Last fall, the BC Ministry of Education began its push for educators in our province to work towards indigenizing (a term that still alludes a satisfactory definition) their curriculum. As expected, many of our colleagues shared their well-founded trepidation, reticence, and fears around what teaching from an indigenous perspective actually looked like. Where do we start? How does one overcome the perfect stranger* perspective? How will we be able to get this right? What actually is the right way? What if we don’t get it right? Who will determine what is indigenous and what is appropriation? Where do we start?
I shared these concerns (as well as my own) with one of my mentors, Kat McCooeye, co-founder of the Four Nations Coalition for Indigenous Medicine. A much sought after Aboriginal Cultural Consultant, Traditional Knowledge Keeper, educational program planner, outdoor Aboriginal educator and Ceremonial facilitator, Kat would have the elusive answer/panacea that we so desperately needed to hear…(or so I thought). In her very disarming manner and following the briefest of pauses, Kat’s reply was so simple, and yet transformative, “As long as it comes from the heart, there really is no wrong way. Yes, mistakes will be made. And things might get ugly, but all flowers must grow through dirt.” The first step? “Get to know your personal history. Your ancestors, Where you are from. Then get to know the indigenous history of the place where you live, work, [and] teach. You need context. And we need perspective.” Above all else? “Baby steps. This took hundreds of years for us to get where we are, it will take time [to move this forward].”
Fast forward to late last week, when several members of our staff came together on a provincial professional learning day to share indigenous resources and how they were attempting to indigenize their curriculum. My heart was surprised and then overwhelmed at how the gathering evolved. What an inspiring opportunity! The collective passion and knowledge to learn and share among professionals to support indigenous ways of learning and teaching for all of our students filled me up. Each member proudly shared their resource and how they were using it with their students. One staff member even shared her proposed master’s project that hopes (partly) to address the larger issues that many educators are faced with indigenization of the curriculum: how successful are we in this undertaking.
Afterwards, one of our colleagues sent a message to the group that he really appreciated the level of support and the recognition that we are all struggling together, but all want to do better by our students. Admittedly, I thoughts that perhaps two or three colleagues would attend our sharing session hoping to get a Monday morning lesson plan. But what evolved was me doing less talking, and more listening while my colleagues took took turns being professionals. Another colleague shared that “[w]hat makes this work, however, is the ability of the facilitator to listen and allow the meeting to flow where the the group takes it. I wish more of our educational leaders would hold this approach in their hearts instead of talking the talk while continuing their top-down actions.” Sounds like a First People’s Principle of of Learning.
It seems to me that the professional collective conscious with its hungry desire to learn, grow, and share is (and will be) the impetus to move education forward in this work as we collectively reckon with supporting our students towards authentic indigenous ways of learning. It has always been the way forward.
*Dion, S.D. (2009). Braiding histories: Learning from Aboriginal peoples’ experiences and perspective. Vancouver: UBC Press.