I have always believed in the strong, significant role that mentors can play in the shaping of our lives – I am so thankful to have met some pretty incredible people on my journey to becoming an educator. One individual specifically has been alongside my living and learning for the past three years and her support has been incredible and her perspectives (inspiration) are kept closely to my heart. I can honestly say that I do not go a day without thinking about this individual and the ways in which she has (and continues to despite living outside of province) continues to help shape my life – Janice, you truly mean so much to me and I thank you for your contributions to my learning (past, present and future).
I had the privilege of having an emotionally moving phone conversation with her surrounding the importance of Treaty Education not only in our schools, but as a way of living. Janice is such a selfless person and her focus always revolves around building and fostering relationships with others – the importance of a relational approach to Treaty Education was woven throughout our conversation. The following is a summary of direct quotations as provided by Janice – she shared a multiplicity of memories as part of her narrative during our conversation, but I have purposefully decided to leave those details out of my writing as they are not my stories to tell (but will keep the stories and their teachings with me forever).
(**Note: this is not a direct quote in its entirety – I have pieced together significant statements shared via Janice into a collective piece)
“It starts with engaging children in an inquiry of their own life experiences – nested within many other layers of things that are going on (writing stories about their own life experiences, starting as a child in school). Often in teacher education programs, knowledge is about subject matter and not practical knowledge that we need to carry as a result of experience. There are “bigger layers” – starting within students’ own life contexts, helping them to try and travel back to the past (mentally, emotionally and spiritually). When we start within own lives, we gain a real respect for this experience (keep in mind: when we are starting to feel judged, we cannot inquire into this experience). This work is [easier] with children – they are trained to believe that knowledge comes outside of oneself (curriculum documents OR US as educators…) not from within or as an emotional piece…We must provide a safe space with trust to learn – this is vulnerable work we are asking students to do (relational piece is a really big part of this). Guilt is not going to help in this teaching – it is not bad to have a sense of acknowledging our part (past and present) in this, ‘I know this, recognize this, may never come to terms with this, but how can I move forward for the rest of our lives?’ This mentality creates openings and possibilities for change… This is uncomfortable and scary – where have we found the support to navigate through this journey? There is a gap existing between knowing why and how to implement – institutional gap (“I know I am supposed to do that and how/where do I start?”). We need to consider how we treat and involve elders and knowledge keepers in our learning – too often they only get called in when discussing Treaty Education, which can be unauthentic. WHY though? This is only undermining their ability/validity of their perspectives (considering them to only “experts” in Treaty Education). Students need to feel like they are in a relationship with Elders – inviting and Elder to be a part of the life of the classroom and school on a daily basis (part of reconciliation**). There is a whole curriculum-making world that occurs outside of school – curriculum is actually about life making, building relationships with families. Until we can change the way we see ourselves alongside families, we cannot move forward meaningfully – when we are talking about Treaty Education, we need to have “relationships with families” within this realm…
Students have more respect for teachers who make themselves vulnerable in the ways we ask students to make themselves vulnerable. Possible strategy: helping students to see people as people – we are never not shaped by the context we are a part of (looking at events in history, having students imagine their families at these stages in time – recognizing we also live within narratives that become dominant in part because they are shaped by our government by which we put trust in). This work is disheartening at times (this is when we must talk to our support systems) – there has been growth in good ways, but there is a lot of work left to be done. It is going to take all of us not just Indigenous leaders to say we need change – we are living on borrowed land, we need to honour the Treaties.”