Indigenous Education Before and After Colonization
Interviewer: Amanda Foote
Camera Operator and Editor: Jarret Twoyoungmen
Beiseker Station Museum
(The title of the video appears: Indigenous Education Before and After Colonization. Adrian Wolfleg sits in the Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life Gallery in the Glenbow Museum in front of a large tipi)
Adrian: Hello, I am Adrian Wolfleg, from Sisika Nation.
When working with children, we include them in what we do, they see what we are doing and they want to get involved, but we let them know at the beginning, they just watch us. Because we don’t want them to get hurt and or ruin the project we are working on, and as they get older, they start to help us and then we work with them.
As they gain some maturity and finesse and some skills, then they might lead the process and we work with them and later on they’re the ones that are doing the activity and we are sitting back then, listen and talking and we do that with everything. We get to see what people are good at and see what they enjoy doing. And usually you get to do that, because other stuff you might not really enjoy doing, but do you do it because you need to learn proficiency and you need to be able to provide for yourself and your family. Things like berry picking, keeping an eye out for different plants, different medicines, different foods, different beings in the vicinity- some bear tracks, some wolves, coyotes. You want to know what’s in your environment. You want to protect yourself and your group. So you start to learn.
Even today, you can do that, you can go outside and look at the stars above your house, different seasons, get to know your stars, get to know where you are here. Get to know the plants, read the plants, listen to the plants, because they grow naturally, they tell us things. They tell us that it’s going to be sunny, when it’s going to be wet, where it’s going to be sandy, because that’s what they choose, and we learn from that. We work together and learn how to read, and we teach. Not in blocks of time, not in specific teachings.
One of my elders talked about sitting outside with the grandmother. The grandmother was, “Look over there where the coyotes were going by, and look when they go by, the gophers are going to hide. When those gophers get scared, they hide with a friend. When that coyote goes by then they come out. And if you see they hid in four places, how many gophers?” That’s math.
I lived on the reserve and was bused into town to go to school and there were students I went to school with that my parents knew their parents. My grandparents knew their grandparents and so it was ok. It was comfortable because you recognize, “Oh that’s so and so and these are your uncles…and so it’s easy to build up relationships, because you’re a person, you are not another. When you are people, you work together, you help each other.
It was really awesome to go back and work in the school that I graduated from. To spend that time with the teachers, as friends, as colleagues, as peers. To see another side to them, to joke with them, to laugh with them. It was a really amazing, great experience and then at the time I had the opportunity to go back and work on the reserve in the education setting and actually be on the design committee for the new high school they have in Siksika.
But also to work with the students, and the staff and go into the staff room and to hear our mother tongue spoken-just amazing. It creates a sense of pride and comfort, knowing that the next generations are learning, that whereas in another situation, someone might have had to eat soap for speaking their native language.
When I started school in this area, we didn’t have an active residential school. There were still others that people could be sent to, but we had been integrated. My parents and aunts and uncles, when they were younger, they were in residential school. Later they were integrated into the schools surrounding the reservation.
I know through stories, I know through times where they drifted, that they’re remembering different things. There was an individual that started there in 1954-1959, and that’s a lot of people that this individual affected. It came out later on that this person had sexually assaulted over 940 separate individuals. Not how many times, but how many separate individuals came forward. And that’s horrible.
But it also explained to me how some people- the generation ahead of me- why some of them were cold. Or why some of them kept to themselves, or why some of them numbed themselves with alcohol and other means. But those that were able to work on their personal healing and move forward, was amazing. When we look at our parents and elders, there’s times where we see a shadow of the past that is affecting them, that pulls them back to some other.