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Masked dancers in canoes - Qagyuhl 1916 by Edward Curtis - Click to see Large View



Literacy is a variable topic in education, one that has shifted and expanded over the years: with an unprecedented expansion since the 1980s, in parallel with the evolution of computers and digital technologies. Mainstream education has focused on reading, writing, and numeracy for centuries, but in the 21st century, this has changed dramatically. Curriculum and pedagogy studies have revealed that the learner of today requires literacy in several dimensions beyond these standard three.

Educational statistics and research also support the need for culturally-sensitive and appropriate literacy strategies for First Nations children, youth and adults. For too long, literacy has been viewed through a mainstream lens, which does not always fit with First Nations needs and comfort. More and more initiatives encourage the inclusion of traditional languages, arts, knowledge, and awareness as critical literacy skills needed by First Nations people in the 21st century. This is coupled with other new literacies, such as digital, visual, global and cultural literacy.

Although the number of literacy models that exist are extensive and sometimes confusing, researchers agree on a few key principles:

Parental involvement in literacy initiatives is invaluable - the younger the child, the higher the value

First Nations children need instruction and literacy development in their own traditional language just as much as the mainstream language.

Orality is a traditional literacy skill that has endured since time immemorial in First Nations communities and continues to be an important one. Children should be encouraged to both listen to and tell stories and express themselves orally from a young age.

Connecting with Elders can help children and adults develop traditional literacies.



Literacy: A World to Discover

Rethinking Learning: The 21st Century Learner


READ: McKeough, A; Bird, S; Tourigny, E; Romaine, A; Graham, S; Ottmann, J. & Jeary, J. (2008). Storytelling As A Foundation To Literacy Development For Aboriginal Children: Culturally And Developmentally Appropriate Practices. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 49(2): 148-154.

READ: NCREL. (2003). enGauge 21st Century skills for 21st Century Learners - Literacy in the Digital Age.


EXPLORE: the learning activities in OSSTF/FEESO. (2012). Full Circle: First Nations, Metis, Inuit Ways of Knowing - A Common Threads Resource. Toronto. OSSTF. - choose a few that cultivate various literacies and try them yourself or in the classroom.

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