the students make the effort to identify with their Aboriginal heritage, they are able to focus their full attention on their academic studies and not be afraid of someone revealing Aboriginal identity. In conclusion, I used the story of unpacking a suitcase of all of the negative experiences of hurt, sadness and real life experiences of physical, sexual, and psychological abuses, so that our communities will start to heal and look toward more positive and healthier approaches to life for our children, grandchildren and great, great grandchildren.

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