Last year was the first Dreamcatchers Conference, hosted by Concordia’s Native Access to Engineering Program. Since its beginning, NAEP has provided teachers with tools to make science and math more culturally relevant and fun. In 1997 NAEP produced hard copy curriculum materials, but only for Quebec. In 1998 teachers were invited to attend professional development workshops held at the same time as a summer camp (Engineering Explorations). This year another Dreamcatchers conference was held.
Elmer Ghostkeeper, the Elder to the Circle of Advisers, gave the opening prayer to start the Dreamcatching Conference. It was a prayer made in Albertan Northern bush land Cree. He requested that everyone present pray to the Creator in his or her own language and share in the prayer that way.
After the prayer, master of Ceremonies Corrine Mount Pleasant-Jettè gave the welcoming speech to all the people who had arrived from across Canada to attend. She said they believe teachers are dream catchers because they “hold an extraordinary place in the hearts and minds of young people.” Corrine said that according to the dream catcher legend dreams can be messages that are sent to you by sacred spirits and that the hole in the middle of the dream catcher web allows good dreams through while bad dreams are trapped. These disappear in the morning and the dreamcatcher blesses the sleeping ones and brings good luck. She said teachers are much the same for students. The symbols of circles bring peace and
harmony to children’s lives and teachers are special in the way they can filter out the discouragement, pessimism and distress that children feel.
“With a few words of encouragement, a nod or a positive outlook teachers can have an enormous effect on young lives,” she said.
According to Corrine, it has been eight years and a lot of work by engineers and volunteers to make this happen. She feels that in that time they have gotten to some of the roots of the problem of why there aren’t more Aboriginal people in the engineering profession. “We have come up with some concrete strategies to deal with some of those problems,” Corrine said, so that there would be “more teachers and young people, who could explore the exciting world of engineering and computer science.” She said they would be sharing those findings, expanding the network and that was why everyone was there.
Corrine was pleased that the teachers who were attending the conference made the commitment to come and learn more about how to include culturally relevant curriculum to teaching of math and science.
She welcomed the newest corporate partner IBM.
In her travels, Corrine has met many Aboriginal children with dreams like
wanting to design community swimming complexes, sound engineering, architects, automotive designers and how to use GPS’s to define their fishing, hunting or trapping territory to find the best sites for tourist lodges.
Corrine said these dreams require strong academic skills to become a reality but those dreams speak of a capacity to build a better future for First Nations communities across Canada. Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Shirley Serafini was on hand and said that education was one of the cornerstones that the Federal Government felt was needed to improve the economic and social conditions in First nations communities across the country.
During the conference I had a chance to talk to Elmer Ghostkeeper.
The Nation: How did you get involved in NAEP?
Elmer Ghostkeeper: It started in the fall of 98. Corrine was working on NAEP and I got to meet her when I was in Montreal at that time. She invited me to be a part of the circle of advisers as the Elder. It was a kind offer and I accepted.
What do you think of the concept of NAEP?
I think it’s an excellent concept. Aboriginal People have so much to offer in terms of developing Canada in many different ways and engineering is one of those ways. There are so many aspects and skills in engineering. I see Aboriginal people in forestry. We are natural foresters. Some of us have lived all of our lives in the boreal forest and we know all about it. We’ve made a living being with the land. There’s agricultural engineering and Aboriginal people in this part of the world have always been very good agriculturalists. Before European contact there were so many more varieties of com then there are now for example. I think by bringing another perspective like an Aboriginal worldview to this thing we call science in partnership I fell we’ll be much more environmentally sensitive and have more sustainability. There’s so much waste and I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s not right to look at nature as just natural resources. We can’t keeping taking from it. Hopefully science will turn a comer and begin helping nature rather than chipping away at it.
I noticed that you are teaching teachers to use Aboriginal examples when teaching Aboriginal students mathematics and science.
Aboriginal people have always had a knack for mathematics. We’ve always had mathematics. We have systems of counting and numbers in our languages. But my interpretation of science is that it is a western view system developed by Europeans for Europeans. It is another view system like Christianity that was used to explain the unknown. Sciences are primarily used through deductive reasoning and if you can quantify something, measure something or plot something, then it is going to exist. If you can’t do that then it doesn’t exist. So science is mainly about the physical world or the physical aspect but that is only one quarter of us. Science can’t measure our minds. Science can’t measure our emotions or spirituality. Those three aspects make up our fourth body, our physical body. So science misses three quarters of the picture because it just deals with the physical aspect.
Is this what you deal with in your workshop “Challenging Expectations?”
Yes I call it Weche Teachings. It’s a partnership of Aboriginal wisdom and western scientific knowledge. I explain both in terms of what I mean by wisdom and science and I partnership them to look at modem day puzzles affecting Aboriginal people.
I know you have Native and non-Native people in your class, how do they take it?
I’ve had a lot of feedback and all of them really thanked me for giving them another way of looking at things. A lot of them have never been taught the meaning of science. What is science and how did science start? When I say that science is nothing more than a belief system, sometimes I shock them. Sometimes they think science is more than that. That somehow science is concrete out there. So I give an historical explanation of science and then how to apply it. By the same token I give what I call Aboriginal wisdom. The underpinning of which is experience. The more you experience something the more you know about it. So if your ancestors have lived in this area for millennia, who has more wisdom about this area then people who have come here as recently as 500 years ago with a belief system that thinks don’t exist if you can’t measure them? You can’t measure our spirituality and put a number on it. You can’t measure our emotions and put a number on how much we are loving ourselves today. You can’t put a number and quantify human consciousness. So when I point out that science is really limiting and is it really necessary to have it to be happy and healthy? If the ultimate goal for everybody to be happy and healthy, including the students in the classroom, is science necessary for that? Or can you become happy and healthy without it? My experience has been that I really liked math and science. The reason why I liked it was because of my teacher. I was really fortunate when I was in grade school, to have a teacher who came north by the name of Robin McGrander. I really liked Robin. I couldn’t wait to get to math and science class. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to learn math and science I just wanted to learn from Robin. I wanted to be around Robin. I saw him as such a cool guy. I thought he was so together. That’s why I think I liked math and science but first of all I liked the teacher.
It works this way. If you really love yourself. It starts off with loving yourself. If you love yourself more than anybody else will ever love you. If you love yourself then you will love what you are doing irregardless of whatever you are doing. You give out that love and by giving out love you are going to receive love. To every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. It’s one of the first laws of physics. So if you give out love then guess what’s going to come back to you. If you’re giving out love to the students you are teaching then they are going to start loving themselves. When they start loving themselves they are going to start giving back to you. So as a teacher if you go into an Aboriginal community and you hate being there because that’s the only job you can get. You need the experience to get jobs in closer communities to say Montreal. If you hate being there guess what’s going to come through your teaching; your hatred. If you hate yourself and you hate being there guess what you are sending through to your students? It’s hatred. They’re going to start hating to be in your classroom because they’re picking up your hatred. They’re going to start giving you back your hatred.
They’ll be thinking, “I hate my teacher.”
“I think he’s a real nerd.” “I can’t wait to get out of here.” “As matter of fact I’m not even going to his class anymore.” They don’t want to be around someone who hates himself.
What I do is go inside the teacher. I’m not hung up on the math or science textbook or that. I want to go inside the teacher. I want them to talk about their emotions and how they feel. Are they really happy or are they tired? Are they sad and lonely? If they are sad and lonely and tired guess what is going to happen to their students? They are going to be sad and lonely and tired as well.
So you are looking at the teacher as the focal point of the classroom?
It has to be. You used to say that the students were there for the teacher and teacher, the reason why he is there is for the students. But the teacher is so powerful. You make so many decisions that can affect kids lives forever. You can pass them or fail them. What happens if you decide to fail a child? They stay behind for a year or maybe they never get over it. They say, “I failed.” You have so much power as a teacher. You have those children’s lives in your hands for six or seven hours a day. A big control in the classroom. So you better be well balanced and you better be together. You can’t go in there being under drugs or alcohol. Kids are so sensitive they’ll pick that up. So if you hate yourself they’ll pick that up fast.
What about respect?
You have to respect yourself more than anybody will ever respect you. That’s where self-respect starts. Once again if you respect yourself then you’ll respect others. That’s what will come back to you. If you disrespect yourself then that’s what going to come back.
Would you say that crosses different levels and applies to more than person-to-person but say race to race?
Absolutely. I believe all humans are here for a spiritual human experience. All humans know love, respect, anger, hatred and that’s part of the human experience. We’re here as physical beings to experience this part of the journey. This is where those exist. By the same token though you have to be bad to know what’s good and good to know what’s the difference. Otherwise how are you going to know the difference? You have to know anger but you have to release it. It’s fine to have anger but release it right away. Anger is a teacher. Release it, don’t nap it.
You don’t mean by hurting another human being?
No. By prayer, tobacco or hanging a print. There are many ways of releasing that anger. I’m talking about self. If you release anger to other people then you’ll receive it the same way.
What would you do if you felt angry about what you felt somebody else did?
I would experience it and ask what’s the teacher because that anger is just a messenger. Within that message there’s a lesson. Once I get the lesson I just release it and forgive. It’s a very difficult thing to do. Once you forgive those who have hurt you and angered you that becomes their issue to deal with. You’ve released it and go on from that. Once you walk though that, most people say, “why haven’t I done this before?” “Why hasn’t someone taught me this before?” It was because you weren’t ready for it. You weren’t at that point on your journey to receive that lesson and be able to do it. Give front the heart and let go.