Decolonializing the Curriculum

Decolonialization and the Sense of Place

            In 2013, the Canadian Journal of Education published a research article titled “Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing” which I believe is a very important document. The paper was a summery of a research project taken place in Fort Albay First Nation, with an advisory group that involved much of the community. The community youth interviewed local Elders to produce an audio documentary while partaking in a 10-day river trip exploring the traditional lands. The elders told historical stories about the land, the Cree words for landmarks, and emphasized on the traditional relationship with the surrounding natural environment.  The goal of the project was to help reclaim Cree culture and knowledge while building community resistance to the economic exploitation of their land.

            This article does a great job of incorporating a number of decolonization methods throughout the research and editing of the piece. This can be tricky to balance because of the different ways of knowing from a western perspective and an Indigenous perspective. The western perspective relies on the “Scientific Method” of knowing, which includes physical proof, measurement of research, and a strict unchanging method. Indigenous ways of knowing are different. There is more on a emphasize on the spiritual realm and the interconnectedness of all living things. These different views can clash, especially when it comes to Western Academia. This is why it can be challenging, but overall extremely rewarding, to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing such as the methods in the research article.

            One of the ways that the article incorporated decolonization methods was through the way the research was gathered. The youth of the Fort Albany First Nations were tasked with interviewing local Elders with a radio documentary while traveling. Oral tradition is a hugely important aspect in Indigenous culture and way of knowing. Historically, Elders are the knowledge holders and story tellers that teach their communities. By collecting the information through radio documentaries, the researchers are acknowledging the importance of oral tradition in Indigenous ways of knowing. The researchers also recruited Fort Albany youth to interview the Elders, thus building a connection between the two. This relationship has been damaged from colonization over the generations, and this research project attempted to repair that.

            Another important aspect of decolonization was the set up of the research project, a lot of effort was placed into giving Fort Albany autonomy. The community was highly involved with the process of the research project, for example choosing the river as a theme because of its significance. The youth of the community were the sole interviews and the Elders were the sole sources of academic information. Importance was placed upon the interviews not being seen as “data” but rather a way of fostering dialogue and getting information about traditional lands and ways of living. The involvement of the community is so important because historically, Indigenous groups have been the subjects in Western academia and excluded from academic spaces.

            Themes of reinhabitization appear strongly throughout the research paper and can be seen within the foundation and the research. Reinhabitization refers to the need to gain a sense of connection with the land and understand the history behind it. When the Fort Albany youth were tasked with interviewing the Elders, it took place while on a ten-day river trip in traditional territory. The elders were able to explain the history and significance of the river with the youth, and help them form a connection to the land. Indigenous cultures have always had a deep, personal connection to their traditional land which was damaged during colonization. Learning about the significance and personal connection to the land we live is the main goal of reinhabitization.

            During the ten-day river trip, the groups were given an English map of the area for navigation. The Elders took the opportunity to cross out the English names and teach the traditional Cree name for each land mark they passed. The youth were able to learn the Cree language while they were making connections to the surrounding land. The river had been used as a traditional burial ground for the Fort Albany First Nations, this signified the importance the river had on the community. The river taught the Elders when the water was safe for drinking, and what kind of weather they might expect. It was not just a river, but a vital part of life that has a deep historical connection with the community. In this section in the research article, the concepts of reinhabitization and colonialization intertwine.

            In my teaching carer, I plan on incorporation Indigenous and treaty education in every aspect that I can. While thinking of teaching in decolonizing and reinhabiting ways can be challenging and seem extremely difficult, it is the process that counts. I believe that both of these concepts cam always be worked towards, and could always be integrated in every day life. Reflection and challenging ideas are such an important step to decolonized teaching, whether it reflecting on yourself or the curriculum you are teaching. Reinhabiting a classroom, could be as easy as placing a significance on the treaty map as opposed to the political map of Canada. While I may not have all the answers now, I know my journey towards decolonizing and reinhabiting the classroom will always be growing.

15 February 2019


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