Section 3: Integrate – Ethical Approach and Relational Protocols

Ethical Practice in Transformational Learning

As you begin to Indigenize your practice, you will hear people sharing their story as a way of introducing themselves, authentically identifying who they are and their connections through kinship ties, and acknowledging their relations and their connection to homelands and the land they may now be on as a guest. This is an approach, a practice, and a protocol for setting up the space in a good way to listen, share, and get to know one another.

Sharing this aspect of who we are and where we are rather than what we do draws attention to how we will approach our work and frame the knowledge we are sharing. Setting up space in a good way for listening and hearing models Indigenous values of kinship ties, land connections, positionality in history, and roles in present relations.

In post-secondary classrooms there is often little space in which to know each other in this way. The precedent for this is often overshadowed by what seems like immovable factors, such as too many students, too much to teach, not enough time, and so on. In these classrooms, a student can spend the entire semester sitting behind the same person and never really know them.

Through the process of Indigenizing the spaces we teach in, we are shaped not only by the content that is brought into the classroom but also by the way we interact with one another and share what we know and what we may still need to learn. We need to do this with humility. This is transformative learning.

The work to create these spaces cannot be done solely by Indigenous teachers, Elders, or knowledge keepers invited into your classroom. The richness of the overall learning experience comes through a collaborative and reciprocal effort by everyone in these spaces. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Create an atmosphere where Indigenous land and traditional territories are known about and acknowledged. Conversations about positionality are invited and modelled, and there are opportunities to share what you know and acknowledge what you do not know, openly and respectfully.
  • Reflect on how you honour Indigenous perspectives in your classroom. How will you set up the space prior to a visit from an Elder or Indigenous knowledge keeper? How will you maintain this relationship after their visit? Consider ways to reciprocate something of yourself in this visit. How will you give back and reinforce this relationship with Indigenous knowledge systems? Be a mentor and model for students to show how an Indigenous way of being can build good relationships.
  • Participate in acts of generosity. Set up the classroom space so that not only are you and students receiving knowledge but you are also thinking about ways to share what you are learning. One way to do this is to ask, what are the responsibilities that we have as a class after a guest visit? Another way is to ask students, what is one thing you have contributed to the class, and what is one thing you will take away with you?
  • Model humility. When you create a culturally safe space in which to discuss Indigenous perspectives on contemporary realities, you also create a “brave space” where opposing views can be shared “with honesty, sensitivity, and respect” (Arao & Clemens, 2013, p. 135). This is a vulnerable space for you as the teacher, because you co-create shared learnings based on multiple viewpoints and truths.
  • Accept teachings. In a learning relationship, accept your mistakes and be open to receiving guidance from Indigenous colleagues and community educational partners. Guidance can be subtle and may arise as a gentle reminder or kind correction.
  • Ensure that Indigenous knowledge systems are included in a way that does not cause appropriation and harm. Appreciating, rather than appropriating, Indigenous knowledge systems “is characterized by a meaningful and informed engagement that includes acknowledgement and permission” (Brant, 2017). This also means positioning Indigenous knowledge systems; so when sharing Indigenous scholarship and stories, state the cultural location – for example:
    • “Micmaq scholar, Marie Battiste, describes cognitive imperialism as …”
    • “Ojibwe writer, Richard Wagamese, in his book Indian Horse explores the …”
    • “In this Big Thinking talk, Dr. Leroy Littlebear, Blackfoot philosopher and scholar, discusses how Cree metaphysics …”

Working with Indigenous perspectives and voice in your course and program also involves the inclusion of authentic resources. The Guide for Curriculum Developers[1] explores appropriate use of Indigenous knowledge through use of appropriate textual resources. Another resource is the provincial First Nations Education Steering Committee and First Nations Schools Association’s (2016) Authentic First Peoples Resources [PDF][2] for K–9 educators. The annotated handbook provides the following definition for authentic texts:

Authentic First Peoples texts are historical or contemporary texts that:

  • present authentic First Peoples voices (i.e., are created by First Peoples or through the substantial contributions of First Peoples);
  • depict themes and issues that are important within First Peoples cultures (e.g., loss of identity and affirmation of identity, tradition, healing, role of family, importance of Elders, connection to the land, the nature and place of spirituality as an aspect of wisdom, the relationships between individual and community, the importance of oral tradition, the experience of colonization and decolonization); and
  •  incorporate First Peoples story-telling techniques and features as applicable (e.g., circular structure, repetition, weaving in of spirituality, humour).

When you are including authentic resources, please connect with Indigenous colleagues and the teaching and learning centre at your institution to ensure that the materials you want to use have included Indigenous voice and perspectives and are themselves not appropriated writings and knowledge.


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Ethical Practice in Transformational Learning by Bruce Allan, Amy Perreault, John Chenoweth, Dianne Biin, Sharon Hobenshield, Todd Ormiston, Shirley Anne Hardman, Louise Lacerte, Lucas Wright, and Justin Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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