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Protest as Pedagogy

Teaching, Learning, and Indigenous Environmental Movements


Gregory Lowan-Trudeau

Written during a time characterized by catalyzing Indigenous environmental movements such as Idle No More, political upheaval, and the final years of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Protest as Pedagogy: Teaching, Learning, and Indigenous Environmental Movements was motivated by Gregory Lowan-Trudeau’s personal experiences as an activist, educator, and researcher. Insights from interviews with activists and educators in a variety of school, community, and post-secondary contexts are presented in relation to teaching and learning during, and in response to, Indigenous environmental movements. Looking toward future possibilities, the rise of renewable energy development by Indigenous communities across Canada is also considered. Throughout Protest as Pedagogy, these inquiries are guided by a theoretical framework built on concepts such as decolonization, Herbert Marcuse’s repressive tolerance, Elliot Eisner’s three curricula, and broader fields of study such as social movement learning, critical media literacy, Indigenous media studies, and environmental communication.

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Chapter 1. Narrating a Critical Indigenous Pedagogy of Place: Education, Activism, and Research

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Education, Activism, and Research1

I was born, raised, and currently reside in Calgary, Alberta, a city of just over a million people that is a few hundred kilometers north of the Montana border, where the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains meet the western fringe of the Canadian prairies. One of the last areas of permanent European settlement in Canada, Fort Calgary was built at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers in the late 1800s. As such, it is quite beautiful as far as cities go, with sweeping prairie and mountain views and clear glacial water flowing in from the south and northwest. Calgary is also, somewhat notoriously, known across Canada and in many parts of the world as a center of oil and gas development.

Including recent additions, my family has been in this region for five generations on my father’s side and four on my mother’s. My paternal ancestors arrived first. They were poverty-stricken settlers of mixed Lenapé (Delaware) and European ancestry who, like many of the eastern nations (Bouchard, Foxcurran, & Malette, 2016), had progressively migrated, meandered, and, most likely, been pushed across ← 11 | 12 → the American prairies over several generations from eastern Pennsylvania through Kansas and Iowa, before crossing the border near the turn of the century to settle and homestead north of Calgary near the town of Crossfield in the northern stretches of Blackfoot territory, just south of Cree country.

My father’s family arrived after the signing of Treaty Seven in 1877 between the Crown (Canada on behalf of the British) and the Blackfoot Confederacy and their allies, the Stoney Nakoda and Tsuu t’ina, but before Alberta became a province in 1905, so they received sub-surface mineral rights. These rights did not bring great wealth, but they did raise my grandmother’s family out of abject poverty in her teens when oil was discovered and allowed her and her siblings to move to the city to obtain advanced educational training. My grandmother became a midwife and nurse. As an environmental educator and scholar and advocate for Indigenous rights, the multiple ironies and tensions inherent in this situation are not lost on me.

Calgary and the surrounding area is, indeed, my home. I love the cool and dry mountain air that flows down the Bow Valley late in summer evenings, bringing reprieve from the heat, and more comfortable sleep. I love dipping my hands, face, and sometimes my entire body, in shockingly cold mountain lakes and streams. And I love the endless sweep of the prairies and foothills to the north and east. However, it wasn’t until I moved to northwestern Ontario in my twenties, amid the lakes and forests of the eastern woodlands, that I experienced a feeling of being truly at home somewhere both culturally and geographically. Cree scholar Stan Wilson (1995) might suggest that this feeling is somehow linked to the ancestral memory of my Algonquian forebears’ thousands of years of occupation of that biome; in Indigenous terms, four or five generations of inhabitation isn’t much at all.

Weaving a Critical Pedagogy of Place

In this chapter I share my experiences as a land-based, urban born and raised, Métis scholar and educator of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry, with reference to foundational, emerging, and related theorists in the area of critical pedagogy of place. As someone living far from the Indigenous homelands of both sides of my family, I explore themes such as diaspora and identity politics in urban and other geographical contexts. This discussion is framed by specific consideration of David Greenwood’s2 (2003) critical pedagogy of place, and ← 12 | 13 → with reference to subsequent discussion, critique, and calls to expand upon it from both Indigenous and narrative perspectives.

I also embrace and model in form the culturally-linked literary tradition of métissage—a concept with etymological roots in French, Latin, and Greek that most simply denote ‘mixing,’ but also oblique, intuitive, and, as a result, commonly marginalized ways of knowing (Dolmage, 2009)—in several ways: first, as a weaving of Western and Indigenous cultural and intellectual influences (Kelly, 2011); second, in keeping with Papaschase Cree scholar Dwayne Donald’s (2009, 2010) specific notion of Indigenous métissage as the critical juxtaposition of Western and Indigenous narratives of place; and third, in the life writing tradition of scholars such as Erika Hasebe-Ludt, Cynthia M. Chambers, and Carl Leggo (2009).

This métissage is also inspired by the work of Indigenous scholars who experiment with oral and literary forms through creative and multivocal presentations of their work. This is an intentional reference to the central role of the oral tradition in many Indigenous cultures and the predominant reliance upon the written tradition for affirming knowledge in Western cultures, for example, in judicial proceedings (Miller, 2011). This approach also allows for both directly explicit and indirectly implicit modes of communicating ideas and experiences, which aligns it with common Western and Indigenous cultural and linguistic traditions, respectively. As a Métis person, I find strength and voice in both traditions and find that they influence both my written and spoken work at different times, both in cultural and scholarly contexts as well as in my daily personal life.

Other literary influences include Cherokee author Thomas King’s (1993) play with voice, tense, and chronology, and Anishnaabe scholar Niigaanwewidam Sinclair’s (2013) powerful use of multiple voices to represent intergenerational trauma, dialogue, and influence. Such examples also influence this work by challenging common conceptions of Indigenous narratives and identities as frozen in time, not relevant and emerging in contemporary contexts. In so doing, I weave together critical theoretical discussion using a conventional academic format and tone designated by standard type with more personal narrative and interpretive passages designated by italicized type in the first two chapters of this book. These juxtapositions are intentional, revealing both synergies and tensions in form, content, and concepts. In Indigenous oral traditions, the listener is responsible for elucidating the meaning from a given story or teaching based on their own life experiences and perspective, and readers of this essay are encouraged to interpret these juxtapositions ← 13 | 14 → through their own lenses. As Plains Cree and Saulteaux scholar Margaret Kovach (2010) suggests, sharing and reflecting upon stories encourages reflexivity in research and scholarship. As such, the narrative passages are offered as exemplars that other educators and researchers might consider and employ in their own work, and so foster in their students’ work, in the spirit of (re-)introducing personally grounded consideration of place in their scholarship and pedagogical practices. Other examples of personal and participant voice are also presented in Chapters Three to Six in the form of direct quotes from my own reflective field journal and social media activity, and interviews with activists and educators.

Critical Pedagogy of Place

Greenwood’s (2003) foundational piece, which introduced the concept of a critical pedagogy of place, sparked much discussion, emulation, adulation, re-conception, and even heated controversy. A critical pedagogy of place draws upon the traditions of critical theory and critical pedagogy in calling for both reinhabitation and decolonization, related concepts that point to, but do not claim, Indigenous sensibilities. As Greenwood notes:

In many ways, decolonization describes the underside of reinhabitation; it may not be possible without decolonization. If reinhabitation involves learning to live well socially and ecologically in places that have been disrupted and injured, decolonization involves learning to recognize disruption and injury and to address their causes. (p. 9)

While some, such as the late Chet Bowers (2008), have criticized Greenwood for inadequately acknowledging and including Indigenous perspectives explicitly in his critical pedagogy of place, others, including Greenwood (2008) himself, have attempted to thoughtfully expand upon his original theory to further articulate and call for a deeper understanding of the relationship between Indigenous perspectives and a critical pedagogy of place. These latter efforts are certainly laudable and informative, and they have indeed expanded the dialogue and moved it forward. I would respectfully suggest, however, that personal examples from Indigenous perspectives are still lacking.

Upon review of the literature related to a critical pedagogy of place and Indigenous perspectives, my impression was similar to Gregory Martin and Kitty Te Riele (2015), who suggest more generally that, in the academy, the ← 14 | 15 → theoretical development of a critical pedagogy of place has been thus far ‘largely discursive’; for example, while there has been much theorizing about the potential for expressing Indigenous concerns through writing in the spirit of a critical pedagogy of place, there has been very little demonstration of what this actually entails. Additionally, these contributions have largely come from non-Indigenous scholars, and only a limited number of them have been written by scholars from other commonly marginalized perspectives (e.g., Cutts, 2012), further perpetuating the issue of a persistent absence of explicit Indigenous voice in this area.

Heather Wakeman (2015) also calls for the increased general use of stories to foster a critical pedagogy of place. This is in keeping with the reverence for, and centrality of, Indigenous oral traditions in Turtle Island/North America and elsewhere (Sefa Dei & Nortey Darko, 2015), which serve not only as entertainment, but also as cultural repositories and pedagogical tools (McKeough et al., 2008).

In direct response to Greenwood’s and Bower’s discussion of the absence of Indigenous perspectives in original conceptions of a critical pedagogy of place, Euro-Australian Bob Stevenson (2008) rightly highlights the common difficulty of providing thick, culturally rooted descriptions of place in communities that have experienced generational schisms, migrations, and other contemporary interruptions in the oral tradition, as is all too common in many Indigenous contexts. Due to such dynamics, as Donald (2004) suggests, Indigenous narratives of place may often be metaphorically represented by the artistic phenomena of ‘pentimento,’ wherein older paintings and frescos may be found hidden just below the surface of newer additions.

Toward a Critical Indigenous Pedagogy of Place

While examples of Indigenous scholarship in direct relation to a critical pedagogy of place are distinctly lacking, several important theoretical and empirical contributions have been provided by non-Indigenous scholars. For example, with somewhat oblique reference to Greenwood’s critical pedagogy of place, Filipina-American scholar Alma Trinidad (2011) developed and proposed the term and theoretical framework of a critical Indigenous pedagogy of place in research with Indigenous youth involved in a Hawaiian food justice program. Trinidad notably advocates for Indigenization (rather than decolonization), along with reinhabitation, as the central pillars of her critical Indigenous pedagogy of place. Indigenization, in contrast to the critically ← 15 | 16 → analytical approach inherent in decolonization, prioritizes Indigenous ways of knowing and being in social processes.

Like Trinidad, Jay Johnson (2012), a non-Indigenous American scholar, also engages with a critical pedagogy of place in relation to Indigenous peoples and advocates for the centering of Indigenous perspectives and concerns in a critical pedagogy of place. Trinidad (2012, p. 5) also suggests that reinhabitation involves learning to live well in disturbed places while ‘interweaving, replacing, or speaking against Western narratives of place that have been oppressive with Indigenous narratives that instill hope and healing.’

This perspective is similar to that of Alexa Scully (2012), who engages with a critical pedagogy of place from a White settler Canadian perspective, and suggests that it could be meaningfully expanded to acknowledge Indigenous peoples through reconciliation with Greenwood’s pillars of decolonization and reinhabitation. Scully follows Leanne Simpson in proposing a definition of reconciliation that moves beyond healing relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in terms of past harms, such as the Indian Residential School System in Canada, to include cultural revitalization and political resurgence. Scully also cites Donald’s (2004) article ‘Forts, Curriculum, and Indigenous Métissage’ as demonstrating the importance of collectively understanding and deconstructing individual and communal narratives of place that influence how we understand our regions and nations.

On a practical level, Trinidad (2011, 2012) also advocates for the facilitative potential of a critical Indigenous pedagogy of place to encourage Indigenous youth and Elders to engage in dialogue aimed at remembering critical struggles and traditional knowledge and practices of the past and also considering how these might apply to the present. Trinidad suggests that this process of sharing stories, knowledge, and songs is a powerful tool for increasing critical consciousness and a sense of agency in working toward social change and a stronger sense of place.

Trinidad’s work, while providing strong and inspiring examples of praxis, does not provide extensive narratives from an Indigenous perspective. This is a shortcoming that she herself recognizes while calling for further research linking Indigenous peoples, and other marginalized populations, with a critical pedagogy of place. As such, in this chapter I offer examples of narrative inspired by this theoretical discourse in an attempt to both position myself in relation to the topics considered in this book while also demonstrating the ← 16 | 17 → generative potential of such endeavors for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and students alike.


My maternal family’s ancestral territory is Gespegeoag, the ‘last land’ and northernmost of the seven districts that comprise Mi’kmaki, the homelands of the Mi’kmaq people. Specifically, our family descends from the interconnected Mi’kmaq and Acadian communities surrounding Mao Pôgtapei, also known as la Baie des Chaleurs in French and Chaleur Bay in English. In contemporary Canada, this area comprises the border region between Québec and New Brunswick on the south side of the Gaspé Peninsula. It is also a historical and contemporary meeting place between French and English territories. My mother’s family arose from all of these cultures, mixing and mingling with each other since the arrival of our first French ancestor, Marin Boucher, in 1634. Other common family names from the region such as Dedam, Lavigne, Martin, Vienneau, Lejeune/ Young, Gerrish, and many others, populate our family tree.

Our ancestors, Mi’kmaq, European, and Métis (of mixed ancestry) (Augustine, 2016; Bouchard et al., 2016) alike, relied on the forest and the waters of the region for their sustenance. They fished, hunted, gathered, farmed, and traded amongst themselves and with one another. While relations were not always amicable, the Mi’kmaq forged strong bonds with Europeans over time, especially with the French Acadians, through diplomacy and marriage; Peace and Friendship Treaties were signed in the 1700s (Augustine, 2016). These treaties were much different than the numbered treaties and others that came afterwards as the colonists moved west and negotiated more forcefully over large territories that had been emptied by disease and the eradication of the buffalo on both sides of the border. They set out ideals of mutual respect that did not involve large secessions of land on the part of the Mi’kmaq. And yet, slowly, over time, the land was swallowed by settler development while the Mi’kmaq were increasingly confined to reserves and pushed to the fringes of their territories and beyond through a variety of circumstances with many, like ours, eventually seeking their livelihoods in other parts of Canada and the United States.

My great-grandparents, for their part, left northern New Brunswick amid prejudice toward their ostensibly mixed union to follow the promise of work for my great-grandfather with the railway in southern Saskatchewan, where my grandfather was born. Despite a childhood filled with trauma and hardship of various sorts, he ← 17 | 18 → became a teacher and eventually left Saskatchewan to take up a position in Calgary, where my mother was born and raised.

Indigenous Diaspora

The concept of Indigenous diaspora is fairly well established in the literature. Indigenous people experience diaspora for a variety of reasons, some of which are experienced by other marginalized groups, and others that are unique. Euro-Canadian scholar Mark Watson (2010) notes that Indigenous peoples have migrated to urban areas in such large numbers that, in many countries (including Canada), their number in urban populations is greater than in rural and remote regions. As Donald (2004) also reminds us, with reference to his own family’s roots in an urban center, most cities in colonial nations are typically within the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples.

Referring to his work with displaced Ainu communities in urban Japan, Watson (2010) identifies several other geographic, political, and sociological trends that have emerged in relation to Indigenous diaspora that are of relevance for Indigenous peoples elsewhere. For example, he discusses government policies that dispossessed Ainu peoples of their traditional territories in northern Japan, as well as others that encouraged assimilation—policies very similar to those experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada (Lawrence, 2003).

Watson (2010) proposes that, due to the central importance of connection to specific territories for Indigenous peoples, loss of land often results in a loss of identity for Indigenous peoples themselves, and a perception by outsiders that they are no longer Indigenous. Benjamin Smith (2006) also notes that this sense of alienation can be heightened when displaced Indigenous people’s indigeneity is also challenged by other Indigenous people, a situation he describes as ‘double denial.’ From an Indigenous Canadian perspective, Bonita Lawrence (2003) concurs, and argues that colonial policies and, specifically, the Indian Act and associated policies in Canada, have usurped traditional methods for regulating membership and land use, resulting in increasingly fragmented Indigenous identities and communities.

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui (2007) describes similar dynamics from an Indigenous Hawaiian perspective. She refers to Indigenous diaspora specifically as suffering ‘deracination’, the experience of being separated from one’s roots. Similar to Watson, Kauanui recognizes the identity struggles faced by many deracinated Hawaiians living outside of Hawaii, which she attributes to three primary factors: the lack of recognition of Indigenous Hawaiians outside ← 18 | 19 → of Hawaii; the misappropriation of Hawaiian identity and culture by non-Hawaiians, both in and outside of Hawaii; and a grand narrative of disappearance through miscegenation, externally imposed on those of mixed ancestry, which may seem uncomfortably familiar to other Indigenous peoples of mixed ancestry, myself included, in other parts of the world.

Watson (2010) notes other common identity dynamics that resonate with some of my own experiences and observations as a person of mixed ancestry: phenomena such as a sense of shame, especially in past generations, related to being Indigenous; attempts to ‘pass’ as non-Indigenous; and ongoing discrimination. Such dynamics have made it difficult to accurately quantify urban Indigenous populations, as people in past generations were especially reticent to self-identify. In a manner reminiscent of Daniel Francis’s (2005) observations in Canada, Watson argues that such phenomena often lead to romanticized understandings of Indigenous peoples as historically frozen in time, but no longer present or relevant in contemporary society, especially in urban areas.

Smith (2006) reports similar dynamics in the Cape York region of northern Australia where many Indigenous peoples have been displaced from their homelands and sometimes end up living in close proximity to or upon other Indigenous people’s traditional territories. He notes that displacement can also fuel identity politics within Indigenous communities, for example, conflict over whether membership in contemporary Indigenous communities may be based solely on an ancestral connection or if an ongoing relationship is also required. Smith also cites Timothy Ingold’s (2000) controversial proposal that claiming indigeneity through descent only is false if no relation to land persists. Given colonial dynamics and other factors that are often beyond the control of Indigenous peoples, this proposition seems quite inflammatory and myopic. As Kauanui (2007) argues from a Hawaiian perspective, such a view disregards Indigenous genealogical traditions that often recognize lineage-based relationships regardless of blood quantum. Both Kauanui and Smith also remind us that Indigenous peoples were often forced to move due to colonial government policies and other intentionally alienating actions, such as the stolen generation of Indigenous children, which bears great similarity to Canada’s residential school system, the 1960s mass adoption ‘scoop’, lack of employment, and other socioeconomic factors. As such, Kauanui implores contemporary Indigenous Hawaiians to actively share stories of displacement, both forced and voluntary, in order to foster more complex understandings of indigeneity now and in the past. ← 19 | 20 →

Given such complexities, Smith (2006) notes that many diasporic Indigenous peoples experience a melancholic longing for their original territories. However, such feelings can also create a sense of ambivalence or split allegiance when, as I described earlier in my own experience, we may also develop ‘affective ties’ (Smith, 2006, p. 221) to our current homes after inhabiting them for a much shorter period. Kauanui (2007) shares a similar perspective in her description of the cultural, economic, and familial complexities faced by deracinated Hawaiians both historically and in contemporary times. For example, those who were forced or chose to move to mainland North America to attend schools, work in the fur trade, or seek other employment often settled permanently and became members of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. While some may challenge such a phenomenon as contradictory, Smith (p. 225) explains that Indigenous people’s sense of connection to their new territories often differs from that of their non-Indigenous neighbors ‘because the essential foundation of particular Aboriginal identities is understood and felt to be vested there.’ In keeping with the adaptive capacity of our ancestors, Indigenous peoples often approach new territories from an epistemological and ontological perspective that emphasizes cultivating deep awareness of and connection to land (Cajete, 1994). Smith suggests that some groups may even go so far as to modify place-based oral stories to better suit new surroundings.

Smith (2006, p. 228) also reports that feelings of resentment and a ‘wounded political identity’ may develop between Indigenous groups when one group has access to particular areas of land, but others, who may have ancestral connections to the area, do not. Smith shares that he himself experienced ‘understandable’ resentment when he, as a non-Indigenous researcher, was able to access land that some of his Indigenous participants could not.

Forced and voluntary displacement has certainly created challenges and diasporic experiences for Indigenous people worldwide; however, promising trends and strategies for regenerating a sense of place and community have also emerged.

On the Banks of the Bow

It had been a particularly challenging day at the university; I was shaken by a difficult discussion during a meeting related to Indigenous issues. This discussion brought up traumatic personal and familial memories that overwhelmed me and sucked the ← 20 | 21 → breath from my lungs. I knew immediately what was needed to assuage my feelings of angst and sorrow.

After dinner that evening, I gathered my medicines and walked to the banks of the Bow River near our home. I navigated a short but steep trail through the cottonwoods along the shore and made my way through the thicket of willows that guards the banks, finally emerging on the shoreline where the river runs clear and deep.

I felt a touch of trepidation, as the bicycle and walking paths were quite busy on both sides of the river, making me somewhat self-conscious. Proceeding regardless, I placed my smudge bowl on the grey river stones along the shore, removed several leaves of sage from a leather pouch to roll a small pungent ball between my palms, and struck a wooden match to ignite the bundle. As I cleansed myself from head to toe with the smoke, I felt a wave of relief as the sorrow and stress left my body. I then sat, placed a small pinch of tobacco in the water, and prayed for healing and peace.

We Are Still Here: Reimagining Identity, Community, and Place

In the face of diaspora and myriad other challenges, Indigenous peoples around the world have persisted and developed many strategies to reclaim and reimagine Indigeneity and community, especially in urban contexts. Indigenous pride, cultural revitalization, self-identification, and inter-Indigenous struggle are on the rise around the globe.

As Watson (2010, p. 271) notes, many Indigenous people are ‘re-thinking the urban settler/rural tribal divide’ in order to reimagine what it means to belong to a community in the city. Referring to his work in Japan, Watson proposes that urbanization is not the end of the Ainu people; rather, it is the end of common perceptions of Ainu. In a manner similar to that of transnational migrants who modify but maintain cultural practices in new surroundings, Indigenous people’s adaptations to maintain and revive traditions in urban environments should be seen as an extension of, rather than a departure from, Indigeneity.

Japanese scholar Yuriko Yamanouchi’s (2010) work with Aboriginal communities in Sydney, Australia is also illuminating. She suggests that, due to the diasporic mix of Indigenous peoples in urban areas today, new, often informal guidelines have developed for regulating community membership, sharing and revitalizing culture, and recognizing, accepting, and working with one another as Indigenous peoples. Yamanouchi notes that while many Indigenous people ← 21 | 22 → continue to identify connections to ancestral communities outside of the city even after several generations of diaspora, cultivating a sense of belonging to the urban Indigenous community is also often of importance.

Given the aforementioned historical and contemporary factors that have caused intergenerational trauma and dislocation, as well as loss of kinship knowledge through adoption and state-sponsored residential schools, a certain degree of identity ambiguity is often accepted in many urban Indigenous communities. This is not to say that informal guidelines do not exist or develop over time. For example, Yamanouchi (2010) suggests that most urban Aboriginal groups recognize that many Indigenous peoples have lost connection to and awareness of their ancestral communities. Such individuals will often be welcomed into urban communities through demonstrating kinship with or acknowledgment from respected community members, awareness of cultural norms, holding and sharing cultural knowledge, and long-term participation in and support of community events.

As a result of such complexities, a certain level of pan-Indigeneity, and other forms of accommodating multiple cultural traditions, is also often present in urban groups. This has certainly been my experience both in my current home of Calgary as well as during time spent living in smaller urban centers in northern Ontario and British Columbia. My personal approach is to locate myself as I did at the beginning of this chapter, and then strive to respect, acknowledge, and learn from the protocols and traditions of the respective territory, while looking for subtle opportunities to contribute my own cultural knowledge if appropriate.

Other forms of cultural revitalization for diasporic cultures have also been identified. With reference to the Tamil people of India, Jacob Pandian (1998) discusses the central role of literature as a vehicle for re-ethnogenesis, the long-term maintenance and continual rejuvenation of their culture despite centuries of challenges and diasporic movements. Michelle Keown (2008) draws similar connections to the central importance of contemporary literary traditions as vehicles for cultural revival and métissage in Polynesia and the similar role played by the waka/canoe in the past. I believe that we are also experiencing the benefits of the literary tradition in the broader Indigenous community in Turtle Island/North America; I know that I personally often find great insight, inspiration, and cultural knowledge within the works of contemporary Indigenous writers, which assists me in maintaining a sense of connection to areas and people with whom I might not associate on a daily basis. ← 22 | 23 →


In the fall of 2013 I watched, read, and listened obsessively to the news as an allied group of Mi’kmaq, Francophone, and Anglophone activists protested hydraulic fracturing exploration near the town of Rexton, New Brunswick. A peaceful protest camp was established including Elders and children; the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) moved in, and tensions soon came to a head.

Images of riot-ready RCMP officers bearing down on protestors hit me hard. I felt, as Métis scholar Heather Devine (2010) relates in reference to a cousin’s reaction to watching the violent conflict between Indigenous peoples, police, and non-Indigenous townspeople at Oka many years ago, as though they were ‘throwing rocks at me.’ It struck me that these were my relations, Mi’kmaq, French, and Anglophone alike, from a place that I had never been that haunted my sub-conscious and the stories of my family, passed down for the past three generations since our departure. I felt simultaneously connected to and disconnected from these people and places.

As an activist and academic, I was frustrated by the portrayal of this story in the mass media as yet another ‘Aboriginal protest,’ when it was widely reported in independent and social media that it was indeed an allied resistance. I was frustrated by the prejudice expressed in the comments sections of online media and by conversations both overheard and experienced. Sitting on the other side of the continent, following on the heels of a year filled with involvement in Idle No More events and Northern Gateway pipeline protests, I felt compelled to act, somehow. And so, I picked up my pen and wrote a letter to the editor, expressing these feelings and responding to what I perceived to be mis- and under-informed perspectives. These experiences, in addition to others earlier in the year, also led me to pursue this area through research, seeking to understand the potential for individual and societal learning through participation and as a result of such actions (Lowan-Trudeau, 2017).

Regerminating Resistance: Educational Research and Praxis in Irritated Places

How then to make sense of the aforementioned experiences and dynamics in the context of research and pedagogical praxis? What possibilities exist for seriously considering and incorporating a critical Indigenous pedagogy of place? As Greenwood (2015) notes, such questions are especially difficult in the contemporary lives of many academics, participating through choice or otherwise in the semi-nomadic cycles and opportunities of the academy. ← 23 | 24 →

Unangan scholar Eve Tuck and Euro-Canadian Marcia McKenzie (2015a, 2015b) offer great insight into such questions. They suggest that, despite long-standing interest in and mention of place-based research, fewer examples of it exist than would be expected in relation to the complexities of such initiatives in practice, especially in non-Indigenous scholarship.

Tuck and McKenzie (2015a) also note systemic challenges to meaningfully incorporating place in research, such as the forced anonymization of research sites and participants in some institutions. In response, they argue for the fundamental importance of expanding our understanding of relational validity beyond interactions between researchers and participants to also critically consider the role and influence of place in research. Tuck and McKenzie suggest that such an approach inevitably compels social and environmental action, as researchers and readers alike are more keenly aware of the local impacts of particular occurrences. Drawing on several years of collaboration, they propose the concept of ‘critical place inquiry,’ which consists of working toward nuanced, relational, critical, justice-oriented, and decolonized engagement with an understanding of place in research. Tuck and McKenzie suggest that critical place inquiry, like Trinidad’s conception of a critical Indigenous pedagogy of place, addresses the existential gap between critical and Indigenous theory and research by prioritizing Indigenous understanding of and approaches to land and place.

In the introduction to an edited collection focused on collaborative place-based research with Indigenous peoples from multiple cultural perspectives, non-Indigenous Americans Jay Johnson and Soren Larsen (2013) note that although challenges such as those rightly identified by Tuck and McKenzie certainly exist, examples of inspiring Indigenous-led, place-based research and praxis are also emerging. Johnson and Larsen (p. 10) eloquently state that ‘knowledge comes in and through place: thinking and reflection invoke a set of relationships such that understanding quite literally “takes place”.’

Critical and Indigenous Pedagogies of Place

As I have discussed elsewhere (e.g., Lowan-Trudeau, 2015), an increasing number and variety of land- and water-based Indigenous education programs are being offered around the world. From rural Indigenous environmental science initiatives in Alaska (Barnhardt & Kawagley, 2005), to food sovereignty education in Hawaii (Meyer, 2014), to intercultural waka/canoe-based university courses in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Wilson, 2008), Indigenous educators ← 24 | 25 → are taking the lead in developing deeply meaningful opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners alike. Along the spectrum of land-based programs, some focus their energy on indigenized pedagogies of place, with the intention of reviving and sharing traditional knowledge and practices, while others take a stronger critical stance and explicitly engage with the ongoing impacts of colonization, displacement, and other manifestations of cultural and environmental violence and injustice.

As Trinidad (2011, 2012) and also Sutherland and Swayze (2012) discuss, it is very difficult to consider Indigenous pedagogies of place today without also acknowledging the persistent effects of historical and contemporary cultural and ecological colonialism. This is where critical theory in general and critical pedagogy in particular can be helpful, whether as conceived by Greenwood in his critical pedagogy of place specifically, or more generally so as to consider the social and environmental injustices that affect particular regions and peoples.

Educators and scholars alike may choose to engage with such considerations in a variety of ways. For example, the autobiographical and autoethnographical narrative approach referred to and demonstrated in this and the following two chapters holds great promise across curricula for enhancing educators’ and students’ understanding of the places that they currently inhabit as well as those that their ancestors inhabited. As Donald suggests, juxtaposing Indigenous, Western, and other cultural narratives of particular places, as regionally appropriate, can prove extremely illuminating. Such an approach might be employed not only in social studies contexts, but also in the sciences and humanities in the service of concepts such as those identified by the many theorists cited in this chapter: re-inhabiting, decolonizing, Indigenizing, reconciling, and, as Ruyu Hung (2016) describes in reference to work with a marginalized rural community in China, regerminating seeds of social and environmental resistance.

Indeed, as Chinn (2007) reports from her work in Hawaii, although some non-Indigenous educators may initially be reticent and skeptical about embracing critical, place-based understandings of Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies, with gentle encouragement and skillful facilitation, such approaches can prove deeply transformative for all.

Completing the Circle

I recently had my first opportunity to visit the territory of the Wabanaki Confederacy, which comprises the closely related Algonquian nations of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, ← 25 | 26 → Passammaquody, Wolastoqey, Abenaki, and Penobscot peoples. Wabanaki translates roughly as ‘people of the dawn,’ as the Wabanaki people reside in the easternmost region of Turtle Island so, as such, are among the first to greet the sun each day. This visit was a powerful experience that provided deep validation for me, well beyond the experience of receiving my first Métis membership card. However, this experience also raised questions for me related to critical understandings of place, diasporic Indigeneity, academic nomadism, and possible connections to moving forward for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike in educational practice and research.

My first few days were spent at a conference in the lands of the Wolastoqey, where I had the great fortune to attend a pow-wow, and meet Elders from the region who resembled my relatives and recognized my family’s names, and others who shared those names.

After the conference, I rented a car and headed north for a couple of days to visit Gespegeoag, my mother’s family’s territory, for the first time. It was late evening as I neared Bathurst, the regional hub. Without warning, the highway emerged from thick boreal forest and crested a sharp ridge. My stomach jumped and I lost my breath as I was so taken by this first view of Mao Pôgtapei, la Baie des Chaleurs, the land and waters of my ancestors. As sunset approached, the fading sunlight filtered through dense cloud cover to reveal glimpses of the bay, shrouded in mist at the edge of dense forest, capped with late winter snow.

The following day I approached the edge of the bay, offered tobacco to the water and the Land, and was greeted in return by the discovery of an eagle feather. I walked the forest through late season, slushy snow that was knee deep in places, inhaling the crisp air and familiar scent of boreal conifers; I finally understood why I had felt so at home in northern Ontario and Québec in the past. A handful of generations isn’t much in Indigenous terms. This land felt familiar and I think that I was familiar to it.

During my time in Gespegeoag, I didn’t feel any claim over the land, but I did feel a sense of belonging and connection. I also felt a strange sense of panic, knowing that many Elders are passing on, many of whom are still language speakers, trying desperately to share language and culture with future generations. It left me with deep questions regarding how I might continue reconnecting and supporting this work from afar. It also gave me a deeper understanding of friends and colleagues here at home who feel similarly with regards to their own communities. It was profoundly edifying with regards to my own identity, and assisted me in better understanding my relationship to the place and people of my home here in Treaty Seven territory. I now carry those experiences and insights with me and look forward to returning again soon. ← 26 | 27 →


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1 This chapter, gratefully presented here with permission, is a lightly edited and reformatted version of the following copyrighted publication:

Lowan-Trudeau, G. (2017). Narrating a critical indigenous pedagogy of place: A literary métissage. Educational Theory, 67(4), 509–525. [Wiley]

2 Greenwood published under the name David Gruenewald prior to 2009. In this chapter, I refer to him as David Greenwood exclusively in the text; however, in the references I use the name under which the work cited was published.