Mathematics and First Nations in Western Canada: From Cultural Destruction to a Re-Awakening of Mathematical Reflections

Conference paper
Part of the Trends in the History of Science book series (TRENDSHISTORYSCIENCE)

Abstract

The history of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and European colonists in Western Canada is one fraught with longstanding unresolved disputes that have typically led, since the forming of Canada, to unilateral action on the part of the Canadian national and provincial governments aiming at reaffirming the rights of the newcomers over native rights. For a long period of time the principal aim was one of cultural destruction, as evidenced by the mandated residential schools. These began in the nineteenth century as private entities, but were transformed into a national program that was aimed at ending the “Indian problem”; the last were closed in the 1990s. The treatment allotted to those who did not learn mathematics well was the same as that given for not speaking English or failing to adopt other required norms: beating. The attitudes to learning mathematics (and formal learning generally) that this produced over several generations was quite naturally negative, and efforts to provide a renewed system of education that addresses the bad feelings while providing a full range of opportunities to Indigenous students have met with many obstacles. Yet it is our contention that the native cultures of Western Canada are not “non-mathematical”. Experience both in examining older traditional sources and in discussing mathematical ideas with elders, teachers, and students provides many examples of mathematical questions and procedures that are culturally based. In this paper, following a brief description of the historical roots of the present situation, we describe the current situation with the education of Indigenous youth and give an account of the “Math Catcher” outreach program which seeks to identify and build on this base. Its accompanying production of learning materials in Indigenous languages is one effort to resituate mathematics at the core of a forward-looking yet traditionally acceptable education for the fastest-growing school age population in the region, Indigenous youth.

References

  1. Ascher, M. (2002). Mathematics elsewhere. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Boas, F. (1985). Indianische Sagen von der Nord-Pacifischen Küste-Amerikas.Google Scholar
  3. Bracken, Christopher. (1997). The potlatch papers: A colonial case history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. Census Fast Facts. (2011). C. Stats, Released on Sept 16, 2013 http://www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca/Publications/AnalyticalReports.aspx
  5. Crawford, K. (1984). Bicultural teacher training in mathematics education for aboriginal trainees from traditional communities. In P. Damerow, M. E. Dunkley, B. F. Nebres & B. Werry (Eds.), Mathematics for all. Science and Technology Education Document Series No. 20, Division of Science, Technical and Environmental Education, UNESCO.Google Scholar
  6. Dominion of Canada Annual Report of the Department of Indian Affairs for the Year ended June 30, 1895.Google Scholar
  7. Dominion of Canada Annual Report of the Department of Indian Affairs for the Year ended June 30, 1900.Google Scholar
  8. Dominion of Canada Annual Report of the the Department of Indian Affairs for the Year ended March 31, 1910.Google Scholar
  9. Dominion of Canada Annual Report of the the Department of Indian Affairs for the Year ended March 31, 1911.Google Scholar
  10. Gillard, D. (2011). Education in England: A brief history.Google Scholar
  11. Interview with Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, conducted by Michael Enright, CBC Radio, May 4 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/popupaudio.html?clipIds=2453959682
  12. Leslie, J. (1978). The historical development of the Indian Act, (2nd edn.). Ottawa: Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Treaties and Historical Research Branch.Google Scholar
  13. Morin, H. (2004). Student performance data and research tools to ensure aboriginal student success. http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/abed/research/ab_student_success.pdf
  14. Nelson-Barber, S., & Estrin, E. T. (1995). Bringing native American perspectives to mathematics and science teaching. Theory into Practice 34, 174–185.Google Scholar
  15. Vithal, Renuka, & Skovsmose, Ole. (1997). The End of Innocence: a critique of ‘Ethnomathematics’. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 34, 131–157.CrossRefMATHGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MathematicsSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

Personalised recommendations