Module 4 – Post 1: What Western Education Did Not Teach Me: Paul Waterlander

This is a very interesting and topical article for any ETEC 521 student.  It was printed in The Walrus magazine, and written by Indigenous writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.  The article revolves around the issue of decolonizing Canada’s education system, as well as questioning why it seems that Western/European knowledge is seen as “superior” to Indigenous knowledge.

The author writes about her experiences of spending two years with 25 Nishnabeg elders who have spent all their lives living in close connection with their traditional land.

The author describes the naivete of early research done in the 1980’s in tandem with white anthropologists to document their culture:

“Traditional ecological knowledge was in its heyday in the eyes of white policy-makers, academics, and even Aboriginal organizations. The idea was that if we documented on paper the ways that we use the land, policy-makers would then use the information to minimize the impacts of development on our lands and ways of life. The idea was that clearly documented land use would bring about less dispossession, as if dispossession occurs by accident or out of not knowing, rather than being the strategic structure it is.”

The author gives high marks to a non-Indigenous anthropologist, Dr. Paul Driben, who worked at Lakehead University in Ontario.  Dr. Driben did not take the stance that he was the “creator of all knowledge”.   This is how he was described:

“Paul did something that has stayed with me and has always informed my approach to working with communities and to research. He was invited into the community to do a specific task, which in the end he did, but he actively and continually divested himself of the false power the academy bestowed upon him when he drove onto the reserve. He asked the Elders if they thought the project was a good idea. They said it was. He asked them how best to proceed. They told him. He asked them if they would be the decision makers. They agreed, and then they were, and he got out of their way.”

The author spent two years with the elders to create a new type of map, not one made in the western-style:

“During the next two years, the Elders, who in my memory are now eagles, took me under their wings. I wrote down on large topographical maps every place name for every beach, bay, peninsula, and island they could remember—hundreds and hundreds of names. We marked down all of their traplines, and the ones before that and the ones before that. We marked down hunting grounds and fishing sites, berry patches, ricing camps, and medicines spots. We marked down birthplaces and graves. We marked down places where stories happened. We marked down ceremonial sites, places where they lived, places where life happened. We also marked down the homes of their relatives—places where moose and bears lived, nesting spots and breeding grounds. We marked down travel routes, spring-water spots, songs and prayers. Places where feet touched the earth for the first time. Places where promises were made. The place where they blocked the tracks during the summer of the so-called Oka Crisis.”

This article would be an excellent read for any ETEC 521 student.  Forces you to recognize that there are many worldviews out there, and claiming any one as “superior” shuts our eyes to divergent ways of thinking.


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