The greatest reward for Dr. Jacqueline Ottmann is seeing the awakening of understanding in her students.
Ottmann is a Briercrest College and Seminary board member who teaches a Diversity in Learning program at the University of Calgary. In April she will teach a course on aboriginal epistemology and pedagogy at Briercrest College in Caronport. She said the five-day course will be intense and informative as she “crams” a semester of teaching into five full days. The course is an elective for all Briercrest programs but is especially beneficial for education students as education ministries in many parts of Canada have made aboriginal education mandatory at post-secondary institutions. The course is also an option for graduate students in Briercrest’s seminary.
Part of the course will deal with the history of aboriginal people.
“The history of indigenous people in Canada is an important part of Canadian history. (People) need to understand this history of indigenous people to understand where they are at today,” Ottmann said.
She said the course is for those who will be teaching aboriginal students or teaching about aboriginal history and lifestyle. While the course might be an eye-opener for many non-aboriginals, some First Nations people also learn a lot about their history that isn’t taught at home. She said a lot of what people “learn” about Aboriginals comes from misunderstanding and misconceptions and that leads to discrimination and racism.
Aboriginal history is “not always learned in a meaningful context of what aboriginal people have contributed to society,” she said. “If it’s missing from their education, some fill in gaps in learning with opinion.”
Ottmann has found people are becoming more interested in learning about the history of Canada’s First Nations, most recently in the areas of residential schools and the Indian Act of 1876 that “basically legislated every aspect of aboriginal life.” She said people are surprised as they learn more about what went on at residential schools and are shocked by the cultural genocide that resulted.
She said if we ignore the lessons of history, it can be repeated to some degree.
“Maybe not to that extent, but it could happen to some degree any time you silence a group ... if they are not at the table when decisions are made that impact them. They have to be part of the discussion on policy so both sides can take ownership of that policy.”
Ottmann sees positive things happening in education as some ministries prioritize aboriginal education and curriculum development.
She said there are not enough aboriginal teachers for all aboriginal communities, but there are more non-aboriginals who are open to learning about aboriginal history and culture who are teaching in the schools. And more teachers at non-aboriginal schools are also bringing those lessons into the classroom.
Ottmann is Annishinabe (Saulteaux) and has not only lived what she teaches but has also studied the history of aboriginal people in this country. She said she is passionate about the subject “because of who I am and because I’ve been a teacher for many years.”
As a teacher she finds it rewarding to see the change in students over the course of her program as they come to understand what is behind the reality for aboriginals today.
“It’s rewarding to see some of them move from closed minded and with limited understanding to being more open to learning and being more knowledgeable.”