As Community Arts Education begins hosting our very first workshops in the month of June, we find ourselves in inspirational and exciting times. As Ontario accelerates it’s plan for the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines, people are filled with hope that life might begin returning to normal soon. But some of us are asking, do we really want to go back to life as we previously knew it?
The month of June is synonymous with both Indigenous History Month and Pride Month in Canada, which opens up important discussions about inclusivity, diversity, and equity. This is a much needed breath of fresh air, but many of us are challenging the underlying intentions behind some of the acknowledgements made by powerful figures within our society. Oftentimes statements or ads are made at surface level, neglecting to include a critical social justice perspective at all. Many corporations capitalize on this time of 2SLGBTQIA+ visibility to monetize on social justice movements by selling merchandise to key demographics, or to improve their public relations, while still supporting the structures that oppress and disenfranchise these groups. Not to mention the government's long history of denying its own culpability in the history of racial violence in this country. Radicals and revolutionaries across Canada are calling for more real and long-term systemic changes to be made to our institutions that will promise all of those residing on these lands the universal human rights and freedoms that they deserve.
In 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published their Final Report Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, highlighting the voices of many residential school survivors who have given testament to the intergenerational impact that colonization and assimilation efforts have had in Canada. This groundbreaking document lays out a roadmap for what needs to be done in order for the government to reconcile for its past and current actions. We know that despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action that only 8 of those have been met on a national level, leaving us to wonder how long it will take to fulfill all 94. The Canadian government has yet to establish a national independent oversight body to track overall progress on truth and reconciliation to date, leaving little accountability for achieving progress on a national level. It is important that Canadians continue asking the important questions in order to hold the government accountable to promises that have been made.
As educators, our responsibility to shape change is even greater if we hope to create a future where Indigenous peoples can co-exist peacefully, independently, and live free from discrimination. Although our country has made great strides in recent years regarding human right and freedoms for minority populations, there are still countless Indigenous, black, trans, and disenfranchised folx in this country who are subject to persistent systemic racism and violence regularly.
From the lens of a group of students who are hoping to become inspirational educators, and leaders in the community, we don’t just want to teach about social justice issues, we want to actively work towards making the world a better place for our students to live in. For years, young people have been let down by the older generations who have metaphorically put their hands in the air and said “this is just the way things are, the way things have always been.” This attitude is not longer good enough. Youth as a whole are often stereotyped as being naïve, lazy, or self-absorbed. The media loves to throw around these labels in order to dismiss the efforts of active youth on climate action and other important issues. But the young people that I have worked with during my experience (during my practicum placement and volunteering experience) are often more open, quicker to understand systems of inequality, and passionate about changing the world than many of the adults that I know. These young people deserve to be empowered by content taught from a critical social justice perspective.
In the words of Murray Sinclair and others who came before him, "we need to begin practicing the politics of hope." (2020)
We hope to not just raise awareness about Indigenous issues, but make a habit of always bringing Indigenous pedagogy to the table by modelling alternative ways of learning, knowing, being and relating to each other. For me, this is the key to transforming our educational systems and embracing long-term changes, rather than taking a stand temporarily and then moving on to the next issue. Some might bring up the question of cultural appropriation when talking about white educators teaching using Indigenous Pedagogies. However, I believe that as long as we are not claiming those pedagogies as our own, and we are empowering Indigenous leaders, elders, educators, artists and other types of knowledge keepers, then we can continue working together from a multidisciplinary and intersectional approach. Even the simple act of creating a safe space to discuss reconciliation in our classroom through the implementation of sharing circles can be a big step in the right direction.
That being said, I do acknowledge that I come from settler ancestry and I am currently a settler on these unceded traditional lands of the Algonquin peoples. I welcome others to join in on the conversation and share their thoughts about how and why it might be important to embrace multiple modes of learning and teaching from a decolonial lens. I would also like to acknowledge the Indigenous pedagogy that I have been referring to and give credits to the pedagogies that have inspired the format for our project. Much of what we have learned about Indigenous pedagogy stems from our PED 3138 course within the B.Ed program at the University of Ottawa - First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Education: Historical Experiences and Contemporary Perspectives. I have gained great inspiration from the book Potlatch as Pedagogy, an assigned text from the cours, written by Sarah Florence Davidson and her father Robert Davidson.
In this book Sarah explores the pedagogies of the Haida peoples through her father’s lived experiences of learning and teaching. The word Ska’ad’a in Haida means “to teach” and is the root for the derived word “to learn”, Ska’ad’ada. In their book the authors discuss how the philosophy behind Ska’ad’a and Ska’ad’ada reflect the universal truth that teaching and learning are often one in the same. As new educators, our self-reflective journey is equally about teaching and learning - from each other, ourselves and our students. The guiding principles of traditional Haida pedagogy that has inspired the format for our organizational structure and is described as follows: learning emerges from strong relationships, authentic experiences, and curiosity; learning occurs through observation, contribution and recognizes & encourages strengths; and learning honours the power of the mind, Indigenous history and stories, as well as spirituality and protocol. As our members are from settler ancestry we cannot speak to the spirituality and protocol aspect of Haida pedagogy, but we would like to empower the voices, histories, and traditions of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island in order to share our platform as educators and and continue learning from their traditional wisdom.
I would also like to highlight the works of Tanya Talaga, Ojibwe author, truth-teller, and a visionary for Canada’s reconciliation journey. Her book Seven Fallen Feathers is a call to action that highlights systemic racism in Canada, education, the failure of the policing & justice systems, and Indigenous rights. I have also been inspired by her audio book Seven Truths, in which she shares knowledge about the 7 truths of the Anishinaabe peoples: Love, respect, honesty, bravery, humility, wisdom and truth. These are the seven truths taken from the Seven Grandfather Teachings handed down orally through generations of Anishinaabe elders. We have aimed to model these qualities to the best of our abilities in our shared virtual spaces.
Ultimately, our goal is to create more equitable and inclusive models of community building within the teacher education program, and we choose to embrace the Arts as a decolonial pathway to change. In my opinion, the Arts stands at the polar opposite of colonialism. The Arts connects us where colonialism aims to divide us. The Arts celebrates the individual, the personal and the complex while colonialism aims to generalize, label, rank and categorize us. The Arts is the future of innovation, creativity and change while colonialism stands by its past of violence, oppression and disenfranchisement. A colonial mindset would like you to believe that the Arts are less valuable than other forms of institutionalized knowledge; a fun optional add-on to the core curriculum subjects. Indigenous pedagogies put the Arts at the forefront of teaching, learning and discovering who we are as people. In addition to the fact that it is the right thing to do, these are the reasons that we choose to incorporate Indigenous pedagogy, every month of the year, into everything that we do.
Written by Julia Davids (She/her)
Project Lead, Community Arts Education
Julia has a BA in Sociology from San Francisco State University and a Minor Certificate in International Development Studies from the University of Amsterdam. She is a year 2 Teacher Candidate in the junior/intermediate division and a member of the Global Cohort within the B.Ed Teacher Education program at the University of Ottawa.