Tag Archives: Education

Working It Out Together: Decolonization Dance

Season 3 ends on a high note featuring dance, and its ability to heal. Host Waneek Horn-Miller sums up the significance of dance: “Dance has always been an integral part of our ceremonies and traditions. It expresses our prayers, and our mythology, it celebrates our victories, and is a way to heal.”

However, colonization nearly destroyed dance. Policy forced dance underground, yet it survived and is seeing a resurgence across the land. Briana Olson, Manager, iHuman Youth Society, explains, “Our ceremonies were related, and central, and fully immersed in how we raised our children, how we engaged in trade, and through our language was how we were directly connected with how we viewed our land.” But to the colonizers, dance was viewed as a threat to the values they held. Thus the settlers created policy to ensure language, ceremonies and sacred dances were all banned. This form of colonization has facilitated  the culture of shame that, for many Indigenous people, has become a way of being.

Karen J. Pheasant, Cultural Knowledge Keeper, also speaks to the tradition and importance of dance in Indigenous culture: “We always gave first and foremost recognition to the powers that be, that brought these to us and we gave them with ceremony which was song, which was offerings, and celebrate the good life. What enabled us to do that was through our dance.”

James Jones, is a self described fusion dancer who, following a career altering knee injury, combined hip-hop with traditional dance styles. James, the official dancer with the popular band A Tribe Called Red, describes dancing as “food for the spirit.” When not touring, he has  been leading youth workshops, sharing his own experiences with multi-generational trauma and how that journey has affected his life. James was able to overcome personal tragedy and in so doing claims he was healed by the power of Hoop Dancing.

One interesting final note with respect to this episode: in the segment about James’ life in gangs on the streets of Edmonton,  there are a series of shots edited in, but never directly addressed. We see images from the Red Dress Campaign. This campaign was designed to draw attention to the plight of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls across Canada.

You can read more about James Jones here at WIOT Zine.

Overall, this season has  been incredibly instructive. Each episode, each facet explored, demonstrates how pervasive colonization has penetrated the lives of Indigenous people. If you are a student or a teacher wanting to understand colonization, particularly in light of the recent TRC Report and its Calls to Action, or if perhaps you are looking to add more content to your Social Studies units I HIGHLY recommend watching this season in its entirety. When viewed together, you get a real sense of the over arcing scope government and policy have played in the lives of Indigenous people in Canada. Additionally, there is a wealth of resources that could easily be adapted for classroom activities, located in the link listed above.


Working It Out Together: Lucina Gordon–Inuk School Days

This episode of Working It Out Together examines a topic dear to my heart: Indigenous education. Through the lived experiences of an Inuit student from Nunavut, it takes a hard look at the effects that the Residential School System continues to inflict upon Indigenous youth across Canada today.

Carol Rowan, Professor of Education at Concordia University–Inuit Studies, describes the way Inuit children were educated by the community and through their experiences on the land prior to colonization. “The land was teacher and land was pedagog. Children learned through a caring relationship with the land.” This attitude to education was in stark contrast to what we today understand conventional education to be.

Morley Hanson, Coordinator, Nunavut Sivuniksavut describes the process of colonization as it manifested in the far north. “Waves of outsiders would arrive, predicated on the continued use of the natural resources.” There was a European whaling industry, followed by fur traders and missionaries. The people began to convert to Christianity, and were also encouraged and/or coerced to move off of the land to live in larger communities.

Melissa Irwin, Instructor, Nunavut Sivuniksavut explains how the Residential School System was a “colonizing tool that was designed with ill intent to take away our culture, our language, our pride, and our voice. It separated families physically, but also psychologically. It introduced violence, pain, disconnect, and abuse.” As a result of colonization, the value of education has been deflated within Indigenous communities across Canada. If however Indigenous ways of knowing are incorporated into school curriculum, interest in attending school and understanding its value will act to improve student success rates.

We follow 20 year old Lucina Gordon on her quest to become a school counselor. In order to complete her college degree at John Abbott College, she must travel more than 1500 km. Lucina is 1 of only 2 youth from her community to make it to the final college semester. We see through Lucina’s eyes the difficulties students face when they leave their tightly knit communities in the north to attend school in a large urban centre.

We are also introduced to the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program that helps Inuit students make the transition from their communities to post secondary education.  Using culturally relevant topics, students, so far removed from home and family, recognize their own sense of self and the program gives them ongoing support as they seek to complete higher education.

Admittedly, I am biased when it comes to Indigenous education but this episode really is jam packed with the issues that face Indigenous education and educators in Canada today. I have only touched on a few themes addressed in the episode and were I to truly do it  justice (at least in my mind) this recap would be twice as long as it is. Given the heavy media coverage that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s  Calls to Action have received across Canada, educational reform for Indigenous youth is a very timely topic. So my advice is simple, if you missed this episode just go watch it here: Working It Out Together