Sunday, 29 October 2017

Localizing Indigenous Perspectives in Science

Last May, educators braved the weather for a professional development session held entirely outdoors. Our focus was to explore the respectful and appropriate representation of Indigenous perspectives within the K-12 science curriculum. Our guiding document was the new FNESC Science First Peoples Teachers Resource guide. While the guide is targeted at grades 5-9, the guidelines for balancing Indigenous and Western knowledge systems are helpful for any grade. In fact the introductory chapters of any of the FNESC educational resource materials are highly recommended for K-12 educators in any subject area who are striving to increase Indigenous perspectives in their own contexts.

Here are a few things we considered to make the session as meaningful as possible:

SD67 Cultural Coordinator Anona Kampe sings the Okanagan Song
1. The importance of connecting with local community members. As most of the session's participants were not Indigenous, we felt it was important to model the intentional inclusion of people from the Okanagan Territory who were willing to guide and support us in our journey forward. SD67 cultural coordinator Anona Kampe began our session by singing the Okanagan Song and providing background on the connections between the Syilx people and the land. Another member of the Okanagan Nation, Carrie Terbasket attended the session as an observer and provided us with valuable feedback regarding what we were doing well and how we could improve. Finally, the last 45 minutes of our session were spent with Dustin Louis, another member of the Okanagan Nation who shared the foundational captikwł story How Food Was Given. Dustin infused the story with Nsyilxcən words and phrases and provided background on the importance of Indigenous language, as well as the importance of a sense of place.

2. The importance of localizing the activities. While the activities we shared were inspired by the FNESC resource guide, each one was revised to make it relevant to students' lives in the Okanagan. Station one which was based on Chapter 3 in the FNESC guide "Power from the Land" involved the study of paddling a canoe as an opportunity to explore the concepts of force and motion. As Penticton is located between two beautiful lakes, this unit is particularly relevant. Participants watched a live demonstration of a canoe and a paddle board and then watched part of a video clip that gave a local perspective on the cultural significance of canoeing. In addition to the "Power from the Land" activity, a second station was developed that reflected the reality for everyone who lives in the Okanagan which is the possibility of extreme forest fires. At this station, participants tested and compared soil samples from before and after a fire, and examined photos that compared local methods of Syilx fire management practices with municipal government strategies. The third and final station involved a STEM challenge that involved reducing pollution in connection with efforts by the Okanagan Nation to reintroduce sockeye salmon into local waterways.
Comparing Syilx resource management with municipal strategies
Preparing for the STEM challenge
3. The importance of concepts described in the FNESC Science First Peoples guide that are necessary for understanding Indigenous knowledge including: interconnectedness, a sense of place, the inclusion of Indigenous languages, the use of place names, the importance of story, and the awareness of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).  We also tried to model the First Peoples Principles of Learning by making sure the session was experiential, collaborative, personalized, connected to the community and the outdoors and respectful of the land. It was an excellent reminder that if we want students to have learning experiences that reflect these elements, then professional development opportunities for educators should mirror the experiences we hope to create for students.

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