A Dene elder helped us understand where people had come from in terms of literacy and explained some of the changes that she has seen. She told us that in the old days, people who read books were considered lazy, because there was so much work to be done just to survive. Reading was not seen as work. 'Literacy' then included understanding the weather, reading the land, looking for animal tracks, understanding animal behaviour, showing respect for animals, telling children orally about their ancestors, teaching children values through legends, and so on. In other words, when parents taught their children literacy, they were teaching them skills they needed to survive.
She suggested that today's literacies still involve survival skills. However, the survival skills and the literacies associated with them have changed. For Aboriginal people today, they include traditional skills, wherever possible taught in the Aboriginal language, to help people retain their identity and their connection with their culture, but now they also have to include reading and writing in English. She said that parents must understand they need to help their children develop both sets of skills.
Possible role for the Literacy Council
People saw a definite role for us in researching and sharing information on the broader meaning of 'literacy'. They were interested in the idea of multiple literacies, and on different literacy models and practices. They wanted Aboriginal literacy to be seen as a legitimate and valued part of those literacies.
Some of the specific activities that people suggested we might become involved in included:
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