Mindy was a December baby. When she was four, her mother, Diane, struggled with deciding whether or not Mindy should begin Kindergarten in September. There was a small school in a new middle-class neighbourhood. Parents and children there got along well, so Mindy already had an established circle of friends. When September arrived, Diane delivered Mindy to Kindergarten because she was sure Mindy could handle it. And Mindy did. She thrived, and grew, and loved Kindergarten until the spring just shortly after the school’s Multicultural-Week events.
During that week each classroom did some “multicultural project” to recognize the school’s cultural diversity and because multiculturalism is promoted and supported by the Ministry of Education and the federal government.
At circle time, Ms. Smith, Mindy’s Kindergarten teacher, asked the Kindergarten children to talk to their parents about who they were. Ms. Smith explained that it was a special time in the school and that students and teachers were all going to talk about what makes them special. Ms. Smith said “I am Irish. My great grandfather came to Canada from a place called Ireland—far away.” She said that the school secretary, Ms. Chan, is Chinese. Her mom and dad came from China to Canada.
Some of the children were aware of their heritage. “I’m Ukrainian.” “My mom’s Japanese.” Mindy wasn’t sure what she was. She knew gramma and grampa lived in Vancouver, and she lived up north. She knew her mom worked at a supermarket and her dad was a trucker.
That night, Mindy gave her mom the note about the background question. Mindy and mom talked about who gramma and mom were. They were Indian, so Mindy was Indian too. This was special.
The next day, Mindy went to school feeling so proud of who she was. At circle time, Ms. Smith asked the children what they had learned about who they were. I’m Polish, English, Scottish, etc. Mindy said she was Indian. Ms. Smith said “what a different group of beautiful children I have in my class from all over the world. Isn’t it nice to know how special we all are.” The following day at Kindergarten, Mindy was looking very sad. Ms. Smith asked her what was wrong. Mindy said Joey would not hold her hand during “London Bridges” because she was a dirty Indian, and Angela wouldn’t sit beside her at snack time because she was a stinky Indian. Some of Mindy’s friends didn’t seem to be so friendly today either.
When Diane got home from work, she asked how Mindy’s day had gone. Mindy said sadly, “Mom, are you sure I’m an Indian?” Mindy told her about her unhappy day at school just because she was an Indian.
Diane called her mother, in Vancouver. She said Mindy wanted to talk to gramma. After some niceties, Mindy said, “gramma, am I really an Indian?” Gramma said, “Yes you are, your mom is, I am, and so was my mom. Why do you ask?” Mindy said, “The kids at school say that Indians are silly, and I don’t want to be silly.” Gramma said, “Sweetheart, I am Indian. Am I silly or dirty or smelly?” “No.” “Your mom’s an Indian. Is she silly?” “No.” “Well, here we are, three Indians who know we are not silly or dirty or smelly. Should you believe other people, or should you believe what you know to be true?” Mindy felt assured that being Indian didn’t mean what some kids at school had said. She and mom and gramma all knew that those kids were wrong.
The following day, Diane went to see Mindy’s teacher, who was apologetic about Mindy’s experience. She said, “You know how children can be. It’s part of their growing up. They really didn’t mean what they said to Mindy.” Ms. Smith said she would keep an eye on things to make sure Mindy was included and accepted by all the children. The remainder of Mindy’s Kindergarten term wasn’t nearly as much fun for her. She had learned what part of her was not accepted by her classmates. She was different, and that wasn’t good.
In this final project, you will read the Case Study and think about the issues that are reflected in this case study for families, schools, and communities. Some of the key issues and concerns might be...
- At the age of 5, Mindy had no sense of her traditional heritage. Why?
- The children in her class had already developed biases and stereotypes of "Indians" as reflected in their use of the derogatory and racist terms, their taunts and their behavior towards the child.
- The 'little name-callers' attitudes is a 'learned response'. Where do you suppose they would have 'learned' these perceptions and behaviors?
- The teacher did not deal with this issue with the children. Why?
Outline other key issues that you feel need to be addressed in this case study. Based on what you have learned in this course, your job is to create a comprehensive action plan that will:
- help Mindy to know, understand and value her Aboriginal identity
- help the children and adults in the school (k-12) to understand, respect and value the Aboriginal people
- foster understanding, respect, and acceptance in the community
Case Study taken from Aboriginal Education - 'Beyond Words': Creating Racism Free Schools for Aboriginal Learners, B.C. Teachers' Federation Aboriginal Education
- Hint: provide examples of your plan (e.g. if you suggest that a pow-wow might be held in the community, you will be given marks for creating a poster to advertise the event. If you decide that Mindy needs to hear stories about her culture, you will be given marks for suggesting a few stories or places that she could go to hear the stories. If you decide that the school needs to hold school-wide 'cultural' events to foster awareness, you will be given extra marks for suggesting the activities that might be included.)