Preserving Cultural Connection for Indigenous Children

The Holistic Development of an Indigenous Child

Indigenous children need to retain a strong connection with their families, culture and language. They are a precious resource to our world.

In the era known as the Sixties Scoop, Native children were removed from their communities and placed into foster homes without consent. This trauma has lasting ramifications for indigenous children.

Socialization

Socialization is a critical factor for indigenous children, especially as they develop a sense of identity and belonging. This includes a connection to the land and a spiritual understanding of their people. It also includes a knowledge of cultural traditions and ways of living.

A key aspect of socialization is the transmission of values, beliefs and attitudes by family members. These values include teaching a child to respect other cultures and embracing tribal culture as a way of life.

Social workers should consider the impact of a child’s cultural context when making decisions about their care and placement. This is particularly important if a child has been removed from their home due to poverty. This is why policies should prioritize placement with extended family and community.

Language

Many Indigenous languages are in danger of extinction. Several reasons for this include forced familial separation through the residential school system and laws like the Indian Act that banned expression of culture. Other reasons include the spread of diseases that wiped out entire tribes, and contact with European settlers who introduced new words into the Indigenous language through creoles and dialects.

Early learning and child care practitioners can help preserve Indigenous languages by providing a language-rich environment. This includes encouraging children to use Indigenous names for their toys and daily objects. It also means communicating with parents in their preferred language.

Promoting equity in speech and language services for Indigenous children requires SLPs to reflect on their cultural competency, which leads to being open to shifting their perspective or framework. The abundance model is one framework that can help SLPs do this.

Traditions

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Canadian authorities separated many Indigenous children from their families and sent them to residential schools. These institutions were designed to educate children and assimilate them into Euro-Canadian culture, but in reality they often resulted in emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Children were also forbidden to practice their traditional customs or speak their native languages and were punished for doing so.

As a result, for several generations many Aboriginal children have been removed from their communities and lost connection with family, language and culture. This is known as the Sixties Scoop, and has left many children with a sense of loss of identity. This loss is difficult to recover from and can impact the health of a child for many years to come.

Culture

Having a strong culture is very important for indigenous children. The reason is because it allows them to connect with their heritage and find meaning in life. When a child has a strong sense of cultural identity, they are less likely to experience trauma and depression.

This is according to a recent study conducted by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre. The study analyzed data from the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children and found that children who were taught about their traditional culture experienced better wellbeing and socio-emotional adjustment.

The study shows that federal policies should recognise that Indigenous culture is an asset for Indigenous children and families and provides a preventive buffer against colonization and historical trauma. In turn, this will improve their health and welfare outcomes.

Education

Education is a critical element to the holistic development of indigenous children. They must have access to quality education that will help them become productive citizens in their communities and nations. It will also ensure that they have the tools to sustain their traditions and culture.

Indigenous peoples need to be educated in their own languages and cultures, so that they can retain their unique identity. Without this, they will be lost in the mainstream and may not be able to fully participate in their community.

Teachers who understand the bigger picture of relationality, embodied learning and cultural teaching-learning-assessment traditions are positioned to make their assessment more reflective of Indigenous learners’ holistic development. This complements the holistic aspect of student achievement described in Measuring What Matters.

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