“Identity is relational, always evolving, always political, and shaped by colonial relations of power,” says Brooke Madden, a Secondary Education and Aboriginal Teacher Education Program professor.
Madden studies how teachers construct their personal and professional identities through engagement in Truth and Reconciliation education and Indigenous education, and how that positioning shapes teaching practice. Her paper entitled "A de/colonizing theory of truth and reconciliation education," was recently selected for the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies (CACS) Outstanding Publication Award 2020.
It's work that she's also undertaken personally as someone who identifies as having both Indigenous and settler ancestry, and continues to experience productive discomfort when referred to as an Indigenous scholar. “I try to be careful in how I identify in this work because I am trained as a critical scholar and think I know enough about how Indigeneity is conventionally understood and appropriated,” she says.
“I’m part of the first generation of my family to explicitly explore how our historical experiences of settler colonialism shape who we are today. This involves teasing out what it might mean to honour our Haudenosaunee and Miꞌkmaq ancestors and respectfully connect to their land, teachings, ceremonies, and stories. But it looks so different than if I were raised in community with lived experiences, or if I were racialized and experienced associated oppression. I want to be careful not to collapse difference and to attend to privilege because I don’t want to give the impression that’s my story, because it’s not. I walk through the world very differently than a lot of my colleagues.”
Madden’s work has influenced how she approaches her own identity.
“As I’ve delved into Truth and Reconciliation education, the elders, academic scholars and mentors I’ve worked with teach that to enter into—or reconcile—any relationship in a good way, we need to know who we are. I’ve been encouraged to tell my story and acknowledge how patriarchy, whiteness, and capitalism shape it,” she says.
“It’s hard to hold space for nuance when we frame things in binaries and fixed markers, so focusing on plurality with attention to relations of power has become a huge part of how I understand and teach about the process of decolonizing identity.”
Madden’s research into identity and teacher education started well before she came to the University of Alberta in 2016 as a postdoctoral fellow to work with Dr. Sheila Carr-Stewart. It was also the focus of her doctoral research at the University of British Columbia. Specifically, she looked at early-career teachers and how these teachers understood their role in Indigenous education. Once she came to UAlberta, her research shifted to look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and its impact in education.
“I was seeing this discourse of Truth and Reconciliation education and wondering if this was Indigenous education rebranded or if it was the era in which this work was unfolding,” she recalls.
“Were the terms Indigenous education, Treaty education and Truth and Reconciliation education being used interchangeably? Where do Truth and Reconciliation education and Indigenous education come together and pull apart? With that in mind, how do teacher candidates and practicing teachers understand themselves in relation to this evolving landscape?”
Madden recalls a graduate student referring to Truth and Reconciliation education as a “white thing,” which made her realize that this emergent field was already over-coded by whiteness and being positioned as distinct from, and possibly in contrast to, Indigenous education.
“If, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, reconciliation is meant to be relationship-building, we can’t think about reconciling from just a Western perspective, relying on notions of confession, apology, forgiveness, and absolution,” she explains.
“There are tons of long-standing Indigenous spiritual ceremonies, peacemaking practices, and stories used to establish and maintain good relations, restore harmony, heal conflict and harm, and practice justice. I think part of Truth and Reconciliation is looking to Indigenous law, leadership, and governance for wisdom and practical guidance to inform the process of reconciliation. We need to imagine how we might move forward otherwise, to challenge colonial ways of being in relation that have so often shaped engagement since contact.”
Madden connects this vision to the work of the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program and a research project she is working on with her ATEP colleagues. The project generates videos with all their relations on this land. The videos include interviews with elders, scholars in Alberta, panels and interviews with former ATEP graduates who are teaching, artist Kevin Pee-Ace and more.
“How might we work in collaboration to learn about and respectfully share the knowledge that lives here? What does an Indigenous education of this place look like, and how might we approach it in a way that creates capacity among teacher educators, education leaders and teachers? The idea is to teach educators how to use these videos and supporting resources to engage in place-based Indigenous education, such as modeling how to offer protocol to some local Elders. It’s really exciting.”
Teaching Truth and Reconciliation
Looking for some tips on how to approach teaching Truth and Reconciliation, or ideas on a different approach? Brooke Madden shares some ideas that have worked in her classrooms to shake up the conversation and make the lessons more impactful.
Look for counter stories
“When teaching about Indian Residential Schools, I’ve often observed teachers painting the singular image of Indigenous victim. When Indigenous people are confined to this role, it does interesting things to those students who are reading or hearing those stories because they start seeing themselves as ‘rescuers’ and take up the pitfalls that come along with that mindset. Look for stories of refusal. Look for stories of resistance. Look for stories of resilience and resurgence.”
Teach the critiques of Reconciliation
“I suggest to students that part of our work is understanding why people are pushing back against the discourse of reconciliation. We need to understand what is meant by ‘#reconciliationisdead,’ ‘the politics of distraction,’ and calls for ‘substantive restitution vs. symbolic gestures.’ Critiques reveal how colonial relations of power are an underlying network that shape all systems and actions, including those deemed reconciliatory. Truth and reconciliation initiatives must be examined alongside ongoing settler colonialism and the injustices produced.”
Bring out the memes
“There are some memes that are so rich you can spend an entire class unpacking them. One component references something else and so on, and we can guess and explore what images and text evoke together and might mean. It offers somewhere to play that might be less confrontational, where we can get to the kind of learning that is really important, where they can safely examine their own limitations.”
Feature image taken by Kateryna Barnes