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What's my role as a non-Indigenous teacher?

It has been a while since I have written a new blog post, it is because I have been consumed with writing my first book and in this moment, I believe that we are at the finish line with this work and I am happy to say we are almost at the moment where it will be printed.  

I can now start to write more consistently about some of my travels and conversations with educators all over the province.  I have been so lucky to be working in so many districts lately with educators that are really wanting to know how to step into the work. Some of them are already doing the work, and some who just need the go ahead to take the leap into putting Indigenous education into practice in their work.

One of the conversations that has been happening is, when is it okay to allow the Indigenous knowledge holder a break and pick up the work ourselves as non-Indigenous educators? Now this question has two parts to it. I do appreciate the question in how can we support knowledge holders to not get burnt out. This is so good to notice because we all know that there is not enough Indigenous Elders and knowledge holders to be able to do all the work in Indigenous education within the school system. The second part of the question is where things are not so clear but are really the most important part of this work. The first question we would need to know is what is it that you as a non-Indigenous person want to teach? Are you wanting to teach a cultural teaching? Like making bannock,  Salish Weaving, or beading? This, in my eyes is culturally specific teachings, which would mean that these teachings then should come from a person from that culture. So, then what is your role as a non-Indigenous educator?

Let’s talk through this, a question I received this week from a textile teacher in high school was about Salish weaving. They were so thankful that for the last few years they had a Salish Elder come and teach the class how to weave. But unfortunately, the Elder is no longer available for this work, so now the weaving has stopped. The teacher wanted to know if they could teach the weaving to the class now that they have had some time with the Elder to learn? My response was that culturally speaking, no, you as a non-Indigenous person should not be teaching the cultural practice of Salish Weaving to your classroom. This is a cultural practice for Indigenous people and how we weave and how we have been taught to weave is a part of our culture. This means that the process of weaving, the protocols, and the teachings from within the weaving needs to come from the culture it belongs to. Someone from outside the culture may miss the importance of certain ways to do things, they may not know the cultural significance of things, and most importantly understand how important Salish Weavers are to the community they are from, and what comes with that.

The educator was not really happy with my answer to the question and then said, does that mean we can’t teach weaving anymore? My answer was no that is not what that means. Salish weaving is a huge part of the history of this territory in the lower mainland. There are many parts to it and so many things you can learn about it. The actual weaving part of the work is the end piece that a cultural person can come in a teach your class, but you as a non-Indigenous educator have so much more to teach about weaving before you even get to the part where someone comes in.

Here are some entry points about what you can teach about weaving:

·      Salish weaving is traditionally done here on the west coast, your class can research and learn about which communities have weaving in their cultural practice.

·      Salish weaving used different types of wool, how come? and what were they? and what are they now?

·      Salish weaving was once the wool from the Salish Wooley dog, you and the class can learn about the dog, how the wool was gathered, and why there is no longer a species of Salish Wooley dogs.

·      What colours are used in Salish weaving? How did the people of the land get these colours in their weaving? What types of plants did they use? How did they use them to dye the wool? You and your class learn how to make natural dyes.

·      What is the process of making wool, from collecting it, cleaning it, spinning it, and preparing it for use? How long was the process? And how much wool would a weaver need to make a blanket?

·      Research about the designs of the blankets, what do the symbols mean?  Book: Salish Weaving by Paula Gustafson &

·      When did the art of Salish weaving stop and why? How did it come back into practice? How did colonialism play a role in the stopping of Salish Weaving?

·      Who are the weavers of today? Where do they live and how did they learn how to weave? What is their story? Research their work and take a tour of their work in many museums and art galleries.

There are many entry points into the learning about weaving and the cultural importance of weaving. These are the things that you as a non-Indigenous educator can teach your class. These aspects of weaving are critically important to learn about. The impact of colonization on Indigenous people has drastically impacted Indigenous culture and the practice of weaving was almost lost. Learning about how culture was impacted by colonialism is how we change the narrative of this land, by including the stories of Indigenous people and the consequences of colonialism.

 Our roles as educators is to teach the whole story of this place known as Canada today, this includes all stories that have made that history. We need to include the story of colonization in order for us to learn and do better. This includes all the pieces of our share history.

This means that as non-Indigenous educators you don’t teach the actual weaving part of the lesson, but you teach about the history of weaving, the history of how colonization has impacted weaving, and how the resilience of Indigenous people and knowledge still continues to this day with the practice of Salish Weaving.

I hope this gives you food for thought about how and what you teach in your classrooms. I will also leave you with a quote from a book I am reading called “Toward Liberation” by Jamilah Pitts. She reminds us that we can’t keep just holding the status quo, that we as educators need to change what we do in order for real change to happen.

Re-Storying Education, one step at a time.


Coming Sept 10 2024



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