The first gathering that launched the Indigenous Voices program was called “Shared Ground,” with had the purpose of establishing some common knowledge and understanding of the diversity of Aboriginal peoples of Saskatchewan and Canada, exploring and establishing the appropriate terminology to use (and in what context) when referring to Aboriginal people(s), learning about past and present socio-economic contexts, and interrogating common myths and misconceptions.
The Shared Ground gathering (which was repeated for those who were unable to attend the first offering), was facilitated by Lamarr Oksasikewiyin (Sweetgrass First Nation) and Jeff Baker, who collected anonymous feedback forms when the gathering was over. Of particular interest from the questionnaire is the item that prompts, “Something related to this gathering that I would like to explore further for my own learning is…” (It is upon the responses to this item that most of our blog entries will be based).
Above any other desire about which to learn more, was that of treaties. Participants clearly recognize that the “forever” covenant between First Nations and non-First Nations peoples must be understood to complete their intellectual and affective capacity to develop a conception of the relationships between, in the case of treaties, First Nations and non-First Nations peoples. The participants will actually have the opportunity to learn about treaties, as well as the land agreements formed with Métis and Inuit peoples, in subsequent gatherings. This leads into two more general curiousities expressed in the feedback: 1) to learn more about Métis identity, and 2) to gain a more complete understanding of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal shared history. Indeed, these two wishes are intended to be included within the Indigenous Voices program (in addition to provide more knowledge about Inuit people as well).
One participant wanted to learn more about teaching (and valuing) the whole individual, as is believed to be critical by Aboriginal peoples, and this is the philosophy upon which I would like to conclude this entry. Lamarr emphasized the importance of teaching to all four aspects of a person: the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual, and modeled this in his session. In the development of the Indigenous Voices program, we, too, have tried to teach the “whole” person, hoping that you leave each session feeling that you have been affected in multiple ways—in ways that you will then want to replicate in your own interactions with students.
The Indigenous Voices staff and faculty development initiative is a collaborative effort of the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness (GMCTE) and the College of Education. Programming is presently being piloted in these units before expanding to a broader university audience (hopefully) next year. The goal of this programming is to increase the capacity of our faculty and staff to engage respectfully with Indigenous people and perspectives in their personal and professional lives. The purpose of this blog is to bring the questions and issues raised in the program’s gatherings into a larger discussion. This first entry, though, provides some background and context for the program.
Faculty members in the College of Education initially proposed this program to address the fact that “Canadian universities are not doing enough to educate future teachers on issues of power theory, cognitive imperialism, and anti-oppressive education” (Battiste, 2008). The greater emphasis on Indigenous people, knowledge, and ways of knowing in Saskatchewan’s recently revised K-12 curricula also underscores the need to enhance the College’s capacity to provide relevant support to pre-service teachers.
The GMCTE and ULC are similarly aiming to strengthen their ability to assist instructors, departments and colleges that are interested in bringing Indigenous perspectives into their teaching, programming, and disciplinary communities. This work is an essential part of ‘Indigenizing the academy,’ a process through which universities become “places where the values, principles, and modes of organization and behavior of [Indigenous] people are respected [and] integrated into the larger system of structures and processes that make up the university itself” (Alfred, 2004).
The use of the butterfly as a symbol for Indigenous Voices resulted from an Elders gathering that was held to name the project. The butterfly appeared in a number of forms during the gathering. Inuvaluit Elder Fred Nulamaloak described the process we were engaged in as a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, beautiful and almost ready to fly. One of the diagrams drawn during the discussion also took a shape similar to the form of a butterfly.
Finally, Elder Darlene Speidel, whose Lakota name Kimimilaskawin means “White Butterfly Woman,” spoke about the butterfly as a symbol of transformation that is common to many Indigenous peoples. The goal of transformation, at both the individual (faculty and staff) and systemic (institutional) levels, is paramount for this work. It is not just surface learning but deeper changes to engrained attitudes and values that must be addressed for Indigenization begin to take root.
ekosi pitama (That’s it for now)!