Indigenizing education webinar begins with positive response

First of four-part webinar series features faculty storytellers, Canada Research Chair

Shelly Johnson (Mukwa Musayett), TRU’s Canada Research Chair in Indigenizing higher education, at a welcoming event on Dec. 6, 2016. Johnson was one of four faculty storytellers for the first webinar on Indigenizing higher education. (Submitted)

The first webinar in a series about indigenizing higher education was very positive, according to TRU’s executive director of Aboriginal education Paul Michel.

The program, call Towards Indigenizing Higher Education: A Storytelling Series, featuring 18 faculty members and research chairs over four sessions telling their stories on how they have approached indigenization.

“It reached all my expectations. It’s starts the dialogue,” Michel said, adding that he was happy with how the first webinar went and is “very excited that it centred around stories.”

Michel said that the goal of this series is to clarify what the term indigenization means, and to inform students, faculty and executives that indigenization goes beyond adding Aboriginal content to the curriculum.

“You’re going to have 18 interpretations of what indigenization means,” Michel said, adding the importance of understanding terms such as decolonization and truth and reconciliation.

“It’s a way to inform our learners of these huge terms that are challenging Canada right now.”

Participating in the first session were faculty members Lloyd Bennett in arts, Roxane Letterlough in education, Naowarat Cheeptham in science and Shelly Johnson (Mukwa Musayett), TRU’s new Canada Research Chair for Indigenizing Higher Education. Facilitating the session onscreen was Sylvia Currie.

In the session, each faculty member told a personal story relating to rebuilding Indigenous knowledge in communities and in academia as well as some challenges that need to be overcome in order to make education indigenized. The stories included involvement in restoring a community’s traditional knowledge of cedar canoe building, addressing the inclusion of Indigenous art forms in art history curriculum, community support for mothers completing their degrees full-time and how a silkscreen art piece formed from images of bacteria revitalized a student’s Indigenous culture in themselves.

During a question period held online, questions were asked to the storytellers, ranging from the definition of indigenizing to how indigenizing practices can be adopted in learning environments. In these exchanges, the storytellers suggested rethinking of the structure of education, switching out square desks and buildings to outside circles or other more inclusive forms and reversing the order of learning history from global perspective inwards to a local perspective outwards.

“We need to ask, are we serving our local people?” Bennett said.

According to Michel, the webinar saw participation from around B.C. and other provinces.

The webinar series is in partnership with Open Learning and Aboriginal Education.

The following sessions will run on Feb. 15, Mar. 1 and Mar. 15, starting at 11 a.m.

The livestream and recordings of previous sessions can be found at towards-indigenizing.trubox.ca.