“Education is the key to reconciliation. Education got us into this mess, and education will get us out of this mess.”
New legislation in Alberta changed the professional quality standards for Educators, and outlined that new curriculum will include Indigenous ways of knowing from kindergarten to grade 12. These policies have created much needed change and sense of agency towards Education for Reconciliation. However, the new policies have also created some amount of angst for educators who might not have the background knowledge to teach Indigenous Ways of Knowing, and may not be sure where to start.
When curriculum changes, educators tend to want to find teaching and learning resources to support classroom instruction. We have noticed some growing trends in the quest to find Indigenous teaching and learning resources for the classroom and will address a number of them here.
Where to start?
Desmond Tutu once said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” There is a growing trend for school libraries and classrooms to be filled with Indigenous resources from all over the world. Talk about taking on the whole elephant at once!
Reconciliation is about healing broken relationships. Building positive relationships with local Indigenous people is key to reconciliation. We suggest focusing on finding out who the Indigenous are in your Treaty territory, and using the resources created by Indigenous people in your area first.
1. People are the best resources
Building sincere relationships is a key component of reconciliation and it is the foundational principal of Indigenous worldview. Get to know the Indigenous people, customs and history in your area. Find out the history of the land. There are many ways to go about this. Invite Indigenous people into schools and classrooms using the cultural protocol that is customary in your Treaty territory. How can you involve local Indigenous people in the school community?
“In my experience, Indigenous knowledge keepers are very willing to guide those with an open heart. Be willing to listen with the intention to understand, allowing them to offer guidance, direction and cultural teachings. Let them share their perspectives.”Erin Halonen
2. Choose Resources created in your Treaty territory
There will be times when human resources are not possible to access. In this case text, or digital resources will be required. Finding appropriate and authentic resources can be a daunting task. Again, the best place to start is by finding resources that have been authored by Indigenous people in your Treaty area.
There is an alarming trend to pan-indigenize reconciliation. Pan-indigenizing means that all Indigenous cultures are put together into one group, rather than viewing them as distinct and individual. Pan-indigenous gathering promotes cultural homogenization, and perpetuates the ongoing marginalization of Indigenous people.
Selecting teaching and learning resources from different Treaty territories is fine, as long as there is discussion with students regarding where the resource is from, and which Indigenous cultural group the resource is representing. Be clear that one group doesn’t represent all Indigenous people.
3. Choose Authentic Resources
Speaking of alarming trends, the sense of agency towards producing resources that support reconciliation has had some folks making false ethnicity claims and producing resources, or hosting professional learning workshops which might not be supported by Indigenous community. It is imperative that appropriate research is done to ensure that the publishers and authors are authentic. There is a saying that has become synonymous with reconciliation, “nothing for us, without us,” which means that Indigenous participation and consultation is a necessary part of reconciliation. Reconciliation means repairing broken relationships. There are authors who claim to be Indigenous or Métis, who absolutely aren’t and are making money on false premises, and in some cases who are telling Indigenous stories that aren’t theirs to tell.
Remember Indigenous culture protocols outline that some stories should only be told in the winter time, and certain elements of culture should only be shared by an Elder or with permission from them. These protocols are learned by building relationships with local Indigenous people.
4. Developmental Appropriateness
It is important to ensure that developmental appropriateness of the resource be considered. Just because a text is an Indigenous resource doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for every grade level. Many of the Indigenous resources, especially those about Residential School history, include stories of trauma.
“I took an adult friend to see the Indian Horse movie when it first came out. He was shocked by what he saw, and questioned why I hadn’t warned him. I assumed (wrongly) that he was aware.”Erin Halonen
Sometimes resources are chosen for their reading level. While the reading level may be appropriate for the grade, educators need to be cognizant of the impact of these harsh themes on children. It is also a good idea to have counselling available while sharing stories that include traumatic events for anyone who may need it.
5. Be Open to Learning
Being inundated with hard copies of teaching resources, will not help us become better at teaching Indigenous Ways of knowing and Reconciliation. Past National Chief Perry Bellgarde said, “the biggest barrier to reconciliation is lack of empathy.” Continued professional development to expand understanding and empathy is required. The best way to do this is by building relationships with ‘grass roots’ Indigenous people in our communities, listening to their stories with open hearts and minds. Indigenous Elders teach that true understanding happens once we understand in our ‘heart space’. Use the learning to bridge the gap in understanding between western and indigenous worldviews, and pass that knowledge onto students.
Recognizing the need to have a safe and collaborative space for colleagues to share authentic teaching and learning resources that support Education for Reconciliation, one Alberta educator started the Facebook group, Alberta Teachers: Supporting One Another in the Spirit of Reconciliation. The group recently celebrated its two year anniversary and continues to grow in capacity sharing wonderful, authentic teaching and learning resources.
Erin Halonen is an Education for Reconciliation co-ordinator, Educator and the former First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Curriculum Consultant in the Curriculum Implementation and Resources Branch, Alberta Education. Her passion for Education for Reconciliation and Indigenous Ways of Knowing was born through her lived experience in Treaty 6 territory with local Cree First Nations community. Embedded in her allyship work is deep sense of agency to urge the education system to move forward in reconciliatory understanding and action.
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