Aboriginal education for non-Aboriginal learners: Engaging teacher candidates in an immersive cultural experience

Andrew Snowball
Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, University of Toronto
June, 2016


It is the expectation of this thesis that Aboriginal Education ought to be considered education for all learners, that is initiated, developed, facilitated and evaluated by Aboriginal people. In order to demonstrate this, this dissertation describes a weekend-long land-based Immersive Cultural Experience facilitated by two Anishinaabe Elders, involving six non-Aboriginal Teacher Candidates from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education's Bachelor of Education program. The research was proposed and carried out respecting Indigenous Knowledge and the standards set out in the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres' Utility, Self-Voicing, Access, Inter-Relationality Research Framework. Experience was the principal method through which an expanded approach to Aboriginal Education was validated, however the main form of data collection for the Immersive Cultural Experience was twelve participant interviews. The analytical approach was interpretive and inductive, asking questions that related to experience, focusing on the improvement of professional teaching practice and ultimately how the participants perceived their experiences. The data outlined in this dissertation reflects the comments and reflections of the Teacher Candidates, drawn from a pre-experience interview, sharing circle that closed the Immersive Cultural Experience, debrief session in Toronto, post-experience interview, as well as correspondence. The interviews were structured to gather a range of information from reflection on Canadian identity, personal responsibility, spirituality, new styles of teaching and learning, and the utility of cultural immersion and experiential education. This dissertation contributes to theory development for Allyship and provides a best practices framework for intercultural engagement and experiential learning, outlining: a) knowing one's history; b) seeking local Knowledge Holders; c) understanding Aboriginal ethics protocols; d) collaborative planning; e) preparing participants; f) community-driven facilitation; g) debriefing the experience; and h) maintaining relationships. In following this framework, the participants were challenged to reflect on what they believed to be true about Aboriginal people, knowledges and cultures, and create a new understanding based on respect, engagement and relationship. The changes observed in the Teacher Candidates proved that the experience of being on the land, and learning directly from Aboriginal Elders has a significant impact on teachers' thinking about how to approach Aboriginal Education.