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Integrating Contemporary Management approach into the Aboriginal Education (Part 1)

Integrating Contemporary Management approach into the Aboriginal Education (Part 1)

A case Study of Atikameg School, Canada.

by Anthony Olusola B.Ed, B.A.



The Aboriginal peoples, as refered to in present day Canada, are the first peoples within the territories of North America, and in the case of Canada comprising of the First NationsInuit and Métis. (Todd; Thornton; Colins 2001) These group of people are characterized as having their identity and way of life distinctive from the mainstream western standard, with their culture including but  not limited to organic community or kinship living, joint ownership of property, permanent settlements, agriculture, civic and ceremonial architecture, complex societal hierarchies and trading networks. (Macklem 2001) Various lawstreaties, and legislation have been enacted between European immigrants and First Nations people across Canada. However, these laws provide little to no right to self-government to the first people, arguably premised upon the stereotype that the European way of life and model of governance trumps any other. Thus, through colonialism, the control of the management of the historical, cultural, political, health care and economic aspects within the first people’s communities were taken over by the European settlers. Equally the residential school, a system of education where native people were forbidden to speak their native language, practice their culture, or dress in the culture attire was introduced. In summary, European administration and governance were also forced on the first peoples, thereby ripping them off their cultural identity and self-governance.

Over the years, there has been a continued debate between the First Nations peoples and the government of Canada over the injustice done to them by the European settlers, and the demand for self-governance, as well as recognition by the government and involvement in policy decision-making process, and not as an afterthought. However, the Canadian government, though having apologized for the wrong doings of the founders of Canada, continues to dominate over the first nations people through bureaucracy, government policy and procedures that champion western approach to governance. This paper looks at the success story of the Atikameg School, in the Whitefish Lake First Nation 459, northeast of Edmonton. The findings reveal that the First Nations peoples, as characterized by distinctive values and customs, makes easy the running of their communities, ensures collective participation, and the overall educational development of the younger members of the community through oral traditions and structured educational system capable of yielding same, if not better, an all-round developmental progress in the educational formation of children and adolescents. Premised upon the findings, this paper asserts that the Aboriginal educational institution, as characterized by distinct cultural values and customs, can be, and are, managed quite differently from their mainstream counterparts, yielding a desirable end result.

Management and Culture: Two Padagrim in Aboriginal context

Several schools of thoughts’ understanding of organizations has been in terms of mechanical or organic, cultural or structural, to mention but a few. However, year of research has shown cultural perspective as a powerful metaphor in helping humans gain useful insights into organizations (Adler, 1983; Smircich, 1983; Frost et al., 1985; Morgan 1986). In his research on the importance of culture in the understanding of a community and management, Smircich argues that “based upon differing approaches to the meaning of culture, especially in the discipline of anthropology, two broad perspectives on culture have developed in the organizational literature: culture as a critical variable and culture as a root metaphor” (Smircich, 1983). The latter, however, forms the basis of discussion in this paper, as it centers on the core values and customs of the Aboriginal people and symbolic to a holistic educational administrative system within the context of their culture.

Culture, many would argue, includes a system of values and world views. As Hofstede puts it, “it is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another, and includes systems of values which are among the building blocks of cultures” (Hofstede, 1982). However, these valuable sets that set humans distinctively apart has been eroded by capitalism, ethnocentrism and prejudice. At the heart of culture rests behaviour, values and attitudes, which is paramount in the formation of human identity and a sense of belonging. These values, trickles to organizations and institutions in their formation and management structure, hence the term –organizational culture- meaning the way we do things around here. In other words, to effectively manage and organize a group of people or an institution, culture play important role and this is key in the running of the First Nations communities in Canada.

The cultural context of Aboriginal Organizations: An examination

The traditional Aboriginal world view, as shown by their way of life and customs, is particularly influential in regulating values and behaviour in Aboriginal communities. In other words, to understand the management and organization of some Aboriginal institutions, it becomes imperative to first discuss the Aboriginal world view.

The creation of widely divergent ways of life of the Aboriginal people can be attributed to the various ecological conditions in which they lived. However, notwithstanding these variations, a common thread runs through each of the cultures, a spiritual world view, an attitude toward the world and their place within it. Proper conduct was determined by natural laws which spelled out the distinction between sacred and secular, or the law of nature and the law of society. For the elders, who are the keepers, interpreters and sources of wisdom about culture and traditional Aboriginal societies, human law and the values and behaviour which flow from it should be a reflection of natural law, and all the structures should be based upon this central understanding. This explains why the process of education for the Aboriginal peoples, especially as it concerns the formation of their children, must contain core values and cultural tenets of the community in order for these young ones to protect and pass down same to generations to come.

Context for Aboriginal Schooling: An examination

Canadian schools operate within political, organizational, cultural and relational environmental contexts. Schools’ effectiveness, therefore, follows a wide range of approaches, given the complexity and diversity of their environments. With regards to the Aboriginal education in Canada, the structure and administration is characterized by a complex jurisdictional overlap. The Indian Act empowers the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to arrange for the education of Indian students living on reserves; however, the constitution delegates authority over education to the provinces and territories. This makes for the provision of Aboriginal schooling in different ways, with students living off-reserve normally attending provincial schools, and on-reserve students may attend local schools operated by their bands, provincial schools through educational service or tuition agreements negotiated by their bands or the regional Department of Indian Affiars  and Northern Development offices, or one of the few remaining federally operated schools on reserve. (DIAND, 2002) Several researchers and government reports, identified certain issues as key to the educational system and early childhood education of children within the Aboriginal communities, having at the top of the list, the need for a culturally based curriculum, language education, and Aboriginal control and parental involvement.

As it were, the governance and administration of education for Canada’s Aboriginal students, arguably, are characterized by inconsistencies and broken lines of authority and accountability. This can be attributed to the introduction of the contemporary management approach, alien to the Aboriginal traditional structure of governance. For true accountability to exist, governing bodies must delegate adequate resources and authority to manage those resources. However, the Aboriginal people often find contemporary approach to management quite cumbersome and mechanical in nature, stripping off the involvement of the community and joint-decision making process. It can also be argued that the jurisdictional confusion through which the Constitution delegates educational authority to the province in conflict with section 114 of the Indian Act, which authorizes the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canad to establish, operate, and maintain schools for Indian children. In consequence, the Indian control of Indian education is far from being realized. In essence, while Aboriginal communities in Canada may influence the education their children receive, the majority have no real control over the governance and administration of their children’s education, especially as it concerns cultural curriculum and traditional teaching within the school setting.


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