I recently heard the term “transformative learning” in another education class. Transformative learning means changing a person’s frame of reference. The journey I have taken to increasing my ecological literacy, has led to some very real, and, I must admit, very disorienting transformative learning for me.
As I reflect on my creative journal entries, I notice a theme in my first two entries – privilege. My privilege is really evident in how I viewed wilderness and it’s also pretty obvious in my whole idea around gift-giving. My struggle here is even though it’s a privileged point of view for me to complain about the unnecessary plastic involved in gift-giving, I still live in a society and within families that value showing love through the giving of gifts. I’m faced with my conscience vs my fear of rejection and causing conflict by talking about these issues with my family.
A moment of realization of my privileged and problematic thinking was when I learned about the principle of terra nullius. This idea of empty land or wilderness and all of the historical significance that it carries with it really affected me on a very deep level. I couldn’t help but feel guilt, and even worse, shame, at my part in perpetuating the racism and the white dominant narrative. In creative journal #1, when describing the connection I have always felt to Waskesiu, I stated “This is also where we take our children every year and where I try to show them all the amazing and beautiful things that nature has to offer us.” Year after year of bringing my kids to this beautiful place and not once, ever, educating myself or them on whose land it really is; who it was stolen from so that privileged white people like me and my family can claim some ownership over its beauty. I think this difficult truth has had the most impact on me, especially as I have always felt such a deep and spiritual connection to Waskesiu. I am reminded of Natalie’s comment on my Creative Journal #3 about my experience in Shekinah when she talked about ignorance being bliss and goes on to say “while I do not wish to live in ignorance because I am so grateful for the knowledge I have received, I can understand how a lack of understanding may bring some peace”. I sometimes wish I could unlearn what I have learned; go back to the ignorance of just enjoying being outside. On more than one occasion when pondering the troublesome idea of wilderness, it has lead me to question “when can we enjoy the natural world or the outdoors, if none of this country is really ours?” I have to tell myself that the enjoyment and moments of discovery and wonder in places like Waskesiu are always, always at the expense of the Indigenous people who this land was stolen from. I can’t change that fact. But I have had the realization that what I can do is educate – educate myself, educate my children, and of course educate my future students.
I have felt so many contradictions in my life since learning about terra nullius and doing the blanket exercise. I’m really struggling reconciling what I’ve learned with the people I associate with. I know that these are productive contradictions – that the very fact I’m experiencing them are signs of growth. I can really connect with Robin Wall Kimmerer’s idea that “a certain amount of tension is needed” as I’m finding myself experiencing it on a regular basis – tension between my conscience and education vs a counter-pull from my work, social life, family, in-laws, and religion. I’m trying to keep all of this in perspective and realize this transformation has taken place in a very short period of time and that I need to give myself and others time to catch up.
I think my fourth creative journal entry really represents the state I currently am in regarding decolonization. As I say in my blog entry, “I’m still digesting what decolonization means to me” and that “I am not ready to say I have figured out exactly how to decolonize”. I realized that this is not something that has a cut and dry answer when I read Mack’s comment on my journal entry and blog post saying that “I ended up asking myself if a person actually realizes when they have come to understand something as big as decolonization or if it is a learning process that will never truly end.” I take comfort knowing I’m not the only one that wonders these sort of monumental things.
After all that I have learned in this class, I have to ask myself what I think about my future as an environmental educator. I have to admit, I’m nervous about teaching now that I’ve gained some perspective and am aware of so many injustices. I don’t want to teach incorrect information or accidentally say something insensitive. I think bringing an elder into the classroom would be really beneficial. I was very moved by Newbery’s suggestions to “be more mindful of the places where we paddle and hike, to acknowledge with students that we are in traditional Aboriginal territories and on land with long and sometimes difficult histories.” I also am enamored with the idea of place-based learning. Ho describes place-based education as something that “seeks to enhance human connection with others and with the natural world”. These are two ideologies that I believe will inevitably one day save our world, a connection with each other and a connection with the environment. I also really value vulnerability and think it’s an important trait to have when teaching especially about the environment and colonization. As Orr says, “the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.”
Ho, J. (2016). Traveling with a world of complexity: Critical pedagogy of place and my decolonizing encounters. Conference paper. CSSE. Calgary Alberta.
Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.
Newbery, L. (2012). Canoe pedagogy and colonial history: Exploring contested space of outdoor environmental education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (CJEE), 17, 30-45.
Orr, D. W. (2004). Earth in mind: On education, environment, and the human prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press.Orr, D. W. (2004). Earth in mind: On education, environment, and the human prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press.