Discovering indigenous voice as a ‘non-status’ Metis ECE

As a newly graduated Early Childhood Educator, the realm of early years education holds such promise and excitement. In 2018, we were able to see the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published, and we were challenged to take up a call to action.  For ECEs, we do not see the indigenous education Calls to Action as simply a K-12 task, we are actively seeking ways to speak the indigenous truth into our own practice. When asked about the TRC, most ECEs I know would speak to this Call to Action in education as being important for them to begin to engage in. 

Being an ECE in BC also means other exciting changes, with a new provincial government which is responsive to the need in our field for equity, revitalization, and the weaving of indigenous values into  curriculum. They also are advocating for a “pushing up” of the education system, bringing the core values of our inquiry-based profession into the elementary school system. This is a direct opposite from the “push down” we had been experiencing as educators for many years. Now, instead of pressuring children to engage in tasks they are not developmentally ready for, the government is acknowledging that the early years need to “push up” into grade school, changing the process in which children are invited to learn. 

Part of the challenge for me, as I embarked in this brave new world of Early Childhood, was that as much as I wanted to leap into the process of providing children with indigenous knowledge, and weaving culture into my practice, I was sorely lacking in knowledge. My mother’s side of my lineage are Metis, Cree and French Canadian. However, due to fractured family history, I do not have my Metis status, and it almost feels like an insurmountable task to begin to trace my history. Truly, it is something I have on the back burner for “some day”, because it feels defeating before I even begin. 

Great grandfather and family

Ironically, though my mother’s side of the family is Metis, it was my father, who had no First Nation’s background at all, who imparted to me many of the stories and traditions which I now hold dear. He would tuck me into bed with stories of Raven the Trickster and Glooscap and the Creation of the World. He foraged with me for traditional plants and medicines, taught me how to make bannock, and hauled me all over the countryside in our little Toyota Tercel to hike to hidden waterfalls or sit and watch red foxes near their dens.

My father, having since retired, has continued his own journey, and has begun to create drums. He began by experimenting and learning about various indigenous drums and art styles, but as he became comfortable in learning the processes of various cultures, he began to derive his own methods for creating drums. While he respects and values the indigenous traditions, he is not indigenous, and cannot create drums in the same way. His drums, however, are works of incredible beauty, and they speak his truth, and in many ways, they mirror my own journey as I learn what it is for me to be a ‘non-status’ Metis in the changing cultural fabric of Canada.

One of my father’s drums. It has a strong, deep tone, thrumming deeply like a runner’s heartbeat. 

As I look to my father and his drum making, I realize that for myself, I cannot recreate something which is not authentic to who I am. I am Metis, but I have lived with such a disconnect from my cultural roots, that to say I am Cree feels disingenuous. Some days even stating I’m Metis feels misleading. However, what I can say with absolute certainty, is that my joy in imparting my own unique cultural gifts and knowledge to the younger generation knows no bounds. 

Does this mean that my search for my roots is over? In a word, no. I believe we should never stop searching for deeper meaning, older stories. However, our recent history also impacts who we are and how we will move forward in our personal and professional journeys. For me, it has become crucial that I retell the stories I heard as a child, and that I also impart knowledge of nature and our local flora and fauna. Will I make mistakes as I journey? I am human above all else, regardless of creed or nation. I was born to make mistakes. However, in the making of mistakes, I learn. When I learn a new word in an indigenous language, and I pronounce it incorrectly, I try again. The only real error, in my opinion, is never trying in the first place. Where we start is not where we will finish, unless we never start at all. 

Part of my journey now, as an ECE in my local community, is to begin seeking connections. I want to be able to teach in a way which is culturally appropriate and sensitive to the territory on which I live, work and play. This requires me to reach out to the various societies, coalitions, elders, cultural advisors, and community members who can impart knowledge. Sometimes, this is an uncomfortable task. I am not a socially forward person… getting “out there” can be a challenge. I am bubbly and outrageous and full of vivacity with children and their families, but once I need to step a little further, I struggle to push through the anxiety. 

How do you explore what it means to weave indigenous teachings into your practice? What unique ways have you discovered to teach children the joy of diverse cultures? In what ways can you challenge yourself to move forward and find a stronger connection, a deeper knowledge? How do you mentor others in your practice to engage in their own self-discovery? What is your Call to Action? 

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