Faculty members come together to find respectful ways of talking about Indigenous knowledge
Integrating Indigenous knowledge into classrooms is a major topic of discussion at MacEwan University and at post-secondary institutions across Canada. It’s even included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action: “Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.”
How to do it—and in a genuine manner—was a question that staff in both kihȇw waciston Indigenous Education Centre and the Centre for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence (CAFÉ) were encountering from faculty members.
So the two areas collaborated to host the Introduction to Cree Worldview session in June, inviting faculty and staff members from across the university to attend.
“The invitation was open to anybody and everyone, and it was so beautiful to see folks from very different departments coming together,” says Social Work Assistant Professor Amber Dion, co-facilitator of the session. “We all had a vested interest in one thing: How do we ensure that we are integrating Indigenous knowledge, we are respecting Indigenous knowledge, that we are ensuring there are spaces that have been created in our departments for Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous people and voices? And that was a common thread, regardless of where we work in the university.”
“ It was so beautiful to see folks from very different departments coming together.” AMBER DION
The day began with a traditional Cree (nehiyaw) pipe ceremony led by co-facilitator Dr. Leona Makokis. The group sat in a sharing circle, which gave them each an opportunity to express what they felt they needed for the day.
“One of the strict protocols of our circle process is that no one speaks out of turn,” explains Amber. “We don’t need to respond to one another. We’re there to practice our deep listening and to speak what’s in our heart, not necessarily what’s on our mind.”
The morning ceremony was a chance for the group to connect emotionally and spiritually, and for some members, be immersed in the Cree culture for the first time. In the second half of the day, the conversation shifted to addressing challenges the group members face—the biggest being fear.
“I always have this question of: how do you speak to different worldviews without speaking on behalf of them,” says Assistant Professor Dr. Katherine Sinclair, anthropology, who attended the session.
Non-Indigenous faculty members shared their concerns about integrating Indigenous knowledge into their classrooms in a respectful way.
“We definitely created a space for our non-Indigenous colleagues to say, ‘I’m terrified and it’s paralyzing me,’” says Amber. “That’s exactly what happens. I see that not just in this work but also in trauma work, or in any kind of growth and development.”
Leona and Amber asked the group to think about where that fear comes from, and that gave them room to speak about their own fear. “Our fear as Indigenous people is that non-Indigenous folks are going to take our knowledge, put it in a box and sell it,” says Amber.
“ There's a community at MacEwan that's growing—one that is asking questions of how to engage with Indigenous worldviews within our classrooms.” KATHERINE SINCLAIR
The discussion allowed the group to address those anxieties and talk about different ways to face them head on. Leona and Amber encouraged their colleagues to look at integrating Indigenous knowledge from an ally perspective.
“Immerse yourself in it, learn through your own experience as an ally and share that with your students, colleagues and family,” says Amber.
“There’s a community at MacEwan that’s growing—one that is asking questions of how to engage with Indigenous worldviews within our classrooms,” says Katherine. “Knowing that we have this network of other people at MacEwan who are asking the same questions and looking for approaches was one of the most valuable takeaways from the workshop.”
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