Fostering Indigenous perspectives in education to deepen understanding of Aboriginal knowledge

Schools & Students

The new head of the Aboriginal Education Learning Services department is interested in bringing her history to her new role in order to bridge understanding of Indigenous history in the new BC curriculum.

“One of my priorities has always been fostering a holistic understanding of student success,” says new district vice-principal of Aboriginal education, Chas Desjarlais. “We tend to focus on intellectual success, but honouring emotional, mental, physical and spiritual development is equally as important for an overall sense of well-being,” says Desjarlais.

In Indigenous culture it is very important to honour one’s lineage, “I'm Cree, Metis on my father's side -- Robert Edmond Desjarlais and of French, English and Spanish ancestry on my mother's side -- Diane Lorraine Johnson,” Desjarlais explains. “I am a Treaty Six First Nation and a member of the Cold Lake First Nations.”

Desjarlais began her career with the VSB as a classroom teacher in 1999. She taught in several alternative programs before becoming an Aboriginal education enhancement teacher at Britannia. She then took a consulting position at the VSB education centre where she has worked for three years.

Desjarlais is encouraged by recent developments in the education system. “Indigenous perspectives and world views are embedded throughout the new curriculum,” she says. “It’s my hope that as teachers begin to learn more about incorporating these ideas into their practices they’ll look to our department for mentorship.”

Desjarlais believes much of Indigenous education is about relationship to the land, and in the future she’d like to see that learning taken out of doors as often as possible. “Aboriginal peoples understand that the earth was our first teacher,” she says. “Being in a relationship with Mother Earth has taught us a great deal. Having hands on, experiential experiences are crucial for understanding the philosophies of Indigenous knowledge.

“My children and my ancestors inspire me,” she concludes.