Native Literacy: A Living Language

Canadian Journal of Native Education, Volume 27, Number 1, 2003

Dr. Rhonda L. Paulsen

Abstract

Literacy has been perceived as being synonymous with culture, tradition, world view, languages and ways of knowing. In the perspective of Aboriginal peoples, literacy is not restricted to the written word; the true meaning of literacy is not confined to the page. This research shows that when one looks beyond the page and outside the limitations of words, one can begin exploring concepts and evidences of literacy.

It is important, particularly when people are maneuvering their way through life and dealing with labels and definitions of literacy and being literate, to see the holistic vision of ways of knowing and becoming in the lifelong process of learning. For example, when teachings are passed from the Elders to the younger generations, literacy is brought back into the everyday lives of contemporary Native peoples and is infused into the lifelong process of affirming Aboriginality. Literacy, then, is rooted in intergenerational teachings and is active in everyday living; it is a living language.

Oral tradition, storytelling, culture, and language: these are aspects encapsulated in the definition of Native literacy explored in this article. As well, the differences between Native and Euro-Western definitions of literacy and the implications in the field of education are addressed. This is particularly important when Native students are measured against Euro-Western standards and their learning ability and aptitude measured accordingly. This article also explores the concept that significant learning occurs beyond the school walls. Learning – and the developmental process of literacy – is never finished; it is a part of everyday living: a lifelong process and a living language.