Native Literacy: A Living Language

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

Dr. Rhonda L. Paulsen


Literacy has been perceived as being synonymous with culture, tradition, world view, languages and ways of knowing. In the perspective of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis 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 Indigenous peoples and is infused into the lifelong process of affirming Indigeneity. 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 literacy explored in this article. This article also explores the concept that significant learning occurs beyond the school walls. Learning is never 'finished'; it is a part of everyday living and a lifelong process.