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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Improving education through dialogue and oral tradition : bridging colonization and cultural difference between Okanagan students, parents, community and non-Aboriginal school leaders Edwards, Mark Macdougall


This study is a response to the inadequacy of education processes and outcomes for Aboriginal students, and particularly Okanagan students. It builds on the premise that the failure of mainstream Canadian schools to meet the educational needs of Okanagan students is a consequence of the distance between schools and community created by colonization and cultural difference. This study proposed to find ways to bridge this distance. It takes its initial insight from a process in which Okanagan students, families, and Elders successfully connected with non-Aboriginal educators. From this process emerged the recognition of the importance of understanding, relationships, and communication processes for bridging distance. This historic process further induced the development of a theory based upon conceptions of dialogue—Gadamer (2002), Buber (1970), and Freire (2000)—and Aboriginal oral traditions—as theorized by Archibald (1997), Sterling (1997), Lightning (1992), Armstrong (1996), and Hart (1997). The study's purposes were two-fold: use a dialogic process to determine how to improve understanding, relationship, and communication between Okanagan students, families, community and non-Aboriginal school leaders; and enact and test the induced theory by implementing it as research method. Thirty-five volunteers, including Okanagan students, parents, educators, Aboriginal educators, and non-Aboriginal educators, participated in two interview-conversations followed by conversations for feedback on representations of their meanings in subsequent study drafts. The study enabled remarkable conversations and a concomitant growth of understanding and relationships. The enacted theory worked, and was augmented by significant discoveries regarding shared emancipatory purpose and participant agency resulting in the revised PURC-A framework. Participants' perspectives on improving understanding, relationships, and communication processes included deeper understanding of Okanagan culture, history, and tradition, greater knowledge of the situations of Okanagan students and families, and commitment to the self-work necessary to become aware of the prejudices that constitute one's consciousness. Respect and trust were found essential. Many suggestions for improving the education of Okanagan students emerged. With courage, sincerity, and passion, participants in this study make public silenced criticisms, perspectives, and dreams. Their voices—this study—constitute a provocative and generative moment in the on-going transformative conversation that will improve education for Okanagan students.

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