Interviews & Conversations – with inspiring individuals who have played an integral role in my personal growth alongside the Witness Blanket.
Interview with Joseph Naytowhow – Cree Knowledge Keeper, Storyteller, Musician & Artist.
Relationships, new and old, have been at the heart of my learning this week. I had the privilege of sitting down and having a conversation with Joseph, spending time alongside his gentle teachings. Joseph’s willingness to share his knowledge is empowering; I am thankful for my time spent with him, as I truly think it will help me in the process of making meaningful connections in the classroom (integrating Aboriginal Perspectives seamlessly in the classroom; bridging the gap between Treaty Education as a sole entity and remaining curricular content). Joseph stressed the importance of providing students with holistic learning experiences that allow them to explore content from multiple perspectives – I strongly connect with/appreciate this pedagogical approach. During our conversation, I asked Joseph if he would be willing to share some insight surrounding ways in which to teach about challenging (discomforting) topics in a middle years classroom. His response was geared towards kind and gentle teaching, specifically using the arts as a way to communicate content and experience. This was something that I had not previously considered and I am wondering why I have overlooked this approach. As Joseph continued to share his personal narrative and pedagogy, I felt strong emotions welling up from within myself – I was honoured to receive this knowledge and greatly appreciated his courage to share his experience. Joseph speaks of his experiences with such eloquence and forgiveness – despite all of the unfortunate things that have occurred in his life, he is dedicated to creating a future filled with love and respect for all people. Joseph’s pedagogy moves far beyond an “us and them” mentality (I think this perspective is something that ALL educators…going even further, ALL PEOPLE…could benefit from embracing), which I think is vital if we are to meaningfully move forward, united as one – through the process of healing and reconciliation. His selfless demeanour was inspiring; he shared with us that “out of tragedy comes beauty” – an empowering statement that reinforces the importance of resilience and something I will keep with me as I continue navigating through the challenges in my journey.
Thank you, Joseph for sharing your narrative with me – your words will continue to inspire the ways in which I learn and live. I will share your teachings with my future students as a way to honour your story – my sincerest gratitude on behalf of myself and the students who will walk alongside me.
Interview with Dr. Jennifer Tupper – Faculty of Education Dean, University of Regina.
I always look forward to opportunities to grow by engaging in powerful conversations – the equivalent caliber of the experience I had alongside Jennifer Tupper as we discussed the importance of Treaty Education and Reconciliation in our schools (and society). During our time together, Jennifer shared with me aspects of her journey as an educator and mother alongside the process of coming to understand her responsibility in “moving forward in a different way”.
As Jennifer reflected on her experience in her teacher education program and the years she spent in the classroom, she discussed the lack of (ignorance towards) the concept of a ‘shared history’ – what was being learned and taught was reflective of the dominant narratives amongst Canadian history. The dominant narratives woven throughout the teacher education program then became the same narratives taught (imposed) on students in a classroom setting – a continuous cycle that failed to be disrupted. Essentially, her experience in teacher education and beginning years in the classroom perpetuated all things that she now tries to work against (unlearning, unpacking) – a powerful statement that makes me realize how truly lucky current U of R faculty of Education students are with the vast amounts of knowledge and support (surrounding decolonization, anti-racist/anti-oppressive theory, social justice and Treaty Education) offered to us through our teacher education programs.
Our conversation moved into resistance that we often see amongst our society (including our peer groups, families, classrooms and schools) – where does this gap in knowledge and understanding come from? A particular historical consciousness perpetuated as associated with the dominant narrative in Canada has become normative over the years – disrupting this way of thinking is not part of the dominant dialogue. Frequently we see (in both Jennifer and my own narratives specifically) family roots associated with white settlers, perpetuating stereotypes and prejudice towards First Nations Peoples – racist and colonially “entrenched” attitudes, making people reluctant to shift out of this way of thinking. Perspectives that have been engrained in us throughout our entire lives make the process of unlearning difficult/challenging, but NOT impossible…
I asked Jennifer: “Why is Treaty Education important? How can we inspire/empower students to ‘buy into’ this pedagogy when they may not see it as being relevant to their own narratives?” Until recently, students did not have to consider Treaty Relationships in schools – it was not part of the conversations and most definitely was not part of the curriculum. All students must now have the opportunity to situate themselves within this narrative in order to understand and appreciate how colonialism has affected our relationships with Aboriginal Peoples. Accountability amongst this learning is incredibly significant – recognizing how my privilege is connected every day to the signing of the Treaties. This journey is not focused around learning about the (racialized) ‘other’; it is about turning the gaze inward moving forward. Learning about (and living within) Treaty Education IS relevant for students today – we all have the ability to move forward in a better way than we have in the past alongside Aboriginal Peoples.
Despite the fact that Treaty Education has been mandated in Saskatchewan for years now, we still see reverberation/reproduction of stereotypes and resistance to “uncomfortable” content in schools – I have heard many ‘reasons’ for pushback in this area on behalf of educators: do not feel as though they have a sound foundation to teach from, do not want to ‘offend’ anyone if they were to ‘teach it wrong’, thinking kids are ‘too young’ to have and/or understand these types of conversations. However, I believe that NOT trying is actually doing students a larger DISSERVICE than if one were to try and make mistakes (an ‘unsuccessful’ attempt) – mistakes, in my eyes, are not a bad thing. When students are able to see our vulnerability and humility as educators, it empowers them to push themselves outside their comfort zones, critically think and take risks. We have to, at times, make children feel uncomfortable in the process – discomfort and dialogue leads to disruption = powerful learning. Realistically, embarking on a learning journey alongside our students and Treaty Education will be exactly that – a learning journey. Avoiding this content and these conversations is NOT the answer – there are vast amounts of resources available and passionate individuals within the community to offer support, I suggest educators (including myself) take advantage of the possibilities/opportunities made available. It is time for educators to turn the lens inward and ask: what can I do to begin this journey of thought and intentional learning (unlearning)?
Thank you Jennifer Tupper for sharing your insight with me – this post is my personal understanding/reflection on ideas shared during our conversation and my current perspectives held surrounding the importance of Treaty Education.
Interview with Janice Huber – Associate Professor Elementary Education, University of Alberta.
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 inauthentic. 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 disheartened 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 honor the Treaties.”