Many First Nations schools will be looking at incorporating more land-based learning this school year as many begin planning for virtual learning and/or at-home schooling due to the rising numbers of COVID-19 over the past few weeks. Today, the number of Manitoba cases is 30, 20 of those in the Prairie Mountain region, much of which resides in Treaty 2 territory. Please read other posts on the Life Long Learning page to look at ideas for back-to-school plans regarding COVID-19 and for ideas in land-based learning (at home).
First Nations schools are continuing the work of centering their own voices when teaching our history and our ways. Some utilize refer to this as decolonizing curriculum and some refer to this as Indigenizing curriculum. What most understand is that this work is important and it must continue. We want the next generation to represent a diversity of careers including leaders, activists, language speakers, land-based teachers, and knowledge-keepers. We want to tap into and nurture their gifts. We want them to know who they are and where they come from. This is critical.
We’re aware that that many First Nations don’t receive equivalent education funding as provincial schools, but do the best they can to offer First Nations (Indigenous) curriculum material. We’re also aware that reading isn’t always everyone’s favorite part of school and/or learning; however, literacy is important. It was said that our ancestors were not literate but we know that they were. Literacy should not be equated with only reading English and speaking English. Our ancestors had their own languages with their own dialects. They had forms of writing and expression including birchbark biting, rock painting, and beading which are, each in their own way, all forms of storytelling. And today, First Nations continue to practice the ways of their ancestors while exercising their power and agency by utilizing the English language and written word to tell their own stories. We utilize these to record our own history, traditions, cultures, languages, and stories for future generations. We can walk in two worlds while maintaining who we are and where we come from.
Literacy can be taught utilizing First Nations (Indigenous) voices. The number of First Nations authors and educators continues to grow. Local bookstore, McNally Robinson, based in Winnipeg offers teacher discounts and maintains a strong Indigenous authorship including a growing number of Anishinaabe writers. Teachers looking to center the voices of First Nations (Indigenous) peoples in their classrooms (or virtually/at-home) can ask the following questions when choosing texts and readings:
- Does it represent students? (do they see themselves and their communities in it)
- Is it accessible? (can students understand the text when it comes language, literacy & culture)
- Is it revolutionary? (meaning does it invite students to question norms that are accepted as “truth”, challenge notions & practices of injustice as well as critically analyze power structures in society)
*Source for the above bulleted list: Lit C.I.R.C.L.E (litcircle.org)
Some First Nations (Indigenous) students may lose interest in reading and writing because they do not feel connected to the stories that they are reading or to the writing topics that they are assigned. (However, it is important to exercise caution & avoid generalizations such as all First Nations and Indigenous children are visual learners and/or will only connect to First Nations and Indigenous texts). But we must make the educated and informed effort to center First Nations and Indigenous voices so that these children and youth do see themselves and their communities represented in learning environments.
Most importantly, educators must prepare themselves to teach the history and stories. We often hear that there is a “push” for schools and teachers everywhere to be culturally-inclusive. This is important but teachers must be informed and educated on the history of First Nations (Indigenous) peoples. They must be able to identify reliable First Nations and Indigenous text/materials otherwise there is risk of perpetuating negative stereotypes, romanticism, terminology, imagery (dehumanization), generalizations, and/or tokenism. A good PD resource for teachers is Chelsea Vowel’s book titled, Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada (2016 by Portage & Main Press) which is also available in audiobook. Vowel’s book is written in a concise and easy-to-understand way. As educators, it is important to continue our journey and example of learning (and unlearning). When we think about the process of decolonization, we know it doesn’t happen overnight; thus, as we continue learning and unlearning, what we may have considered appropriate ten years ago, may no longer be appropriate. A word, term, or image that we may have embraced years ago, may actually be damaging. The journey will continue but the work is so important that educators must be diligent.
Oyate.org has a list of criteria for selecting reliable First Nations and Indigenous resources but if FNT2T schools and/or teachers want support in teaching content and history they can contact FNT2T Life Long Learning for more information.
Take care and be safe. Reclaim and revitalize! Miigwetch.