Last week our Pacheedaht Community Literacy Catalyst, Del, and our BC Community Coordinator, Alicia, attended a truly wonderful gathering, entitled S’TEṈISTOLW̱. This conference was hosted by Eyēʔ Sqȃ’lewen: The Centre for Indigenous Education & Community Connections, Camosun College, which serves the communities that are located in the traditional territories of the Lkwungen, Malahat, Pacheedaht, Scia'new, T'Sou-ke and W̱ SÁNEĆ peoples.
This was a gathering for instructors and educators in Indigenous programs as well as leaders and allies in the field of Indigenous adult education, with the goal of building relationship and networks of reciprocity – to share, learn and exchange with each other. Click here
to see videos that speak to the importance of this gathering. S’TEṈISTOLW̱ is a SENĆOŦEN term referencing the concept of ‘moving forward’. The website states that the conference would focus on “both the doing
of Indigenous education. While they are inextricably intertwined, “doing” involves pedagogies and teaching practices. “Being” involves relationality, connections amongst educators, communities, students, cultures and lands and involves living our collective values: we proceed with the intent of Eyēʔ Sqâ’lewen (good heart, good mind, good spirit) and Na’tsa’maht (unity and collective vision).”
We could not have been happier to attend this incredible gathering! It did more than fulfill the promise of focusing on both “doing” and “being”, and we learned so much about what Indigenization can and should look like for our education systems. The first day began with a keynote discussion from Linda Tuhiwai Smith, who is a professor of Indigenous Education at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, and is part of the Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Porou iwi. Professor Smith helped set the tone for the gathering, by making the crowd laugh in one minute, and in the next, challenging us to think critically about education and it’s role. She said that education can be positive or negative, constructive or destructive, as we know through the legacy of Residential Schools in Canada; so we need to be wary of the dominant structures that education can seek to uphold, as it is “never simply about academics”.
This line of thought was elaborated upon in a following session, in which we were shown four case studies from New Zealand. This session touched on a range of topics from environmental racism and resiliency, to the importance of holistic practices and intergenerational wellbeing. We were told the story of the Te Awa Tupua
, the Whanganui River, which set global precedence when this longest-running court case in New Zealand history concluded with the river being given legal recognition as a person – the first of its kind in the world.
The panel discussed how this happened, pointing to the importance of solutions coming from within communities. Solutions work better, are more resilient, and often address multiple issues at the same time, when they are community-driven; when solutions are external, they “often create more problems than they can solve”. Graham Hingangaroa Smith, who was part of this panel and was also the keynote speaker the following day, is a New Zealand Māori academic and educationalist of Ngāti Porou
, Ngāi Tahu
, Ngāti Apa
and Ngāti Kahungunu
descent. He stated that colonization, both in New Zealand and Canada, has not gone away but has instead changed shape. This requires us to be “critically literate”, so that our solution can create fundamental change and not just leave us treading water. To do this, he said we must recognize that the revolution begins in our minds, but then must also extend to our educational systems.
Over the two days we spent at this gathering, we also experienced the “being” element, which often took place outside of the more formal classroom discussion settings. We participated in making traditional medicine pouches with Anishinaabe artist Zofie Rogowski, eating delicious traditional Songhees foods on the sprawling lawn, and received a wonderfully peaceful cedar brushing from Elder Gerry Ambers and Wayne Seward.
We also learned about some traditional uses for a variety of plants in the beautiful “living classroom” of the Na’tsa’maht Indigenous Plant Garden
. Later, in a discussion of Land and Language, we were told that plants are often viewed as relatives, as well as medicine, technology, and an indicator of the health of the environment and of ourselves. John Elliot, respected Elder of the Tsartlip First Nation, and co-founder of FirstVoices
, teaches a course on Land and Language at Camosun College. He told us that plants in many Indigenous languages have both a species and a relative name, and that when he brings students out onto the land, it is like bringing them home. He said that the health of our people and the health of our lands go hand in hand, and therefore restoration and reconciliation must also be intertwined.
Thank you to all of the incredible people involved in creating, hosting, sharing, and running this wonderful gathering. We look forward to attending again in the future.