Expert Q&A | Shawn A-in-chut Atleo

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Expert Q&A: Shawn Atleo

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Q: What key 21st century skills and traits are essential for students to be successful in the future?

A: I think indigenous cultures can bring something to Canada that's desperately needed and that is, from each of our cultures the elders will so often remind us, to take a whole and holistic view of life and of the world around us, of our deep interconnectedness, for example, with the environment. . . . I think we can recapture that as peoples, as we have encountered a deep and troubling damage and change to the natural environment around us. In some respects, it seems as though we've lost the protocols of with our relationship with the plants, with the animals, with the water and with the birds, and so our relationship and connection to the world is something that indigenous peoples can bring really back into the world and into the learning environment. It's absolutely critical.

I of course completely agree that we need to support innovation and critical skills thinking, and those are the skills I think that are universally agreed as being needed to overcome and solve problems.

Q: What are the challenges facing students in acquiring these skills and traits, and how can they be overcome?

A: Schools and educators in my view need to accept the challenge that for too long, First Nations have not been really included neither in the curriculum of their institutions nor have First Nations students succeeded to the right that Canadians do... we need to have a sense of urgency amongst all educators and the education system in general to place a top priority on not only the support and success of indigenous learners – First Nations, Inuit and Metis – but that all Canadians should learn about the real history as well.

I would welcome the average student to question the education, teachers, the principals, school boards and the professors about the place of indigenous peoples in the curriculum. I would go on Free The Children website and look up the new curriculum that's been launched by the Me to We initiative in relationship with former prime minister Paul Martin's initiative on education. I would look into why it is Belinda Stronach's One Laptop Per Child program has also chosen First Nations communities in Canada to be recipients of computers in classrooms, where the kids are desperately reaching out for the kind of information and access to information that many kids take for granted in the Canadian school system. And so this is an ongoing call to action to improve education that in my view, with the power of youth behind it, the adults will simply have to catch up to.

—Shawn Atleo
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