This isn't an add and stir approach to education.
In the last few months many of my talks to educators and admin have been about the decolonization of the education system. What I try to highlight in my conversations is that this is not just about adding voices and books into your classrooms, it is about engaging with the voices and the works in a meaningful way. A way that honours the voices and speaks to their importance within the educational context. What is critical here is to make sure that we are not approaching Indigenous education as an add and stir, when adding material into our class. Educators need to be able to know why they are bringing in the Indigenous perspective and how it connects to what they are doing and learning about.
I would like educators to really deeply think about how they bring in Indigenous education. In many cases educators bring in one off lesson plans that focus on arts and crafts. When we reduce Indigenous knowledges, arts, and pedagogy into activities like drum making, dream catchers and songs, then we are putting Indigenous education into a container to be commodified and colonized. This is not Indigenous education this is neutralizing Indigenous intellect and traditions. Shutting Indigenous education down before it even has a chance to create change.
Let’s take the example of drum making workshops, making a drum from a premade kit with the hide, wood, and mallet prepared for you is not the teaching of drum making from an Indigenous pedagogical approach. From Indigenous teachings the beginning of making a drum comes from learning to hunt for the animal that sacrifices their life for the hide. You are taught to hunt to provide food for your family as well as provide leather for clothing and drums. Once you have hunted the animal, you are taught how to cut up and prepare the meat and prepare the hide for the work of making leather. This is a very long process that can take up to 30 days or more and can provide many opportunities for generational learning from the elders and the young who do this work together. When you are just given a pre-prepared hide, you do not gain this knowledge or appreciation for the work it takes to get to the point of the hide being ready to make a drum.
Most drum making classes are precut, pre-prepared hide with holes and sinew. The wood circle is even given to you. You do not get the opportunity to gather the wood, and prepare it in a traditional way when it is just given to you already done. You also miss out on what the teachings are that the ancestors have passed down from generation to generation about drum making and playing the drums. I know of many communities that only allow for males to drum, so this complicates things when females are making and playing the drums in drum making classes. They are missing the educational piece about who plays the drums, who plays the rattles, and who sings and dances. These are all critical pieces to the drum making process. The songs are a whole other pedagogical piece to this work. Traditional songs from Indigenous communities that have survived colonization. The songs are still alive today because of our ancestors that brought them underground to save them for the next generation. These songs have been carried by those who have fought against the erasure of our traditions, our languages, and our culture. These are sacred. I do not believe that these sacred songs should be sung by anyone other than the Indigenous people who carry them. Yes, we have people that share and sing them in ceremony that is shared among all and it is okay to sing along when you have been invited. Personally, from my perspective, only Indigenous people should be leading and singing Indigenous songs. That is my personal stance on the topic and I know of Indigenous people that do not agree with my thinking. It is different for everyone; I am only speaking of my personal perspective here.
So, when we have drum making workshops when we are just getting the end part of the work, we are missing out on all of the teachings about drums themselves. The hunting, the prep work, the time and the honour of having a drum. This is all eradicated when we only make them from a premade kit. What does this mean for decolonization? It means there is more work to do. If drums are something you want to do, then you need to take the time needed. Take the time to understand the whole process, learn about the animals, the hides, the time, and the teachings, this all needs to be a part of this process.
If we continue to think that drum making, dream catchers and learning songs is Indigenous education then we will never be able to counter the dominant discourse. We will continue to put Indigenous education into a container and have it sectioned off and colonized.