The Wisdom of Our Elders
Since ’10, MFNERC has hosted a series of roundtables that gathered together educators and Elders from around Manitoba as a first step towards the major objective of creating a draft framework document representative of First Nations learning and school needs.
Focus questions were posed to participants in the search for learning and assessment principles and practices that were/are effectively used by/with First Nations learners.
The responses from Elders were recently compiled into an Elders Roundtable Series Report (May, 2013). Elders’ comments were video-recorded and transcribed into English text transcripts. Each roundtable posed at least two general questions, but other questions were posed to suit the needs of the group.
What and how did you learn growing up? What must we do in education and in our schools to better prepare youth for the good life “ mino-pimatisiwin” (Cree, Ojibway, Island Lake ), “honso aynai” (Dene), “tokatakiya wichoni washte” (Dakota)?
Here is an excerpt from the Elders Roundtable Series Report, and if you are interested in finding out more, please contact Brenda Delorme, Assessment Program Manager, email@example.com.
Life Long Learning from Elders’ Perspectives:
“Children learn what they see.”
“If you respect a child, that child will listen. Love a child and that child will listen.”
The Elders continue to be the key teachers of culture and language. Participating Elders from each MFNERC service region in Manitoba spoke of growing up during a time where family and community worked hard together living off of the land. Living the “good life” centered on a working knowledge of the land one was gifted with; its elements (earth, water, air, and fire), as well as the application of techniques of hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering resources to be able to survive in a harsh environment. Elders, who lived this lifestyle, also spoke of learning respect representative of a world view built into their First Nation language. The seven teachings of what constitutes a “good life” were taught and passed on to grandchildren and members of the extended family circle through intergenerational teaching and learning practices.
The seven teachings draw their power from human beings observing the tenets of natural law (opposite of man-made law and legislation). First Nation languages house words to describe natural law from the indigenous perspective of reciprocity in one’s attempt to maintain a healthy balance in all aspects of life: physical, emotional, social and spiritual. First Nation languages house the history, laws and the teachings for the people to instruct about a “good life”, for example, kinship and relationship laws. Imbalance in one’s life could be a direct consequence of breaking a natural law. Observance and application of the seven teachings was and is a lifelong teaching, learning and reflection process.
Valued Principles for Life Long Learning
• The “good life” is developed and nurtured at the start of a child’s life, the importance of home life and schooling and responsible parenting and grand parenting are essential for healthy communities.
• If learned when children are young, the first language is never forgotten.
• Everyone helps one another.
• Hard work is valued because it is a way of life.
Cultural and Language Teaching Tools
• The Medicine Wheel serves as a graphic organizer to describe many of the cultural teachings the Elders spoke of at the roundtable.
• Values and morals are learned through storytelling, songs, dances, and living cultural traditions.
• Roles and responsibilities and rites of passage attributed to men’s and women’s teachings start at birth.
• Oral language is taught first and sustained in the home through intergenerational teaching.
• Elders are the keepers and transmitters of knowledge through spoken language and cultural teaching.
Schools and Community Sustaining Language and Culture
• It is important to view the child as a whole child; to nurture the physical but also spiritual well-being of the child.
• It is important to teach about cultural and community based activities to school teachers and extend teaching to students and involve the community.
• It is important to involve community members and Elders as cultural teachers to support classroom teachers.
• It is important for the First Nations language be spoken and heard in as many ways and places in the community as possible. It is up to the community to work on that if the language is to remain alive.
• It is important to assess oral language fluency with the mindset to encourage not reprimand its proper usage. Levels of language are acquired through exposure, practice and use. Accept words without correction, but model proper usage.
• It is important to understand that language changes, as new things are learned, new terminologies are created to name them.
Teaching, Learning and Assessment Principles
• Learning is holistic and involves mind, heart and hands – see, think, feel, and do.
• Learning is fostered by example, demonstration, modeling, repetition and practice.
• Learning is cyclical and involves looking (observing, experiencing), learning (practicing, applying) and living (refining, mastering, teaching) what is taught.
• Learning is assessed by the degree to which one listens to (respects, observes) and reflects on what is taught and applied.
• Achievement and success is measured by the degree to which one applies knowledge and sustains a healthy, balanced and prosperous life.