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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 8. Conclusions, Implications, and Future Possibilities

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The latter stages of writing this book have proven to be a very interesting time period here in Turtle Island/North America. After the dramatic political shifts in the province of Alberta and federally in Canada in 2015 as described in Chapter Three, we now find ourselves with elections looming on the horizon for both jurisdictions.

In the meantime, our neighbours to the south have been grappling with the dramatic shift in the United States’ political landscape since the presidential election of late 2016. As described in several sections of this book, due to the interconnected nature of our two countries, such dynamics have also impacted us on the Canadian side of the border; unsettling calls to make individual provinces and Canada as a whole ‘great again’ and both the verified spread and dubious accusations of ‘fake news’ have crept north (Garber, 2018; Libin, 2016). The impacts of America First trade policies and general disregard for international environmental agreements (Milman, Smith, & Carrington, 2017), along with the repealing of protections for culturally and environmentally sensitive areas (Popovich, 2017), and dramatic changes to a wide range of social, immigration, and educational programs can all be felt here in Canada and, increasingly, around the world.

In this heated sociopolitical context on both sides of the border, inspiring examples of youth leadership and activism have emerged. From Anishnaabe ← 147 | 148 → water activist Autumn Peltier’s passionate speech to the United Nations (Kent, 2018) to sixth grade Calgary students successfully petitioning Starbucks to make their disposable cups fully recyclable and the continent-wide March for Our Lives initiated by the student school shooting survivors of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School (Reynolds, 2018), the next generation of youth are moving beyond online ‘clicktivism’ in organizing themselves and others to act upon and in defense of their beliefs in numbers not seen, perhaps, since the 1960s and 1970s.

With consideration for Marcuse’s (1965) notion of repressive tolerance and insider/outsider dynamics as discussed throughout this book, along with the political shifts described in Chapter Three, I have also observed and experienced slow, but steady, change within my own institution that increasingly recognizes and explicitly supports social and, most notably, environmental justice initiatives and associated research—something that would have been unimaginable, based on my own experiences, when I first returned to the University of Calgary. In this case, the medium-term insider efforts of myself and other colleagues in similar areas seem to have had an effect on the institutional zeitgeist. That being said, given predictions of a swing back to the Progressive Conservatives for the 2019 provincial elections (Mertz, 2018) and the possible effect upon post-secondary institutions, I can’t help but wonder if such changes are here to stay for the long-term.

Given such dynamics and shifting contexts, how then to make sense of the issues and experiences described in the previous chapters? Where might we invest our energy as socially and environmentally concerned educators, activists, and researchers?

Future Research Possibilities

As discussed in previous chapters, a number of further research opportunities exist in areas such as exploring the formative life experiences of activists from marginalized groups (Ceaser, 2015), activists’ experiences with police (Gorringe, Stott, & Rosie, 2012; Waddington & King 2007), and both sympathetic and antagonistic observers’ perspectives of Indigenous social and environmental movements.

Further inquiry into intersectional gender, sexuality, and culturally related power dynamics in administrative and activist circles as well as the connections between resource resource extraction, environmental degradation, and ← 148 | 149 → violence against Indigenous women (Awasis, 2014; Carrington, McIntosh, & Scott, 2010; Laduke, 2014; Lowan-Trudeau, 2017); and gender dynamics in activists’ and educators’ media engagements (Shor, van de Rijt, Miltsov, Kulkarni, & Skiena, 2015) might also lead to much needed rethinking of such relationships.

Other promising areas for future inquiry in relation to critical media engagement and critical media literacy include considering experiences of burnout related to engaging with media for activists and academics; social media use by Indigenous and allied activists (Sweet, Pearson, & Dudgeon, 2013); the complexities of both fostering critical media literacy and creating socially and environmentally critical media with students of various ages; and as Hanusch (2013) suggests, the experiences of Indigenous, and allied, journalists.

As described in the previous chapter, extensive opportunities also exist for further research and pedagogical exploration in the realm of sociocritical renewable energy education. Specifically, an exploration of educators’ and students’ experiences with trans, inter, and multidisciplinary approaches to renewable energy education in various sociopolitical contexts would be especially interesting.

In consideration of the resurgence of youth activism, it would also be interesting to explore the role of teachers, and also parents (Reynolds, 2018), in supporting youth advocacy and activism. Given the action-oriented nature of protest, advocacy, and activism, exploring such considerations through collaborative and participatory action research methodologies might be an especially appropriate approach.

Implications for Educators

The complex examples of activism and advocacy in relation to resource development presented in this book defy simple solutions; most are intersectional cases that illustrate of contemporary colonialism and a societal and global dependency on oil and gas to provide energy and products for a wide range of uses. Given a history of catastrophic spills in urban, rural and remote regions alike, the disruption of Indigenous and rural territories, and pressing concerns related to climate change, one might be compelled, for example, to advocate for an outright moratorium on further pipeline development. However, these are not simple cases, they are complex wicked problems that are not easily solved by a single solution. ← 149 | 150 →

Such instances provide educators with great opportunities to engage students in critical dialogue and questioning. What would the implications of a pipeline moratorium be for Canadian and American economies? What are the ecological risks of such endeavours? What are the socio-economic benefits? What are alternate sources of reliable energy? How might we collectively reduce our energy consumption? And how will Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of rural and remote regions be affected by the decisions of political leaders most often based in urban areas?

Fortunately, as described in greater detail in the closing chapters of this book, visionary thinkers and leaders in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities are seriously considering such wicked problems and enacting inspiring solutions in the present day.

As discussed earlier, such cases also provide insight to encourage exploration of co-management of natural resources by Indigenous peoples and government agencies. As described by Kassam, Avery, and Ruelle (2017) and others (e.g., Menzies, 2006), there are increasing examples of such developments across Canada and in other parts of the world, further demonstrating the depth and potential contribution of Indigenous people’s traditional knowledge in contemporary practice. Inquiry into such dynamics also promotes greater understanding of and support for socio-ecological cognitive diversity and Indigenous rights in a variety of geographical contexts (Lowan-Trudeau, 2015).

Cases such as those described in the previous chapters, which are both critical and inspiring, offer educators promising pedagogical opportunities to engage students in exploration of wicked problems, geographically rooted cognitive diversity, and the legal, economic, ecological, and cultural underpinnings and ramifications of the stories currently dominating news headlines in their home communities and abroad.

Perhaps most importantly, consideration of the intersection of contemporary social and environmental topics can also prompt students and educators alike to reflect upon their own connections to place in relation to teaching, learning, research, and daily life.

As Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (2005) might suggest, resistance to oppression should not only be the collective right, but also responsibility of all citizens. In Canada’s ‘era of Truth and Reconciliation’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people (Mas, 2015), such wisdom rings especially true. However, with echoes of similar processes in southern African nations (Clark, 2012; Hapanyengwi-Chemhuru, 2013), the term ‘reconciliation’ has proved controversial due to skepticism regarding the ← 150 | 151 → existence of a mutually agreeable relationship in the first place along with persistent systemic and societal racism and a history of unfulfilled government promises (Michelin, 2017; Walker, 2015). Conscious of such dynamics, one might consider the insights and examples of partnership, vision, and humility provided by the Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators and activists profiled in this book in moving beyond tokenistic engagement (Land, 2015) towards meaningful collaboration and true solidarity in both protest and pedagogy.


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