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Full Transcript: Episode 3

University, Pedagogy, and Learning

Intro guitar music 0:00
Daniel de Kok 0:15

Many (Knowledge Systems) Stream members are academics devoted to education and learning. And the topic of pedagogy, including Indigenous pedagogy was a recurrent theme in our conversations.

This episode presents a few approaches to teaching with Indigenous pedagogical principles and learning both with and about Indigenous knowledge. And includes segments from my interviews with the following stream members, Jeji Varghese, Andrea Reid, Barbara Wall, Allyson Menzies, Jonaki Bhattacharyyaa, and Jennifer Silver.

Jeji Varghese 0:49

Large classes aren’t really struc- like they’re meant to be sort of efficient learning processes, right? Like, it’s sort of let’s it’s, it’s kind of, I don’t know, I think if it is the, the sort of model Ford of education, right, the sort of assembly line, we just pack a bunch of students in, feed them a bunch of knowledge, they come out at the other end with all of these things, right. And it just goes against my understanding of Indigenous pedagogies.

Andrea Reid 1:23

Universities really promote this deep level of individualism, that it’s all about this one researcher, this one person leading some group and I think that runs really counter to how we do our work.

And we’re spending a lot of time thinking about how we can centre community properly in that space. It’s such a problem that we see that’s pervasive across these institutions, that really promotes people centring their own priorities, their own values, instead of everyone that we work with.

Barbara Wall 1:59

Students are sometimes unsettled by the process-oriented, the process orientation of Indigenous pedagogies and are frustrated that they have to think more critically and think more creatively, rather than fill in the bubbles or the blanks in a midterm or a final exam.

Everything is project based. And that can, the challenges can be you know, for the students, can be time management. And also there’s at times a pushback – wait, I have to think about this, I don’t just have to memorize and regurgitate information.

There is some, again, hesitation within students about the reflective and reflexive thinking portion of Indigenous pedagogies, particularly for science students, who are, you know, when I teach some first year courses, so these are science students that come right out of high school and believe very strongly in the scientific method, and factual reporting and data.

And when you ask them to reflect on what they have been learning, they stop dead in their tracks. So what do you mean? How do I do this? So there’s a steep learning curve, and sometimes when, you know, pre-pandemic, when we were in person, there was a real…you could feel the pushback, the energy of the pushback in, in the classroom, in the lecture hall or the seminar room.

Jeji Varghese 4:15

Most of my students that come into classes, they’re pretty much engaged in Western knowledge systems. I don’t want to say science necessarily, Western scientific knowledge systems because I – a lot of my students are social scientists and sort of…that might be a little new for them. But certainly, they’re engaged in Western knowledge systems.

And so even though they might not realize they’re part of a knowledge system, part of engaging with Indigenous knowledge systems by reading works of Indigenous scholars, engaging with Indigenous educators through guest lectures through meetings through podcasts and use videos in class discussions, intentionally incorporating land pedagogy as components within the class are all different ways that I expose students to Indigenous knowledge systems, and then having them reflect on and think about where there are similarities and differences.

The work is a little bit complicated in that there’s multiple Western knowledge systems, multiple Indigenous knowledge systems. And so the heterogeneity is something that is hard to get students when they’re first starting off sort of to recognize and understand.

But I do find that over time, there’s sort of this appreciation and understanding that, you know, there are multiple ways of coming at understanding, on creating, disseminating, storing knowledge, and that, you know, when we’re thinking about this, from an educational perspective, exposing them to these different ways helps them at least begin to understand where there might be possibilities in terms of that engagement.

I also, I think, have been increasingly trying to get students to recognize that what that engagement looks like isn’t the same. And the different models that exist to try to describe or explain those are also constantly sort of evolving and changing over time.

And so, you know, in the past, we talked about integrating knowledge systems. Now we talk about braiding, or bridging knowledge systems, we’ve talked about Two-Eyed Seeing, like, there’s all these different ways of thinking about how, and the different approaches that that engagement can occur. And so part of what I try to sort of expose my students to, are those different ideas,and those different approaches.

Barbara Wall 7:00

When I use and when I think of Indigenous pedagogies, I think of our long term history of our ways of learning, and I think about relationship, and responsibility, but within those kinds of values that overreach Indigenous pedagogies the use of narrative, or oral tradition is key.

And the use of experiential learning, right, learning by doing is a key element in Indigenous pedagogy. And also, I guess I want to circle back to speaking about narrative and oral tradition because that includes, to me, our sacred stories, our stories of lived experience, and also includes song. And I use all of these when I teach from an Anishinaabe perspective in the IESS program (Indigenous Environmental Studies and Sciences program).

And I think Indigenous pedagogies can be used by any instructor, by any educator, because they tend to parallel what’s called Universal Design for Learning, experiential learning, and address the different modalities that our students have.

You know, to give a specific example, learning by doing addresses the learning modality of kinesthetic learning. One of the other things that we tend to use in Indigenous pedagogy is visual imagery, whether it is in the form of visual art or infographics, to us more of a Western term.

The many times, pre-pandemic, when we would hold small classes and we would hold classes outside or in the teepee on campus, we do a lot of drawing in the sands, the drawing on the ground to emphasize points and to help kind of congeal teachings in students minds. So that being said, my colleagues or most of my colleagues in the IESS program are non-Indigenous yet use Indigenous pedagogies very effectively.

Jeji Varghese 9:55

Land pedagogy is essentially learning from land. It’s thinking about land as teacher. And so I know when I first started this, you know, including land pedagogy was a one-off field trip where students were in the land.

I gave them a set of guiding questions, I just and I had them sort of go off, and then we came back and had a circle in relation to it, but I just found that that was it was too, how do I… If you haven’t done it before, it’s really hard to suddenly learn from land, right?

Like, I realized that you needed to sort of scaffold the experience. And so what I do now more in my classes is I give students opportunities to engage in more structured activities that have them pay more attention to their relation to land, and open their, you know, their senses, and their their spirit, their mind, sort of all the different parts of themselves, to be more open to the possibility of learning from land.

And maybe it doesn’t happen in that moment. But maybe it happens sort of, you know, a few moments down the road. And so I’ve worked with Indigenous educators to craft sort of guiding questions or specific activities that students engage with over time.

And I’ve got a different set of activities for my second year class than I do for my fourth year class, that also take into account what it is that their focus in the class is on.

And so initially, it’s really about as I said, you know, coming to be in awareness of this idea of land as teacher and being open and willing to learn from land. And hope.

I mean, my hope over time is that we will change the disconnect that students often have, and have them open to experiences not not thinking about land as sort of the setting in which they have activities but land as having agency and having inherent value that’s separate from humans as well.

Allyson Menzies 12:40

Then, as I moved further along, in my undergraduate research, I started learning more about ecology and wildlife and some of the research that was going on, at the institution where I was, which was the University of Winnipeg.

And I landed a research technician job which took me into the field to study bats and bat hibernation. And that experience really changed my whole trajectory. I had always been someone who enjoyed being outdoors, we would go camping as kids with my dad and go to the beach and go to overnight camps, in like the woods and things like that.

And to find a paid position that allowed me to be outdoors, explore, places that I’d never been and learn about wildlife in a way I had never learned before was really almost too good to be true.

And that first summer really hooked me on the path to becoming a wildlife biologist. I think there’s a certain fascination with learning things about the natural world that most people don’t get an opportunity to learn or to engage with.

And from a perspective of my own personal path and my own identity, as I re-learn about my Métis heritage and Métis culture, it really drew me even stronger down this path of reconnecting with nature and with how the natural world works, but how humans and the environment can learn from each other and can have these better, more sustainable relationships.

And I really feel a responsibility and a passion to devote my professional life to this path of trying to remedy these broken relationships we have with the environment and giving voices to people and non-human beings to make sure that we move forward in a way that’s more sustainable and is better for future generations that will hopefully occupy this, this earth and thrive into the future.

I think animals are a big part of that. I’ve studied a wide range of mammals, and each one is so fascinating and teaches so much about so many different things. And I just consider myself extremely lucky. And I’m so grateful to learn from them, to learn from other people about them, and to be immersed in the environment. And understanding how it works and maybe not so much these days with Zoom, but it really was an ideal learning experience to have a huge portion of my graduate education, be outdoors and be in the forest and be reconnecting with the land in that way.

Jonaki Bhattacharyya 16:13

Being a student and a learner, like I, I had the benefit of years of doing research in a community like the Xeni Gwet’in, and other Tsilhqot’in communities, and later with the Heiltsuk, as well, on the central coast, where I, you know, the main thing was for me to learn ideal in ideally in a way that would contribute to their needs.

They let me learn. And there’s, there’s a, there’s a generosity in that, that that helps when I work not only for them, but for any other Nation that I’m working for. Right, that’s, that’s, that’s part of that idea of knowledge systems being not only knowledge, or like a static thing.

But that’s coming from an Indigenous knowledge holders recognizing the relational aspect of the ways that they know, and that by teaching me they are, hopefully, I turned out to be a good person who takes that and uses it wisely. What they share with me, informs better work, better practices, better relationships, in the future.

Jennifer Silver 17:44

I started my PhD in 2005. And I would say, within the academy, that Indigenous knowledge and communities and perspectives were largely seen to be within the sort of realm of social science or kind of this idea of social ecological systems.

Which so, these were the types of researchers that tended to be like really interested in it, whether it was, I think, like sort of carved out scholarly niches, whether it’s within journals or departments.

And were – increasingly in ecology as well at that time. So ecologists who often kind of took forays into the social ecological systems literature. And,of course, there were fewer, even fewer, they’re still not enough, but even fewer at that point in time, Indigenous scholars in the academy.

And so those are some of the starting points for my career, which I’ve… there may be others who you speak to who I’ve even a longer perspective back on to it than I do. And I’ll be curious to hear what they have to say about this.

And so it was just sort of within the like, traditional, traditional, singular scientific disciplines, I would say like less of that was established, like, I’m not sure for example, if how it would, how that topic, these sorts of topics would have been received at NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council).

So the scientific sort of funder within the tri-council. So I suspect it’s, it’s diversified and improved since then, although I certainly by no means that I want to claim that it’s a wide open and fully accepted field within all the sciences at this stage.

One thing that I do think has changed, you know, obviously the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and their report and their calls to action made very clear to publicly funded institutions of which universities are large and well funded ones, relatively speaking, that there needs to be change, both in the curriculum and the degree programs that we provide.

But as well as research and tri-council also would have been the sort of another example of an institution that needs that the calls to action were being addressed towards.

And I think just general, to an extent, general awareness within the public and also sort of like in the international context, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and sort of consent to research and that sort of thing, informed consent, all of these things have evolved and become further kind of ingrained within, some within the academy anyway.

So I think that these are some of the changing pieces. And today, what I would really… one thing that I really think universities could really keep trying to do a better job of is seeing themselves as institutions within the context of a place.

So you know, like the University of Guelph is in the treaty and traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, traditional territory of the Attawandaron people, neighbors to other First Nations, like in the context of those Nations and those territories, again, to the point of like posing questions that are relevant to those places.

And sort of bringing researchers on board who can answer questions relevant to those places, and if each university is doing that, in the context of the territories and the place where they’re located. Like, I think there’s real power and potential to that, and I think some universities are starting to see that, and I would like to see that continue to happen.

It’s kind of funny, since I’m at University of Guelph, maybe, maybe my focus isn’t going to be on agriculture. But you know, like, I collaborate with lots of people at SFU, for example, still, and so in the context of SFU, and the Coast Salish territories, fisheries are a very important question.

So it’s not that every person at the institution has to be addressing those local place based questions. But as a whole, as a sector, we’re seeing ourselves doing work in relation with the places of the institution, I think that’s really important.

Jonaki Bhattacharyya 21:56

In the beginning, for me, I was always entering spaces as a student, as a learner, purely a learner. And there’s a great freedom and privilege in that because there is no presumption that I’m there to tell anyone how to do anything.

I’m truly there to try to understand and just listen. And I always found, you know, I was very blessed that Knowledge Holders with whom I was interacting, were very generous, and wanted to share and teach.

And I think, you know, in the early days, for me, often that was happening, not… in a quite unstructured context. So I used to sort of, I learned early on that what I called “showing up and hanging out” was the best way to learn and that would be helping, meeting people where they’re at, like working in the cook tent, washing dishes at a community gathering or helping to sand down a canoe that that somebody needed work with.

I’ve cooked, I’ve washed dishes, I’ve shoveled manure, I’ve done a lot of things and, and when you work beside someone as part of life, then that’s you’re just having a different kind of conversation. So the early days, it was in that context, and I still value some of those interactions the most.

Allyson Menzies 23:28

Having worked with a few of the very few Indigenous professors in the world of ecology, the demands on them are huge. Everyone wants them to be involved in their research projects, in their courses, on committees in decolonizing the university and decolonizing all Canadian society, all while also doing the same job as everyone else.

And so on one hand, I see it as: there’s a huge need for Indigenous Peoples to lead this and really have strong oversight over the training that people are getting. But on the other hand, I think non-Indigenous people have to take the time and put in the effort and energy and do it themselves.

And so I think, I don’t know what that looks like in practice, but I think there has to be a balance of being guided by Indigenous Peoples. But I honestly think Indigenous Peoples have been sharing their views and their knowledge and resources for decades. And people just haven’t listened.

And so I also think there’s so many resources out there and so much out there that I think it’s maybe time for the non-Indigenous folks to to put in that energy and that time and look to those resources and read those reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, read books written by Indigenous authors, seek out courses that are already made, like the Indigenous Canada course from University of Alberta, and maybe do it themselves for a little bit.

So I’m not sure that that might be a controversial opinion or not sure like, because it, it, always needs to have oversight. It can’t, just this vacuum of non-Indigenous folks teaching themselves how to work with Indigenous Peoples like that also isn’t what I’m suggesting.

But I do think all the heavy lifting can’t be done by the few Indigenous Peoples that are currently within academic institutions.

Exit guitar music 25:53