Lack of the cultural capital required to “navigate the largely Western dominant educational system” contributes to the inability to achieve in ways that Western culture rewards. As Pidgeon points out: “Without the habitus of the dominant group, an Aboriginal / minority student is at a severe disadvantage [without]…”capital that gives one the edge and the power to succeed.” (Pidgeon, M., p. 343).

“The very notion of success is different for Aboriginal and Western cultures.  “Schools promote specific notions of knowledge and power by rewarding specific forms of behaviour.” (Ghosh, p.23).

Because of this, the current educational system may be unwelcoming to those with non-dominant world views. The simple fact that linguistically, many words don’t exist to describe various concepts or terms in English or other minority languages.

I had a discussion with a colleague on campus this week, in which she noted that there is no term to describe an Aboriginal concept in English. This led to a remark about an instance of Aboriginal student career counseling. An advisor had remarked that they had “pushed” a student in a direction more suited to her individual interest, instead of a prescribed direction towards studying, in this case, nursing. My colleague, took issue with the term “pushed”.

“One of the most important is the ethic of non-interference. It “promotes positive interpersonal relationships by discouraging coercion of any kind, be it physical, verbal or psychological.” It stems from a high degree of respect for every individual’s independence and regards interference or restriction of a person’s personal freedom as “undesirable behaviour.” (Brant, “Native Ethics,” pp. 534–35.).

In this case, my colleague described a world view quite different from a Western one regarding supporting or advising another: I found this description: “…[this] ethic continues to be functional to maintain harmony within the community.” (Brant, C. 1990. p. 534). “The importance of the ethic of non-interference helps to explain the use of stories in Aboriginal societies. If advice is given, it is usually in the form of a story. It lays out a situation with options.” (Brant, p. 534). My colleague went on to describe her method in which resources are offered, to make way for a student a way to arrive at her own path. Two differences, in this case, influence this individual’s experience: storytelling and self-determination were eliminated from the process.

“…to succeed in today’s educational system, Aboriginal peoples need to negotiate a system that does not value their own epistemologies and cultures.” (Pidgeon, M. p. 342). Simple academic advising could be completely at odds with this student’s world view, impeding her success at the institution.
“So an Aboriginal student bringing his/her Indigenous capital to a mainstream
university “must first acquire and accept a new form of consciousness, an orientation
that not only displaces but often devalues the worldview they bring with
them” (Barnhardt, 2002, p. 241).”(Pidgeon, M., p. 348).

The fact that my colleague took issue with the seemingly benign (to me) word “push” indicates a tangible difference in experience in cultural capital. I would have shrugged it off.

Brant, C. C. (1990, August). Native Ethics and rules of behaviour. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 35(6), 534-539. Retrieved at:

Ghosh, R., & Abdi, A. A. (2013). Chapter 2: “Schooling and society: Perspectives on knowledge, culture, and difference.” In Education and the politics of difference (2nd Edition: Canadian perspectives) (pp. 13–46). Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Pidgeon, M. (2008). Pushing against the margins: Indigenous theorizing of “success” and retention in higher education. J. College Student Retention, 10(3), 339–360.