OpenEd21: Pulling Together to Decolonize: Reflections on an Indigenous-led Open Resource Adaptation

7 min read

OpenEd21 is happening this week and instead of tweeting I am blogging from selected sessions I am attending. These notes may be rough as the intent is to try to follow the flow of the talk and publish as soon as possible.

Session Description

This panel presentation will include several members of the Manitoba Foundations Group who will describe how the process of building relationships and community was integral to decolonizing the resource. In the end, the content is, and the process was, Indigenous-forward, inclusive, and rooted in a spirit of collaboration and doing things “in a good way.” Panellists will speak on their experiences throughout the project, both the challenges and rewards of working in new ways, as well as discuss how these experiences can be adapted in other spaces and projects.

Presenters: Kaitlin Schilling (eCampus Manitoba), Joan Garbutt (Brandon University), Chris Lagimoderie, Kris Dejarlais, Leah LePlante, Susie McPherson-Derendy

Session Notes

Panel presentation so some of the attributions may be lost. Facilitated by Kaitlin.

The goal of this project was to adapt a training resource (BCcampus Pulling Together Guide) to a local (Manitoba) context.

Indigenous peoples were at the centre of the project. The overarching strategy for the project was shared by Kaitlin.

Leah LaPlante (Manitoba Metis Federation) speaks about how there are rare opportunities to tell “our stories” and knowing the end product of this project was to tell our story and history, for some, it might have been the first time they were able to tell their story. Canada is in a place now with the horrid news about children in residential schools, I think Canadians are in a place to learn about their terrible past. The project clearly had an impact on Leah.

Q: Reflecting on your experience throughout this adaptation, how did the process of working on this project differ from others you have worked on?

Susie Macpherson: We have been waiting for this kind of document and work and am happy it is specific to our Manitoba prairie context as it is important we think about people in our own communities. One thing I think about is where do we want to go? What is our vision and this was an important project to help us get there and develop a new vision for the future. If this knowledge is taken deep within each person, it will have a ripple effect and I have a lot of hope for this resource and the work we have done.

Chris: How this project was different. Chris speaks about how most projects have an institutional focus while this one had a wider lens than just our institution. Included Indigenous organizations, community organizations and many many community partners. This project would not have happened without deep collaboration. We all came together with open minds and open hearts and a spirit of collaboration. The collaborative community continues to grow.

Joan: This was a good project to help me understand my own privilege and how I could leverage that privilege to “walk the walk” and take on the work of decolonization that had a much more outward focus than an inward focus. I had a sabbatical (which Joan says is the very definition of academic privilege) and decided to use that to give something back and this project was a great way to do that.

Q: What do you hope to see for future projects when collaborating with Indigenous contributors on open projects such as this? What advice would you give to someone doing something similar?

SM: We have a lot of knowledge and what makes the difference is that people have knowledge and experience and Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing. It is not academic – it is a holistic approach. We live in a western worldview society, but as Indigenous it is important to live in our own worldview and strive for a balance between living in western society while honouring and respect our own indigenous worldviews. Tendency to look at this kind of project and think that this is for indigenous people when no, it is a project for everyone. Colonial thinking impacts all of us, Indigenous & non-Indigenous and there needs to be a validating and honouring of the knowledge Indigenous people can bring to these projects. And find a way to balance.

CL: Respect the process and build relationships. We brought together knowledge keepers and listen and asked what is our Indigneous community looking for and created space for conversations that came from a place of respect.

LL: Shared a powerful story of how memories were lost in her family due to elders internalizing a “keep quiet and don’t be noticed” as a way to avoid repercussions, and used it to encourage all to not only listen but to tell their stories. The history is important.

KD: How do we actually build cultural awareness? How do we reach those learning outcomes that we desperately need? The next steps in using these guides is an exciting opportunity. You are not going to become an ally by reading this textbook. It is a fantastic start, but you need to start to implement this and what does that look like? Sharing circles? Land-based teaching? There are many things that this resource can springboard and the ways in which the learning is delivered is the next important step.

JG: As a non-Indigenous person, the first step is to engage with the community build relationships and get to know people ahead of time. I can’t imagine going into a project like this without knowing people. The relationships we built were integral in me feeling like I had a place at the table and that we started from a foundation of initial trust. Sometimes non-Indigneous people are sometimes afraid to engage from a place of being afraid they will slip up and make a mistake, but approach with a good heart and good intentions and willingness to learn. We will all make mistakes. Important to acknowledge mistakes you may make and then move forward. We (non-Indigenous peoples) need to get over this fear and building relationships and getting out there building community and connection with Indigneous peoples will help get us there.

My Takeaway

Note: The project focused on adapting an open education guide that was developed by my organization, BCampus.

There are a lot of big takeaways here, but nothing bigger than how the adaptation of an open resource became the hub for something much deeper and much more important than the actual resource. The act of adapting created a learning community that brought together both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants has become an act of reconciliation and deeper learning for all involved. This project transcended “the resource” and used the resource as a way for all to learn. Yes, they created a tangible adaptation, but the real “deliverable” here was the relationships and connections made to do the project, not necessarily the end product (as useful as it is). The process of adapting the open resource became an act of reconciliation and it clearly impacted all those involved in the project. This project really speaks to how open resources can be important catalysts for the development of something larger: community, reconciliation, decolonization, relationships, new ways of learning and building bridges between communities.

The adapted Manitoba book and the original BCcampus Indigenization guides.

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