Awahtoonskii'p: Making Our Rounds
"Taking people to these sacred sites and having them actively engage, praying there, making offerings, eating, visiting with one another, laughing, telling stories...by doing that we're repatriating the sites, we're bringing them back to the realm of Blackfoot being." - Dr. Cynthia Chambers
People travel for many reasons. Of those who travel for pleasure, many seek to escape their daily routines, perhaps to redefine themselves. In recent years tourism agencies have been keen to promote the idea of seeking these kinds of experiences right in our own back yards.
As Southern Albertans we live in the heart of Blackfoot territory, and yet what do we really know of Blackfoot culture or the responsibilities we may have to the land that sustains us? Blackfeet people will tell you that the land is their knowledge base; that wisdom is found within the land’s sacred sites.
Within the Faculty of Education, the dissemination of this type of knowledge has been taking place through innovative programming. The Niitsitapi Teacher Education Program was a primary example as its fundamental purpose is to graduate qualified teachers who possess “an understanding of Blackfoot epistemology, pedagogy and ideology,” and have them apply this knowledge in the classroom. The MEd (FNMI Curriculum Leadership) builds on this undergraduate program.
At the University of Lethbridge, Dr. Cynthia Chambers and Narcisse Blood, coordinator of Kainai Studies at Red Crow Community College have developed and co-taught a number of courses together, most notably Education 5510, which has essentially been set up both as an alternative to a traditional study tour and as “an opposition.”
“Instead of people going all over to look at education elsewhere” why not ask ourselves what can be learned [here] from this place?” Cynthia wondered. At Red Crow Communitiy College, students had already been visiting sacred sites within Blackfoot territory, “as a result of funding received through a traditional land use study,” says Narcisse.
Initially a course offering at the undergraduate level, Education 5510 was offered as a graduate seminar called Blackfoot Pedagogy (Practice of Teaching Series). Taking people to these sacred sites and having them actively engage, “praying there, making offerings, eating, visiting with one another, laughing, telling stories . . . by doing that we’re repatriating the sites, we’re bringing them back to the realm of Blackfoot being,” she says.