As an educator, I believe it is crucial to build and nurture relationships beyond the classroom. Knowing that student-teacher relationship is important to student success, I make it a course requirement that each student visit with me in my office at the beginning of the course so we not only begin to establish a one-on-one relationship, but so they know where to find me later in the term if they need my help. I make myself available to meet outside of class time and use Blackboard to stay connected between classes.
I let my students know that they can always reach out to me for assistance as they continue on their educational and life journeys. Besides providing academic support, I try to be there as an advocate for students going through difficult times dealing with different types of barriers and/or health issues (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual). I also try to be aware of how students are doing and when I think they might be struggling, I reach out to them in person or via email to check in with them. This is not always easy to do in a world in which everyone is overextended, overly busy, just trying to survive. I fear that as educators, we are missing the signs and that students are slipping through the cracks.
As Indigenous physician and surgeon Dr. Nadine Caron has told my students, building a trusting relationship is key between the physician and patient. It is the same between the teacher and student. From my mentors, I have learned to build such relationships. My mentors are individuals who have provided me with guidance, feedback, and moral support along my educational and research journey. All my mentors have made me feel like an equal – a peer – with the only difference being my level of experience compared to theirs. I try to do that with my students and new scholars.
In my university courses, I provide opportunities for my students to be engaged in active inquiry. I have high expectations of all students and encourage them through class engagement to take responsibility for their own learning. I don’t see myself as the expert in the classroom, rather I see myself as a facilitator in the learning process of my students, which is why I provide my students with opportunities to learn from community and to be in community, to further the building of relationships.
The Four R’s
The Four R’s — respect, relevance, reciprocity and responsibility (Kirkness and Barnhardt, 1991) relates to the experience of Indigenous students in university. I see these four principles extending to all levels of education and they are principles I attempt to bring into my classroom. I always tell my students that if there was one word I would use to describe the discipline of FNST, it would be “voice.” Voice speaks to the importance of identity and empowerment. I work to provide a safe learning environment that fosters self-reflection and the active participation of students in class activities such as discussions, group work, talking circles, and oral presentations – ways for students to have their voices heard. I want all my students to know what possibilities are available to them and to feel empowered to continue on their chosen paths.
The introduction and maintenance of respect in my classroom is crucial. When I walk into a classroom for the first time, I want my students to learn about who I am and I want to learn about them as individuals and as members of families and communities. I introduce myself as Edōsdi and I talk about how my name is indicative of who I am as a teacher and scholar. When guests visit our class, I model respect by the giving of gifts to honour and acknowledge the knowledge and wisdom that has been shared with us. To foster respect for not only the discipline of FNST, but for Indigenous peoples and their knowledges and wisdoms, I speak about worldviews, different ways of coming to know, different ways of being, and about different nature-knowledge systems.
Ensuring the relevance of Indigenous knowledges and wisdoms being brought into all levels of education is important and it is crucial that it is done in a culturally appropriate and respectful way. This ties into the Indigenization of the academy, which is often about weaving Indigenous peoples’ cultures and knowledges into the fabric of courses and programs. As part of my Master’s research, I developed a framework to both evaluate Indigenous knowledge curricula and to be used as a guide for educators attempting to bring Indigenous knowledges into their classrooms. The rubric articulates a list of criteria to consider when developing culturally relevant resources. It has been adapted for use in First Nations Education Steering Committee and First Nations School Association’s 2016 Science First Peoples 5-9 Teacher Resource Guide as a framework for designing Indigenous science resources (pp. 17-19).
Hedekeyeh Hots’ih Kāhidi – “Our Ancestors Are in Us,” describes a Tahltan worldview, which is based on the connection Tahltan people have with our Ancestors, our land, and our language. From this worldview, I articulated a Tahltan methodology, Tahltan Voiceability which involves: (1) receiving the teachings of our Ancestors and Elders, (2) learning and knowing these teachings, and (3) the sharing of these teachings with our people. This methodology guides my teaching and research and I have a responsibility to share what I have learned from others and to give credit to them for their teachings. Reciprocity plays a key role in both my language revitalization work and my role as a teacher. As an Indigenous scholar and educator, it is my responsibility to share and give voice to my learnings, which has taken the form of publications, documentaries, giving guest lectures, giving keynote addresses, sharing with other nations about the successes and challenges of the Tahltan Language and Culture Program (documentary, reports, children’s books), and the sharing of the framework to guide the development of culturally relevant curricula.
As a guest who was born and raised on Ts’msyen territory and now teaches on the lands of the Lheidli T’enneh, I feel that it is my responsibility to learn as much about the peoples upon whose land I make my home. I extend this to all Canadians – Indigenous education is for everyone. Regardless of whether my students are Indigenous or not, it is crucial that people living on the lands of First Nations are introduced to the historical, cultural, social, and political realities that have and continue to impact the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada.