The Importance of Learning from Place

In the reading Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing by Jean-Paul Restoule, Sheila Gruner, and Edmund Metatawabin, I was introduced to two terms: Rehabilitation and Decolonization. Of course, I had heard the terms before, but not in the context that was given in the reading. So, what are rehabilitation and decolonization? Well, rehabilitation is “identif[ing], recover[ing], and creat[ing] material spaces and places that teach us how to live well in our total environments” and decolonization is “identif[ing] and chang[ing]  ways of thinking that injure and exploit other people and places”.

In order for both rehabilitation and decolonization to be successful, they must occur together. They can’t exist alone. Not only that, but you must understand that these concepts aren’t just about “rejecting and transforming dominant ideas” like many would believe. In fact, it’s also a process of “recovering and renewing traditional, non-commodified cultural patterns.” And within the reading, those who took part in the project found ways in which they could rehabilitate and decolonize.

Instances where these processes occur is during the river excursion. The river in question: Kistachowan River, known also by its English name, the Albany River. The river holds cultural significance to the Cree people, and they used it as a way to teach the youth. The Elders would teach the youth and others who went on the excursion ways to live off of the river, and integrated Cree terms and practices into the lesson to promote cultural understanding and learning. They also conducted a youth-led zine where they had the opportunity to interview community members about their perspective of the river. This allowed for an intergenerational conversation about tradition and knowledge transfer from Elders to youth.

These concepts and ideas are extremely important in our teachings. Canada has an expansive history of First Nations traditions, and as educators, we cannot ignore those influences. Not only that, but we will be teaching many First Nations students throughout our career–we cannot cater to one demographic of students like we have in the past. We have to adapt, and the idea of considering place when teaching essential.

If we were to look at where I grew up, and if we were to consider the possibility of me teaching in that area, I was surrounded by many different First Nations communities. Our school made sure to integrate First Nations teachings into our classroom, commonly bringing in an Elder to give us lessons on the treaties, residential schools, the Nakota language, and the Medicine Wheel that was not very far from my school. My school got to take a trip to the Medicine Wheel where we were taught the significance of it in Nakota culture. Considering the integration we had at my school, I would say that as an educator I would try to do the same. I have to look at my own place and pedagogy and see what is appropriate of me, as both an ally and teacher, to teach my students. If I feel there is a topic I am unsure of, having the ability to reach out to an Elder would be amazing. It would be even better to have to chance to have Elders come into my classroom and enhance my students’ learnings. Of course, the integration should come from a perspective of place: what is the influential First Nations culture in my surrounding area, and how can I use that knowledge, tradition, and culture in an effective way in my classroom?

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