June was Indigenous History Month. Throughout the entire year, we recognize how important it is to be striving towards meaningful inclusion of Indigenous histories, knowledges, ways of being and contributions.
But, how we engage in inclusion often raises fears of “getting it wrong”, or inciting accusations of cultural appropriation and disrespect, thus causing more harm.
We hope this blog post helps to equip you - and the students you teach - to confidently recognize disrespectful appropriation and engage in respectful inclusion in the classroom, and beyond.
“Nothing about us, without us... you should be hearing things from the people that live and practice it, you are appreciating by listening to the voices of the people that live it and breathe it. It is a part of who I am, not just a page in the book we read.” - Lorrie Gallant
In this recorded webinar, Lorrie and Jasmine discuss the healthy tension of hopes and fears when teaching about an identity outside of our own and talk about the necessary thinking when considering whether our lessons, ideas or approaches to teaching are culturally appropriate and respectful or inappropriate and disrespectful.
Respectful Inclusion vs. Disrespectful Appropriation Resources
Guidelines for thinking about Respectful Inclusion vs. Disrespectful Appropriation
These guidelines act as a starting point for distinguishing when you are encouraged to teach and when you should pause for further consideration. They should be paired with the additional articles and resources below.
1. Engage students authentically with learning from Indigenous people.
It is healthy and respectful to recognize that some learning takes lived experience, intentional study, time and access to a community of scholars; where beliefs, laws, cultural, linguistic or social-relational features of a person or people are part of the learning, turn to those with lived experience, expertise and context. Consider the identity, expertise or lived experience you would reasonably expect in someone who you would like to talk or teach about your faith, gender, role or other part of your identity. If you lack the lived experiences to respectfully and knowledgeably teach a topic, it is respectful and enlightening to invite those with lived experiences to teach this topic instead. If you cannot invite a speaker to the class, have students engage directly with texts, videos, Twitter threads, Instagram accounts, TikToks, blog posts, etc. by Indigenous authors (Note: If you know that there are Indigenous students in the class, be considerate not to assume any student’s familiarity with, expertise in or willingness to teach others - ask privately and respectfully first)
2. When contracting with an Indigenous speaker it is important to honour that person’s time and expertise appropriately (i.e. asking if there is a culturally appropriate respectful practice for contracting with the speaker and providing financial compensation). Inquire about possible restrictions (i.e. certain teachings are only shared with individuals in specific roles and context in community) and permissions if you wish to make this learning available to all students.
3. When you convey Indigenous histories, successes and contributions to your teaching discipline, honour, recognize and name Indigenous inventions and innovations. Anishinaabe teacher education professor Pamela Toulouse invited us to share these curriculum tables (excerpted from this resource) so teachers could highlight potential curriculum inclusions at each grade level. See 3 and 4 for related points.
4. Be specific and avoid overgeneralizing. “When you take something that is personal and deep to someone else and use it for your purpose, it has lost its meaning” - Lorrie Gallant. During the webinar, Lorrie reminds us that when we teach about Indigenous artists or prominent Indigenous figures, it is important to learn about and honour their stories and the context of their lives.
5. Explicitly Honour the sources of your knowledge as a non-extractive practice- Michelle Evans and Jennifer Henderson, Indigenous Education Department Facilitators from Durham District School Board, shared with us the words of Karyn Recollet: “Practice non-extractive forms of thinking and and actions.” This practice is not just about cultural appreciation but appreciation of where knowledge comes from.
6. When in doubt, check with your board’s Indigenous Lead, Coordinator or Consultants if you don’t know whether or not a lesson or activity is appropriate or whether something is of spiritual significance and/or deeply embedded in a particular nation. It is important to note that different communities have different knowledges and restrictions.
Stay tuned for a teaching idea that will build on this that you can use to foster discussion and deeper understanding with colleagues and students.