Pushing the Wet’suwet’en conversation forward

I am inspired by students’ reflections and discussions about current events around the world, and especially last week as we learned about the arrests of land defenders and journalists on Wet’suwet’en territory. We talked about what it means for land to be unceded, and we learned that the Supreme Court confirmed through the Delgamuukw case in 1997 that the Wet’suwet’en had not given up title to their land in Northern British Columbia. Here is what we captured during our learning:

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During discussion, one of my students asked an incredible question that caught me off guard: “I thought the Supreme Court was the most important place where decisions are made, and that no one can change their decisions. Why is all of this still happening even after the case in 1997?” 

Despite thinking that I had done enough research on the issue of the Coastal GasLink pipeline passing through Wet’suwet’en land, I did not have an answer for her at that moment. I asked myself: What are the gaps in my understanding of this issue that would leave me without an answer to this question?

I spent some time finding the answer:

  • While the Supreme Court did confirm the hereditary chiefs’ right to the land and sole authority to sanction development on Wet’suwet’en territory based on pre-colonial law, there were unresolved issues regarding the divisions of power between hereditary chiefs and band councils. The band council system is imposed under the Indian Act (which falls under Canadian law) to facilitate nation-to-nation relationships, but is not recognized under pre-colonial laws and structures used by the nation’s hereditary chiefs.
  • Coastal GasLink claims that all necessary permits were acquired in order to build the pipeline, but the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation argue that they never gave express consent to build on the territory. There seems to be a loophole through which Coastal GasLink got approval for the pipeline because they negotiated an agreement with the Wet’suwet’en elected band council. This is all fine and good if we’re talking about Canadian laws and structures but Wet’suwet’en First Nation is unceded land, meaning that the land is meant to be self-governed under pre-colonial law by the hereditary chiefs (which is also recognized in Section 35 of the Constitution).

I’m happy I spent the time to find an answer to my student’s question; I learned so much and feel much better equipped to continue the conversation. Even still, I have some thoughts about how else I can move forward through the rest of this year and grow as an educator in this area. How can I constantly push myself to find the answers? How can I continue teaching about Indigenous right to self-government and sovereignty, especially on unceded land?

I teach Grade 6, so I try my best to bring these issues back to the heart of what is most important to those most affected. In this case, a commonality in what I read is that the water on Wet’suwet’en land is of utmost importance. “You could swim in that lake and just open your mouth and drink the water, it’s so pristine, and the river is so clear that you can see these very deep spawning beds that the salmon have been returning to for thousands of years,” Sleydo’ says. Whether or not a student understands the legal or historical significance of a conflict like Wet’suwet’en, they will understand the importance of clean water and a thriving ecosystem. Perhaps this fundamental understanding of what is most important could be something that brings groups together to move towards reconciliation.

Before you summer, take time to D.E.A.L

Drop Everything and Learn

This week, I hit the stop button on my life inside of the classroom for another school year. To quote the Grateful Dead. “What a long strange trip it’s been.” Yet, before shutting down, I need to D.E.A.L. more about how to deepen my understanding and leverage my white settler privilege in support of FNMI communities.

Heart wrenching discoveries of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada have me fighting to make sense of many things right now in this country. How and why could so much hatred and overt evil be inflicted on generations of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people for more than a century? How can a democratically empowered system built on commandments of love thy neighbour, be so obviously racist and genocidal to the very people who shared this land in the first place? And how did it come with the criminal complicity of faith based institutions to boot? These questions have me hearing some very strong internal voices telling me to stay in teacher/learner mode a little longer.

Maybe it’s time we give Canada Day a timeout for a while so we can move forward in a good way?

Can you recall reading or hearing of any treaties that included one group being subjugated to tyranny and relegated to systemic abuse and racism by the other? I can’t. Everyone in education must take time to ensure that the truth about the traumatic truth of Canada’s past no longer remains on the outside of the history books. It’s can be as simple as shifting from outdated text books and colonizer curricula, by for profit publishers, when we plan our lessons. It can be in seeking your closest FNMI partners in education. Numerous school boards are already doing this and ETFO as well. It’s time to seek out resources that include all sides of the story, and not those that fit the nauseatingly one sided Disney endings written for and by settlers.

In my mind it stands at the heart of our humanity as educators and treaty people. We must do more than acknowledging the trauma caused in the past, but to genuinely reconcile our relationships in order to build a just and inclusive future. There is work to be done and despite my momentary fatigue. This learning is a personal call to action that serves as the energy to keep going instead of heading straight for the chaise lounge on my patio. It needs to start now.

Things I can do (you can too)

I need to turn my attention to learning more about the truth that has been so strategically whitewashed out of our conversations and history books as a nation. A nation that is supposed to be the beacon of kindness and inclusion to the rest of the world. The truth, about Canada that world has been shown by our gleaming generosity and polished politeness, may not be seen the same reality as seen through the eyes and experiences of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. It’s time to demand better from those in leadership to stop standing in the way of the truth as shared in the TRC Commission Report shared in 2015.

I need to come to terms with the dissonace from what I have been taught about Canada as a student, and ensure that it’s mistreatment of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit does not continue. As such, I am committing more time to listening to voices that have been silenced for far too long, reading books from authors who share stories from first hand experiences or who speak for elders who have been silenced, and by seeking out ways to bring this into my future classrooms.

I need to reflect in order to move forward.

Throughout this year, my grade 4/5 classroom was a space for conversations and lessons on Residential Schools, Orange Shirt Day, the Mik Maw fishery, BLM, Anti-Asian hate, and systemic racism in general. What is abundantly clear despite many meaningful moments of cleared understanding, the fires that have been lit in my students will need to be refuelled. I hope you all take some time to recharge your bodies and minds over the break, but encourage everyone, at some time over the summer, to drop everything and learn in preparation of re-igniting the fires of truth and reconciliation in the minds of students when we gather again to D.E.A.L in September.

Need a place to start?

Digital Resources:

Education – NCTR – Reconciliation through Education
ETFO First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education Resources 
First Nations Education Steering Committee – Indian Residential Schools and Reconciliation Resources
FNMI Learning Grid curated by Richard Erdmann

Important reads to deepen your understanding:

21 Things you may not know about the Indian Act – Bob Joseph
All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward – Tanya Talaga
Seven Fallen Feathers – Tanya Talaga
Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer

Wisdom always found here on Twitter:

Bob Joseph @wewap
Colinda Clyne @clclyne
Pamala Agawa @agawap
Bryson the Gaytive @ArnallLabrador 
Jody Kohoko @NishVPKwe

 

 

Birds of a Feather….

….FLOCK Together!!

In preparation for the Spring Equinox, which is usually held in the Rainbow Garden, I started to think creatively about how we could gather as a whole school community and respect COVID health and safety protocols. I wanted to incorporate dance, and then I remembered about flocking.

WTF?
Flocking is a type of movement improvisation, where the whole group mirrors each other’s movement. Students can be organized in a straight line or in the shape of a diamond. In flocking, there is one student who leads a movement, which is followed by the other students.

Different students can become the leader, just like birds do when they are flying together, by changing their position. In a diamond formation, the student at the top of the diamond is the leader. When everyone rotates a quarter turn, there is a new leader at the top of the diamond. Flocking can be inspired by music that is played, but I wanted to integrate text and embody the Land Acknowledgment.

Thanksgiving Address:
We are learning that many Indigenous and First Nations communities offer greetings and gratitude at the beginning of every gathering. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which includes the nations of Cayuga, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Seneca, Mohawk and Oneida, share The Thanksgiving Address. Here is a video that describes the importance of this text.

In the Thanksgiving Address, all parts of creation are recognized with honour and respect. Here is a link to the text we used. We have been deepening our understanding of this important protocol by speaking and listening to the words, drawing, writing and reflecting. This was our first time exploring the text through choral movement and mindfulness. It was very powerful.

Bear Song:
As educators, it is important to build relationships with First Nations and Indigenous families, which includes consultation and collaboration, and invitations to share knowledge with the community. At our school, we are fortunate to have several parents who have shared songs, drumming and dancing at different events. After gathering in the field, Archer and Ansley sang the Anishinaabe Bear Song to welcome Spring. Here is the song performed by Turning Point Women’s drum group from Skownan, Manitoba.

Medicine Wheel Teachings:
In the article, “Teaching by the Medicine Wheel: An Anishinaabe framework for Indigenous education,” Dr. Nicole Bell (2014) describes how schools might integrate Indigenous knowledge, and create a process of education that is respectful and culturally relevant for Indigenous families. Bell explains that while there are some variations of teachings and representations of the Medicine Wheel, there are common threads of understanding, including the importance of appreciating and respecting the interconnectedness and interrelationships of all things.

I wanted to incorporate Medicine Wheel teachings into our Spring Equinox gathering. The Medicine Wheel is a circle that is divided into four parts, which represent the four directions (East, South, West, North) using four different colours. Each of the directions include teachings that are interdependent, including the four seasons, stages of life, times of day, medicines, life givers, and learning process.

We organized the students into four sections, from youngest to oldest, starting in the East. Everyone was standing in the field, facing the same direction. As the Junior students read the Thanksgiving Address, everyone followed the movements of the Junior leader at the top of the diamond. The refrain, “And Now Our Minds Are One”, was repeated in chorus, and was the signal for everyone to rotate a quarter turn to the right together. Then, we started to follow the movements of a new leader. The rotations and the movements continued until the Thanksgiving Address was finished.

It was flocking amazing to welcome the new season with movement, gratitude and respect. Happy Spring!!





Water is Life

I have been learning with, from, and about water for several years. In another blog, I shared examples of what decolonial water pedagogy might look like in a Grade 2 classroom.  Whenever possible, it is critically important to invite Indigenous artists, activists, and Earth workers to share their knowledge with students in their own voices.

Water is Life:

This fall, the Grade 2-6 students participated in a workshop with Joce Two-Crows Tremblay and Faye Mullen called “Water is Life”.  They describe the workshop as: “Wondering on water as an ancestral highway, as home, as Medicine and more, through story, song and ceremony.”  

It was a beautiful morning. We gathered in a circle and welcomed our special guests with the song, “Funga Alafia”. Archer Pechawis, a Grove parent, joined us and shared songs and drumming. We offered tobacco and gratitude for their teachings. 



Water as Home:

Joce taught us about the strong connections between language and land. We learned about the Indigenous roots of many words spoken in English. After the workshop, I asked the Grade 2 students to document their new learning on inquiry cards with the prompt, “Now I know….”.

NOW I KNOW….
…that Toronto is pronounced many different ways. SOL
…that Lake Ontario in the Indigenous language is “Lake Handsome Lake.” DEMA


Water as Relative:

After a discussion about the importance of water and who we consider to be our relatives, we learned about the relationship between salmon, people, and water. When young children see themselves in relationships with land that are rooted in reciprocity and respect, they might care for all humans and more-than-humans as family.

Water as Ancestral Highway:

In preparation for the workshop, everyone had made salmon puppets, and we re-created water using tarps and blue material. As Joce and Faye paddled up the river, singing an Anishinaabe Water song, our salmon puppets swam upstream to spawn.

NOW I KNOW….

…a song about water. GWEN
…that people sing river songs to catch up to salmon. CLEM

At the end of our journey, we learned more about how Anishinaabeg used land as tools and technology in innovative ways.

NOW I KNOW…

...how to catch salmon, and when to.  DESMOND

…people put Willows down to trap big salmon.  SVEA

Water as Medicine:

We ended our workshop with a Water Ceremony. We sat in a circle and water was poured into our cup. As we held water in our hands, Joce and Faye invited us to think about how living things can feel and absorb our energy, and that is why we must be aware and intentional about our relationship to land. We were encouraged to send greetings of love and hope and gratitude to the water. After sitting quietly and reflecting, we drank from our cup and wondered if the taste of the water was affected by our ceremony.

NOW I KNOW….
…water can hold lots of energy. LOTE
…water gives life to everything. ELLIOT

It was a powerful morning.  We learned many important lessons about land and language, connection and community, technology and teachings.  Everyone enjoyed learning outside with and from the land, through storytelling, movement and music.  Thank you to Joce, Faye and Archer for sharing your knowledge with us.

Eco-Justice: Learning with Water

I was invited to co-host a webinar about Ecojustice Education, hosted by the Toronto District School Board’s EcoSchools team, in collaboration with OISE’s Environmental and Sustainability Education Initiative. 

My inspiring co-host was Farah Wadia. Farah is a Grade 7/8 teacher in Toronto, and she has written about her work raising issues of environmental justice through the study of water with local and global connections in VOICE magazine. You can watch our webinar here.

As an anti-colonial educator, I am actively learning how to centre Indigenous perspectives, knowledge, worldviews, and stories of resistance throughout my curriculum. This integrated water inquiry is one example of what eco-justice pedagogy might look like in Grade 2.

Land as Pedagogy: Welcoming Circle
As I deepen my understanding about how to support Indigenous sovereignty, and actively disrupt settler colonialism, I am coming to know that some of the most powerful work I can do is to build relationships, make connections, and acknowledge land with respect.

Every morning, we begin our day outside. We take a few deep breaths together and pay attention to the land (which includes plants, wind, animals, water, soil, etc.) around us. We notice the clouds, the mist, the frozen puddles, and share our observations with each other. We honour the original caretakers of land, practice gratitude, and promise to care for the land as part of our responsibility as treaty people.


My approach to land education is to honour, celebrate and strengthen the relationships that children have with their natural environment, which includes the urban setting. Inquiry-based learning that is grounded in love and wonder can support children to be curious and critical thinkers. If children feel a strong connection to the land, they might also feel responsible for taking care of the land, and each other.

Building Relationships: Sharing our Water Stories
Our water justice inquiry began with an idea that I learned about in the first edition of Natural Curiosity. In September, students shared samples of water that they had collected from different water sources they encountered during the summer. Every day, one student shared what they love about water, and told stories about the water they had collected. We wrote about every experience. This act of storytelling helped to connect us as a community, and created a shared intention for learning with and from water.


A Community of Co-Learners:
Students shared their knowledge and what they love about water in different ways. During MSI (Math-Science Investigations), I asked everyone to build and create structures that connect to water. We used inquiry cards to document what students already knew and the questions they wanted to explore together. These questions provided diagnostic assessment, and will guide our inquiry throughout the year.


Taking Action:
It is critical that young children learn stories of resistance, and see themselves as agents of change. We are reading many picture books to support and guide our inquiry. “The Water Walker” by Joanne Robertson and “Nibi’s Water Song” by Sunshine Tenasco, are two excellent stories written by Indigenous authors. Reading these stories inspired more questions:

Why does Water need to be protected?
Do all people have access to clean water? Why or why not?
How can I take action to protect water?

Students used a Venn Diagram to make text-to-self connections and compare themselves to Anishinaabe Water Protector, Josephine Mandamin. 

  

Write for Rights:
As students learn to recognize inequity and confront injustice in their lives, they need multiple strategies and tools that they can use to take action and feel empowered as activists and allies.

Every year, Amnesty International organizes a letter writing campaign on December 10, called “Write for Rights”. In 2020, I learned that Amnesty International was highlighting the First Nations community of Grassy Narrows. I decided that the students would learn about the issues and write letters of solidarity. Everyone was very surprised when Premier Doug Ford wrote us back! 



Learning Through the Arts: Water Poems
We are learning that Water Protectors will often sing to the water. This call to action has inspired us to write our own songs of gratitude for water in our local community. In preparation, the Grade 2 students wrote a variety of poems, and we explored the sounds and shapes that water makes through soundscapes and movement. Students expressed their appreciation and love for water in creative ways.


Water Songs:
As we compose our water songs, we will continue to listen to the songs of Water Protectors for inspiration and guidance. Some of the songs that we have been learning are: “The Water Song” by Irene Wawatie Jerome, “Home To Me” N’we Jinan Artist from Grassy Narrows First Nation and “We Stand” by One Tribe (Kelli Love, Jordan Walker, and MC Preach). It is my hope that we will sing our songs to the water, with gratitude and joy.

Engaging with Indigenous Knowledge as a Non-Indigenous Educator

Over my teaching career I have been fortunate to teach in schools with high populations of Indigenous students and to learn from the knowledge keepers and elders in the communities that our schools served.  Admittedly, I haven’t always said or done the right things but I have learned from those mistakes.  As a non-Indigenous educator, I know that I will continuously be on a professional and personal learning journey.  I acknowledge that it is my responsibility to do this learning.  There are resources that I have used along the way and I hope that by drawing attention to the following resources, I can assist others in their learning journey.

In order to avoid cultural appropriation, to honour and respect Indigenous culture and history as a non-Indigenous teacher, it is important to have the appropriate resources. We can’t avoid teaching about residential schools because we don’t feel comfortable.  It is a part of the Ontario Curriculum.  It isn’t just about “history” either.  Current events draw attention to the pervasive issues faced by Indigenous peoples.  These are teachable moments that are authentic and relevant to students.  Students will be asking questions and forming opinions. As educators we have a responsibility to assist students to find accurate and culturally respectful information.

If you are looking for a place to begin in your learning journey, visit ETFO’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education website.  It is filled with cultural protocols, resources and Ministry Documents.  It is a treasure trove of information on treaties, land acknowledgements and avoiding cultural appropriation.  Throughout the literature are hyperlinks for explanations of concepts and lexicon.  Through ShopETFO you can purchase the FNMI Engaging Learners Through Play  resource created for elementary educators which provides play based activities that engage all students.

A quick resource can be found on code.on.ca (The Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators). This resource provides a quick chart of protocols on what to do, what to avoid, why to avoid and what to try in order to bring learning about Indigenous culture and history into your classroom.  This document also provides links to videos about Indigenous Arts Protocols, and a quick reference guide for what to think about before engaging with Indigenous Knowledge.

The website helpingourmotherearth.com is filled with tools and resources for educators including videos of Indigenous Knowledge Keepers telling their stories.  There are free educational resource kits with lesson plans for primary, junior and intermediate students.  In addition, you could sign up for professional learning or a workshop on the site.

Like me, you might make mistakes.  However, my Indigenous educator friends have coached me that the worst mistake that non-Indigenous educators can make is to do nothing.  I hope that highlighting these resources will help you along your professional learning journey.