FNT2T Life Long Learning: Sharing Session with FNT2T Local Nation Helpers

Good Day! We hope that everyone had a safe and restful holiday. For many, the holidays were a challenging time because it’s a time to be together but due to covid-19 it was important for people to remain safe in their “bubble.” This year, many families utilized technology such as Zoom to visit with loved ones. Unfortunately, the covid numbers reported yesterday seemed to reflect that over sixty new infections were related to holiday visits. It’s a difficult time but the safety and health of everyone, particularly the immune-comprised, is so important because covid-19 is new and unpredictable in that no one knows how an individual will handle the virus, now often referred to as the covid-19 disease, which infers long term effects. One may view staying safe as a responsibility to community, families, and relatives. One story that FNT2T Life Long Learning came across was the story of the Bear. The Bear goes into hibernation. It conserves its energy and works to maintain its health with rest. It’s temporary but necessary. Many Nations across Turtle Island are sharing this teaching with its members likening it to staying safe at home just as the Bear hibernates, renewing its strength so it remains strong and resilient.

This week, Life Long Learning had a sharing session with FNT2T Local Nation Helpers via virtual technology. The funny thing about virtual meetings is that not many are comfortable turning on their cameras (including a few of us at LLL). It’s difficult to fully engage during this time of covid-19 as so many have other worries and concerns, but the session this week was quite enjoyable and fun.

Life Long Learning presented to Local Nation Helpers (LNH) the work over the past year. We reviewed the importance of (yet the great work involved in) a Local Nation Education Act. There are many First Nations who are writing, implementing, and ratifying their own Education Act across Turtle Island. It can be an intimidating undertaking, especially in the wake of colonization. Local Nation Helpers were reminded that good dialogue is first and foremost when it comes to change. Decolonization does not happen over night. This is part of the process as many learn and unlearn. Dr. Verna Kirkness (Cree), long time Indigenous educator, wrote that an Indigenous child must know where she comes from, her history and her ways, to realize her full potential (First Nations & Schools: Triumphs & Struggles, 1992). LNH agreed with these important words in their discussion stating that their hope was that their own children and grandchildren would be able to learn more about their history and ways than they did growing up.

Stories and oral history as our ancestor’s system of life long learning was also discussed. Stories consisted of traditional knowledge, morals, values, natural laws, and culture. All of which were transmitted to the younger generation by storytellers who held the gift of amazing memory and engaging listeners (learners). Stories came in all genres including humour, horror, mystery, and even sexual education. They were levelled to age groups and life experiences. One age group would hear one version of a story while another age group would hear the version designed for them. It was a system that was non-authoritative in that listeners (learners) often didn’t even realize they were learning and they were encouraged to make meaning of the stories (and teachings) on their own. However, colonization; namely, the residential school era fragmented that system. Children were separated from the learning system of their ancestors which included the land, family, relatives, animals, water, language, and culture. Thus, today, many are unlearning what they were taught in those schools and (re)learning the ways of their ancestors, which can be a long and difficult process, but First Nations remain strong and resilient.

Local Nation Helpers participated in some fun online activities including a brief Treaty 2 History quiz that consisted of questions such as “Why was a memorandum attached to Treaties 1 and 2 in 1875?” The purpose of this activity was not necessarily to get a perfect score but to raise an awareness of what young people today should be learning about their own history. These are questions that most young First Nations people should be able to answer because they should be learning their own history and ways. LNH also did a fun online multiple choice quiz (after some technical difficulties). One question included, “FNT2T local nation members hold what kind of right to education?” The options for a correct answer were inherent right, deadly right, or personal right. It is unknown if any LNH chose deadly but the activity proved fun for all and a prize was awarded to all LNH for their participation.

Local Nation Helpers also got a look at the new Treaty 2 learning booklets (K-12) being drafted by Life Long Learning. Currently, K-4 is drafted and remaining grades will be completed soon. There is also a children’s book in draft form that shares a brief history of Treaty 2 along with important vocabulary terms to know for learners such as the medicine chest . These will evolve with time. As mentioned earlier, decolonization is an ongoing process of learning and unlearning, and part of that process involves examining whether things are still relevant or require change.

Language was a significant part of the sharing session. Local Nation Helpers, many whom are fluent in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe, or Saulteaux), expressed a strong view that they want young ones to learn the language of their ancestors. LNH talked about how subject-based language programs, while great, are not producing fluent speakers. They discussed the likelihood of full language immersion programming. Many acknowledge that English is needed to participate in Canadian society, but LNH also acknowledged that the English language isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so they asked the question of could there be more emphasis on early years (birth to grade 1) immersion? Fluent Anishinaabemowin speaker and advocate, Isaac Murdoch, recently presented to FNT2T staff where he emphasized the importance of trying new things when it comes to (re)learning language and culture because it’s never known how successful something can be until it’s tried, it just takes bravery. And it is well known that children, up until the age of around 6 or 7, are learning sponges. They absorb everything presented to them; thus, this would be the ideal age for language immersion. Local Nation Helpers had great discussion on language. It is obvious that language is priority for many, as is land-based learning.

It was a good day for a sharing session. Participants learned and laughed together. And that’s a beautiful thing, to be able to laugh together, despite the unprecedented time that everyone is enduring right now. Continue to learn and laugh while being a bear, strong and resilient.

Miigwetch! Renew and revitalize.