It’s okay to not be the expert

The article Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing dissects a ten-day river trip for youth, adult and First Nations elders. The main objective for the trip was to educate the youths on traditional Mushkegowuk knowledge – with a particular focus on traditional knowledge, cultural identity, relationship to the land, and history. Throughout the trip, First Nations elders would engage with the youth in an attempt to “decolonize” them. By doing this, the younger generations could be re-introduced to traditional ways of knowing while elders could observe the erosion of their culture; the main goal was to attempt to reclaim Mushkegowuk culture.

Throughout the trip the youths would conduct interviews with each other, adults and elders while they discussed the role of the land, river, and socioeconomics. Also, elders would share traditional knowledge with the youth; this included exploring waters and lands, history, language, issues of governance and land management. Throughout the trip elders would tell stories and they also used Cree language to help expand youth knowledge.

As someone who will one day be a history and social studies teacher, I believe First Nations education is extremely important. It does, however, become tricky trying to navigate. How do I properly/adequately teach First Nations history when I am not a First Nations person? It is safe to say I am not the expert here.

I think considering place would be hugely important, and I am drawn to Mike’s example from class – trying to teach native studies to a room full of First Nations students. That scenario likely played out a lot differently than It would have if he were teaching Native Studies 10 to a group of predominantly white students. It is important that we consider place because sometimes our students might be able to teach us more than we teach them, and it is okay to not always be the expert. We wouldn’t go into a classroom in Germany and try to educate those students about the Holocaust, that sounds absurd.

So why then, should I, as a white person, try and become the “expert” on First Nations culture? I think the clear answer is that I shouldn’t try and become the expert. Instead, I may need to adapt and modify my teaching strategies (depending on place). One idea I think may be beneficial is reaching out to elders within the community and having them supplement my lessons with more traditional ways of knowing. The ways in which we will adapt our ideas should greatly depend on who we are teaching and the message we are trying to deliver; pace is hugely important.

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One thought on “It’s okay to not be the expert

  1. I really enjoy how you have that understanding that you aren’t the expert and shouldn’t try to be, something that I think is important to keep in mind that integration can be really beneficial to your students. When talking about history even a brief note about what was happening with the First Nations people in Canada at the time you are discussing in history is very important.

    Liked by 1 person

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