Critical Assessment of “Nokum is my Teacher”- Summary by Rakshin Saroha

Posted by in Aboriginal Stories, Appropriation, Critical Resource Assessment, Elders, Elementary

Description and Rationale:

Bouchard, David (2007) Nokum is my Teacher. Markham: Red Deer Press

This resource is a storybook format conversation between a young boy and hisgrandmother accompanied with beautiful paintings by Allen Sapp. This bilingual story is written in English and Cree side by side on the same page. The book addresses issues of identity, relevance of institutional education to Aboriginal children, and intergenerational learning through poetic dialogue between a boy and his Nokum. The book also contains an audio CD with reading in English and Cree. The CD has music a Northern Cree drumming group.

This resource was chosen as it fits well with the week’s theme of Intergenerational Learning. The story contains a lot of questions that children might have as they try to figure out their identity of being Indigenous in the contemporary world yet holding strong to their cultural values and ways of learning. A second reason this resource was chosen was because it tells the story in two languages, Cree and English. The inclusion of Cree in the book and on the CD is significant. Another reason for choosing this resource is its multimodality. This resource can be a storybook, it can be an audio book, and it contains paintings that themselves can be a visual story.

I found this resource at my school board District Resource Centre (DRC). The librarian at the DRC highlighted this particular book to me as it can be used at various grade levels for deep conversation with students. This book was published in 2006 in Ontario with the support from Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council.

The role of Indigenous knowledges, content or perspectives in this resource

The resource is located in Cree language and culture (please see the challenge section below for more discussion). The resource is an intergenerational conversation that discusses many pertinent issues that young Aboriginal children and youth might be facing. One of the roles of the Indigenous knowledge in this book is of engaging the reader in this conversation poetically through a story. The content of the book is delivered in a thoughtful dialogue that addresses the theme of inevitable change and multiple ways of learning. The discourse is extremely relevant to contemporary Aboriginal youth as they also question why they need to go to school, and it is the wisdom of an Elder that guides the youth towards a satisfying decision.

The book offers two perspectives, one obvious and familiar and the other wise and rare. The perspective of the boy is easy to understand and relate to because we are able to connect with the struggles of growing up. The other perspective of the Nokum is rare because she does not directly offer the boy with advice. Nokum offers the boy questions, “skilfully guiding him to an understanding of the larger world outside their reserve, while still retaining respect for the ways of their people” (Bouchard, 2007).

David Bouchard is of Metis descent. In the closing of the book he dedicates this book to his Nokum. Bouchard states that he learned many things from an Odawa Elder and carries in his DNA his family’s collective memories.

Additionally, the rich paintings by Allen Sapp offer a glimpse into the lives of the Cree people. Allen Sapp is a respected Cree Elder who was raised by his grandmother on the Red Pheasant Reserve in Saskatchewan.

Benefits and challenges of using this resource

Throughout writing this assignment, there have been some deeply challenging issues identified with the resource. The benefits of using this resource in the classroom do not outweigh the challenges. Please see how this resource could be used as teaching tool about critical assessment of Indigenous resources in the section below.

Some challenges of using this resource are that some of the language might be difficult for some students to understand. Also, the author, Bouchard, does not directly connect his personal Metis background with this story. This story is situated in Cree culture, however, Bouchard has not demonstrated a personal relationship that gives him the authenticity to write about this culture. It appears that Bouchard is establishing cultural appropriation in literature and this is problematic because Bouchard does not have the authority to write about a culture that is not his own. If this was a meaningful collaboration with Allan Sapp, this needed to be made explicit on the book cover. After some further research, it was noted that the publisher of this book was responsible for having the book published in the Cree language. Nowhere in the book does it state how Bouchard was given permission to write about Cree culture or how the benefits of the book were shared with the Cree peoples. This awareness would not occur to a non-Aboriginal reader, who is still learning about the knowledge of the distinct Aboriginal Nations.

Using this resource in my teaching/leadership practice

In light of critically assessing this resource and understandings gained from this course, this book could be used as an example about the “critical assessment of Indigenous content and books”. I would use this resource with colleagues to be critical of using Indigenous content and books with our students and to ensure that appropriate resources are used that don’t stereotype Indigenous cultures, where authors and writers don’t use the general title of Aboriginal identity to write about specific cultures and experiences that are not their own. In cases where collaborations with people outside a specific Indigenous community occur, it is important that the authors are explicit in how they have developed the relationship. It is also important to explain how the collaboration benefit the communities the authors purport to work with.