Perspectives on Indigenous Literacy
by Ningwakwe/E. Priscilla George
excerpt from Raising Adult Literacy Skills: The need for a Pan-Canadian Response
The Committee recommends that the federal government
immediately begin consultations with the Aboriginal
communities, and provincial and territorial governments,
to develop an Aboriginal Literacy Strategy that:
incorporates a holistic approach; respects Aboriginal
languages, traditions and values; and is funded at a level
commensurate with the seriousness of the problem of low
literacy among Aboriginal peoples.
The Committee anticipates that the implementation of
an Aboriginal Literacy Strategy will take some time. In the
interim, the Committee recommends that a new National
Literacy Secretariat funding stream be created – the
Aboriginal Funding Stream.
The full Standing Committee report is a vailable online at MCL’s web site:
For over two years, the National Aboriginal
Design Committee (NADC) worked to develop a
Position Paper on Aboriginal Literacy. The
Position Paper documents issues and statistics
pertinent to Aboriginal literacy. It also provides
examples of best practices for each of the issues.
Developing the paper was an essential step towards
establishing the National Indigenous Literacy
Association. This article describes the process we went
through to "develop the" Position Paper, and how our
recommendations were received by the Standing
Committee on Human Resources Development and
the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Documenting our perspective
The Position Paper was the first comprehensive
study of Aboriginal literacy issues in the history of
the literacy movement in Canada. While it
incorporated the work of noted Aboriginal and non-
Aboriginal academics, as well as position papers by
people in other jurisdictions who are dealing with
similar issues, it drew primarily on the experiences of
the people most directly involved in literacy programs:
learners, practitioners and Elders.
Information for the Position Paper
was gleaned from a range of sources, including documents produced by
Aboriginal organizations from International Literacy Year
in 1990 through to the late 1990’s, as well as post-graduate theses by
Aboriginal academics. Findings from several gatherings and from meetings
of the National
Aboriginal Design Committee also provided information.
Finally, the Coordinator contacted many Aboriginal and
non-Aboriginal literacy practitioners across Canada and
in other jurisdictions, most not ably Australia.
Some of the prominent themes
that emerged include:
- The learner is the most important person in the
- The holistic approach, which recognizes that
each individual is Spirit, Heart, Mind and Body,
is most effective;
- Aboriginal literacy programming must affirm
Aboriginal languages and culture;
- For Aboriginal Peoples, literacy
is more than facility in the written word. That is, we have
our own Aboriginal types of literacies;
- Aboriginal literacy programs
and organizations must be inclusive, serving all segments of the
Aboriginal population, regardless of place of residence,
or regardless of funding criteria;
- Aboriginal control of Aboriginal
literacy/education is paramount; and,
- Long-term and adequate funding
In fact, the Position Paper has
a chapter on each of these issues, along with appendices that document
best practices for each.
The Position Paper was distributed widely
to both literacy and Aboriginal organizations. In addition,
copies of this paper have been given to the UNESCO
Institute for Education, and to practitioners and
researchers working with indigenous peoples in Australia, New Zealand,
the Philippines, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Mexico, and the United
In February of 2003, the NADC Coordinator
presented the paper to the Standing Committee. The
recommendations included in our Position Paper were:
- Support a National Aboriginal
- The Government of Canada should develop a
national comprehensive whole-of-government
Aboriginal adult literacy, numeracy and
- Create a separate and coordinated Aboriginal
- Various funders need to hear more about what
constitutes Aboriginal literacy activities,
including Aboriginal languages.
- Overall funding levels and policies
for Aboriginal literacy must be commensurate with the reality
that Aboriginal Peoples have been among the
most disadvantaged groups in Canada.
The Standing Committee report,
Raising Adult Literacy Skills: The Need for a Pan-Canadian Response,
was tabled in the House of Commons in June 2003. It
includes an Aboriginal-specific section. In our view,
the Aboriginal-specific recommendations from the
Standing Committee are very heartening. Some of the
wording from these recommendations closely
resemble the recommendations in our Position Paper.
We eagerly await the federal government’s response to
the Parliamentary Report.
Battiste, Marie (2000). Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision. Vancouver:
Brant-Castellano, Marlene, Lynne Davis, Louise Lahache, eds.
Education: Fulfilling the Promise. Vancouver: UBC Press.