Mapping the way to Aboriginal understanding


Mapping the way to Aboriginal understanding

Brooke Moore felt paralyzed by her questions around Aboriginal Education. In a post on the Canadian Education Association’s blog, she writes of her reluctance to speak with authority on Aboriginal issues and history in her classroom.

Laura Tait changed all that for her. Tait, Director of Instruction, Learning Services for Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools, is the mind behind the Aboriginal Understandings Learning Progression rubric. It appears in the book Spirals of Inquiry for Equality and Quality, by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser.

The Progression is a foundational piece for framing awareness – from developing, to acquiring and demonstrating beliefs, attitudes and knowledge of Aboriginal understanding and our shared history.

Tait decided to begin with awareness, ideally with someone who has a sense that they need to know more about Aboriginal issues. “I wanted to begin from a positive place,” she says. From there, teachers like Moore, support workers and other educators can gain confidence in asking the questions they never felt comfortable asking before.


One of the key pieces in the Progression is awareness of local Aboriginal Peoples and territories and Aboriginal languages and cultures.

It is so important, the bullet points are repeated on the rubric. “People ask me if it is a mistake on the printout,” says Tait. The repetition reinforces the idea that people become more knowledgeable with practice, and it’s not a topic you learn all at once.

Paige Fisher helped with the initial development of the Learning Progression.

Tackling the gaps in people’s knowledge and addressing misconceptions and biases can be uncomfortable, says Tait, but coming together is essential. Indeed, says Tait, it is our moral imperative.

She understands educators are pulled in every direction, but Tait wants to see Aboriginal understandings incorporated into curriculum more. “We have to move beyond beads and bannock in the back of the room,” says Tait. “Aboriginal content is not something teachers should be teaching on top of what they already do – it should be woven into everything they do. For example, if you are teaching a unit on poetry, why not use some work from Aboriginal poets; if you are teaching celestial bodies, why not include some of the beliefs around the moon, sun etc. held by Aboriginal cultures.”

The need for education is garnering more attention, most recently with the release of the TRC’s report and recommendations.

“Think about your Canadian history classes. Did the story of Canada begin only shortly before Europeans came up the river this city is built on?” asked TRC commissioner Marie Wilson during the Ottawa unveiling of the recommendations. “How honest are our textbooks about the traditional keepers of their land and their part in Canada’s story? How frank and truthful are we with Canadian students about the history of residential schools and the role our governments and religious institutions played in its systematic attempt to erase the cultures of aboriginal people?”

For educators like Brooke Moore, it’s about proceeding from paralysis to walking alongside her students, or, as Tait’s Learning Progression puts it, moving from boarding the canoe to journeying into deeper waters of Aboriginal understanding.

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