WEYBURN – There would be a great benefit in many areas for students in the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division to receive indigenous teachings, the board of trustees were told in a presentation by teacher Joanne McLeod.
The St. Michael School teacher attended a two-day Indigenous Education Symposium in Saskatoon in mid-May, and feels there is a great deal that can be learned from the traditional teachings of First Nations people.
Making reference to the traditional medicine wheel used by the Ojibway peoples (and other First Nations as well), she noted the wheel has four quadrants representing the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional aspects of life, with the circle itself signifying the sacred circle of life.
“The four quadrants are meant to be of equal value,” said McLeod, so no one area of one’s life is any more important than another.
When she went to the symposium, she met up with Holy Family’s knowledge keeper, Lyndon Linklater, and told him to an extent she felt guilty about teaching indigenous concepts as a Caucasian person.
Linklater told her not to feel guilty, as she was not the one to make the decisions that hurt First Nations people – but, he said, once she has learned about the concepts and principles of First Nations teachings, it is then her responsibility to pass them on.
“He said we should feel okay, as long as we change our narrative when we share with other people,” said McLeod.
In a presentation on the treaties at the symposium, she noted that the intention was both parties, indigenous and non-indigenous, to benefit from the treaties, but that isn’t how it worked out.
“The implementation of the treaties is a whole other problem, where you have the Indian Act, residential schools, poverty and the gap in learning,” said McLeod.
She commented that Ministry representatives were happy that graduation rates of First Nations students have improved to 43 per cent, but she said this rate is nothing to be proud of, particularly with the large indigenous population in Saskatchewan.
One of the issues that has arisen in the last couple of years were the finding of unmarked graves at residential schools. McLeod noted that indigenous leaders told the symposium, the finding of the unmarked graves was not a discovery, but is a validation of what First Nations people already knew, and is indicative of what it’s like to be an indigenous person today.
Interested in what her students had to say, she asked her Grade 9 classes what they thought about having indigenous education. Their response was getting the classroom presentations was boring, but they need to go where the indigenous people are, and experience their culture, to really learn about it.
“It’s not a written culture, it’s oral – that’s what they said,” said McLeod. “We need to stop the global ghettoization of indigenous culture. You can’t isolate it, it belongs everywhere.”
She added that she learned experience equals understanding, and “we don’t have understanding. We need to experience it.”
She was also surprised when two knowledge keepers told her about teaching indigenous education, “We don’t own it. Take it, learn it and teach it. If we change what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, maybe we’ll do a better job.”