What I learned through my interviews for my inquiry project:
Interview # 1: Post-Secondary Aboriginal Student Mentorship Program Coordinator
I heard from [Interviewee 1] that learning is about storytelling – there is a story behind everything. [Interviewee 1] said learning is about knowing that story, telling that story and being dedicated to following that story over time. For example, she said: don’t just show a piece of artwork because it looks Aboriginal. Find out the story behind it by asking the artist, asking questions or doing some research. You have to engage in this process and can’t look to somebody else to do that for you. Learning about Indigenous ways of knowing and being is a lifelong process and in order to do that work authentically you can’t look for easy solutions. It takes time and has to involve authentic discussions and authentic relationships. Authentic relationships are marked by trust, respect and open communication. Experiential and land-based learning also helps to build these types of positive relationships.
What I took away from my conversation with [Interviewee 1] was that I have to make my own meaning out of Indigenous content or approaches that I bring to the classroom. When what I bring is meaningful for me, it will feel more authentic when I share it with students. I need to speak from the heart in my teaching. Knowing the story behind what I am sharing is a way for me to make meaning out of it. [Interviewee 1] talked about how there is a story behind everything we do; Indigenous culture is not just feathers, totem poles and bead work – there is a story behind each of those things. I can move beyond surface representations of Indigenous culture by continuing to ask questions and find out more about these stories. [Interviewee 1] ended the interview with a great quote that I think speaks to the authenticity piece. She said: “You get the opportunity to be with children or young adults that are hopefully going to learn stuff from you so make sure it’s authentic stuff and good stuff, not fluffy stuff. Don’t make it about lemon meringue pie, make it about the lemons.”
Talking to [Interviewee 1] also made me look at incorporating content (in addition to ways of knowing/being) in a different way as she talked about the importance of this given that not everyone knows about residential schools, intergenerational trauma, etc. She works with a lot of university students who are angry they didn’t learn about the history in the K-12 system. [Interviewee 1] said that we need to talk about the “yucky stuff” so it doesn’t happen again and address the uncomfortableness (the shame, guilt, blame, anger). She said if we don’t work with the “messy stuff” as well we can’t move forward in a good way. We can’t go from the problem to the solution without the discussion and this history is very personal. [Interviewee 1] also said starting with protocol and acknowledging territory is a good place to start in incorporating Indigenous knowledge into the classroom. We do protocol to recognize we’re on someone’s land/territory and to recognize the loss of land.
Interview # 2: K-12 Aboriginal Education Teacher
I learned from [Interviewee 2] that teaching and learning mean something different to every Aboriginal group, but many view both as recursive activities of which oral storytelling is a big part. Learning goes round and round in the spiral mode: you learn something (by doing) and then you come back to it and build on that knowledge. Connecting learning to local content and place is important as well.
I learned that once I am in a school I will likely have an Aboriginal education teacher I can connected with for support as I try to build my own relationship with Aboriginal knowledge. [Interviewee 2] also said I am not expected to have all the content knowledge and it’s about asking questions and trying to participate in community by attending events and making connections. It’s about learning and learning slowly. She said bringing in content is a place to start that feels safer to people and is easier than trying to change worldview.
[Interviewee 2] gained a lot of what she knows from living and teaching in [community] where Aboriginal culture is more ingrained in the schools, the schools are in community and most of the students are Aboriginal. She said there was no Aboriginal Education department there because everyone was expected to incorporate Aboriginal knowledge. Being in nature and connecting with community and with Elders was just part of what they did (this is similar to what I found in [community] and [community]). Hearing this made me think that if I really want to integrate Aboriginal ways of knowing and being into my teaching maybe I need to look at teaching in community. It is really hard to bring in those pieces when you are living in an urban area and disconnected from culture and community.
[Interviewee 2] also said one of the most important things I can do is familiarize myself with how the local bands operate and what is important to them (some of this is on their websites) and to try to make connections with people. She also told me a bit more about the Role Model program in [School District] and mentioned that [school] is trying to establish an Elder-in-Residence program (this already exists at [schools]).
Interview # 3: Post-Secondary Aboriginal Student Mentorship Program Coordinator
[Interviewee 3] talked about the difference between Indigenous and Western understandings around the purpose of education. Reciprocity is important from Indigenous perspectives: you take what you’ve learned and give back. The better the individual does, the better the community does. Western perspectives often focus on the individual. Going to school leads to getting a good job, a good car, a good house, etc. [Interviewee 3] also talked about the connection to land and how knowing where you come from and where you are helps you acknowledge the territory you are on. She said we are caretakers of the land – we don’t own it as it is its own entity. She shared a bit about her background and the strong connection she feels to her home community. [Interviewee 3] also gave me the names of some people I can connect with to learn more. I have kept these names on file and I feel I am starting to build my network here in Victoria; I am grateful to have some ideas of where to follow up to learn more.
One thing I took away from talking to the three people I interviewed was that each person’s lived experience is different, so I need to accept and embrace the fact that my lived experience is my lived experience. I am not Indigenous but I have to trust myself and know that I have good intentions / am trying to do things in a good way. All I can do is be honest about where I am in the process and speak from the heart when I am engaging in this work and be humble as I go forward (this is better than not engaging because I am scared of doing things wrong or offending somebody).
[Interviewee 3] and I talked about how the fear of offending or saying the wrong thing can paralyze people. She also you have to start somewhere and a good place to start is to know the territory you are in and the history of the land you are on. From there you can start to make connections in community and get to know the people whose territory it is. [Interviewee 3] also said to accept that there are some things you cannot understand as someone who is not from this territory and some things (e.g. ceremonies) you will never be privy to and that is ok. You have to balance eagerness to learn about Indigenous culture with knowing when to listen and leave space for others to speak. She also talked about how visibly recognizing culture (e.g. having Indigenous art up, recognizing territory yourself, etc.) in the classroom in very small ways can make a big difference to Indigenous students. You acknowledge where you stand with gratitude every day. And you have to go forward remaining humble and making the connection between your head and heart to do things in an authentic way. Talk to people about their story, whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous and ask them where they are from, let them share their story and really listen.