In mid-February, TRU hosted its second of four webinars in Towards Indigenizing Higher Ed, a storytelling series on the indigenization of higher education. Like the first event, the latest webinar included a panel of storytellers who discussed the topic of indigenization amongst themselves as well as with the audience.
This session in particular focused on methods of indigenizing current curriculums, with four of the five storytellers being either education or social work faculty. Before the discussion began, TRU’s executive director of Aboriginal education, Paul Michel, briefly noted that a standard education isn’t the only path to knowledge.
“We have to stop walking by our knowledge holders and labelling them something else,” Michel said. “Just because someone doesn’t have a PhD degree, doesn’t mean they aren’t holders of some very wise knowledge.”
What Michel said would set the tone for the rest of the Webinar, as the Storytellers told of their own experiences in looking for new ways of educating their students.
Ginny Ratsoy, a lecturer within the faculty of arts and creator of the Introduction to Indigenous Literatures Canada course, spoke first. Ratsoy, a former grade school teacher from Ontario, explained that the best way to incorporate indigenization into a curriculum is by localizing it and including methods of teaching relevant to the location.
“In the Introduction to Indigenous Literatures course, I attempt to employ indigenous pedagogies as much as possible,” Ratsoy said. “For example, I localized the curriculum by including a field trip to the Secwepemc cultural centre, inviting guest writers whenever possible and I always include on the syllabus a book by Shirley Sterling, My Name is Seepeetza, which is based on her former experiences as a student of the former Kamloops Indian Residential school.”
For Ratsoy, localizing the lessons within her courses allows her students to be “unified around a common space.” Unifying pupils through storytelling is an excellent way to foster a respect for the local community, Ratsoy said.
“I’ve learnt that places matter to students, matters to all of us in fact and that connecting students wherever they are from to this place can be a productive way of fostering collaboration, learning and respect,” Ratsoy said. “The importance of the locale, as a place, is important in many aboriginal belief systems.”
This importance of storytelling was echoed by faculty of education lecturer Patrick Walton as well.
For Walton, part of the indigenization process is creating new stories. Aboriginal students shouldn’t have to feel like the stories of their people are all history, he said.
“I’m in the present, I’m a contemporary person, don’t put me in the past, I don’t belong there,” Walton said. “There is a belongingness that should be in the curriculum. When looking at the curriculum I look at contemporariness, uniqueness and belongingness.”
Following sessions in the Towards Indigenizing Higher Ed will run on March 1 and March 15, starting at 11 a.m.
The livestream and recordings of previous sessions can be found at towards-indigenizing.trubox.ca. You can also sign up for a newsletter for session updates and recaps.