Teaching, Learning, and Indigenous Environmental Movements
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.
Introduction and Overview
Popular, independent, and social media in Canada are filled with stories of conflict related to natural resource development and exploitation in Indigenous territories. Protest and advocacy in response to proposed pipelines such as Northern Gateway, Energy East, and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion; hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) in Mi’qmaqi/New Brunswick; and social movements such as Idle No More are often motivated by inadequate recognition by government, industry, and much of Canadian society of Indigenous treaty and Aboriginal rights. As such, advocates and activists are bringing such issues into broader societal consideration and discussion.
Similar actions in the United States such as the Standing Rock resistance to the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline expansion that also implicates Canada are indicative of the international nature of such dynamics. Such instances of activism and advocacy occur in the broader context of social and environmental justice movements such as Occupy, Arab Spring, Black Lives ← 1 | 2 → Matter, the Women’s March, and other responses or lack thereof, to international trade and environmental agreements, and sociopolitical oppression (Lowan-Trudeau & Niblett, 2017).
Towards a Critical Understanding of Indigenous Rights
The reverence for and maintenance of longstanding reciprocal relationships with specific geographical areas is a key aspect of Indigenous cultures around the world (Cajete, 1994). This is certainly the case in Canada, where Indigenous peoples across the country have developed and maintained intricate relationships with particular territories prior to and after contact with Europeans and other settler groups (Simpson, 2002). These reciprocal relationships have shaped Indigenous cultures, languages, epistemologies, and ontologies as well as the landscapes which our ancestors inhabited and cared for over thousands of years. These relationships are also practical in nature, as our ancestors learned over time how to survive and thrive in particular areas. As such, threats to Indigenous land rights are not only legal, political, and economic in nature; they threaten the very foundations of Indigenous cultures, wellness, and ways of being.
Unfortunately, many non-Indigenous Canadians remain unaware of the multifaceted centrality of the Land for Indigenous peoples and its recognition in rights that were affirmed in early treaties and the Canadian constitution (Jardine, 2012). This lack of understanding often manifests in harsh, prejudicial and misinformed reactions to contemporary conflicts over land, such as events related to hydraulic fracturing on Mi’kmaq territory near Elsipogtog, New Brunswick and the persistent plethora of pipelines in various stages of proposal, review, and development such as Northern Gateway, Energy East, Keystone XL, and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Burnaby expansion.
Early treaties contained specific ‘treaty rights’ to various benefits such as medicine, education, and farming implements (Jardine, 2012). In recognition of our ancestors’ longstanding relationships with specific territories, they also acknowledged inherent ‘Aboriginal rights’ to continue traditional land-based activities such as hunting, fishing, and harvesting beyond designated reserve lands in territories subsequently designated as Crown land that were traditionally used by particular communities. ← 2 | 3 →
Fiduciary limitations on the potential disruption of these activities by settler governments and industry were clarified in Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 and subsequently affirmed through a series of provincial and federal court cases as the ‘Duty to Consult and Accommodate’ (Natcher, 2001). Canadian courts have ruled in favour of Indigenous groups in the vast majority of cases (Jardine, 2012), firmly placing the onus on government in partnership with industry to adequately consult and accommodate Indigenous groups potentially impacted by developments in their traditional territories.
Justice Beverley McLachlan’s decision in favour of the Tsilqhot’in people of central British Columbia (Tsilqhot’in v. British Columbia, 2014) further affirmed, clarified, and extended Indigenous communities’ rights to make decisions regarding development in their traditional territories. Indigenous groups potentially impacted by resource or other development on or near their traditional territory must be adequately consulted and, if an agreement is reached to move ahead with the development, adequately compensated for the disruption.
There have, indeed, been a number of cases of adequate consultation and accommodation that have led to mutually beneficial resource developments and co-management of parks and other areas of land (Nadasdy, 2006). For example, under the auspices of the Coastal Guardians initiative, the Haida Watchmen successfully co-manage Gwaii Hanaas National Park in partnership with federal and provincial authorities and other stakeholders, protecting their coastal waters and fisheries in keeping with traditional practices as well as preserving and sharing traditional knowledge for the benefit of local residents and visitors alike (Coastal First Nations, 2017).
Despite this slow, but arguably steady, progress in case law, legislation, and policy, efforts to increase Indigenous perspectives and knowledge in provincial educational curricula across Canada (Lowan-Trudeau & Fowler, 2018), and a growth of land-based education programs, broad societal misunderstanding and ignorance of Indigenous land and environmental rights remain at the root of many conflicts related to natural resource development and management today. Education about these issues is therefore critically important; however, educators attempting to engage their students in such critically informed discussion often encounter strong resistance, tension, and other challenges such as struggling at times themselves, to become familiar with the underpinnings of these issues in order to facilitate greater understanding for their students.
Reflecting on personal experiences with socio-critical pedagogy, educational theorists Ted Aoki (1983) and Celia Haig-Brown (1995) invoke Paulo ← 3 | 4 → Freire to note that such processes are often characterized by conflict within one’s self, organizations, and the rest of society. Mi’kmaq scholar Marie Battiste (2005) also notes that educators engaging with critical Indigenous issues are faced with the dual task of not only providing facts, but also disrupting deeply seated societal assumptions and prejudices towards Indigenous peoples.
Educators attempting to introduce critical environmental issues into their praxis also encounter considerable tension and resistance. As Bob Jickling (2003, p. 20) suggests, ‘the relationship between environmental education and advocacy is a stormy one.’ Jickling also questions the role of educator as advocate and proposes that critical educators walk a fine line between merely promoting their personal opinions and facilitating authentically critical and open-minded thought by their students.
Regardless of the sensitivity or reflexivity of critical educators, they often still encounter intense resistance from students, peers, administrators, and parents since merely raising issues for discussion can be viewed as controversial. It is therefore understandable that many educators consciously or unconsciously respond by distancing themselves from controversial issues.
As societal leaders working with learners of all ages, educators and educational researchers play a key role in questioning and shaping Canada’s understanding of itself. Sharing and gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges and successes experienced by educators and students who engage with critical socio-ecological issues such as Indigenous land and environmental rights, is a crucial first step in developing and providing better resources, curricula, and policies to support this highly important work.
Considering my Own Experiences
As described in further detail in the following chapters, during the fall of 2012 and winter of 2013 I lived and taught in Prince George, British Columbia. My role as an assistant professor of Indigenous Environmental Studies in the Department of First Nations Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) proved to be especially interesting, as I arrived during the peak of hearings and protests related to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would pass just north of Prince George en route to the Pacific Coast. That year also marked the introduction of the previous federal government’s omnibus Bills C-38 and 45, which contained drastic changes to environmental regulations, and the subsequent emergence of Idle No More, a grassroots social and environmental justice movement that began as a collaboration ← 4 | 5 → between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Kino-nda-niimi Collective, 2014).
After over a decade of working in outdoor and environmental education settings across Canada with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, moving to UNBC at this time proved to be catalytic for my understanding of and connection to the link between contemporary socio-ecological issues and education. As a Métis academic and educator originally from Calgary, teaching predominantly Indigenous students from across northern B.C. and becoming involved in activism and advocacy as a faculty and community member also forced me to become much more familiar with the relationship between historical and contemporary treaties or lack thereof, constitutional and case law, and contemporary socio-ecological events. This experience also led me to a much deeper understanding of the historical and constitutional underpinnings of Indigenous rights that form the basis of most socio-ecological conflicts today—an understanding that I believe is currently lacking for many, if not most, Canadians.
As an educator and educational researcher, I naturally came to view these events and my participation in them through a pedagogical lens, and I observed that significant teaching and learning was happening before, during, and after these rallies, marches, and protests.
In the summer of 2013 I returned to Calgary, an economic and intellectual hub of natural resource development, where I continue to work at present with students as an Associate Professor in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary to raise not only their awareness, but also their comfort level and confidence to engage with potentially controversial concepts such as those considered in this book in their studies, future teaching, and, in the case of graduate students, research.
As such, I also experience tension at times when facilitating difficult conversations related to contemporary Indigenous and environmental issues. Such dynamics eventually become a major focus of my research as presented in the following chapters of this book wherein I share insights from my experiences with teaching and studying the tensions inherent in contemporary Indigenous environmental issues.
Overview and Structure of the Book
This book enacts suggestions for further philosophical reflection, theoretical inquiry, and field-based research presented in my first book, From Bricolage to Métissage: Rethinking Intercultural Approaches to Indigenous Environmental ← 5 | 6 → Education (Lowan-Trudeau, 2015). Specifically, this book presents insights from two interview-based studies conducted into Indigenous environmental movements and associated teaching and learning in Canada between 2014 and 2017, a third inquiry into renewable energy development by Indigenous communities, and other related autoethnographic, narrative, and theoretical work conducted since the release of my first book.
The first study, funded by the University of Calgary, explored the pedagogical experiences of leading Indigenous and allied activists. The second study, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), considered the experiences of educators attempting to incorporate discussion of Indigenous environmental issues into their teaching praxis. These two studies were collectively guided by theoretical frameworks built on concepts such as decolonization, Herbert Marcuse’s (1965) repressive tolerance, Elliot Eisner’s (2002) three curricula, and broader fields of study such as social movement learning, critical media literacy, Indigenous media studies, and environmental communication. Guiding questions central to these studies included:
• What characterizes the pedagogical experiences of Indigenous and allied environmental activists?
° What is being taught? What is being learned?
• What role might educators play in such endeavours?
° What tensions might they encounter?
° What strategies might they employ to overcome systemic resistance to engagement with critical socio-ecological issues?
•What are the broader societal implications of such considerations?
A third inquiry, conducted with financial support from the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, into renewable energy development by Indigenous communities across Canada as a form of cultural and community re-visioning also informs the latter chapters of this book.
As a Métis scholar, educator, and activist of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry, this work responds to experiences and questions that have arisen for me over fifteen years of practice in the field of environmental education and, more specifically, my involvement with teaching, learning about, and participating in Indigenous environmental movements in Canada.
This book is organized into three parts with constituent chapters:
• Part One: Positioning: In keeping with Indigenous customs in scholarly and community contexts, I position myself culturally, geographically, ← 6 | 7 → politically, and professionally in the first three chapters in relation to the contexts and topics under consideration and other germane dynamics and concepts of relevance to the book.
• Part Two: In Conversation with Activists and Educators: This section is also comprised of three chapters. The first two chapters draw from interview-based studies as described above to explore the experiences of activists and educators respectively. The third chapter in this section brings insights together from both of the aforementioned studies with a focus on critical media literacy and engagement.
• Part Three: Future Directions: This concluding section contains two chapters. The first presents findings from an inquiry into renewable energy development by Indigenous communities across Canada and related educational practice and research as one example of future possible directions. Other promising and inspiring areas of research and community, individual, and pedagogical practice are discussed in the final and concluding chapter.
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1. Lightly edited and reformatted excerpts from the following publication are gratefully reproduced in this chapter with permission:
Lowan-Trudeau, G. (2015). Teaching the tension: Indigenous land rights, activism, and education in Canada. Education Canada, 55(1), 44–47.