Section 1: Chetwood Black Bear
Integral to an Indigenous worldview is the value placed on preparing to undertake a significant journey. Preparation typically involves ceremony, such as smudging or praying, to provide safety and guidance for those involved in the journey. The ceremony also provides time to reflect and consider the purpose of a journey. In terms of the Indigenization journey, this is when you might open yourself up and find the courage to be challenged, to learn new ways of knowing and being, and to unlearn some of your beliefs and assumptions.
In Wisdom Sits in Place: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache, Keith Basso (1996, p. 105) writes, “To know who you are, you have to have a place to come from.” He stresses the importance of place and acknowledgement of place, particularly in terms of understanding your values and beliefs in relation to your surrounding environment and how it sustains your life. Acknowledgement of place also connects us to a people, a culture, and a history that has been largely ignored in education
You must also seek to understand the why of Indigenization, while making an emotional connection to the content. You must first explore and identify your own personal biases, prejudices, and perceptions of Indigenous Peoples before embarking on the institutional Indigenization journey. Knowing yourself, and your values and beliefs, is an essential aspect of this journey.
Nella Nelson of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples and administrator for School District 61’s (Victoria) Aboriginal Nations Education encourages individuals to explore and examine who they are. She said:
It starts with self, understanding, because all learning takes place in relationships, so first of all you have to have that relationship with yourself…. Once you understand and know yourself, you can then move forward in doing the research and being involved. It’s important to face that and look at it. Then you can start to unravel what the story is and the history of our people.
Nella pointed out that you must be prepared to confront the story and history of Canada with openness and self-awareness.
Angus Graeme, president of Selkirk College, made a similar point. He said:
You have to spend time reflecting on and learning about what this work truly means and how critically important it is. It’s about knowing yourself as a human being first. Knowing what your values and beliefs are. And it is so important to understand that before engaging in relationship building with Indigenous Peoples and communities.
Knowing yourself is an important aspect of Indigenization, particularly as it relates to the values and beliefs of the local Indigenous Peoples. For example, the Nuu-chah-nulth believe that everything is connected and one, and therefore if one element is missing it affects everything else connected to it. Nuu-chah-nulth value salmon, and their fishing practices reflect their reverence (e.g., traps designed to allow small fish to escape).
Part of the Indigenization journey is understanding the why. Individuals often question, challenge, and ask why we should Indigenize, why Indigenization is so important, and what it means for students. These are important questions, requiring you to be ready for and open to the complexities of the Indigenization journey. It is a process that requires time and patience as you navigate the multiple layers of history, colonization, and the experiences of Indigenous Peoples.
Camosun College’s Indigenization coordinator, Corrine Michel, believes that getting people to understand why Indigenization is important is the first step. She said, “People aren’t aware of the impacts of colonization, so you have to go right back to Canadian and colonial history and explain it.” Explaining colonial history takes courage, time, and patience; remembering the seven grandmother teachings is helpful.
John Boraas, Camosun College’s vice-president of education, shared his personal experience of coming to the college. He grew up in northern BC and started his career there. He felt he had a good idea of what Indigenization meant based on his experience teaching Indigenous students. However, on arriving at Camosun he realized he had to “up his game” when new colleagues like Janice Simcoe, director of Indigenous education and community connections, challenged him on his assumptions about and approaches to Indigenous education. He recognized that he needed to explore more deeply the pedagogies and practices related to Indigenization. He also recognized that his journey required him to move from a practice informed by personal experience to what he describes as a more “head approach,” moving from the emotional to the intellectual and compelling him to take a deep dive into the literature and scholarship of Indigenization.
Indigenous educators take seriously the responsibility to help others in a good way, particularly to support the learning journey of those who have embarked upon Indigenization. Nella observed that while schools now present the history of Canada more realistically, there is still the question, why do we have to do this? In response, she explains that Indigenous Peoples are a part of Canadian history, and the question really should be, why aren’t we Indigenizing? She added, “It is a time when we begin to do the work for ourselves. Everybody is on a journey, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, when you’re Indigenizing curriculum.”
In her role as Indigenization coordinator, Corrine always creates space and time for critical conversations, often starting at the very basic level with colleagues who have not made the connection between colonization and its assimilationist policies and the conditions for Indigenous Peoples.
Joan Yates, Camosun College’s vice-president of student experience, emphasizes that a fundamental part of her job is to encourage people to understand the why of Indigenization. While the what and the how are important, Joan believes that as leaders, the visceral piece is the why, because, as she said, “If you do not get people’s hearts engaged in [Indigenization] then you are not going to see change.” Joan added:
When explaining the why, I talk about the economy and the social components. I do hear from staff and especially students that people don’t have the full story. That somehow when you have the emphasis on Indigenization you’re being politically correct. No, we’re doing things to acknowledge what should have been acknowledged, which to me is a better definition of politically correct. Correcting wrongs. So there are things I would prefer that students don’t say, and I think it persists because people haven’t been fully integrated into the why piece. As leaders we have to own the why.
Part of the learning journey is to understand who Indigenous Peoples are through their experiences with colonization and government policy and practice. As you work through the materials and resources in this guide and elsewhere, you begin to recognize the injustices Indigenous Peoples face, particularly by reading about residential schools, child welfare, or violence. Indigenous scholar Dr. Lee Brown notes that when there is an emotional connection to the content, an individual will naturally be inclined to connect with difficult or challenging materials.
Nella was drawing on the teachings of Dr. Lee Brown herself when she stated, “You cannot change an attitude without an emotional experience,” adding that doing the good work in education brings your heart into the process, and that is what will transform education and teachers.
Sherri Bell came to Camosun College to serve as its president in 2015, after working as Superintendent of School District 61, where she developed a deep connection and relationship with Nella. Sherri described her pride as a Canadian as coupled with an anger that emerged as she began to learn about the history of Canada and its Indigenous Peoples. She also recognized the efforts of Dr. Lee Brown when she made the connection to the deep learning that occurs when there is an emotional connection to the content. “That’s what we’re talking about,” Sherri said, “the emotional connection to a story. Your own learning can’t take place until there is visceral emotional connection to the content.” Put yourself in the shoes of those who have experienced tremendous pain at the hands of educators in residential schools. Only then can you imagine what it must have been like to experience cultural genocide.
In a similar way, Joan noted that her understanding of Indigenization did not really form until she became a parent, when she made the connection between residential schools and her own child. “What if they took my precious child away from me?” she said. It was this emotional reaction that allowed her to truly relate to the experiences of Indigenous Peoples.