Land as Teacher

Land as Our First Teacher Conference Report
Conference Report available here

Nanaboozhoo (Greetings in the name of Ojibwe First Teacher)! Hopi Martin miinawaa (again). When I first began thinking about ‘Land as Teacher’, I used the phrase “Land as First Teacher” particularly when I spoke with Early Childhood Educators. Initially, I thought this would help people who had become familiar with the Reggio Emilia-inspired concept “environment as third teacher” begin to appreciate Indigenous worldviews that prioritize Land (with a capital ‘L’) in the Early Years.

However, in Ojibwe worldview, Nanaboozhoo is ‘First Teacher’, and the closest word for ‘Land’ is A’ki, as in Dodoom A’ki (Mother Earth). The word for ‘teacher’ is a’kinoo’amaaged which grows out of this really big concept of all teaching/learning being in relationship to Mother Earth. While the phrase ‘land as teacher’ can be useful as an introduction to Ojibwe worldviews, it is important to remember that it is only a stepping stone towards considering the whole Earth as a holistic teaching pedagogy.

Unfortunately, these perspectives are rarely included in mainstream teaching and learning of early childhood education. Where I live in Ontario, licensed early learning programs and funded family centres are required by law to follow How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years (2014). This eurocentric policy dominates all discussions of early childhood pedagogy in Ontario, but it only makes one decontextualized reference to Our Children, Our Future, Our Vision: First Nation Jurisdiction Over First Nation Education in Ontario (2012). In other words, the government did not ask Indigenous Peoples in Ontario that critical question: ‘How does learning happen?’.

“For thousands of years, education was centered on traditional Indigenous knowledge which included spirituality, culture, and language, but also focused on local environmental conditions, physics, geology, geography, math, astronomy and other sciences, as well as medicines and medical knowledge”.

Chiefs of Ontario New Agenda Working Group citing M. Battiste and Y. Henderson, 2012, p. 1

Western/eurocentric brain science in early childhood development is now catching up with what Ojibwe have always known: the first seven years of a child’s life or the ‘Good Life’ creates the foundation for lifelong learning and health. Developing “culturally appropriate early childhood education” (TRC, Calls to Action, 2015) means beginning with Indigenous Knowledge of early childhood education.

This has been the focus of my Auntie and I’s collaboration with the York Region Nature Collaborative, Kortright’s Nature School, and our current ‘Land as Teacher’ Webinar Series. Key to this work has been beginning with A’semaa n’Tam (Tobacco First), reciprocity through the Land as First Teacher Fund, and learning to follow a Seasonal Pedagogy. Another really good first step is learning to acknowledge the land with young children by expressing our gratitude towards all our relations every day!

“… Indigenous education is not Indigenous or education from within our intellectual traditions unless it comes through the land, unless it occurs in an Indigenous context using Indigenous processes” (Leanne Simpson citing Vine Deloria Jr., 2014, p. 9)