What We Did this Summer: Indigenizing the English Department

 

What do baby mountain goats, Aboriginal students, and UFV English professors have in common? Wide open, far-seeing eyes, according to Shirley Hardman—our Senior Advisor on Indigenous Affairs.

Our guests with the Gathering Place's baby mountain goat. From left: Shirley Hardman, Michelle LaFlamme, Eddie Gardner, Deanna Reder, and Wenona Victor.

Our guests with the Gathering Place’s baby mountain goat. From left: Shirley Hardman, Michelle LaFlamme, Eddie Gardner, Deanna Reder, and Wenona Victor.

After a long summer spent working on individual creative, scholarly, and professional development projects, members of the English Department came together on September 2nd to pursue a collective goal: learning how to Indigenize our department.

We spent the day in the Gathering Place on the CEP campus collecting advice on how to improve our courses, our pedagogy, our assignments, and our interactions with students by applying Indigenizing methods. The focus was on finding ways to engage Aboriginal students, but we came away certain that these fresh ideas would benefit all of our students.

A panel of specialist Aboriginal scholars provided expertise. Eddie Gardner explained traditional learning practices centred around the long house. Shirley Hardman described “Canadian Best Practices for Indigenizing,” Michelle LaFlamme shared “10 Things to Consider with Indigenous Demographics,” Deanna Reder told us how to “Indigenize the Literature Classroom,” and Wenona Victor broadly explored “Indigenizing the Classroom.”

Wenona engaged in some practical research by turning to her contacts on several Indigenous Facebook forums. Her findings were enlightening: Aboriginal students want recognition of their unique learning styles and the potential challenges they may face—without special treatment. They appreciate instructors who are patient, compassionate, supportive, and authentic. Instructors’ awareness of Aboriginal contexts—cultural, social, and historical—makes a huge difference to creating a supportive classroom atmosphere. More specifically, the students recommended using circle learning and stories to foster effective learning.

After taking in all that wisdom we were buoyed along by an amazing catered lunch of freshly caught wild salmon provided by a local Aboriginal catering firm, a mini book fair featuring new book resources to support our teaching, and plenty of time to share our thoughts on all those marvellous new ideas.

Energized and inspired by the day, we are ready to hit the classroom and begin putting the experts’ suggestions into practice . . . See you there!

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