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Larson, Colleen


Profile - Collen LarsonResearch Topic: Creating a Sense of Belonging for Indigenous Students in British Columbia

Research Location: Atlin, BC

Research Supervisor: Dr. Christine Schreyer

Research Description:

My proposed PhD dissertation, Creating a Sense of Belonging for Indigenous Students in British Columbia, aims to answer the question, “How do Indigenous cultural and language activities in public schools in British Columbia influence sense of belonging and student achievement for Indigenous learners?”  My research is conducted in partnership with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and School District 87 in Atlin, B.C. We are utilizing principles from Indigenous methodologies, appreciative inquiry, and grounded theory to gather information through interviews and focus groups with the students, parents, staff of the school, and community members. Appreciative inquiry focuses upon collecting data about strategies that work rather than problems to be solved. An appreciative inquiry approach will celebrate teaching strategies in the school and community that seem to be helping to improve Indigenous student achievement. Principles from Indigenous methodologies and appreciative inquiry will help to avoid historical approaches of conducting research to solve the “Indian problem" (Episkenew 2009:21). A grounded theory approach will not only ensure that new theories emerging from our research include Indigenous perspective but may also result in determining holistic measures of achievement that have not yet been identified by other researchers.

Home Town: Coldstream, BC

Country: Canada

Faculty/School: Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences

Program: Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My interest in the concept of a sense of belonging has been life long, developed from my experiences teaching children in public schools, my research into my own Métis heritage, and my responsibility as an educator to improve academic achievement for my students. When I was working in the school system, I wondered about how to change the education system to promote achievement for Indigenous students.  The standardized test scores that were often presented to me in meetings with educators showed discrepancies in scores for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. In all areas of Canada (rural/urban regions and reservations), high-school completion rates are 85% for non-Aboriginal peoples, 73% for Métis peoples, 51% for members of First Nations, and 40% for Inuit peoples (Richards, Hove, and Afolabi 2008). The high-school completion rates for First Nations in this age group living on reservations is 40% (Richards, Hove, and Afolabi 2008). I wonder why these discrepancies exist and what changes to the education system are needed so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous students have equal opportunities for success.

Why did you decide to study at UBC's Okanagan campus?

 UBC Okanagan offers opportunities to focus on Indigeneity in coursework, an extensive collection of Indigenous literature, and faculty members with expertise to support my research topic. My supervisor, Dr. Christine Schreyer, a linguistic anthropologist who has expertise in Indigenous languages, culture and identity has supported me in my program of study and development of an appropriate framework for my research. I have had opportunities to participate in graduate courses in the Summer Institute in Indigenous Studies, Endangered Languages, Indigenous Literature, and Ethnography. I have the opportunity to learn from an interdisciplinary supervisory committee made up of Dr. Schreyer, Assistant Professor (Anthropology) and Dr. Margo Tamez, Assistant Professor (Indigenous Studies) from the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, Community Culture and Global Studies (Unit 1) and Dr. Sabre Cherkowski, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education.

What impact do you hope your research will have?

In the past ten years, in consultation with local Indigenous communities, almost all sixty school districts in British Columbia have created Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements (British Columbia Ministry of Education, Aboriginal Education 2014) to enhance Indigenous student achievement. In Canada the term, Aboriginal, is used to refer to Indigenous peoples who belong to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples (The Constitution Act, 1982). Many Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements include goals and strategies to introduce more Indigenous language and cultural activities into classrooms and to improve sense of belonging. My research will support the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements in British Columbia and initiatives across Canada and throughout the colonized world, which hope to improve achievement for Indigenous students. I hope that my research will assist non-Indigenous educators and policy makers to have more understanding of Indigenous worldviews, epistemologies, and knowledge. I hope they will use this new learning to make changes to education systems to be more synchronized with Indigenous peoples ways of teaching and learning.

What has been your most memorable experience so far?

My most memorable experiences so far have been the support I receive from my supervisor and my supervisory committee, both professionally and personally. My supervisor, Dr. Christine Schreyer guides me through every step in my journey through graduate school and the PhD program.  She and my committee members ask questions to challenge my thinking and push me to achieve more than I knew I had in me. They boost my confidence and help me to see that my research is important and timely.

As well, my committee members have helped me to identify more with my Métis heritage. My family has a long history as Métis people in Canada who have made significant contributions to the development of our country. Yet, my immediate family denied our heritage as Métis because of the past treatment of people who identify as Métis. Thus, my journey through graduate school has been not only professional, but also a personal journey to renew my identity as Métis. I hope that my research will help to change some of the negative stereotyping and negative attitudes towards Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

What has winning a major award meant to you?

Winning the award will support my travel to Atlin, B.C. to collaborate with my research partners, Taku River Tlingit First Nation and School District 87, Stikine. However, winning the award is more than that. In some way, winning the award also makes me feel that my research is valued and appreciated. So, indirectly, winning the award acknowledges that making changes to education for Indigenous children is important. I feel proud that I can be part of these changes and that my work might make a difference for Indigenous students in British Columbia and elsewhere.  Winning the award raises the prestige of my research project and the prestige of creating a sense of belonging for Indigenous students.


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Last reviewed shim9/18/2015 10:14:08 AM