Connecting Worldview to Story – Fostering Indigenous Perspectives in Language

This is the third post in a series describing my attempt to prioritize Indigenous Perspectives as I, a non-Indigenous teacher, reframe teaching and learning in my grades 7 and 8 Language/History/Geography classes.

Today, I really wanted to push students to deeper understanding of the significance of an Indigenous worldview by thinking more intentionally about the lessons buried in the Anishnabee creation story.

We began by reviewing the learning journey so far.

  1. We considered what might happen when an interconnected and a hierarchical worldview came into contact (1492 C.E.).
  2. We learned about the people who’ve been in North America for 40 000 years and examined our mental models of Canada, asking why Indigenous knowledge is absent from our mental maps.
  3. We leapt forward several centuries to learn about one outcome of that contact – Indian Residential Schools.
  4. We explored personally relevant conclusions about stories and began a writing piece – the role of stories in our lives.
  5. We read Dr. Tracy’s Bear’s explanation of the role of stories in Indigenous cultures and read a simplified telling of Turtle Island.

I drew attention back to the Worldview anchor chart and asked students to identify what they thought would be most important to people with an interdependent worldview. Several ideas were put forward including ‘keeping things in balance’ so everything in the circle could live. I then asked students what would happen if one element of the worldview, such as water, disappeared. Right away students recognized that the circle would collapse. We also considered losing ‘insects’. Again students identified the chain reaction that would cause the world to collapse.

Next we discussed key ideas from Dr. Bear’s text about the purpose of Indigenous stories.

Stories are told to transmit knowledge of history and the enviroment so that the listener gains insight. Each time the story is told, the listener is expected to take draw personally relevant conclusions that lead to decisions and actions that sustain an interdependent world.

Once we had really grappled with those ideas, we pulled out Dr. Bear’s story of Turtle Island and went through paragraph by paragraph to draw lessons.

Students ideas about the lessons that could be taken away from this section included:

  • there are other worlds that affect our lives
  • be aware and listen to the things around you as not paying attention might lead to consequences
  • nature provides all things
  • some people might do anything for food
  • take care of people so they don’t starve and have to do things that could cause harm
  • actions can take us into the unknown

Students worked in partners paragraph by paragraph to derive lessons. I assessed student understanding as they were finishing. Many grasped the point of indirect instruction and the significance of being allowed to form one’s own conclusions. As we worked through the lesson, I realized that Turtle Island is not just a myth or legend, nor a tool to provoke insights on how to keep the world in balance, it is also a science story.

Having done this work, it now seems appropriate to introduce one of Integrative Thinking’s important tools: The Ladder of Inference. We’ll consider why each person made a different conclusions about lessons in the Anishnaabe creation story, Turtle Island.

Thank you once again to Dr. Tracy Bear and her team that created the wonderful MOOC! Feedback is always welcome, particularly if I’ve misinterpreted, misstated, or have misconceptions.

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