Indigenous Perspectives, Moccasins, and the Classroom.
Almost two years ago I decided to find out why moccasins were culturally significant to Indigenous culture. For now, I’ll spare you the details of how that came about. What I will tell you is that in the end I found out that moccasins are incredible vehicles to share the stories and teachings of Indigenous cultures. In this case I should mention I’m speaking in regards to the Cree and Ojibway nations. I was able to represent what I learned through a documentary after teaming up with Charlene Moore and the folks over at MTS’ Stories From Home program, which we appropriately titled Moccasin Stories.
As an educator, notably an English teacher, I found the concept behind moccasins incredibly relevant. Moccasins represent one’s journey in life — the footprints we leave behind. They also symbolically represent chapters in our life since, like all footwear, they don’t last forever. I also realized the power of understanding your own story, taking time to reflect on who you are, which goes in hand with understanding where you’re from, where you’re going, and discovering your purpose in life.
Coincidentally through personal projects and post-secondary studies I was exploring the concept of one’s story before I embarked on Moccasin Stories. I’d been developing a motivational style speech and presentation based off of my own life and some of the obstacles I’ve encountered. After speaking with elders and Indigenous leaders of education in the area, and after being presented some fabulous opportunities from my friends, I was able to secure some speaking engagements — most notably at Vincent Massey’s UNESCO conference and at Fort Frances High School’s Indigenous Education Week festivities. I was able to combine my own story with the stories of those documented in our film and preach its relevance to high school students.
Why do our stories matter?
Being able to tell and understand your story is pivotal to understanding who you are and your place in this world. It enables us to discover our purpose in life. Furthermore, understanding the people around you creates an environment of collaboration, empathy, and community.
Throughout my short time in the field of education, I often find educators who struggle to implement Indigenous perspectives into their classroom. Lately I’ve been referring to a class I recently took called Aboriginal Perspectives in Education. Our instructor had us introduce ourselves to our classmates based on the following parameters:
Who are you?
Where are you from?
Where are you going?
What is your purpose?
Each day we took an hour out of a two hour class to share. Honestly, the sentiment of most of the students at the time was that this was a waste and an easy mark. However, I found that the purpose of the exercise began to reveal itself as the course unfolded. We all took the class because we were interested in achieving one thing — integrating Indigenous Perspectives into the classroom. However, some people were at different stages in being able to do so. Some lacked knowledge on Indigenous issues. It amazed me that students in Canada, in 2017, were still unaware of residential schools, for example. Others came from religious backgrounds and grappled with what they thought were conflicting religious viewpoints and that they were suddenly now expected to teach another religion despite their own faith. Going through this exercise allowed us to understand where each of us were coming from which led to more productive discussions and learning.
Unbeknownst to many of my peers was that in the very act of going through this exercise they were engaging in an activity that exemplified Indigenous Perspectives and traditions. Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate enough to attend Indigenous gatherings, meetings, and events. Though I didn’t realize it at the time the participants often went through a similar exercise, stating who they were, where they are from, their purpose, and where they hoped they would be (or their communities/organizations would be) as a result of the gathering. In hindsight, I always thought it was time consuming practice. Now I understand why this is done. Creating this sense of community can only lead to solutions and resolutions that better represent the people involved.
Imagine doing this in a classroom. Not only teaching students how to share their story but giving students the opportunity to listen to others. We often talk about building relationships with students and differentiating the classroom in order to tailor learning to each student, however, I think we sometimes forget that in order for collaboration to happen in the classroom students need to know and understand each other just as much as the teacher does. I know peers who are already doing something along these lines with frequent sharing circles in their classroom or in after school programs. The results have been amazing in terms of engaging youth and building community.
This was the message I brought to students as I spoke in theatres and classrooms over the last couple of weeks. Students need to realize that their stories matter. What they do matters. And they need people to listen to them.
Fortunately I’ve been through a perfect storm of gathering knowledge over that last couple of years that has allowed me to not only come to this realization, but to develop a film, presentation, and classroom management techniques to employ it. I welcome you to get in touch if you’d like to chat about this further.