Note: I use First Nations, Aboriginal, and Indigenous interchangeably, as all the sources I used varied in which terminology they used.
Having an up-to-date reference and resource section in a school library is of utmost importance. While all references and resources are important, some hold a particular type of potential that make it even more crucial that they are up-to-date. The First Nations reference section is one of these resources. An out-of-date First Nations reference section has the potential to misinform, misguide, and perpetuate stereotypes. An up-to-date First Nations reference section has to the potential to be a symbolic step towards Reconciliation and the righting of past wrongs. Therefore, for this assignment, I will be addressing my library’s First Nations resources and how I can improve on our collection.
Ann Riedling, in her book Reference Skills for the School Librarian: Tools and Tips states that reference for school librarians is “a profoundly human activity, ministering to one of the most basic needs of humans, the desire to know” (Riedling 3 my emphasis). And yet what if certain reference resources a library has allows its patrons to know the wrong things, or gives them an incomplete picture about certain subjects, thus corrupting this desire to know? British Columbia is home to “203 First Nations bands whose languages represent 17 district linguistic groups” (Chrona). However, my library/learning commons currently does not do enough to represent this diverse and important part of the Canadian cultural landscape, nor does it have enough resources that teach about its history (both the good and the bad). We are lacking First Nations representation in all areas, from our Fiction to Non-Fiction to Reference resources. Furthermore, a lot of the resources that we do have are outdated, or, even worse, use racist and/or inappropriate language, or could easily be accused of cultural appropriation, and thus hold the danger of corrupting this “desire to know”. Authentic First Nations voices are not adequately represented, and it is time for a complete overhaul of our First Nations Resources and Reference Materials.
On top of this, many teachers are struggling with the changes to the curriculum that require First Nations content to be woven through every single subject at every single grade level. Our library is lacking in the necessary resources to help teachers make new lessons and create new course content with these changes in mind.
Rationale for Change
The need to reach beyond the Eurocentric paradigm that has underlay our Education system since its inception is finally being officially acknowledged with the new changes to our provincial curriculum. An important aspect of this is teaching our students more about the diverse and fascinating cultures that make up our First Nations population, as well as teaching about the past discriminatory government policies that resulted in the residential school system, a system that has left a “crushing legacy” (Meissner). As such, an Education Ministry statement states that “Aboriginal history, culture, and perspectives have been integrated across subject areas and grade levels in B.C.’s new curriculum” (Meissner). The changes are “part of the B.C. government’s response to 94 recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report” and is intent on giving students a “fuller understanding of [the] history [of] Canada” (Meissner). B.C. Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad acknowledges that there are “many things that have happened in the province of British Columbia that people are not aware of” (Meissner). This revised curriculum, according to Education Minister Peter Fassbender, will be “promoting greater understanding, empathy, and respect” (Meissner). It is incredibly important that the school library also promote this greater understanding, empathy, and respect for Aboriginal history and culture through a well stocked and current collection of First Nations resources. Reidling backs this up, stating that all libraries need a “well developed collection of books, periodicals, and non-print materials…that support curricular topics” (Riedling 4).
Furthermore, the new curriculum clearly states that all learners will have “learning opportunities to explore and experience Aboriginal content in their entire learning journey [and] not just in specific courses or grade levels” (Knaack). For example, one of the curricular competencies for a Grade 10 Creative Writing English module is to “recognize the diversity within and across First People’s societies as represented in texts”, while Grade 12 Chemistry asks that students “apply First People’s perspectives and knowledge, other ways of knowing it, and local knowledge as sources of information” (Knaack). This is where the Teacher Librarian has an incredible opportunity, and an incredible responsibility, as “educators require resources and supports to be able to implement the integration of Aboriginal perspectives and worldviews into their classroom” and students need to have an updated and engaging collection of different types of resources to allow them to fully engage with the culture (Knaack).
Finally, it is well known that student learning is affected by the quality of the reference sources in their library, in fact, “studies show significant positive relationship between the quality of reference sources and services provided in the schools and student learning” (Riedling 4).
Librarians need to be mediators that “weigh the good, the bad and the indifferent data” and to be able to locate “accurate sources to meet the information needs of students” (4). Having bad references negatively affects student learning because, on their own, they often have “no knowledge or awareness of how to evaluate information resources they find” so they end up just believing what they read” (13). This can further damage an already negative relationship with First Nations people. While part of a TL’s job is to teach students how to evaluate info, it is also their responsibility to ensure the information students do have access to is as accurate as possible.
Step by Step Plan
Riedling states that “accurate and appropriate provision of information will occur when the School Librarian has a complete and accurate knowledge of the library collection” and that this “thorough knowledge…is imperative” (Riedling 4/19). Furthermore, of primary consideration is that the library collection is of “high quality” (17). Therefore, the very first step would be to do a complete inventory of all First Nations resources currently in the library. I would, as the Teacher Librarian, need “competence in…organizing [these] resources” in order to assess what can stay, what needs to go, and what I need to acquire (15).
The second step would be to officially evaluate the resources and reference materials that we currently do have to help me in making the above decision about what can stay, what needs to go, and what I need to acquire. As Riedling states, “adequate…evaluation of reference materials involves consideration of specific criteria” depending on the resource (18). I also would need to remember that “reference sources are constantly changing in response to new societal…developments [and understandings]” and to evaluate them with this in mind (15). This is particularly relevant for First Nations resources, as the evaluation process and the criteria that goes along with it may be more challenging than normal. Privilege runs deep, and sources that in other circumstances would be considered reliable may not be in these circumstances. Riedling states that “a bad reference source is one that fails to answer questions” (21). But it’s much more than that. What if it answers questions in a skewed way? What if it leaves out important information that would lead to a more holistic understanding of the issue? What if it is blinded by the privilege of a dominant paradigm? Riedling does understand this, stating that a TL has to be careful for “much is subjective when it comes to judging any kind of resource”, but does not give specific guidelines on how to deal with this sensitive issue (21).
However, there are, of course, some guidelines that she does give us that I could use for this process of evaluation. Generally, I would evaluate each resource on:
- The Scope of the Material-this is particularly important with First Nations content. I would need to note if there were any “key omissions from the subject area”, for example, specific details around the residential schools (22).
- The Purpose of the Source: As already stated, often the purpose could have been based on misguided knowledge/principles, so I would need to evaluate this.
- The Currency of the Content: Obviously the more current the content, the better, but in regards to First Nations issues this is particularly tricky because there has been such a huge change in recognition about what our history entailed. One of the things I might need to decide on would be a date that is symbolic of a shift in how we think/talk about First Nations issues. Certainly, anything post-Reconciliation would be preferable, but this is not a mandatory marker. I would also need to take into account who the author was in terms of reliability and motivation-for some authors, particularly First Nations authors, this symbolic shift would not be relevant.
- Indicators of Authority: I would need to look at who wrote the resource, if they were First Nations or not, the education and experience of the authors (or editors/contributors), the reliability of the author etc. I’d also need to consider the “objectivity and fairness of the source” and try to evaluate if the author or contributor had biases (22). This is an extremely complex area, and many hard questions will come up. While it is easy to dismiss books by someone like Grey Owl, a non-indigenous person who claimed indigenous status, someone like Joseph Boyden is much more complex. Boyden was “accused of misrepresenting himself as Indigenous in an investigative report by Jorge Barrera for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in December 2016” (Brant). He was criticized for “lacking a clear connection to any Indigenous community despite having become ‘a spokesperson on Indigenous issues’” (Brant). Yet Boyden has been heavily involved in fighting for indigenous rights, and his books offer a complex, fascinating, and compassionate look at many different Indigenous issues. Should his books be weeded out of the library? I personally am not inclined to think so, but the idea of cultural appropriation must be dealt with carefully and sensitively when it comes to the library’s collection.
Some Specific Relevant Resources to Look More Closely At
Riedling states that “biographies tell about what people have done or what they are doing” and they thus of course should be a “source of fact” as well as “pictures of everyday life” (Riedling 51). But, again, we must examine the motives, authors, and lenses of the time period before we decide if they are actually depicting factual pictures, particularly with First Nations culture. Normally when one evaluates a biographical source, they look for cost, accuracy, comprehensiveness, ease of use, and currency. For First Nations content, three of these are particularly important. Riedling points out that when evaluating accuracy, “primary resources may have items omitted” and that “secondary resources may be incorrect or biased” depending on the author (52). Comprehensiveness is also very important-the “scope and criteria should be in agreement” (52). Finally, of course, currency is crucial. Riedling states that looking for the “title of a basic bibliography is a good way to know if a source is legitimate, authoritative, and based on accurate material” (52). However, I find this problematic. I would be willing to bet that a lot of resources have not been thoroughly evaluated for the subtle bias garnered from hundreds of years of discrimination and prejudice against First Nations peoples. She does warn to watch out for early biographical reference sources that [dealt] as much with individual ego and pride as with accomplishment and fact”, and she does include a “Native American Biography Sources and Literary Criticism” section (53/55). However, I still think that evaluating biographical sources might be quite an onerous task, but one that is highly important.
Encyclopedias are even trickier, and perhaps thus even more onerous to evaluate. By definition, an encyclopedia is a “work that contains information on all branches of knowledge”, but what if one particular branch of that tree is rotten, while the rest of the tree remains healthy (70)? Reidling says that it is “rare to discover errors in encyclopedia sets” but does not seem to be accounting for the fact that omissions in information can be seen as errors (71). An example would be the World Book Encyclopedias I evaluated for a previous assignment-there were no errors, per say, but the fact that it dedicated 4 pages to Guatemala, and 39 to Germany (check these facts) shows omissions in information. Similarly, a lot of encyclopedias may not reflect accurate knowledge of the history and/or culture of First Nations people. In evaluating our encyclopedias that deal with First Nations in any context, I would use the same criteria as for any encyclopedia: accuracy, authority, currency, format, indexing, objectivity and scope…but, again, I would pay particular attention to authority (which is “determined by the scholars who write the articles”), and objectivity, particularly because of the dangerous belief that most people carry that “all encyclopedias are objective” (71/73). Riedling warns us not to “assume objectivity” and to “check for passive or implicit bias” and this would be particularly relevant and important for stereotypes around First Nations culture (72). As I have already pointed out, she also tells us to look for what is “excluded, emphasized, or deemphasized” (72). And as I also pointed out, “encyclopedias are usually published with a specific audience in mind” and, unfortunately, that is most often western people (72).
It is worth noting that even though I have all these tools at hand to evaluate the resources, there are some that will be beyond my expertise and I will need to get some input from other, more authoritative sources. For this, I would ask my Aboriginal Teacher Advocate to come and look at any books or resources that I was unsure about.
The third step would be ordering new up-to-date resources. I would concentrate more on quality over quantity, because “it is more important to have a small but relevant and up-to-date collection of materials than a large collection that is neither useful nor of good quality” (23). Reidling points out that “effective collection development is done collaboratively” and I certainly would not be attempting to tackle this mammoth project alone (17). She also states that “input from the community is useful and important” as is providing ways to “involve others in the selection process”(18). As such, Surrey has two amazing Aboriginal Helping Teachers at DEC, and each school has an Aboriginal Teacher Advocate, all of whom I would be contacting. It turns out that there is a list of “must have” books to be added to any school library collection, put together by the Teacher Librarian Helping Teacher and the Aboriginal Helping Teachers. I will include that here for all to peruse.
The Surrey Schools Hub also has a link to an Aboriginal Resource Center page, which includes the “must haves” posted above, as well as an ARC catalogue and an ARC resource page. There are also a ton of resources on the internet. I found a few excellent library sites, in particular a North Van one. These are just a sampling of the myriad of resources out there to help:
Surrey Schools Hub-Aboriginal Learning https://www.surreyschools.ca/ProgramsAndServices/ABRG/Pages/default.aspx
Surrey School District Resources for Teachers
COTA: How to Embed Aboriginal Content into B.C.’s new Redesigned Curriculum; https://www.mycota.ca/pro-d-blog/2016/03/10/how-to-embed-aborigianl-content-into-b.c.s-new-redesigned-curriculum
University of Ontario Indigenous Resources K-12: https://guides.library.uoit.ca/indigenous_k-12/math
University of Saskatchewan Research Guides: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Content & Perspectives Across the Curriculum: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Curricula
Sutherland Secondary School Library: First Nations Curriculum: https://libguides.sd44.ca/teacherinfo/fn
First People’s Principles of Learning: https://learn.sd61.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/96/2017/09/First-Peoples-Principles-of-Learning-for-Teachers.pdf
First Nations Education Steering Committee: Learning First People’s Classroom Resources: http://www.fnesc.ca/learningfirstpeoples/
B.C.’s New Curriculum: First People’s Principles of Learning https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/instructional-samples/first-peoples-principles-learning
Specifically, I would also be interested in seeing if I could find reliable and accurate “single volume encyclopedias” or “subject encyclopedias”, as well as special dictionaries-it would be fantastic to find some dictionaries with first nations languages represented in Surrey. I would also love to find at least one map that included First Nations boundaries, or a historical atlas that didn’t show Canada as a blank canvas ripe for colonization pre-1700s. I did find out that there is an Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, which I definitely would be ordering. A thematic atlas would also be very interesting to have.
In the interest of helping to support my teachers through the new curriculum changes, I also would make a “virtual reference collection for media center containing links to online reference tools and digital libraries” for FN resources (114). But of course, would still need to evaluate for “authority and appropriateness” (114).
Due to the myriad of resources available, putting my plan into action would be simple, provided that I had the budget to do so. Luckily , Surrey applied for a grant to help supplement the cost of new First Nations resources, so I would try to take advantage of that, and thus implement my plan in a timely manner. Later steps would be to “continually evaluate the quality of the library’s reference collection” to make sure that it continued to be up-to-date and representative of any changes(21).
Communicating the Change
Showcasing the First Nations upgrades to our resources could be made into a fun and informational event. I would first make a new section in the library specifically for these resources, and would create a sticker specific to First Nations resources to put on all of the book spines. I would make a display of some of the more interesting ones in the library window, along with interesting facts and pictures. For students, I would have a contest with prizes-an “Aboriginal Reads” contest-to encourage them to read some of the new fiction I will have bought. For teachers, I will have a lunch n learn where I will go through all the new resources I have found, and make an activity where they get to work with them in their subject area groups. I would make some suggestions for activities or lessons that I could help them with.
Keeping up with any reference resource section is always going to be a somewhat daunting task, but it is one whose importance cannot be ignored. This task is even more important when the consequences for not updating a reference resource section can continue to perpetuate outdated attitudes and stereotypes. It is crucial that a teacher librarian “anticipate the changes taking place in education and information services [and in society] and manage the resources of the school library to stay ahead of these changes” (118). After all, a successful librarian, according to Rolf Erikson, must “look beyond tradition to the future, to what is needed to help fulfill the educational missions, goals, and objectives of the school” (118). It is with pride that I would help to fulfill the greater understanding and truth telling of our First Nations cultures.
“Aboriginal Resource Center”. Surrey Schools. Accessed from https://www.surreyschools.ca/ProgramsAndServices/ABRG/Aboriginal_Resource_Centre/Pages/default.aspx
Brant, Jennifer. “Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada”. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 18 April, 2018. Accessed from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/cultural-appropriation-of-indigenous-peoples-in-canada
Chrona, Jo. “Background of FPPL and Current Contexts”. First Peoples Principles of Learning-WordPress Blog. Accessed from https://firstpeoplesprinciplesoflearning.wordpress.com/background-and-current-context/
Knaack, Liesel. “5 Key Changes in BC’s New K-12 Curriculum: What are the Implications for Post-Secondary?”. Learning Design for Deep Learning. 28 December, 2017. Accessed from https://wordpress.viu.ca/ciel/2017/12/28/5-key-changes-in-bcs-new-k-12-curriculum/
Meissner, Dirk. “New B.C. School Curriculum Will Have Aboriginal Focus.” The Globe and Mail. 17 June. 2015. Accessed from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/amp/news/british-columbia/new-bc-school-curriculum-will-have-aboriginal-focus/article25003962/
Riedling, Ann. Reference Skills for the School Librarian: Tools and Tips, 3rd Edition. ABC-CLIO. Kindle Edition.
The World Book Encyclopedia of People and Places D-H, compiled by World Book, Inc. 2007.