As already described, this lack of knowledge both grows out of and causes severe misconceptions about aboriginals, all of which can be traced to a belief in the general inferiority of aboriginal cultures. From the very beginnings of European intervention in the Americas, the aboriginal peoples of the continents have been increasingly marginalized. Threatened with the very possible extinction of their culture, many First Nations communities have begun to take control of their own education (Carr-Stewart, 2006). It is their hope that with their own schools, they will be able to preserve the elements of their culture that still persist with a strong tradition, while at the same time preparing their children to join Canadian society and the modern world so that they can have the full advantages to which they are due (Carr-Stewart, 2006).
The preservation of First Nations culture cannot take place only in First Nations schools, however. Transculturation, though it has its definite downsides, is a very real facet of our modern world, and preservation requires this new brand of cross-assimilation (Cooper & White, 2005). For this reason, Canada must begin teaching aboriginal art and other aspects of aboriginal culture in its mainstream provincial schools, to fully preserve an appreciation for their culture.
Promoting diversity and an understanding between cultures is an essential accomplishment in these times. Teaching aboriginal art in Canadian schools will go a long way towards achieving this goal. But the effects of this promotion of diversity are far more complex than they may appear on the surface. The methods by which aboriginal art and culture must be taught will create far more than just a simple awareness and appreciation of others.
Preserving culture cannot be accomplished simply by placing artifacts and documents in museums and libraries -- culture is not a climate-controlled commodity. Instead, it grows and changes as time passes, especially when in contact with other cultures. Because of this, other cultures must be fully understood if they are to be preserved. Teaching aboriginal art will give students this understanding on a level they can truly enjoy and appreciate. It gives them a chance to become creatively involved in the culture they will necessarily be studying. An understanding of the different principles, values, and beliefs behind the various First Nations art forms will allow them to create their own works of art based on the same concepts.
In this way, some First Nation culture will find its way into the consciousness of the students. Rather than growing up viewing other cultures as inferior or even simply as something strange and foreign, students who have had the opportunity to study aboriginal art in such a fashion are much more likely to see the similarities between their own experiences and those of others. This will not come, like Heriot's acknowledgement of cultural similarities, with a view towards domination and control, but rather with an eager desire to try new perspectives.
The preservation of culture and a growing appreciation of diversity are certainly the two primary goals and benefits that can be expected from teaching aboriginal art in Canadian schools. At the same time, aboriginal culture and history is a very important part of all of Canada's and all Canadian's histories. Studying aboriginal art not only provides a way to preserve aboriginal culture, but leads to a better understanding of Canadian culture and humanity at large.
There are certain commonalities to all cultures, and these can be observed by anyone -- even those with highly prejudicial perspectives (Heriot, ca. 1807; CEA, 2009). Studying art is a great way to be introduced to those similarities, and comparisons are easily drawn between the specific beliefs of any two given cultures. Heriot saw these commonalities reflected in religion, and it is true that many First Nations beliefs can be seen to align with some degree to traditional Christian beliefs (Heriot, ca. 1807). The religious beliefs and practices of many aboriginal peoples is reflected in their artwork, much of which had spiritual as well as aesthetic significance.
Because of this, art is a wonderful way to introduce students to the larger issues of culture and civilization. Teaching aboriginal art rather than art of a different and perhaps more well-known tradition provides two key benefits. First, as already noted, it aids in the understanding and appreciation of another culture, promoting diversity while at the same time preserving a culture that was in danger of being lost due to historical grievances. Second, studying a lesser-known culture's art adds excitement and intrigue to the lesson, and requires students to make logical connections between their own culture and the one they are studying. This will improve critical thinking skills in general, opening the mind to a wide range of possibilities.
There are, fo course, many important things that need to be taught in Canadian schools. Few things are more important in today's world, however, than an appreciation of culture and the destructive power that cultural dominance can have. If this dominance is combated early with an appreciation of diversity, today's students will have a brighter future.
Aboriginal tourism." (2009). Official aboriginal tourism website of British Columbia. Accessed 7 March 2009. http://www.aboriginalbc.com/trellis/cultureheritage.
Canadian education association. (2009). "Policy landscape: Aboriginal peoples." Accessed 7 March 2009. http://www.cea-ace.ca/foo.cfm?subsection=lit&page=pol&subpage=lan&subsubpage=abo
Carr-Stewart, S. (2006). "The changing educational governance of First Nations schools in Canada: Towards local control and educational equity." Management in education, 20 (5), pp. 6-12.
Cooper, R. & White, D. (2005). "Teaching transculturation: Pedagogical processes." Journal of design history, 18 (3), pp. 285-92.
Heriot, G. (ca. 1807). Travels Through the Canadas. London: [publisher not indicated].…