Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Understanding Stereotypes

Cultural stereotypes are detrimental to relationships in our society.  In particular, we have become desensitized to First Nations stereotypes. This article will focus on identifying First Nations stereotypes, the history of these stereotypes, their effects, and what teachers can do to provide accurate and culturally relevant information to students.

Identifying First Nations Stereotypes

An assumption is an idea that is accepted as true, without being proven.  A stereotype is an overgeneralized assumption about an entire group of people.  From as far back as we can remember, we are bombarded with stereotypes of First Nations peoples in: cartoons, movies, books, advertising, team names, mascots, logos, companies, games, Halloween costumes, food and household products, to name a few.  Today’s children can add video games and the internet to the list.  Google the word “Indian”, there will be pages of stereotypes.  If an image or text overgeneralizes, dehumanizes, demoralizes, or colonizes a group of people, it is a stereotype.  In other words, it is misappropriation or a misrepresentation of a culture.


The term “Indian” continues to conjure up inappropriate images.   It is a term that was used when explorers landed and believed they were in the East Indies, now known as Central America.  The term has also been used by the British and later the Canadian Government, to identify a group of people, who have been referred to by many terms, most recently First Nations.  After Confederation, the Government created polices to assimilate, oppress, and marginalize First Nations peoples.  The Indian Act of 1876, meant “Indians” were under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Government.  The Government had control over most aspects of First Nations' life .  For example, the goal of Residential Schools, a provision of the Indian Act, was “to kill the Indian in the child.” Colonization, racist Government policies, unfair and discriminatory treatment, events that occurred the in the USA, and later the media, all contributed to stereotypes of First Nations peoples of Canada.

The documentary "Reel Injun" explains the history of stereotypes of Indigenous peoples in cinema.

Effects of Stereotypes 

The effects of stereotypes are prejudice, discrimination, and racism which lead to bullying, low self-esteem and a lack of knowledge of diversity.

Students or society in general, typically fall into one of these categories depending on the situation:

  1.  Those who identify stereotypes and ask questions about why they exist.
  2.  Those who identify and understand stereotypes, although avoid discussion, perhaps not wanting to be centered out,  or have been made to feel ashamed.
  3.  Those who do not recognize stereotypes, or those who are desensitized. 
  4. Those who deflect or make excuses, using statements like: “Get over it!”

What Can Teachers Do?

  •  Education is key!  Learn the accurate history of Saskatchewan and Canada, from the FNMI perspective. Saskatchewan is leading the way, being the only province in Canada to have mandatory Treaty Education from K-12.  There are consultants who specialize in FNMI Education, who are available to assist with in-service or professional learning.
  •  Critically preview classroom and school materials including: films, library and classroom resources, posters, kits, and displays such as: items or art for bulletin boards, etc.  Teach students how to identify stereotypes, so they can also critically look at media.  Use culturally and historically relevant materials.
  •  Integrate FNMI content in meaningful ways, instead of in isolation.  If you are not sure of appropriateness, ask questions.  
  • Present accurate contemporary topics, images, and text of FNMI peoples beginning in Pre-K and K and in every grade level.  Balance historical and contemporary teachings.  Teach about diversity of FNMI peoples.
  •  Before using an image or text, ask yourself if it is promoting positive relationships amongst the people of Saskatchewan.
  •  One cannot assume that if someone is FNMI, that they will be aware of stereotypes.  Everyone has been exposed to colonization!

 It is often easier to learn something than unlearn it...

Jackie Taypotat,  Instructional Consultant

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