When faced with the task of an inquiry around Aboriginal Education I really didn’t know where to start. I knew very little about what Aboriginal Education meant, or even why it was important. As I began asking questions, I began learning about some of the dark history that I had grown up being ignorant of. Through various sessions in module time, and interviews with some friends who are working in this field, I became more aware of the past, and what needs to be done in the future. However, with every informative session, I came away with more questions than answers. This continually drove the inquiry process for me.
In January, my big questions were around how to bring this new knowledge into the classroom. I thought back to the sessions we had surrounding authenticity and knew I had to come up with a way to put a part of myself into this inquiry, so that when I brought my learning into the classroom, it was authentic and genuine.
Three areas that I am passionate about are music, woodworking, and teaching. It occurred to me that one way I could marry these three worlds and relate it to Aboriginal Education would be to create a traditional First Nations Flute out of wood. I decided that through this process I could learn about the culture, the symbolism, their principles of learning, and then incorporate all of that in my classroom in a way that would be engaging for the students.
Through the process of making the flute I learned a lot about the symbolism behind it in the First Nations cultures. I learned about how the flute itself was made from the measurement of the body, with the length being the length of the arm from shoulder to hand, the width of the fist was used to measure the length of the air chamber, the end of the flute to the first hole, and the air hole to the last finger hole. I learned about the symbolism behind choosing a totem, and what that meant for the player. I learned about the purpose of song to entertain, but also to communicate with spirits, with animals, and with others. I learned how deeply intertwined song and story are in First Nations culture, and this is where my inquiry led me next.
Now that my flute was finished, the next part would be to bring it into the classroom as a talking piece. I brought it in, did an acknowledgement of the land, played a song on it, and allowed the students to run free with their questions. We talked for a while on what it meant for the land to be unceded. We talked about how the aboriginal people were treated during this time. We talked about reserves and residential schools. They asked about the flute, and the song, and the story behind it. Each time I brought the flute in, these conversations continued and they were deeply curious. This was where I began to find ways to share the new understanding I had.
I began to dig deeper into what stories meant, and I saw how the Principles of Learning came alive through these stories. In my Language Arts unit, I was teaching Narrative writing, and wanted to use some stories as examples to identify the different aspects of the genre, like character, setting, etc. Initially I had some other children’s stories I was going to use, but as I thought about it, I saw how these stories continue the Eurocentric point of view. So instead, I used the stories from this book. We did the analysis of the character, but after that, the students had numerous questions about the story’s meanings and history. I saw this as a teachable moment and allowed them to discuss some of the deeper lessons that could be taken away from this story. I was amazed at their curiosity.
The flute started as a catalyst for my own learning, but then grew into an icebreaker and stimulant for bringing that knowledge into my classroom. It allowed me to build stronger relationships with my students, develop respect for the First Nations content with them, and share experiences as a classroom community.
Often the choice of a totem animal is a spiritual choice, and that reverence is something that needs to be taken very much to heart when making the totem. One is said to invoke the spirit of the animal to come into the wood and throughout the carving, constantly dialogue with the spirit of the animal.
What animal did you relate to as a child?
Do you have a passionate love for a particular animal or being?
Have you had any close, personal experience with a particular animal?
What animals keep appearing in your dreams?