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Growing up with art

Growing up with art

Posted by on nov 17, 2012 in all posts, Canada, Freda Diesing School of Northwest Art | 0 comments

I grew up with art, it was just something I did and enjoyed since childhood. Painting, drawing, making things out of clay and other materials had always been pleasurable, absorbing and unpretentious activities for me. I also loved looking at art books and going to see art in museums, whenever my parents took me. This all changed after I got to art college. What had until then been a spontaneous, creative and hopeful activity in which I could lose myself for hours now took place in an environment filled with anxiety, insecurity and competitiveness.

Much of the contemporary art I saw celebrated around me, in magazines and galleries seemed shallow, market-driven and uninteresting. Rather than a gratifying and intuitive activity I felt a lot of art to be anecdotal, full of artifice and self-indulgent. I searched through the history and sociology of art for reasons of why this had come to be, writing my masters thesis on the emergence of the cult of the artist and the contemporary institutions of aesthetic contemplation (museums, galleries and so on). I was curious of how the idea and practice of the ‘art object’, as that which is removed from the flow of day to day life and social activity to become its own separate domain, had been achieved.

 

I did not have the language then, nor the experiences or the readings, to appreciate and describe the role of art in different cultures. I could not see then how good, or great, art is grounded in place, in the people and culture, in history, and how it is nourished by these ingredients. This is one of the important things I learnt whilst in Terrace and especially in conversations with Dempsey.

 

Dempsey’s art is grounded in the grammatical forms and stories of the Northwest coast. It is also an art that emerges from this place, from the shapes of the mountains, the winding curves of the rivers, the ovoid shapes of the pebbles by the streams, the towering cedars and the animals that populate this region.

Dempsey at Kitselas Canyon, photo by Udi

We spent a lot of time with Dempsey driving to the Nisga’a museum, going to the Kitselas Canyon, strolling across the dry river by Terrace and eating together on various occasions. Often Dempsey would point out features of the landscape guiding our eyes to the shapes he saw in the mountains, or the swirl of the flowing river, or the roundness of a stone. These, he said, are where the grammar of Northwest coast art comes from, the ovoid shapes which we then began to see everywhere.

 

Grounded in this grammar of this region Dempsey, like a number of other accomplished artists from the Northwest coast, innovates and pushes the boundaries of this art form creating more intricate designs and forms, stretching his skills as a carver. But Dempsey is also an artist between worlds, that of his Tahltan Nation for whom he continues to make ceremonial objects, totems and carvings that become part of a living cultural practice, and that of the international art market, where his objects come to acquire another set of meanings, values and functions.

 

In Dempsey’s studio we saw the piece he is working on now, a beautiful face with smaller figures emerging from it. The sleeping unfinished sculpture is surrounded by hundreds of chisels, waiting to wake it up. Around the walls of the studios dozens of images serve as inspiration, many of these are of old pieces from the Northwest coast, but as many are of European art, especially Van Gogh and Modigliani.

Dempsey and Udi walking in Terrace, photo by Kelly

My time in Terrace was also a kind of healing from my falling out of love with art that happened in art college. I loved being here and talking to such committed artists who came from a place where art still felt very alive. I loved the generosity of these artists, and especially Dempsey, who shared with us their stories, inspiration, and aspiration for their communities and this art form. Art comes from place, Dempsey would say. And he was not just referring to the art of this region but also that of his favourite artist Van Gogh who drew his energy from the landscapes and people of southern Europe. Through teaching others at the School, Dempsey, Ken, Stan and Dean are opening up the path for a new generation to also connect to place and to its stories (and to culture, history and identity) through a particular way of seeing and making.

 

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Dancing in the Northern Lights

Dancing in the Northern Lights

Posted by on nov 16, 2012 in all posts, Canada, Freda Diesing School of Northwest Art, on the road | 0 comments

Photo taken by Udi, North of Terrace, British Columbia

We had just left the Kitimaat Village, the primary residence of the Haisla First Nations, with warmth in our bellies from a delicious meal, and warmth in our heart from being enveloped by a captivating sunset that had slowly etched its way across the sky, grabbing onto each cloud to bring forth an array of yellows, pinks and oranges.  The single public eatery in Kitimaat, Seamasters Restaurant, as it was located on the edge of the Douglas Channel, a harbor that leads eventually out to the Pacific Ocean, provided us with a double gift of coloured sky and water.  The water lapped calmly against the shore from soft ripples traversing its surface.  Across to the other side of the harbor, perhaps three or so miles away, we could discern hills of evergreen trees, houses and boats – and the metallic sheen of industrial development on part of its edge in Kitimat, the ‘non-Aboriginal’ side, about a 30-minute drive away.   The industrial complex has been built as part of the proposed Enridge oil processing and transport plan, in spite of its continued negotiation with over 60 First Nations communities across Alberta and British Columbia.

 

Photo taken by Udi – me appreciating the sunset from Seamasters Restaurant, Kitimaat Village, British Columbia

Photo taken by Udi from Seamaster Restaurant, Kitimaat Village, British Columbia

We had chosen Kitimaat Village without much hesitation, the Haisla residence with its highly recommended artistic shops and restaurant along the water’s edges.  Seamasters was difficult to locate, nestled into the middle of the village, without a directional sign.  We stopped to view a totem pole at the village’s entrance.  It stood in isolation and we wondered about its story of creation and emergence.

Photo by Kelly of totem pole, entrance to Kitimaat Village, British Columbia

 

When we left the restaurant it was dark.  A darkness thick from a fully waned moon.  We were careful to drive slowly along the winding road that leaves Kitimaat through heavy forest until it reaches the highway that leads us the 50 kilometers or so back to Terrace.  Not more than 5 kilometers from Kitimaat, I suddenly noticed a shimmer of light dancing across the sky which seemed to be out of place, not connected to any human-created light.  I had Udi stop the car as soon as there was enough of a shoulder.  We stopped briefly as the shoulder was not wide or safe enough to witness the lights unfolding across the sky. The skies’ horizon was also hindered by large trees and the bright lights of cars passing more frequently than expected.  We decided to drive the 45 minutes back to Terrace and explore ideal observation points from  mapping options displayed on our GPS that was waiting for us in the hotel, and then go from there.

 

The GPS helped us decide to drive up Highway 113 to a lake that, on the map, appeared to be far from any human habitation.  Highway 113 sharply curved its way out of Terrace, continuing on for miles in an inky blackness.  We were wary of running into moose, bear, wolves, caribou, deer, so we restrained ourselves from driving too fast.  We did not see any Aurora brightening the night’s sky, and we thought perhaps that our opportunity to witness the elusive event had disappeared as quickly as it had made itself known.  Determinedly we drove on, convincing our impatience to hold back until we found a place to stop, a place that provided a wide open view of the night’s sky.

 

A wide turnoff appeared and we could just discern a lake below us.  A view of the Big Dipper (or ‘Plough’ as I learned it is called in England) was clearly visible – directly in the middle of the sky’s northern horizon in front of us.  It was nearly 10pm.  We waited.  We did not see any lights unfolding.  5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes… I kept anxiously turning around every time I heard an unidentifiable noise, hoping that a bear was not choosing to pay us a visit.

 

During this time we had noticed a faint band that seemed to dust the entire sky at about a 60 degree angle in front of us.  We wondered if that was part of the halo of solar particles that is the Aurora Borealis we had observed from photographs on the Internet gripping the upper northern hemisphere of the Earth – just two days ago.  The appearance of the Aurora Borealis is not predictable, a clear sky and waning moon is necessary in addition to the clashing of charged solar particles and atoms high in the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

Suddenly a faint being came into view.  It was as if a dancer who has been dormant, without warning, performs a half-hearted body wave in a ethereal and luminescent suit, before resting herself into another position – less dormant, but resting and visible all the same.  This single body wave seems to awaken another, and then another, a domino of dancers, each reacting to the other.  The particular splendour of the view was the reflection of the Lights dancing on the surface of the water below.

 

Photo by Udi north of Terrace, British Columbia

Photo taken by Udi, north of Terrace, British Columbia

We later learned through Dempsey Bob that many First Nations groups relate to the Aurora as dancing spirits – appearances of their ancestors.  We stood outside, marvelling at the lights when they appeared and waiting when they rested out of sight.  The experience, especially the first time defies adequate articulation.  It must be experienced.  I felt the presence of my grandmother and other family and friends who have passed.  They were somehow with me.  Udi also felt it was a spiritual experience that is profoundly difficult to grasp in words.

Photo taken by Udi north of Terrace, British Columbia

Photo by Udi north of Terrace, British Columbia

Photo by Udi north of Terrace, British Columbia

 

Photo by Udi north of Terrace, British Columbia

 

When we realized it was after midnight and we had an early morning a few hours in front of us, especially after a long day of driving, we reluctantly headed back to Terrace.  The Aurora were resting again when we left.  Not 5 minutes after driving south, however, I saw the entire sky light up and we stopped again at a small shoulder.  This particular dance surpassed anything we had thus far witnessed.  Some how the Aurora had shimmied its way right above our heads as well lighting up the sky behind us.  The lights were radiating out of a centre point in slow, hypnotic rays, a light purplish colour, different to the ones we had seen in front of us.  We were so awestruck that we did not manage to capture this part of the experience on film.  This photograph below is of the illuminated sky behind us.

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Knowing Blackfoot Sacred Places – through Visiting

Knowing Blackfoot Sacred Places  – through Visiting

Posted by on nov 15, 2012 in all posts, Canada, Red Crow Community College | 0 comments

I think it is probably safe to say that most of us, if not all of us, have visited sacred, spiritual or religious sites of some sort or another – either as part of our own belief system or that of others.  Our reasoning for visiting sacred places varies as does our interest and openness to how we connect with them and how these connections might or might not affect our lives.

For students, teachers, Elders and community members involved either directly or indirectly in the Kainai Studies program at Red Crow, learning and engaging with sacred places is about reconnection, reclamation and repatriation.  What we learned through reading literature by Cynthia and Narcisse (and also Betty Bastien), and also through different conversations with each of them and Ramona, Ryan, Adrienne, Alvine and Duane was that learning about sacred places was not just learning about them, but rather to learn from them.  To learn from a place mean that participants within the program needed to not just tour them, but rather to visit them (Cynthia and Narcisse write beautifully about this process in their article, ‘Love thy Neighbor:  Repatriating Precarious Blackfoot Sites’ which we will be adding to the links/resources section of this blog).  But what then does it mean to visit?  And how, can we as learners from the outside also learn about the significance of visiting sacred sites, especially as a core component of the Kainai Studies program?

Map of traditional Blackfoot territory – borrowed from Chambers and Narcisse (2008) – original map from Glenbow Museum website, “Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life” http://www.glenbow.org/blackfoot/teacher_toolkit/english/culture/territory.html (Accessed November 2012)

The original Blackfoot territory, or Nitáówahsinnoon covered most of Alberta and Montana and parts of Saskatchewan.  Within Nitáówahsinnoon the Blackfoot developed intimate knowledge and close relationships with all dimensions of the environment.  These relationships were renewed through ceremonies and ritual as well as reciprocal practices of visiting and providing nourishment (see Cynthia and Narcisse’s article and Ryan Heavy Head’s writing for much more detailed information). Ceremonies took place at different times, at sacred sites for different purposes for thousands of years and were nearly erased due to the heavy layers of oppressive actions felt by the Blackfoot peoples over the last 150 years. Because of the power of stories and secretive practice of ceremonies, knowledge surrounding sacred places endured.  Yet, currently, much of this knowledge is fragmented and weak (as some has been lost as a result of the Indian Act and residential schooling, amongst other reasons) and is currently being re-built through efforts such as the Kainai Studies program.

The landscape of Nitáówahsinnoon is itself storied as Cynthia and Narcisse explain.  Each sacred place has a story about its emergence and many sacred places have stories that were written on them through pictographs or petroglyphs.  For Siksikáítapiiksi, these places are not simply piles of rocks, cliffs, or glacial erratics; they are places imbued with meaning and history. These places are the equivalent of books, encyclopedias, libraries, archives, crypts, monuments, historical markers and grottos; they are destinations for pilgrims; places of sacrifice, revelation and apparition; and sources of knowledge and wisdom. For Siksikáítapiiksi, these places are repositories for the knowledge left by the ancestors.

Prior to the onslaught of colonialism and settlers, there were thousands of sacred places throughout the Blackfoot territory.  The majority of these places have been demolished, precisely because they are seldom seen as anything but rocks, stones or cliffs.  While we were staying in Fort MacLeod there was front page news that the Glenwood ‘glacial erratic’ (this is the term used by the Canadian government for giant seemingly out-of-place glacial stones) was desecrated – petroglyphs on top of the stone were literally drilled apart and acid was poured on pictographs to distort and erase the fading colors barely present.  The stone is so large that to carry out this type of desecration, more than one person would have needed ladders, lights and heavy equipment.  The destruction was discovered by a Blackfoot historian who had just received approval from the community to begin archaeological investigation into the petroglyphs and pictographs at the place.  Worst of all, the site was not listed in the Alberta historical places and has only become more widely known because of the violence induced at the site.  News of the desecration of the Glenwood place was felt strongly by the people we met and by both of us. We had been there for just over a week, but had already begun to learn with the landscape, visiting several sacred places amidst reading and conversing about them.  In addition to the desecration of Glenwood, many other sacred places are in danger of being destroyed due to the constant pressure of oil and gas drilling.

Our first visit as mentioned in the Land, Buffalo and Blackfoot post, was to the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Museum.  Although this site is indeed a sacred place to the Blackfoot, it is now acknowledged more widely (well beyond the Blackfoot people) as a place to learn from and about the incredible history of the Blackfoot people, including the profound relationship the Blackfoot had with the buffalo and the tragic decimation of the buffalo, due almost entirely to the lack of reverence and respect of European settlers.

Our second visit was to Crowsnest Mountain and Crowsnest Pass, about one hour directly west of Fort MacLeod, within the Rocky Mountain range.  The drive to Crowsnest was itself stunning as we had not seen the Rocky Mountains since our drive through Glacier National Park.  We were unable to locate the precise place of Crowsnest Pass, but we did locate a sign that identified the region as a place of heritage importance for Canadians, with a brief mention of ‘Indian’ usage of the place as well.  This historical positioning of the Blackfoot as ‘hearsay’ or ‘pre-historic’ is common discourse, relegating the history of the Blackfoot as something before White man history began.

Photo taken by Kelly – Sign describing Crowsnest Pass by the Province of British Columbia

We did drive up a road about 10 miles to be closer to Crowsnest Mountain.  Similar to Chief Mountain which is 50 miles south, Crowsnest stands out strikingly in isolation from the other mountains.  We stopped the car next to a natural gas pipeline tank with warning signs of ‘extreme danger’ on the fence surrounding it.  This picture demonstrates the prominence of the mountain and the ever-encroaching development that endangers the longevity of all sacred places.

Photo taken by Udi – view of Crowsnest Mountain from natural gas well pipeline

Our third visit was to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, an archaeological and natural preserve near the Milk River, just above the United States border.  We had dinner with Cynthia and Ramona the night before we visited Writing-On-Stone at a popular restaurant in Fort MacLeod, called Jonny’s.  They both urged us to visit Writing-On-Stone.  The next day, after a 2.5 hour drive, we arrived just in time for a 3-hour guided tour from a younger Blackfoot woman.

Photo taken by Udi – Hoo Doo Table from within the Writing-On-Stone coulee area

Writing-On-Stone is a wondrous landscape within prairie.  There are marvelous hoo-doos that have been eroded from the sandstone and writings and pictures carved continuously for the past 4,000 years.  Ancient petroglyphs are still noticeable in many areas, although newer, graffiti is also present.  The forms of petroglyphs and pictographs being the Blackfoots form of literacy is still being debated.

Photo taken by Udi – Petroglyphs inside Writing-On-Stone

Our guide told many stories represented through the different petroglyphs and was also very open about her own life and Blackfoot learning.  The three hours passed by very quickly.  The storied landscape spoke deeply to us, we were absorbed in the colors, the formations and the stories told.

Photo taken by Kelly – Writing-On-Stone landscape – Milk River, sandstone hoo-doos and prairie

Woven through these moments of different visits to places and to meals with different people (such as Cynthia, Ramona and Erika), I was reading various articles and books.  Two days after our visit to Writing-On-Stone, I had just read through Cynthia and Narcisse’s article for the first time and I was completely taken by the style of the writing and the stories conveyed within.  In particular, I was very moved by the section discussion ‘visiting as repatriation’ and felt a strong desire to better understand visiting as a process rather than a single event.  In the article, Cynthia and Narcisse mention Carolla Calf Robe and her annual visits to Sundial Butte to make offerings and ask for blessings for her family.  After an accident when Carolla was confined to a wheelchair, she was carried up to the top of Sundial in a wheelchair.  She was resigned to the fact that she might never visit the site again.  This resignation and effort to make that visit helped her to find a renewed strength and continue living in a new way.  This story spoke to me of the importance of these places being about renewal and connection.

With our afternoon suddenly free, Udi and I both agreed that finding and learning from Sun Dial Butte (or Sun Dial Medicine Wheel as it is most commonly called) was a great idea.  Locating Sun Dial is no simple task.  There are gravel roads criss-crossing the plains, which at this point are mostly farm lands.  We stopped to ask for directions and were given a simple list of where to go.  I also had written out directions from the Internet.  These did not match… we were better informed by a rancher along the way who directed us perfectly.

Photo taken by Kelly – Sign depicting Sundial Medicine Wheel just below the site

Udi and I stayed on top of Sun Dial for more than 2 hours, sitting, meditating, walking around, slowly, intentionally.  We were there on our own.  The sun was warm, a gentle breeze blowing strongly and then softly.  We agreed that there was a profoundly strong, yet gentle strength.  The experience of being there is difficult to articulate.

Photo taken by Udi – Top of Sun Dial Butte

After we returned to the Fort Motel in Fort MacLeod, I spent an hour or so trying to write about the time spent there.  This is some of what I wrote ——

… those moments under the sun’s rays at Sun Dial, I felt a sense of completion. It was a gentle peacefulness, but strong like the beating of my heart.  This peace was something about … being … connected — to time – all those beings past and present who had been here at this place called Sun Dial, all those who were there.  I felt that all-is-well – regardless of… it just is.  Pain and suffering drift into the wind, the voices of ancestors whispering and beckoning within the stones. I felt as if I was somehow a deeper sense of myself – a self inseparable.  This is the moment I really began to develop a deeper understanding about what ‘indigenous knowledge’ is.  I felt a sense of power – not a power to control or master, nor a power to be heard and seen – but rather, a power to be a part of… love or fear, it did not matter.  I look around and see how so much is based on fear and power – a need to be in control and to manipulate.  Sun Dial is the opposite of this.  Thousands of years have witnessed beings gathering here at this site – to connect to one’s inner-outer being – to connect to stories of the ages that are told as if they happened yesterday.  Thousands of years. Power has been manifested here through the mode of giving – of self to self, of self to land and of self to other selves through transfers of stories, song and ceremony, through offerings and gestures. We left four sage cuttings amidst the stones, resting them gently symbolising the importance of the number four, as Ramona taught us.  Through such a profoundly simple gesture of gratitude and appreciation, I felt, I learned something of the Blackfoot way of knowing – I felt that I began to connect deeply to the past – all pasts, presents and to future connections.  It made me curious, more curious than I have been in a very long time.  But, mostly it made me feel alive.

Photo taken by Kelly – Prairie views from Sun Dial Butte

This visit to Sun Dial and the other visits to Head-Smashed-In, Writing-On-Stone and Crowsnest Pass and Crowsnest Mountain provided deep learning experiences for us.  Yet, these experiences were the tip of the iceberg of what we could learn through a much longer stay and much deeper engagement.  However, making ourselves open to being present within these places helped us to feel their sacredness, beyond a more rational way of knowing.

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Kainai Studies

Kainai Studies

Posted by on nov 6, 2012 in all posts, Canada, Red Crow Community College | 1 comment

It is the end of September the yellowing leaves look even more vivid against the vast blue south Albertan skies which cover us as far as the eye can see. I drive through the gravel road to Red Crow College on the Blood Reserve. The college is busy today with students dressed in jeans, hooded tops, caps and sunglasses, many standing around the porch waiting for class. I arrive early to meet Duane Mistaken Chief, who teaches Blackfoot language and he kindly lets me sit through his class. About ten students arrive and get their notebooks ready.

Duane’s approach to teaching consists of breaking down language, like bits of crackers he tells his students, to its philosophical and experiential basis before being put back together again. This involves unlearning the structure of the English language as well as the way that Blackfoot has been traditionally taught in schools, translated and written down. For Duane the Blackfoot language has in most cases been filtered through the English language and its structures. This work of translation and systematising was carried out by Christian missionaries and others who were not particularly interested in Blackfoot ways of being in the world. Understanding Blackfoot language in-depth, on the other hand, offers an insight into appreciating their particular ways of being.

 

Duane shows this today through the example of colours, as he writes the English and the Blackfoot equivalent words on the blackboard. In Blackfoot colours are not understood as things that exist outside as separate objects in themselves but as that which appear to our awareness and which we describe in reference to something in the world that we already know. The key term here is natsi, ‘having the appearance of’. So the colour orange is ‘that which has the appearance of soil’, also suggesting the colour of the otter during a stage of its life. Green becomes ‘the appearance of young grass shoots’. In this way the Blackfoot language embodies a sophisticated philosophical position, a phenomenological stance, where the world is described in reference to one’s own experience and in relation to what is familiar.

photo taken by Udi of Fall 2012 Kainai Studies teaching schedule, Red Crow College.

 

The following is taken from the Kainai Studies Course Description and it gives a flavour of the holistic approach taken to teaching all aspects of Kainai, or Blood, life and history.

Kainai Studies Course Codes

Required Certificate Courses
KS-100 Introduction To Kainai Studies; KS-110 Introduction to Blackfoot Language; KS-120 Kippaitapiiyssinnooni (Blackfoot Ways); KS-120 Kainai Family Structure and Parenting; KS-122 Hide tanning; KS-130 History of the Blackfoot World; KS-140 Colonialism and Blackfoot Society; KS-183 Kainai Ethno botany; KS-200 Experiential Field Studies; KS-210 Kainai Ethics In Community Scholarship; KS-220 Intergenerational Violence in Blackfoot Society; KS-297 Aitsiniki: Blackfoot Narrative as Analytical Framework and Social Critique

At the same time, just like Duane’s approach to uncovering the experiential groundings of the Blackfoot language the teaching and learning across Kainai Studies seem to be based on direct experience and practical engagement with particular situations or places.

This is clearly evident in Ryan Heavy Head’s class on Blackfoot ecological knowledge and traditional foods. Here in the first year he asks his students to find a place they will visit and stay put for two to three hours every week over the course of one year. The students are tasked with finding out who lives here, identifying the species of birds, animals, plants and insects (in English and Blackfoot) and eventually getting to know some of these as individuals. Gradually the students also come to know the habits of these beings and their responses to the changing seasons, also called ‘phenology’ a term Ryan and Adrienne taught us. As part of this process of learning students develop deep relationships to the place. In the course there are no required readings, other than books that identify species, instead students are encouraged to learn from the place and the beings themselves, writing about their experiences of learning.

Other aspects of learning the place are also part of the courses in Kainai Studies. for instance, the following description is found in the Course Description mod document of the modules to be taken for this degree:

KS-286 and 287 / ANTH-286 and 287 Kainaissksahkoyi: Learning and Being in Kainai Places

This six-credit course series explores relationships between knowledge, identity, and place. One weekend per month throughout the term of a full year, students, instructors, and eminent scholars travel kitawahsinnoon (Blackfoot territory), visiting historical sites, engaging in dialog with sacred places, and conducting traditional hunting and gathering activities of the annual round. In all of these activities, participants reflect upon a core question: Where is here? What do various responses to this question suggest about relationships between knowledge, identity, and place? How do shifts in one’s sense of emplacement – as through the introduction of niitsitapi stories, concepts, and approaches, for instance – effect one’s responses to the core question over time? What might these transformations mean? And how might engagements-with and senses-of place shape one’s life-long learning experiences.

In addition to grounding participants in first-hand knowledge of niitsitapi places and their associated knowledge traditions, this course is relevant to a number of current discussions in mainstream academic disciplines including (but not restricted to): traditional land use and occupancy studies in archaeology, anthropology, and international development; tourism and ethno-tourism; the anthropology of space and place; cognitive psychology; education; economics; religion; and studies in epistemology, cosmology, ontology and pedagogy.

 

For students who carry on into the second year, the course develops into the practice of finding, sourcing, preparing and preserving traditional Blackfoot foods. From chokecherry picking to finding roots and plants for medicines to hunting, students her learn how to be part of their environment ‘as humans’ as Ryan puts it, rather than the sort of infantile behaviour we currently tend to have as humans with place.

 

The experience of place was also the key aspect of the course ‘Blackfoot Pedagogy’ that Narcisse Blood and Cynthia Chambers ran in 2010 for postgraduate teachers at the University of Lethbridge in conjunction with Red Crow College (see course outline). Part of this course involved visiting traditional Blackfoot sites such as medicine wheels, the Buffalo Jump and other significant historical places in the Blackfoot territory (see the video they made on this course).

This engagement with traditional Blackfoot places, stories and rituals  also provides another way of understanding Blackfoot history. Narcisse teaches a course on the History of the Blackfoot World which offers different ways of understanding the past and the present. We can have a fethe courses course from the following description from the Course Outline:

 

KS-130 History of the Blackfoot World
This course espouses what has been called an “ethnohistorical” approach, meaning more specifically that it invites students to engage interpretations of the past that are authored from the perspectives of those about whom the history relates – in this case, the Niitsitapi, or Blackfoot peoples.  Moreover, the course seeks to challenge popular notions regarding available sources for historical investigation.  Rather than focusing only on surveys of archival documents and other written texts, students will be introduced to a variety of histories recorded and transferred through Niitsitapi naming traditions, arts, rituals, and narrative traditions, as well as those histories inscribed on the local landscape itself.  In other words, this course denies ethnocentric interpretations of valid or accurate “history” as something that manifests only through textualization, a view that renders most non-Western memory as either “ahistoric” or “prehistoric”.  In place of this bias, students will be prompted to recognize all histories as subjective, socially and culturally situated constructs, as stories we tell one another about ourselves in a manner meant principally to frame our experiences of contemporary presence.

 

photo by Udi of ‘Writing on Stone’ provincial park, Aberta.

The experience that emerges across these courses suggests another kind of learning. Instead of trying to summarise what this might mean I thought it would be best to quote directly, and extensively, from Cynthia and Narcisse’s course outline on Blackfoot Pedagogy:

 

Pedagogy is more than teaching and learning. While in Western education, curriculum and instruction are separated (as in C&I), pedagogy seeks to unite what is to be learned with how it is learned. Rather than an “instructional method” or “cultural perspective,” we propose that Blackfoot pedagogy is about a way of living, being, and learning. Developed over thousands of years in this place (southern

Alberta) Blackfoot pedagogy is a profound necessity for survival in kitaowahsinnoon or “the sphere of nurture” where we live and what is referred to in English as “Blackfoot territory.” Blackfoot pedagogy is about learning where we live and with whom, and what is appropriate to do in this place and what is necessary to know, and to know how to do, to sustain life here.

 

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 fulfill their responsibilities, living in this place, at this time.

Below are some tentative ideas about Blackfoot pedagogy:

 

1. Relational model: Knowledge and skills are acquired within a set of complex kinship relations that include humans as well as the other‐than human world.

 

2. Learning and teaching is situational: Blackfoot knowledge is learned where (within the spatial context in which) it will be applied.

 

3. Learning/teaching/knowing is dynamic: These are part of the flux; they are dynamic processes rather than static rules or content.

 

4. Localities of practice: There is a relationship between place and knowledge, and thus what we must be cautious about extending the truth and value of Blackfoot pedagogy beyond the boundaries of kitaowahsinnoon.

 

5. Learning is participatory and learners are engaged: The participatory mode of consciousness necessary for Blackfoot pedagogy.

 

6. Education of attention: Blackfoot pedagogy is about the education of attention. More experienced practitioners show learners what to pay attention to and how.

 

7. Scaffolding: Mentors provide scaffolds for apprentices to learn and practice necessary skills. This is one way people come to know.

 

8. Skilled practice and mastery: The development of skilled practice in a supportive context leads to mastery.

 

9. Becoming Blackfoot: Becoming Blackfoot (vs. being Blackfoot) occurs within the context of Blackfoot pedagogy, for children as well as adults. One continues to become Blackfoot throughout life.

 

10. Authenticity and assessment: There are protocols and practices for assessing learning. People are tested and expected to perform.

 

11. Ethics: Learners have responsibilities to the contexts in which they are learning, to the communities in which they are situated and related, as well as to their teachers. Conversely, teachers have responsibilities to the learners, to the knowledge and to future generations, as well as to the broader community and kitaowahsinoon.

 

12. Reimagining education: What does Blackfoot pedagogy offer—to Blackfoot? To everyone? How can Blackfoot pedagogy inform how

teaching and learning in schools?

 

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Na Lagoa


Na Lagoa


Posted by on nov 6, 2012 in all posts, Canada, Red Crow Community College | 0 comments

“A lagoa” é como Ryan e sua esposa Adrienne se refereriram  a Reserva Natural Schuler Helen situada entre Lethbridge e o limite da Reserva Blood. Um profundo vale cortado pelo rio Oldman (NAPI) com lagoas e vegetação de zonas húmidas, cercado por árvores que agora se amarelam com a aproximação do tempo frio. A área é o lar de uma variedade de pássaros e outros animais como tartarugas, coelhos, morcegos e castores, cujos grandes abrigos familiares têm uma localização central na lagoa entre os ninhos de pássaros, como se fossem os guardiões do vale. Ryan e Adrienne têm vindo a este lugar por muitos anos, vindo a conhecer as suas muitas plantas e animais intimamente até mesmo como indivíduos. Sua imersão neste lugar é de tal qualidade que o lugar e seus animais também passaram a conhecê-los, mostrando-lhes certos momentos onde recolher alimentos e medicamentos. Ryan e Adrienne nos mostraram este lugar e nos explicaram como eles vieram a aprender com ele e como isso se relacionar com as formas Blackfoot de aprendizagem e as histórias sobre as relações dos seres humanos com o lugar e os outros seres.

Photo taken by Udi of a beaver lodge at ‘the pond’

Central nos nossos encontros e conversas com as pessoas associadas a Faculdade Red Crow foram questões relacionadas à epistemologia, isto é, a investigação filosófica sobre a natureza do conhecimento e saber, do que é considerado “conhecimento”, como nós o adquirimos e, em casos de encontro de diferentes tradições de investigação, como a que existe entre o Blackfoot e ciência “globalizada”, como e por que um prevalece sobre o outro.

No coração da prática e conhecimento “ecológico-espiritual ” dos Blackfoot estão diferentes embrulhos de medicinas, que são os objetos materiais que incorporam estes e servem como pontos focais nas cerimônias e intercâmbios relacionados a cada embrulho. Em Blackfoot o termo utilizado é “amopístaani” que Ryan traduz como “vinculado-junto-por-revestimento” (ver Heavy Head 2005). A importância desta ligação em conjunto, como veremos, descreve não só a agregação física de componentes de materiais diferentes, mas também a ligação dos seres através de relações contratuais. O embrulho mais importante para os Blackfoot é o Embrulho do Castor. Demorou algum tempo para entendermos e apreciar plenamente o significado e importância do Embrulho do Castor. Apesar de termos apenas começado a fazê-lo, somente essa exposição breve a esta forma de aprender, conhecer, relacionar e comunicar deixou uma profunda impressão em nós.

Photo taken by Udi during our conversation with Ryan and Adrienne at the pond

Em conversas com Ryan e Adrienne, bem como com Narcisse, a tradução cultural do Embrulho do Castor eqüivaleria a algo como a incorporação material e cerimonial das relações contratuais que os humanos têm com outras plantas, animais e seres. Estas relações contratuais, que estão relacionadas com as histórias de como os seres humanos receberam pela primeira vez o embrulho do povo castor, envolvem ambos um conhecimento do comportamento e ambiente de uma variedade de seres e a conduta recíproca que os seres humanos devem ter com estes de modo a garantir uma co-habitação equilibrada neste lugar. Além disso, os animais também têm os seus próprios embrulhos entre si e de outros animais, de forma a assegurar uma habitação e existência recíproca em que nenhuma espécie domina ou extermina outra.

Aqui eu me lembrei da teoria antropológica de “perspectivismo” desenvolvido em relação aos povos amazônicos que afirma que nos modos de pensar ‘ocidentais’ (epistemologia) considera-se que nós compartilhamos uma “natureza” comum (biológica e genética) com outros animais, mas o que nos faz distintos como seres humanos é a nossa capacidade para a cultura. Entre uma série de comunidades indígenas no entanto, isto é invertido: nós compartilhamos com outros animais a capacidade para a cultura, mas habitamos tipos de corpos diferentes ou temos naturezas diferentes, que nos permitem fazer coisas diferentes. Então, animais como a onça na América do Sul, ou o castor daqui, têm as suas próprias sociedades, linguagens, relações de parentesco. Adrienne reforçou este ponto enquanto nós andavamos em torno da lagoa, mostrando-me uma colônia de formigas que cuidadosamente faziam uma criação de afídios no caule de uma planta de absinto (losna). As formigas ordenhavam o doce néctar produzido pelos afídios, talvez ligeiramente psicoativo, protegendo-os das joaninhas famintas que rastejavam por perto. Um Embrulho de Formiga, uma vez que ele exista, teria, então, dentro dele esse conjunto de conhecimentos e relações que fazem parte da perspectiva da formiga no mundo. Isto é o que o povo castor, que teria habitado este lugar há milhões de anos, passou para os Blackfoot na história do Embrulho.


photo taken by Udi at Bow Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Fisicamente, o Embrulho do Castor consiste de casacos de vários animais que fazem parte dessas relações contratuais e outros objetos os quais têm a canções e danças associadas relativos a algum aspecto do ambiente natural ou do comportamento dos animais. O embrulho funciona como uma biblioteca do conhecimento ecológico que é interpretado e recitado ou cantado e dançado pelos detentores do Embrulho do Castor. Este dever recaiu sobre Ryan e Adrienne, embora, como eles tenham afirmado que isso era incomum devido sua jovem idade uma vez que esse papel tem sido historicamente executado por anciãos. Ryan comparou o papel tradicional dos anciãos na sociedade Blackfoot com grupos de naturalistas amadores, muitas vezes frequentados por idosos, que, nesta fase da vida, têm mais tempo e paciência para observar o mundo natural. O embrulho também atua como um “jornal de revisão de pares” legitimando e comunicando observações recentemente adquiridas sobre o mundo natural, tais como padrões de mudança do tempo ou a introdução de novas espécies. Estes, então, passam a ser codificados em novos objetos, canções e danças e adicionados à cerimônias do embrulho. No total, o embrulho tem centenas de canções, sem nenhum indivíduo conhecendo todos elas.

A história que Ryan e Adrienne nos contaram de como foram introduzidos ao Embrulho do Castor indica as qualidades que sustentam esta forma de conhecer e sugestões para o que poderia ser chamado de uma pedagogia Blackfoot, dos quais Narcisse e Cynthia também tem escrito e ensinado em outro lugar (ver Pedagogia Blackfoot). Como parte de sua iniciação no embrulho Ryan e Adrienne foram obrigados a armar um banquete que os exigia servir alimentos tradicionais, tais como, entre outras coisas, ovos de aves. Estes tiveram que ser adquiridos em vez de comprados, levando várias temporadas de tentativas e erros para que Ryan e Adrienne pudessem aprender como e onde busca-los já que ninguém por perto tinha este conhecimento. Instruções do ancião, ele próprio um titular do Embrulho , levou-os a mergulhar neste aprendizado experiencial que veio a formar a base de como Ryan ensinou o curso de Estudos Kainai na Faculdade Red Crow.



Antes das cerimônias, como a do Embrulho do Castor, terem sido proibidas, e anteriormente ao conhecimento proposto pelas escolas residenciais, um conhecimento prático do lugar, das estações, das plantas e medicamentos e dos animais teria sido espalhado entre os Blackfoot. Esse teria sido um conhecimento prático do dia-a-dia aprendido com os anciãos, avós e seus pares. Com estas políticas governamentais, conservadas no Ato (Lei) Indígena de 1885, as escolas residenciais, o confinamento do Blackfoot às reservas, a destruição de seu ambiente através da agricultura tradicional dos colonos e a dizimação dos poucos búfalos, hoje poucos tem o conhecimento minucioso do lugar e dos seres incorporados no Embrulho do Castor. Na verdade, o conhecimento do Embrulho do Castor quase desapareceu na década de 1990, de acordo com Ryan, um dos poucos titulares remanescentes do Embrulho, que devolveu seu Embrulho do Castor ao rio assumindo que ninguém estaria interessado em aprendê-lo. Hoje, o aprendizado do embrulho, seu conhecimento e valores de inter-estar e reciprocidade têm sido rejuvenescidos e institucionalizados através dos cursos que Ryan ensina em Red Crow garantindo que as próximas gerações possam voltar a se beneficiar de uma aprendizagem sobre o lugar e seus seres que tem mantido um povo vivo nesta parte do mundo durante milhares de anos.


photo taken by Kelly at the Royal Alberta Museum, Edmonton, Canada

Para mim, o aprendizado inspirador desta prática do Embrulho do Castor tem sido como o conhecimento está intrinsecamente ligado a entrar em relação com; com o lugar, pessoas, seres não-humanos. Além disso, as fontes de aprendizagem são muito mais amplas do que as da epistemologia acadêmica tradicional (principalmente de outros acadêmicos e através de livros) por incluir sonhos, paisagem, plantas, animais e outros seres. Esta expansão epistemológica muda o lugar do intelecto humano do centro do universo, colocando-o ao em vez disso como um entre muitas outras inteligências das quais se pode aprender. Eticamente, isso significa que o mundo não é só para satisfazer necessidades e desejos humanos, como é a tendência na tradição judaico-cristã, mas sim uma rede ou conjunto de relações em que nós aprendemos a entrar.

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