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Curricular representations of indigenous perspectives: examining stakeholder interactions within African, Asian, and North American contexts

Thu, April 18, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Pacific Concourse (Level -1), Pacific E

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


Inspired by the ‘Education for Sustainability’ theme that guides CIES 2019, and given the potential of indigenous epistemologies to offer more sustainable approaches to the environment, we believe it is pertinent and timely to discuss how indigenous perspectives and epistemologies are represented in the official curriculum in different national contexts. We ask: What is the place of indigenous philosophies, knowledge systems, and experiences vis-à-vis the place of dominant discourses in the curriculum? Further, what global models exist that might have successfully carved a space for more balanced representations of indigenous/Indigenous perspectives and knowledge systems? And, what does all that mean for minoritized Indigenous students’ sense of citizenship, and majority students civic attitudes vis-à-vis values of pluralism, respect for diversity, and inclusivity?

In an attempt to explore the ways in which curriculum could offer deeper engagements with diverse narratives, perspectives, and worldviews, this panel tackles the above questions and contributes to this much-needed exchange. Thus, we explore the interactions of the various key stakeholders, including teachers and students, with the place and representations of indigenous perspectives and knowledge systems in curricula.

After decades of neglect, there has been a growing acknowledgment and realization that embracing indigenous approaches to curriculum can promote inclusive and pluralistic ways of knowing, being, and acting in the world that could advance more ecological approaches and sustainable living (e.g., Denzin, 2007; Denzin, Lincoln, & Smith, 2008; Ngulube, 2016; Smith, 2013). In proposing ways to operationalize Southern Theory advanced by Connell (2007), Takayama et al. (2016) remind us of the centrality of “Indigenous knowledge” within that framework as an entry point to challenge dominant discourses, including the hegemony of Western perspectives (p. 7). Central to that framework is also an attempt to identify and contest “the processes and mechanisms of academic knowledge production”, which work to normalize and “sustain the uneven knowledge producing relationship both within and across nation-states” (Takayama et al., 2016, p. 11).

The past two decades have also witnessed a growing interest in analyzing representations of Indigenous peoples’ historical narratives and contributions in official curricula, such as those of Native Americans in US social studies standards and curricula (e.g., Journell, 2009; Stanton, 2014), First Nations in Canadian textbooks (e.g., Clark, 2007), and Samis in Norwegian textbooks (e.g., Eriksen, 2018). Beyond analyzing Indigenous minority group representations, there also is a nascent body of literature that explores the place of indigenous ‘perspectives’ and ‘approaches’ in curriculum and classroom practices in global Northern contexts, such as in Canadian science education (e.g., Kim, Ashgar, & Jordan, 2017; Kim, & Dionne, 2014), and social studies education (e.g., Scott, 2013; Scott & Gani, 2018).

Similarly, in the global South there have been ongoing conversations. For instance, scholars have explored how Sub-Saharan African curricula could better embrace and integrate indigenous African knowledge systems and perspectives (e.g., Nashon, Anderson, & Wright, 2007; Sigauke, 2016), and how Western academe can better represent these perspectives in their increasingly multicultural classrooms (e.g., Dei, 2000). Also, in the context of East Asia, scholars have pointed to the need to continue to critically investigate “the education for the cultural, religious, and linguistic minority communities and Indigenous peoples” in the region (Luke, 2018, p. 258).

That these conversations are taking place is reason enough for hope and optimism. However, these conversations have largely been taking place within the confines of provincial or national contexts (e.g., Scott & Gani, 2018; Stanton, 2014) or, at best, in regional contexts (e.g., Emeagwali, & Dei, 2014) (for exceptions, see Takayama et al, 2016). Also, beyond general analyses of the dominant discourses and how they marginalize Indigenous knowledge systems, those efforts have rarely delved into how such competing ideologies manifest in particular educational sites, such as curriculum, especially while adopting a comparative approach.

Thus, more needs to be done to animate a wider conversation that engages scholars from the global North and the global South who are grappling with these issues, focusing on similar units of analyses -such as curriculum - across these various contexts. Fostering a comparative approach that encourages a dialogue across geographical regions and contexts promises to enrich ongoing national and regional conversations. Such a comparative approach also promises to help locate and identify global best practice, as well as areas of possible exchanges and productive synergies among curriculum scholars and other concerned scholars.

In an attempt to contribute to these exchanges and conversations, the presenters in this panel will shed light on the tensions and possibilities inherent in creating a meaningful space for indigenous perspectives in curricula in various global North and South contexts. The presenters explore two examples from the Canadian context (the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan), where the conversation around Indigenous representations has attracted growing interest by scholars, activists, and curriculum researchers and developers alike. The third paper highlights the challenges of dehumanized narratives confronted by Indigenous communities worldwide, using the context of Indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. The fourth paper theorizes about what a curriculum based on indigenous knowledge systems and epistemologies would look like, especially in the African context. Finally, the fifth paper examines the Egyptian context, where the place of ancient indigenous perspectives has been decisively sidelined by the advent of the Abrahamic tradition and later waves of Western Eurocentric approaches to curriculum that continued to undervalue local indigenous perspectives.

The common guiding question throughout these presentations remains: how do various stakeholders – including teachers and students - interact with the representations of indigenous perspectives and knowledge systems in official curricula? Further, the presenters attempt to reflect on how such representations shape these stakeholders' understandings of Indigenous perspectives, their understandings of the notion of citizenship, and the place of Indigenous peoples as citizens in society at large.

Note: We follow Wilson’s (2008) distinction between ‘Indigenous’ and ‘indigenous’. While Indigenous (with a capital I) is “inclusive of all first peoples—unique in our own [Indigenous] cultures—in our experiences of colonialism and our understanding of the world” (p. 16), the term indigenous (with a lowercase i), generally refers to “things that have developed ‘home grown’ in specific places” (Wilson, 2008, p. 15).

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