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Protocols and pedagogies: Indigenous ethics in the classroom

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Guest blog by Anna Ryoo, Congress 2017 blogger

The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences brings together leading thinkers, academics, researchers, policy-makers and innovators to explore some of the world’s most challenging issues. Congress celebrates the vitality and quality of Canadian research contributions, and helps train the next generation of Canadian ideas leadership. This year’s theme “The Next 150, on Indigenous Lands" celebrates the history, legacy and achievements of the peoples and territories that make us who we are, and anticipates the boundless opportunities of the future. Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, this year’s Congress is being hosted by Ryerson University in Toronto from May 27-June 2. Follow this series of Big Picture at #congressh blogs.

How might culturally specific Indigenous protocols around storytelling inform pedagogical practices? How do such protocols illuminate the ethical parameters of both story-sharing and pedagogy as a means of calling us into relationships?

Moderated by Sam McKegney, Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University, the five speakers at the Congress 2017 session entitled Protocols and pedagogies: Indigenous ethics in the classroom offered each of their takes on the question of how to “weave together experiential evidence, personal reflections and critical commentary in an effort to flesh out the ethical boundaries of, and to think in very practical ways about, engaging with Indigenous protocols in a variety of pedagogical settings.”

The first speaker was Kim Anderson , Associate Professor in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph, who focused on issues around gender narratives in Indigenous stories and their implications. Raising common stereotypes, such as how Indigenous female characters are characterized in films and how the male characters are often portrayed as heterogeneous and heroic, the central questions for her were: “Where are we going to have red flags raised, and how will we set them up?” In other words, what are we teaching, and how are we teaching about these stereotypes? For Anderson, besides bringing in media literacy and providing opportunities for students to think and talk about their dreams and aspirations to address these issues, what is more important is to remember that everything is a story, and that story is where we come from.

Assistant Professor of English at Laurentian University Michelle Coupal was the second speaker, and she began her talk with a narrative. By showing the audience what she practices as an educator, sharing her pedagogical strategies, and using her own identity to complicate the settler-colonialism paradigm, she offered a different tone and perspective on this panel.

The third panelist was Sarah Henzi, Adjunct Professor in the Department of First Nations Studies at Simon Fraser University. Acknowledging the significance of storytelling in various forms, from texts to performances and films, the central question she raised was how to textualize storytelling traditions. Henzi emphasized the importance of creating moments of engagement through which we may reconnect with emotion and heart, but also with what most of us often forget – with head and heart. Discussing several works of art, she demonstrated how unsettled pedagogy might be offered and practiced.

Warren Cariou, Associate Professor of English, Film, and Theatre and Canada Research Chair at the University of Manitoba, shared the ways he is attempting to think with the notion of “visiting” in his scholarship. Drawing from how the elders teach that many important things happen in the visiting, Cariou suggested using visiting as a way to foreground the non-agenda-based moment in a classroom, or perhaps even turning the classroom into a visiting space to rethink about our current system.

The final speaker Dovie Thomason, or she who carries stories,” shared powerful stories that made the audience occupying every chair in the room laugh, empathize, learn, think, feel and then laugh some more. No form of text can replace what and how she shared her poetic stories with us, but her stories showed humour, wisdom, and humility.

Panelists, thank you for such powerful conversations!

The roundtable discussion “Protocols and pedagogies: Indigenous ethics in the classroom” took place at Congress 2017 and was jointly hosted by the Canadian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (CACLALS) and the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE)

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Congress of the Humanities and Social SciencesCongress 2017