School programs designed to help Aboriginal kids don’t always work

Photo: Linda Nylind

Every Aboriginal child in Canada attends an indigenous daycare; there’s a bilingual curriculum in school; and there’s a program called Dialogue & Confidence Education. In remote communities they’re both equipped with “coaching” (a personal trainer in remote communities) and with learning experiences that hopefully let children grasp their history and the contemporary challenges they face, like missing and murdered indigenous women.

Numerous programs have been designed to make Indigenous children feel more accepted, and more likely to be included in mainstream social and cultural circles. But these programs are not without their problems. Children’s testimonies, for example, often get stuck at the “unauthorised disclosure” stage. People experience intimidation, even fear, when they reveal intimate, real-life experiences with racism.

Research shows many Indigenous kids need help, but kids are far more likely to make excuses for racist violence when they’re frightened, or when they aren’t being put in an idealistic world. That may feel like the path to Aboriginal acceptance. But it’s not inclusive, and it leaves Indigenous people in a deeper hole.

How things can go wrong

To get the role of bullying correctly, youth have to get the facts. They need to understand what it’s like, what Indigenous peoples have been through. They need to understand how important it is to tell the truth and get support to get beyond the façade.

Many Indigenous youth have been bullied, especially in the classroom. Youth sometimes need support and recognition to get past and get past their own culture’s identity confusion and face their racism.

“There’s nothing wrong with you.”

“You’re so ugly.”

“You don’t belong here.”

“You don’t speak our language.”

“Everyone will have fun with a Leprechaun in public.”

“I’m sorry, but your culture is all wrong.”

The girls’ top five words:

Photo: Linda Nylind

Aboriginal children have to learn how to deal with racism. But that needs to start in the classroom – that’s what’s required. There is a powerful discussion happening about how Aboriginal kids are being conditioned into believing and behaving in their Indigenous identity. That’s far more complex than being able to physically come to terms with racist ideas in their own communities.

Youth need to feel listened to, to feel their thoughts and experiences have valued. This can start with giving Indigenous kids critical conversations and support.


Many students don’t talk to other Indigenous kids about racism. They’re not even allowed to talk about the subject with their parents or teachers.

Attending Indigenous daycare isn’t an experience they want to talk about with other Indigenous kids because they’re afraid. Either way, the conversations they don’t have at school mean that they don’t face racism as an Aboriginal person. Young children don’t have much life experience around race.

Aboriginal kids are usually terrified to speak up and ask for help when they have seen or experienced racism. They don’t want to be “stigmatised” as Indigenous. There is a real fear of being labelled an Indigenous person and having to face society being more racist.

School programs could be designed to help Indigenous children articulate what they’ve seen and experienced, so that they can sit in an adult’s classroom and talk about what they’ve seen and experienced. If they’re frightened to speak up, then that’s their issue.

Reframe… The teens

Photo: Linda Nylind

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