Meta-Reflection Final Assignment

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.

CJ#5: My Offering

**Full disclosure – the following post is told in a very Euro-western context as I refer to the place that I live in as “my yard” or “my garden”. I fully recognize that there is a total lack of acknowledgement of those that unwillingly gave up this space so I could enjoy it as described below. As this post is about my specific offering and giving back to the earth, and for the sake of brevity, I have not woven into the post how utterly ignorant it is for me to allude to any sort of ownership over the land.**   

In the spirit of “reciprocity”, I show my respect and thanks to the earth through the flowers that I choose to plant in my humble little flower garden. I plant flowers that are attractive to butterflies and bees as not only do I love having them flitting around the yard, but, more importantly, I want to provide them with the food that they need to survive, especially the bees. I am an ambassador of the bees and try to educate my family and friends on their importance. I remind them to be careful where they purchase their flowers to avoid harmful pesticides and I don’t know how many times my kids have heard me say “you never kill a bee!” I also take a lot of pride in providing what I call a “bird nursery” in my backyard. We have had the same pair of robins nest in our backyard for the past eight years. In one of those years, in addition to the robins, we had a hungarian partridge nest under one of our dogwoods and a cedar waxwing nest right above it in one of our ash trees. To show my respect for these creatures, when they are nesting we limit how much activity there is in our backyard. We won’t allow our dog in the backyard and if any kids go back there they are made aware of the nests and that they aren’t allowed to touch them – instead just to look at them from a distance. In the true spirit of reciprocity, by providing a safe place for these birds to have their babies, these little glimpses into the sweetness of nature are really wonderful learning opportunities for my kids.

It has become a joke between my husband and I as I’ve always said, much to his scepticism, that the birds can feel how welcome they are in our yard and that is why we attract so many. It is very much how Wall Kimmerer (2013) says “…and I imagined that the land heard us – murmured to itself, ‘Ohh, here are the ones who know how to say thank you.’” (pg. 34). I swear the rabbits and birds and insects know that they are welcome near us and that we will never not want them here. Even when the rabbits are chewing my shrubs down, I tell my husband to just leave them as we have invaded on their space and they are welcome to the food I have inadvertently provided.

To represent this tradition of providing a safe and welcoming place for birds and insects, and inspired by the mandala, for my creative journal entry, I have created my favourite flower, and also a bee-favorite, a gaillardia flower. I haven’t had very much success in establishing gaillardia in my garden as the soil, or perhaps the location, must not be ideal for them to grow, but regardless, I keep trying. Almost every year I buy a couple of new gaillardia plants and try a new location in the hopes that they will come back the following year. “[F]ed from the [ ] bond with the land, founded on respect and gratitude” (Wall Kimmerer, 2013, pg. 36), I offer my intentional plantings to all of the insects and animals who can use them for food or shelter, as well as any space in our yard where they feel safe to bring their babies into the world.

CJ#4: Reflection, Deconstruction, Decolonization

Reflection…
Deconstruction…
Decolonization…

As I reflect on a personal decolonizing encounter, I can’t help but think about my first creative journal entry representing my connection with the environment. I created a mobile with various photos of my children at Prince Albert National Park. Although I still feel connection to the environment through these photos and moments, I have realized that when I was creating that journal entry, my only consideration was me and my children in that space. There was no acknowledgement of the white dominant narrative I was perpetuating through those photos. It has become so clear to me how badly I have reproduced this dominant narrative in my children’s lives. Although I have always made every effort to reinforce to my children that everyone is important and to consciously fight back against racist attitudes or comments, by not being aware of my privilege and failing to pass on that awareness of privilege to my children, I am still actively adding to the racism present in our culture.

With this realization in mind, I wanted to use my original visual representation as a jumping off point to represent my current effort to decolonize. I reprinted the photos I included in my first visual journal entry. Putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle represents the process of my reflection on these moments and how they are connected to reinforcing a colonial attitude. Taking these pieces apart represents my journey through deconstructing this attitude. I consider this a moment of unlearning. The final step is relearning and taking action to decolonize. This is the part of the process that I am currently working on. I am not ready to say I have figured out exactly how to decolonize. As Ho (n.d.) states “it is not enough to be constantly critically vigilant and questioning of the status quo. We also need to find ways to help our students recognize the dominant oppressive ways and provide a space for processing and finding alternative[s].” (pg. 14). I am aware of the dominant narrative I have reinforced, but I recognize that it’s not enough to just acknowledge that awareness – I have to physically act in order to disrupt the dominant narrative. This is difficult for me – I still carry a fear of social rejection due to unpopular opinions around colonization. I’m also still digesting what decolonization means to me. As a start, the first step will be bringing intention to how I make my children aware of our privilege and the humility we must have when we experience “wilderness” such as Prince Albert National Park. I think it’s important that me and my family investigate who the First Nations people were that resided in that space before it was colonized and turned into a national park. I really connected with Ho (n.d.) when she states “I started to see and understand the rotten fruits of my education and my own actions that contribute to perpetuating the system, at the same time recognizing a growing feeling for the potential education has to reverse the current dismay” (pg. 12). I truly believe that one of the ways to decolonize and fight back against the dominant narrative is cultural evolution through education (by cultural evolution I mean the culture of the white dominant narrative).

I’m really struggling with the “space in between embodied feeling and making sense” (Ho, n.d., pg. 6). I feel a constant tug back and forth between my connection to the environment and a feeling of guilt now that I have awareness of colonization in the context of the environment. This is an area that I still need to explore and reflect on as I haven’t fully come to terms with any sort of peace. I will give myself credit for at least being willing to acknowledge my ignorance with respect to my role in reproducing a colonial attitude, but I know just acknowledging it isn’t enough. Decolonization is a daunting idea that I don’t want make light of.

CJ#3: A Night at Shekinah

I can so vividly remember the full moon that night. I was in the third or fourth grade and was sleeping over at a friend’s house for her birthday party. Her dad took four or five of us girls to a place called Shekinah. It was winter and the moon was the fullest I had ever seen in my short eight or nine years. It was so bright out it looked almost like daytime. We spent what felt like hours and hours sledding down a giant hill – running up and sledding down, running up and sledding down, over and over. I had been to Shekinah multiple times with my class but had never experienced it the way it was that night. It’s still one of the most vivid landscape images in my mind from my childhood. What I was completely oblivious to at the time is that Shekinah is a Christian-run retreat located on Treaty 6 land. To me this place was wild and empty and ready to explore. It is located along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River and says right on their website that it “showcase[s] some of the tremendous beauty and diversity contained in the natural world.” I had no concept of anyone habitating this land before it was claimed by whatever Christian group ran the camp. Nowhere on the website or during any of the school trips to this place had the real history of the land Shekinah now resides on been taught to me. And so for the past (almost) thirty years, I have held the memory of this land and of this particular night as my go-to memory for when I felt the most connected to the wilderness.

My wilderness bubble has been broken. I was completely ignorant that my idea of an untouched and there-for-the-exploring land was stolen – that it isn’t empty and untouched – that this was someone’s home. As Newbery (2012) states, “proclamations of empty wilderness and the good nation can be hurtful to those whose histories of injustice at the hands of the nation are erased by such enunciations” (pg. 41). My childhood joy and exuberance was at the expense of so many who once called that place home. It hurts my heart realizing just how little I know about places like Shekinah. Wall Kimmerer (2013) explains this clash of the environment with our need to impose our Euro-Western ideologies on it and stake our claim when she states that “the maples, our most generous of benefactors and most responsible of citizens, do not deserve our government” (pg. 174) – this can be said of every tree and plant and rock and creature. Our Western world thinks that we can claim and govern every piece of land, but it is not ours to claim. Everything that was here before us does not deserve the practices and policies that we impose on everything for our own benefit, especially the Indigenous people that have been hurt the most.

My memory of Shekinah on that night and that sledding hill and that beautiful full moon will never be looked upon the same way again. Instead of remembering it in the context of the joy I felt on that hill, it will be a reminder of who once traversed that hill and everything that they lost so that I could have one last sled ride down.

**As a side-note, I chose to do my picture of my memory of Shekinah in the same style as Ted Harrison whose work I first became familiar with in the book version of Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee. Although I really love this style of artwork, I acknowledge that The Cremation of Sam McGee tells the story of a prospector, embracing Canada’s colonial history, and makes zero mention of the Inuit people that resided on the land that fell victim to the gold rush.

Ecoliteracy Braiding

Natalie, Mack, and I all tied our poems into Robin Wall Kimmerer’s idea that, in regards to ecoliteracy, “a certain amount of tension is needed” and that “you have to pull a bit”. All three works are mirroring Wall Kimmerer’s idea that ecoliteracy is often about striking a nerve and causing a stir. Natalie describes “one that disrupts only for benefit”. This idea of being disruptful as a part of ecoliteracy compliments my poem and the concept of “challenging the challengers and providing tension where it’s needed.” Instead of using an abstraction to imply tension, Mack creates tension by confronting the University’s mission statement and calling them out on their environmental hypocrisy – he literally tells them they are “failing demonstrably”.

Natalie also mirrored Wall Kimmerer’s concept of reciprocity that I described as “pay[ing] back your eco-debts”  and “giving when you receive, of restoring balance” when she says “it is time we start giving back”. In contrast to my poem, Natalie takes this one step further by challenging the idea that it is right for us to take anything else from the earth when she states that we must “ask[ ] for nothing in return”. This implication that we have taken enough really resonated with me and gave me pause as I had not considered that we have lost our right to ask for anything else. This is a very powerful concept and if I could rewrite my poem, I’d likely alter my idea of reciprocity slightly. Instead of just implying reciprocity, Mack describes how he is putting reciprocity in action by “knocking on doors.” He is literally giving of himself for the earth and knowing his poem is based on true events puts that much more significance behind it.  

I was very moved by Natalie’s love letter. The underlying theme of her work was similar to mine in that they both incite feelings of loveliness and hope. Mack’s poem moved me as well but in a different way. Where Natalie’s letter left me feeling wistful, Mack’s poem left me with feelings of frustration but also inspiration. He challenges the reader to take action and to listen to how we can do better by the earth. You can hear the conviction in his voice when he asks “When will you listen? Maybe if I shout?” When I spoke earlier of tension, Mack’s entire poem provides tension. David Orr states “Capitalism has failed because it destroys morality”. Natalie and Mack align with this thinking by clearly pointing out the problems people have created for the earth. Mack says “we’ve polluted the water, land, and air; plastic coats the shore” and Natalie talks about “the synthetics, the man-made.” True change has to happen at the policy level, and even higher at the ideological level, in order for people to become truly ecoliterate. Mack aligns with Orr’s theory about capitalism when he stresses the importance of society realizing the impact their current values have and that “until the policies change, values rewritten, minds rearrange[ ]” meaningful change will not occur. I approached ecoliteracy from a different perspective and focused on the positive aspects of it. By taking this approach, my poem does not inspire change the way that Natalie and Mack’s works do. Instead, I lean into Wall Kimmerer’s methods of using poetic imagery to encourage appreciation for the environment. While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it may not stir the same emotions that may inspire the reader to explore and expand on their own ecoliteracy. Mack’s poem uses this idea of change but in a more concrete way as he describes the specific action he is taking to elicit change in others. By literally “walk[ing] these steps, a dozen floors” he is demonstrating exactly how others can increase their ecoliteracy.

Ecoliteracy Poem

I love you
Not only for what you are
But for who you are trying to be

I love you
For how much you are trying to change
And for how you are inspiring those around you to change with you

I love you for figuring out how to solve
The simple math equation
Of giving when you receive, of restoring balance when balance has been lost

Even when it takes time or money or convenience away
I love you for understanding which currency should and does matter
And for not hesitating to pay back your eco-debts

You ignore the optics and the critics
And you just breathe and live and be
In the calmness, in the green-ness, in the stillness

I love you for looking around
And not seeing just this or that
But for truly seeing this that lives in that

I love you for feeling the rhythm of nature
And for being open to learning from the true teacher
Not a parent, or grandparent, or school teacher, but the earth teacher

And for challenging the challengers
And providing tension where it’s needed
And weaving together all that we can prove, and not prove, and feel, and love

I love you for that too…

And when all is said and done
And we are dying
And we are done

I will love you for following your original instructions
And for trying to return this home
To those from whom we borrowed it

CJ2: Giving Back by Giving Less: A Gift-Giving Makeover

BEFORE:

Excessive gift wrapping

Excessive gift wrapping

So much packaging for such a tiny (plastic) gift. What’s the point?


AFTER:

Simple, recycled wrapping paper 🙂


Giving less (stuff) can mean so much more!


The more birthdays and Christmases I see come and go, the more I realize how much gift giving has become something most people feel obligated to do. I’ve noticed that for a lot of well-meaning family members, quantity wins out over quality, and before I know it, we’re all drowning in gift wrapping, bubble wrap, plastic packaging, and plastic gifts. Completely acknowledging that this sounds like such an entitled first world problem…it is exactly that! In countries like Canada, we often view the giving of physical gifts as a language of love. But what happens when gifts start flying around just for the sake of giving them? Not to mention the excessive plastic packaging that most gifts are drowning in (especially if they have been bought online). Besides the stress of trying to find where to put all this “stuff”, the biggest problem is all that packaging that ends up hitting the landfills.

Robin Wall Kimmerer makes a beautiful yet powerful statement when she talks about “powerful acts of reciprocity with the land” (pg. 174). I have decided my act of reciprocity for the land is to ask that family and friends avoid giving gifts to me and my children that contain plastic packaging of any kind, and to take it a step further, to avoid the gift itself containing plastic. I am also going to avoid the same when giving gifts to others. In addition, I am going to phase out using wrapping paper and find ways to use recycled materials instead.

To visually represent this idea, I created a “Christmas present” out of cardboard. When this “gift” is viewed from one side, it is wrapped in excessive paper and there is layer after layer of packaging. Contained in the gift is a plastic toy a fraction of the size of the packaging itself. To represent the act of reciprocity, when the “gift” is turned over, it is wrapped in recycled newspaper and contained in the box are different ideas for gifts that don’t involve packaging or useless “stuff” at all – gifts such as concert tickets, magazine subscriptions, books, experiences, etc. Giving something such as an experience means the gift of giving time spent with a loved one, which is almost always more meaningful than a material thing.