In this blog we are going to talk about that smooth cerulean painter’s canvas blotted with dull, roving furrows of grey and silver-milk, all enshrined in a few glass containers in your household. Beneath this blue and white, there should be a darker tableau. It might house pale cubes and prisms, or stretch wide in flat browns and flaxen gold broken by scattered green stretches. But it’s all separated from you by glass.
Where are you?
In your house. You are in your house looking outside your window. You are either in the city, surrounded by buildings, or out on the prairie horizon. We know so little about nature beyond the fact that it looks nice. But it’s just there for our enjoyment, right? There’s really nothing we owe the land.
This blog springs out of an article called Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing. In the article, the authour presents several paths the Fort Albany First Nation (FAFN) is taking to ensure the endurance of their traditions and correct relationship towards the land.
The article focuses on two major changes that would help First Nations reinhabit nature and decolonize Canada.
The first, and most often the initial, step is to reconnect the youth and adults of today with elders who have preserved ancestral knowledge. Among this knowledge, language revitilization is a pressing issue. The “erosion of deeper meanings of connection to land and territory that are encoded in the Mushkegowuk language” is due to a drop in utilization (71). Most people of the First Nations are not helping keep their language healthy; the residential school system and one-sided European rulership has facilitated this. Loss of “cultural and spiritual practice linked to land rights and political autonomy” has cut off First Nations from their source of identity and communal liveliness (84).
The second, and equally important, step is to reconnect all (youth, adults, elders) to the land. Western ways of relationship with land are driven by oppressive “federal and provincial” boundary placement and consumeristic, “accumulation-oriented model[s] of development” (81, 83). In response, FAFN took a 10-day river trip which included youth, adults, and elders. They took time along the trip to “[share] their learning about the relations of the people to the lands and the related issues of governance and land management” (70). It was a trip that made a space for discussion between all ages about the issues of autonomy, preservation of tradition, and reinhabitation of the land. This gave FAFN a giant step towards decolonizing their future generation, and undoing the effects of residential school colonization suffered by older people.
How then do I live, as a white European settler inhabiting Treaty land? First, recognize that we are all treaty people.
David Orr, in his book, Ecological Literacy (this book is on my to-buy list), has something to say about education of place. He compares it to the indoor laboratory.
“The classroom and indoor laboratory are ideal environments in which to narrow reality in order to focus on bits and pieces. The study of place, by contrast, enables us to widen the focus to examine the interrelationships between disciplines and to lengthen our perception of time.”
These “interrelationships between disciplines” are undesired and often unincorporated into our daily lives, whether we are European settlers, First Nations, or landed immigrants. Yet we need this knowledge about our land because without it, we can only view land as a field for extractable resources. I believe that, as a teacher, my job contains the responsibility to pass on an appreciation for the land to all of my students, regardless of background or future. If the First Nations are the only people blazing this trail, further misunderstanding and animosity is likely.
My major, English Literature, is a robust medium to connect students with the wealth of first and second degree non-fiction accounts, poetry, plays, and novels that access the knowledge of tradition about our land.
Restoule, J. P., Gruner, S., Metatawbin, E. “Learning from Place: A return to traditional Mushkegowuk ways of knowing” Canadian Journal of Education 36, 2 (2013). pp. 68 – 86.
Orr, D. (1992). Ecological Literacy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.
Featured Image: Two Men Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich