Consulting with Elders

This is a teaching tool that doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of my toolbox but it might be the most useful tool in the box. In class we had some very strong, very emotional responses to the issues of murdered and missing Indigenous women. This was a great opportunity for us to explore the issues and inquiries that were raised by us as students. From an pre-service teacher point of view it was a great place for intervention and looking to our community to support learning. By bringing in the Elders to speak with us we are able to not only deal with the issue that was raised in class but it gives us a first person perspective of a different way of knowing and expressing. Both of the Elders were extremely well spoken and addressed the concerns raised by our exploration of the topic. As a student I felt empowered to ask questions and engage in a safe space. The Elders were kind and engaging but were real, and pulled no punches- they spoke from the heart on a subject that was rich with “heart knowledge.”

As an educator looking to the community is a very strong tool that we might not access as much as we should. There is a stigma that in order to teach you must have a wealth of knowledge, be able to address all questions and never say “I don’t know”. The reality is that teachers are people first and you teach often from  your own experience. This tool of community members allows you to say “I don’t know, but let’s find someone who does”. What a great concept. What a universally useful tool. There is a societal gap in Western culture that relates to our experience with Elders and with heart knowledge vs head knowledge. There are so many opportunities to invite community members into our classrooms and learn in a way that is different from text books or the teacher.

The experience I had in particular was quite moving. It was so interesting to have a chance in a safe open space to engage with the Elders, to listen to their stories, to ask them our questions. The heart knowledge they shared was irreplaceable. I will never forget having a moccasin hurled at me in order to instigate a discussion about sympathy vs empathy. There is strength in the lessons we learned that day but most importantly in how we learned it.

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