Learning From Place

The article Learning From Place by Restoule et al. records the events of a river excursion in which youth, adults, and elders from Fort Albany First Nation attempted to rediscover traditional Mushkegowuk ways of knowing and to rebuild their relationship with the land. The group hoped to accomplish this by reinforcing the notion of Paquataskimik which is the understanding that “the land…is a complex being – a spiritual and material place from which all life springs.”

In order for this shift in mindset to take place, the group sought to both decolonize and reinhabit the land. Restoule et al. defines reinhabitation as the ability to “identify, recover, and create material spaces and places that teach us how to live well in our total environments” and decolonization is defined as the ability to “identify and change ways of thinking that injure and exploit other people and places.”

Throughout the excursion, the group participated in reinhabitation through:
-Identifying key locations of cultural, geographical, or historical significance to the people of Fort Albany First Nation
-Sharing the traditional Cree names for those locations
-Acknowledge that traditional ways of knowing and relating to the land were not restricted by colonial, political, or industrial boundaries and demarcations
-Identify various tributaries of the river and discussing the importance the river played in a social context (i.e. a pathway for communication and travel between communities)

The group also participated in decolonization through:
-Acknowledging traditional methods of relating to and living off of the land and waterways
-Discussing land management and governance
-Addressing the implications of colonial and industrial dividing and parceling of land and waterways into Crown land, treaty, and reserve spaces and discuss how that has disrupted traditional ways of life
-Address the impact of residential schools and the loss of language and traditional ways of knowing that they caused
-Through arranging course credit for the excursion, thereby reinforcing and acknowledging the significance of traditional ways of knowing

So, how can these examples of reinhabitation and decolonization be adapted to my teaching methods and practices?

I would say my first task is to get to know the history of any particular school and community in which I find myself living and teaching. Place is significant. There are entire generations of history within any one physical location and, whether we are aware of it from day to day or not, that history plays a significant role in the everyday lives of its inhabitants. Every location has their own way of doing things, their own culture, and their own history. These factors work together to create a local “commonsense” way of living that is crucial to understand when entering into a community, especially as a teacher.

The ways in which I implement decolonization and reinhabitation will no doubt vary from place to place, but in general I would say the act of exploring local history with students and community members is vital. This could take the shape of meeting in retirement homes with elderly residents and simply listening to their stories of how and where they lived. It could look like field trips to local historic sites and museums to explore the physical landscape and collections of historic stories and items. Depending on the location, it could look like partnering with local First Nations and elders and having them share their histories and perspectives in regards to the land and its significance. It could look like addressing local environmental and ecological concerns through visiting wildlife federations; further exploring the impacts of agriculture and industry as well as the effects of dividing the land and altering habitats and landscapes through the establishment of political or agricultural boundaries and infrastructure.

There are many ways in which teachers can implement the concepts of reinhabitation and decolonization into their local contexts. The only real restriction in doing so is the dedication and imagination of the teacher and the willingness of the parents, students, administration, and community to allow such learning to take place.

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