The Western Door: Knowledge and Reasoning
Ceremony as Part of the Aboriginal Learning Experience
[While visiting a literacy program in a northern community] I attended a traditional gathering where I heard how important it was to Use your feathers and feast your feathers, or youll get sick or weak. 18
At the community meeting, various participants agreed that there is a need to infuse ceremony into programs, i.e., to share traditional teachings and values, to give recognition, to express thanks, and to assist learners in combating sicknesses such as feeling unable to contribute meaningfully to family and community. The purpose of most Aboriginal ceremonies - whether they are observed individually or communally - is to bring about clarity and meaning.
The inclusion of ceremony - smudging, prayer, talking or healing circles, use of tobacco offerings, feasts and giveaways, sweatlodge ceremonies, and seasonal fasting rituals - contributes to the Native learners personal development and enhances self-esteem. It also equips attendees with skills relevant to their overall well-being. Culture-based practices assist Native learners with the process of self-reflection and critical thinking required for building prior-learning-assessment portfolios, developing communication skills, enhancing interpersonal skills and group effectiveness, goal-setting, time management, oral presentation skills, assertiveness, resume writing, gaining confidence, etc. Various Aboriginal beliefs and practices exist to help individuals develop responsibility for coping with stress, indecisiveness, lack of motivation, lack of self-esteem, and management of anger or grief. Ceremonies are tools learners can use to develop greater awareness and life-enhancing skills.
The educational process in an aboriginal learning model endeavors to help the learner develop a broader, more holistic view of self, others and the environment. Learning and teaching activities are designed to provide opportunities for the learner to enhance his or her knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors in a manner that allows the individual to function in a more empowered and balanced way within ones self and outwardly in their behavior. 19
The Need for Relevant Learning Experiences
More mainstream education systems are leaning toward using the discovery approach. It is a way of learning or teaching that is familiar to Native people. It is very likely the preferred style of learning of most people, Native or non-Native. The work of Native literacy program practitioners is to help learners discover what they need to know and why they need to know it.
A grandmother told me she had never met her grandchild and that she probably wouldnt be around long enough to tell him the things she would like to. That was the literacy need. We talked about what she would like to tell him and figured out how she could tell him so that when he was old enough, hed have something from her. She started coming to literacy classes everyday, learning whatever she needed to. She began learning to read and write in order to give him something. The literacy program helped fill that need. The payoff included meeting her emotional and spiritual needs. 20
|18 Participant, "The Future of
Native Literacy Programs and Services," community meeting, October
19 Diane Hill, "Aboriginal Access to Post-Secondary Education," March 1995
20 Participant, "The Future of Native Literacy Programs and Services," community meeting, October 2000.
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