Building Curriculum from an Indigenous Story:

Incorporating Indigenous Perspectives in Early Learning Environment

“Together, Canadians must do more than just talk about reconciliation; we must learn how to practice reconciliation in our everyday lives… To do so constructively, Canadians must remain committed to the ongoing work of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships (Truth and Reconciliation: Calls to Action, 2015, P.11).”

How can we respond to the Calls as early childhood educators?
Can we explore possibilities collaboratively in a community?

Our learning community included early childhood educators, administrator, post-secondary instructors, kindergarten teacher, and a strong start facilitator with diverse experiences. Karen Hazelman, the Musqueam elder, supported the journey in all sessions. Though we
have different experiences and background, many of us shared the similar challenges and a sense of commitment.

“I don’t want to take something from Indigenous cultures and turn it into curriculum materials.”
“I want to honour Indigenous peoples/ cultures properly, not messing it up.”
“I want to honour our own cultures and languages as well.”

Karen encouraged us with her words, “Whatever you do is a start. It comes down to how you feel inside. Your own intention is important.”

The participants were to explore an Indigenous story with children to learn with them rather than handing down information of Indigenous cultures and history. The pedagogy of listening (Rinaldi, 2013) was the key. We encouraged them to take time with the story through one hundred languages (Malaguzzi, 2013); a book, drawing, acting, storytelling, etc.… We hoped revisiting the story over and over would allow the children and educators to discover layers of meanings in Indigenous stories as MacCue (2010) suggests, “Non-Aboriginal
people often recorded First Nations legends as fairy tales or myths, adding convenient morals to sum up the story. However, the stories of Elders and accomplished storytellers often have no such ready explanation. The listener was expected to take time to think about the story and its meanings.”

The participants brought back their experiences of Indigenous story exploration with the children and shared;
“Through exploring the Raven story with children, it was amazing to witness how children are so
connected to the nature through everyday life.”
“By approaching Indigenous culture in the form of a picture book and with the intention to share this
learning experience with the children, I felt that exploring Indigenous cultures was more familiar and
approachable than I had expected.”

For the third session, we had a field trip to Bill Reid Gallery in downtown to explore stories and layers ofmeanings behind Indigenous artworks.
“The environment that Bill Reid Gallery provided for us reflected the practice of Reggio Emilia, one
hundred languages.”
“I was surprised to know that the jewelry (bracelets with Indigenous designs) was made because
tattoos were banned (by missionaries).”
“The story of Marpole Preschool exploration on Indigenous sculptures at Vancouver Airport made me
think it is possible to explore Indigenous cultures in the program.”

Our learning and discussion included the impact of colonialism, the diverse cultures among Indigenous communities, complex stories behind the artworks, and putting the ideas into practice with the children. We shared our reflection on our learning in the last session. While many people felt positive about their attempt to incorporate Indigenous perspectives through a story, some people still felt unsure;
“I have been challenged. What is sacred and not to be shared,
and what is not sacred and OK to be shared? What is
appropriate and what is not? Do we need to get the permission
from elders each time we introduce a new story?”
“I am less fearful now, but still have apprehension to try.”

Karen the elder continued to support us with the words, “Anything in the book is OK to share. Those stories are passed on from generation to generation.” By learning about colonial history and Indigenous cultures, some of us became more aware of our own roots and cultural back grounds.
“As an immigrant to Canada, you leave your culture behind in an
attempt to belong here. You leave who you are behind. In my
centre, I acknowledge each child, and represent each cultural
connection. I want to bring stories to honour who they are.”

Most importantly, many people felt an Indigenous story was a possible entry point for early childhood educators to explore Indigenous cultures with children through responsive
curriculum and reflective practice.

“I started this journey with curiosity and also anger toward the colonial history. Now I feel hopeful. I
want to find more of Indigenous cultures. I explored the story of How Raven Stole the Sun with the
children, and feel more comfortable in sharing Indigenous stories.”
“I realized that the curriculum is not like ‘one size fits all.’ There is not one template for learning. I
felt more empowered and confident.”

Gabi Kirton and I initiated the Learning Community for early childhood educators to reflect on possibilities of responding to the Calls to Action from Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Though many people felt hesitation and even fear toward incorporating Indigenous cultures and worldviews initially, they started to feel, “more comfortable in trying” as we exchanged ideas in our learning community and explored an Indigenous story with the children. Gabi reflects on our learning experience on her walk with her husband, “Someone had cut two trees down where there used to be a cluster of five. My husband pointed out that the remaining three would be more susceptible to damage. These trees are much like us here. We have come together to learn, to reflect, to care, and to see what changes we can bring forth in our practice to better our communities. Together we are stronger.” The knowledge we gain from our conversation and the meanings we co-constructed as a learning community supported us in our practice. More importantly, the relationships that had grown through dialogue with the fellow educators and encouragement that Karen provided in our every sincere effort eased our anxiety and moved us forward. “Together we are stronger.”

Natsuko Motegi

Gabi Kirton