Monday, 29 April 2013

Tannis Nielsen Teaching Philosophy

As an Indigenous woman I am inherently located within the praxis of a critical method of instruction that places emphasis towards achieving and sustaining an Indigenous Sovereignty- both locally and internationally. An indigenous pedagogy speaks both “from, to and about the Land” and addresses the concerns of political, cultural, spiritual, social and environmental justice. My pedagogical practice is closely aligned to what Paulo Friere has termed a “liberatory education” where instruction is centered upon sustaining the health of a society through the inclusion/recognition of diverse, Indigenous, ecologically based consciousness. I do thus, by providing my students with a localized indigenous education/perspective on the context of where they are currently located geographically and then I assist the students in thinking critically, about their own indigeneity, cultural ancestral/familial histories.

I initiate these discussions on international forms of indigeneity as a means to unravel a universal, international system of colonial technique and strategy. In doing thus, I am attempting to address the similarities of colonial oppression internationally, both as a comparative inquiry and to honour the diversity amongst our memories, while we work toward building an encyclopaedia of international emancipatory strategies.
No matter what discipline I am teaching, my goal is to provide the students with instructions on how to embed their own contextual realities, epistemologies, creatively into (not only their scholastic texts and art works) but also politically, into society as a means of also asserting their own sovereignty.

The teaching methods I use to manifest my objectives, involve such practices as addressing the importance of process in how we introduce ourselves and relate to one another in class. While indigenous processes are not universal in nature, it can be said, that a commonality amongst Indigenous people(s) is found in the process of our providing introductions. Where-by we first give recognition to whose territory we are located upon and then to name/define ourselves in relation to our own ancestral lands. The importance in doing such, is to provide to our listeners the particular context(s) from which we are speaking. By sharing/asserting our own cultural context(s) (in relation to the current geographic location) it is my hope that together we may come to know each other more as individuals. By introducing our context(s) as coming from particular places, (our own ecologically based consciousness) we may be better abled to grasp, that which we are trying to get the “others” to understand.

Making this type of effort to share and understand one another, to learn about each other’s individual context/cultures has become increasingly important in this globalized world where the quest to maintain or give privilege to only one dominant culture has become the norm. It is this norm ie;the dominating Eurocentric colonial paradigm, that has been sustained/supported at the demise/expense of an individual’s, indigenous loss.

Having students identify and introduce themselves in relation to land, is the first stage of initiating the decolonization methodology, that is part of my pedagogical process. For example if one of my students introduces themselves as having moved to Canada from Persia, I would know then, to adjust the content of my curricula (somewhat) as an effort to address their particular context. I would do this, by inserting specific Persian imagery into our lectures, or by talking about Persias resistance to colonization and also by discussing one of the traditional spiritual practices of Persia (such as Zoroastrianism) and also through my relating anti-colonial theory specifically, as it happened upon the students own ancestral territory.

Another way in which I manifest my pedagogical objective, is by making sure that all students are given an equal chance to be recognized/heard. I provide to the students an equal ground, by getting rid of the hierarchy in the classroom. I do this by physically altering the space (if possible) so that the students (and myself) can sit in a circle facing one another. Traditionally, the talking circle has been utilized by Indigenous peoples as a structure for discussion that was used to remove barriers, so that peoples felt comfortable enough to share their thoughts amongst the group. By having class discussions presented in a circle, we are better abled to develop a sense of community/kinship with one another. In a circle, no one sits in a position that is above another and there is no need to compete to speak, as all are given a chance to been seen/heard.

Developing these types of relationships/spaces in class is imperative, as often the content presented via lecture draws emotive responses from the students. Students need be assured that they are in a secure safe space and that duty of care in respecting honouring one another is always a central objective amongst ourselves. For example while teaching a class I designed (based upon the text by Marie Battiste titled Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision) students were presented with the five stages of colonization (by Poka Laenui) These stages are 1,Denial 2.Destruction/Eradication 3.Surface accommodation 4.Tokenism and 5.Transformation. While I provide to the students evidence of these colonial strategies/stages,(as having taken place in Canada), the students are made witness to such atrocities as the residential school system, the forced sterilization of native women, the smallpox epidemic and the denial of Indigenous rights to Spiritual, and Cultural Practice.

When we engage in our group discussion (on these specific colonial techniques and strategies) I then ask the students to look back, into their own ancestral histories to see if any of these strategies, have been utilized upon their own families territories and 99% of the time the answer is Yes. And so, for a student then to offer to the class their testimony of being witness to their own tragedy, is exemplary of their remarkable bravery/willingness to share. Yet-The students will only share these experiences, if they are made to feel safe while doing so. For example; while teaching the above I had noticed that during the early part of our term, there was a young South Asian woman, who hardly ever spoke, yet when it came time to present her artwork (which answered the assignment to visually portray one of the colonial techniques and strategies) she asserted herself in such an assured way, while telling us of the meaning behind her work, which had focus on the colonial strategy of Denial. She related this strategy, towards the colonization of India. The artwork she exhibited, was the script/text of a language that was once made illegal to speak. Her act of decolonization here, was to recover not only her language in text, but also in her resistance to be silent. Her story (and others like hers, that center upon the reclamation of voice) is just one example, of the many reasons why I teach.

My motivation in teaching is to assist the silenced/the oppressed in reclaiming their own individual/indigenous contexts. If the strategy of imperialism and colonization was an attempt to deny, and eradicate Indigenous context / cognition, then the effort to resist this type of erasure is to upload, re-affirm, and represent our cultural consciousness, as a means of not forgetting. It is my goal, to teach my students how to transmit these messages, by representing the legacies of our histories, ideologies(s), in both tangible and intangible form. I do this, while still ensuring that the Indigenous local, be precedent. For It is only through recognizing and maintaining our diversity locally, that we may find our voices/strengths and compassion for each other’s plight, in the struggle against colonization/oppression, globally.


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