Barriers for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students

The culture of colonization is a barrier for our young people. It’s a culture of being told what to do. Parents learned that and perpetuated it by telling their kids they have to do what teachers tell them to do and not complain or say anything.

– First Nations Elder

Many Aboriginal students may also experience such barriers to engagement with their learning and school life. The long-term assault on their culture and language, combined with racism, or silence and denial of their existence, has left many Aboriginal youth with feelings of shame leading to rejection of their identity. They face the multigenerational impact of colonization, abuse and cultural genocide as implemented in part through the residential school system.

Pain and sadness generated by a cycle of violence is a legacy passed on from survivors to children and grandchildren. Many of these students and their families have developed a profound distrust of schools and other institutions as the location and engine of attempts at forced assimilation.

Schools can therefore trigger individual and collective memories of anger and fear of authority and have a real impact on Aboriginal youth and their feeling of belonging and connection to the school culture. This in turn has an impact on their experience of feeling part of the school community, and on their decision to become or not to become involved in leadership and activities that foster positive change.

For more information about the historical and contemporary oppression of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada, and its impact on young people and their families in school life, explore COPA’s multimedia resource for First Nations, Métis and Inuit parents and schools, A Circle of Caring