The following is an excerpt from Pulling Together: A Guide for Teachers and Instructors by Bruce Allan, Amy Perreault, John Chenoweth, Dianne Biin, Sharon Hobenshield, Todd Ormiston, Shirley Anne Hardman, Louise Lacerte, Lucas Wright, and Justin Wilson.
Working through unlearning and relearning the collective histories of Canada is an emotional journey. Non-Indigenous teachers and instructors often feel anger, guilt, and shame for not having known about the atrocities levelled against a population in this country. As well, teachers exploring ways to include Indigenous content have to explore and identify their own perceptions of Indigenous identity, along with their personal biases and prejudices. Susan Dion, a Lenapte and Potawatami educational scholar from York University, spent time with non-Indigenous teachers to explore ways to weave Indigenous and Western knowledge systems in a participatory, transformative way (the Braiding Histories project). During her research, Susan realized that teachers’ personal biases and prejudices were hindering the way they used or referred to Indigenous pedagogies, such as storytelling:
When teachers take up the task of teaching about Aboriginal people, they are enacting historically structured social forms that organize, regulate, and legitimate specific ways of thinking and communicating. The discourse of the romantic, mythical Other is enacted through the teachers. How and what teachers communicate about Aboriginal people is based not on an arbitrary decision but is established on a long history of how Aboriginal people have been positioned in relationship to non-Aboriginal people. Aware that the discourse of the romanticized, mythical Other is embedded in a teacher’s understanding of what it means to teach First Nations subject materials but simultaneously holding a somewhat contradictory faith in the transformative power of education, I realize that accomplishing change calls for a project that will interrupt the dominant discourse and offer teacher and students alternative ways of knowing. (2009, p. 64)
The teacher’s understanding therefore positions the Indigenous person as the “perfect stranger,” and generates a hands-off relationship with Indigenous Peoples, where Indigenous content is used in a contributive or additive approach (Goulet & Goulet, 2014, p. 20). This understanding perpetuates a dominant view of Indigenous Peoples and disables the ability to respectfully engage and acknowledge Indigenous worldviews in transformational learning. It is not only historical omissions that non-Indigenous teachers have to understand, but also how they hold themselves in relationships and interactions with Indigenous Peoples, knowledge systems, and perspectives. Susan Dion explains:
The fear of offending, the fear of introducing controversial subject material, the fear of introducing content that challenges students’ understanding of the dominant stories of Canadian history all support the claim for the position of perfect stranger. Dominant stories that position Aboriginal people as, for example, romanticised, mythical, victimised, or militant Other, enable non-Aboriginal people to position themselves as respectful admirer, moral helper, protector of law and order. (2007, p. 331)
Indigenization can become misguided if educators and instructors are unaware of the ways in which values and beliefs can perpetuate the “perfect stranger” and thus affect meaningful engagement with Indigenous knowledge systems and perspectives in content and practice.
A Guide for Teachers and Instructors is part of an open professional learning series developed for staff across post-secondary institutions in British Columbia. These guides are intended to support the systemic change occurring across post-secondary institutions through Indigenization, decolonization, and reconciliation.