School of Life Experience Alternative

By: Max Klein

On the morning of December 12th a small group of students from SOLEA (School of Life Experience Alternative) came to York University for a tour of the Keele Campus and a workshop with the Indigenous Environmental Justice Project presented by the Faculty of Environmental Studies. As we gathered together we acknowledge the land and all of the being who serve as the caretakers of the Land, including the Plants, the Animals, the Water, the Earth, the Spirits and the Indigenous peoples. We all proceeded to introduce ourselves and our academic interests which have brought us to the Environmental Studies program at York and our work with the Indigenous Environmental Justice Project. The students all expressed their own strong interests in environmentalism and desires to learn about Indigenous issues. We discussed the barriers that exist within academia for Indigenous peoples and knowledge systems and importance of projects like the Indigenous Environmental Justice Project that aim to overcome those challenges despite preference for knowledge entered in the Western worldview. We were informed by the teacher who accompanied these students that the workshops presented by the Indigenous Environmental Justice Project have been identified as a very valuable resource for high school teachers seeking to incorporate Indigenous content into their curriculum.

We read the students the Anishinaabe story of the great flood and asked them to identify key teachings from the story. Engaging in a story-work session with us facilitated the development of the students understanding this traditional way of conveying knowledge orally through stories that is instrumental to Indigenous knowledge systems. Students did an excellent job of identifying key teachings from the story, including not passing judgement over the ability of other beings in creation or the importance of their role in keeping balance in the world no matter how small they are. We also discussed concepts of sacrifice, interdependence, collaboration and sharing. We played the students a video from the Chiefs of Ontario website which allowed them to hear the perspective of Indigenous youth and elders on matters of climate change. We concluded workshop with a word association exercise where we asked the students to write whatever came to their minds when they thought of concepts of Environment, Sustainability, Justice, Land and Water. After reviewing their responses we focussed our discussion on the contexts that student relate well to and reflected on why we chose these particular concepts for this exercise. Water provided us a with an important platform for discussing the spiritual significance of Water within Indigenous worldview and the prominent concept of “Water is Life”. The discussion was an excellent opportunity to nurture an in-depth understanding of Indigenous Environmental Justice with the students.