Interweaving Iiyiyiu (Cree) Ways of Knowing and Land-Based Learning with Science Curriculum at Waapinichikush Elementary School, Chisasibi, Quebec

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Kunelius, Ilana
Indigenous education , Indigenous science , Land-based learning , Decolonizing education
This study is the result of work done in close collaboration and partnership with local Cree (Iiyiyiu) teachers, Elders and community members at Waapinichikush Elementary School in Chisasibi, Quebec, to identify approaches to learning and teaching science that are culturally appropriate and to bring student learning outdoors and onto the land. A participatory action research approach incorporating Indigenous research methods was used. Teachers, Elders and other community members worked collaboratively in developing land-based science learning opportunities. Qualitative observations were then used to determine if students were more engaged in land-based learning, had a greater sense of cultural identity, and achieved greater academic success including an increased use of the of Cree language (Iiyiyiuyimuwin) with these methods of teaching. The aim of this research is to work towards a decolonized approach to teaching and learning by building bridges between Western and Iiyiyiu approaches to education and especially, to prioritize and emphasize Iiyiyiu ways of knowing in leading land-based initiatives at Waapinichikush Elementary School. This project also identified several practical ways for non-Indigenous teachers to respectfully adapt their lessons to seasonal themes based on Cree (Iiyiyiu) perspectives and land-based learning. By prioritizing Iiyiyiu ways of knowing and land-based approaches to learning, it is hoped that a more decolonized vision of education will emerge especially in the teaching of science. Students who participated in outdoor learning opportunities were observed to be highly engaged and enthusiastic and showed increased knowledge of Cree vocabulary. Students were also more focussed on academic tasks when we returned to the classroom after participating in land-based activities. Community and parental involvement gradually increased as this study progressed, and positive involvement and interest emerged. Finding a balance between teaching the Western standards of education, especially in the teaching of classroom science and the cultural knowledge and teachings from the land remains an ongoing challenge. However, this study demonstrated the interest, capacity and expertise that exists in the community and shows great promise for the development of future initiatives at the school which could build upon the resources and expertise identified.
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