As noted in a previous entry on Kainai Studies, a key aspect of the learning has to do with ‘becoming Blackfoot’. As Narcisse and Cynthia put it in the course outline of their Blackfoot Pedagogy class, quoted previously:
As “coming to be human” is considered one of the aims of Western humanist education, becoming Blackfoot maybe the central aim of Blackfoot pedagogy. Just as Western derived curriculum is about “what knowledge is of most worth,” Blackfoot pedagogy is about what knowledge matters (both in Blackfoot territory and more globally). It is about what the young need know to become Blackfoot, to become human and to fulfil their responsibilities, living in this place, at this time.
What ‘coming to be human’ or ‘coming to be Blackfoot’ is in practice then depends on the particular values, priorities and cosmologies that are held dear. In the previous blogs we tried to give a bit of a flavour of what we experienced some of these values and priorities to be through our time around Red Crow and by our conversations with people there.
Over this time we had the chance to talk to a number of students and also to gauge from the teachers some of the effects of being part of Red Crow, and especially the Kainai Studies course. Succinctly put this can be summarised as a coming to be re-embedded in that mesh of knowledge, identity and connection to place and community which was taken away by a century of policies of assimilation.
Speaking to students there is a palpable sense of a re-awakened pride at being Blackfoot, an aspiration to learn more about what this means, by learning their language, history, ecological knowledge and spiritual values. This is a considerable feat given the indoctrination perpetrated through residential schools and the de-legitimising of Blackfoot ways which has persisted over the century. Almost all the students I interviewed for the documentary introduced themselves by speaking in Blackfoot first. And this was a generation which did not have, for the most part, their parents speaking the language. All students mentioned how they are studying so as to learn more about being Blackfoot to better serve their community, whether as social worker, teacher or healer.
Ryan related to us how some of their graduates have gone on to take positions of power within the Tribal council or else in teaching positions elsewhere in Alberta and have been using the knowledge they acquired through the course, such as in implementing policies that ensure greater protection of the plants and animals in the Blood reserve. In conversation with Cynthia we also heard of the success of the Blackfoot Pedagogy course, for both Blackfoot and non-Blackfoot graduate teachers, in reconnecting to the historical landscape of Alberta. Teachers have gone on to take their students to the sites visited during the course, introducing a new generation to the power of learning from place and the sense of the historical continuity of habitation in this landscape.
Given the serious problems concerning the unabated extraction of natural resources (mines, oil and gas extraction, the tar sands) in this region of Canada we left Alberta with a sense of a quiet revolution happening in education. The scale of this is still relatively small but the effects of Kainai Studies have been communicated to other First Nations groups across Canada and have been very well received (see the report and project on Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre in Canada).
Other challenges still remain for Kainai Studies. There is still some resistance internally amongst some in the Blackfoot community of the merit of educating a new generation to ‘become Blackfoot’. Whether because of Christian values (many Christian Blackfoot live in the reserve), or else because of an aspiration to further integrate the Blackfoot into the capitalist economy by training them for the workforce, Kainai Studies continues to have to make its case to the Tribal Council which helps fund it. Externally, Kainai Studies is challenging other universities to accept its Kainai Studies degree as a valid transfer to the second or third year of their own degrees. Ryan, Cynthia and Narcisse are hopeful that a new generation of educators will emerge that will take this work of the deepening and dissemination of Blackfoot pedagogy and ways of being forward as teachers, carers, researchers and decision makers. This will be a generation that integrates, as Narcisse, Ryan, Cynthia and others have attempted to, Blackfoot ways of knowing with ‘global’ science and epistemology.