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The Centre for Family Literacy is dedicated to helping families grow and prosper.

What Counts as Literacy?
Reclaiming Indigenous Knowledge in Aboriginal Family Literacy Programs

In any system of learning, cultures and societies tend to privilege certain types of literacy. For example, in the Western tradition of literacy, books are often accorded status and authority over storytelling or oral histories.

Dr. Jan Hare, Associate Professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia, delivered a keynote address at the Centre for Family Literacy’s Food for Thought Conference in Edmonton in May. Professor Hare spoke about the ways in which family literacy models can support the learning of Aboriginal families and how family literacy programs can recognize and affirm an indigenous world view.

According to Statistics Canada census data, the Aboriginal population in Canada is young (with a median age of 24 years old versus an overall Canadian median age of 34 years), and it is also one of the fastest growing segments of the population. This means that there are an increasing number Aboriginal parents and children who are participating in family literacy programs.

Professor Hare spoke about family literacy as a model that has the potential to fit with some aspects of an Aboriginal world view, namely that family literacy engages parents, is focused on lifelong learning and incorporates the understanding that supporting children equals supporting families.

Professor Hare also connected the reclamation of indigenous knowledge with family literacy programs that build on the strengths and literacy behaviours that are already present in families. For example, children may come to family literacy programs with more exposure to oral stories than to books; however, children are still developing speaking and comprehension skills, and rich language and vocabulary through listening to oral stories.

The mainstream culture gives us an expectation of stories and what is important to know but this does not mean that other ways of knowing and understanding are less valuable. Family literacy programs can empower Aboriginal families by recognizing and validating the literacy strengths that they already possess.

"I approach my work with the understanding that we, Aboriginal people, often think differently than non-Aboriginal people,"

said Professor Hare, ” When family literacy practitioners build a program, they must consider how ‘what counts as literacy’ must be culturally relevant and respectful of all participants.”

Jan Hare

Dr. Jan Hare, Associate Professor, Dept. of Language and Literacy Education, University of BC


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