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Rebuilding Through Education: A Conversation With First Nations Educator Troy Hill

Kelly Hayes
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You gave a presentation at the ETFO Solidarity Study Group last year. What was your presentation about?
During the presentation, I talked about sharing knowledge about First Contact between European and First Nations people from an Indigenous perspective with students. My intention was to encourage teachers to engage with knowledge from our people instead of just about them. Since these perspectives are often left out of the history that we teach our students. I talked about how we develop critical thinking about First Contact with the classroom and share Indigenous perspectives. My goal was for teachers to take away hands-on lessons they could easily incorporate into their lessons regarding native people.

I know that you came to teaching later in your career. How did you decide that teaching was what you wanted to do?
What inspired my journey towards a career change was meeting my father and knowing that for 30 years I had misplaced blame for my experiences. This meeting also inspired me to pursue my education. Through the Indigenous Studies Program at McMaster University, I learned more about the history of colonization of Native people and the impacts of residential schools over the generations, and this helped me explain and contextualize my own story. Armed with this knowledge, I wanted to both heal myself and share what I had learned from our old people and fluent Mohawk speakers with students in the education system. The education system benefits so much from obtaining the perspective of Native people.

How can teachers incorporate Aboriginal traditions/teachings into their classrooms?
Teachers can continue bringing First Nations knowledge into their classrooms by thinking critically about topics like First Contact, acknowledging who has written many of the history books, and embracing Indigenous scholars, Contemporary North American thinkers and what I call Turtle Island pedagogy. There are many resources from native people and picking up a book, an article, a simple local Indigenous news-feed on the Internet, could integrate critical thinking into a classroom. Going further than teachings, I think it’s important that we see more Native teachers at the head of classrooms. And of course, keep developing your Indigenous portfolios by signing up for teachings through ETFO or Indigenous educational conferences.

Do Aboriginal students have different needs than non-Aboriginal students? If so, how can teachers take these into account in a classroom?
Yes, they do have different needs. Fortunately, we are arriving at a place where this question is being asked. We are every statistic calculated for limited success in education, i.e., health, socioeconomics, structural organization, lack of resources, I could go on and on. Basically Native students are the most likely to be pushed out of the education system, and where I have seen true success is where there is true representation of our people as teachers. Students need to touch, feel, see success; they need to see someone like them, coming from the same place as them, to be successful. Asking the question “Do Aboriginal students have different needs?” is a perfect place of recognition and a good starting point. It is important that teachers

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