As alumni of UBC, I was pleased to receive the invite to attend Dr. Gregory Cahete’s talk: Indigenous Community in a 21st Century World: The Re-Emergence of Indigenous Community Education. I have been a fan of Dr. Cahete (professor of Education at the University of New Mexico for the past 18 years), since I read Look To The Mountain (1994) while I was a Faculty Associate at Simon Fraser University. Cajete grew up surrounded by four sacred mountains. In Cahete’s own words, “the Elders of the community would often admonish youngsters to “Look to the Mountain” and this metaphor has come to reflect his contemporary philosophy for indigenous education. Elders prompted younger people to “take their thinking to a higher level-as if on top of a mountain.” Cajete’s book has been a call to consider what is important in teaching and learning to make schools relevant to our Aboriginal learners. It described the American Indian perspective that the reflection of the past is necessary in order for Aboriginal people to build their futures.
Cajete and his Taos Pueblo people represent 1000 years of community in New Mexico. The claim of all Aboriginal people is that they belong to enduring communities. The community has been a human process constructed to provide a perception of belonging that supports a sense of identity in context. In turn, it supports individual acceptance, agreement on core values, respect, accountability, reciprocity, efficacy and a move towards or away from function. Dr. Cahete uses the metaphor of “all kernels of the same corn cob” to describe the essence of unity and diversity within the building of community. The tragedy of colonization was the breakdown of community, the dehumanization, isolation and the subsequent political and spiritual fragmentation. His advice in the recreation of the cultural economies around an Indigenous paradigm necessitates:
- Learning history
- Research into principles of Indigenous ways of sustainability
- Collaboration and cooperation
- Ecological integrity
- Sustainable orientation
- Revitalization of a vision and purpose
- Cultural integration
- Respect for all
- Engaging participation in community
Cahete emphasizes that building community requires work and facilitates the perpetuation of Aboriginal people. There is a exciting indigeneous revitalization in visual art and dance relationships and a beginning of science relationships. Cahete’s background as a biologist has stimulated an interest in reclaiming traditional forms of science and building processes of revitalization to recreate sustainable, indigenous communities. He advocates adhering to the Iroquois maxim by thinking seven generations ahead and implementing the traditional environmental and cultural knowledge unique to a group of people which has served to sustain through generations of living within a distinct bioregion. Evolving indigenous methodologies include deep dialogue, deep listening and deep reflective conversation built on the tradition of the talking stick. Indigenous people explored questions, problems and issues that were important in this way and they were witnesses by community to ensure accountability. The biggest challenges is the current paradigm with an overemphasis on individualism rather than the good of the community.
As we rethink ways in which to support Aboriginal students, Cahete provides much to consider. What are the indigenous teachings and ways of being from the past that can help us recreate respectful and vibrant learning communities for our Aboriginal students? What is the learning and teaching required to create the pathway toward environmental sustainability and integrated, supportive communities? How can the process of acknowledging past injustices be refocused on future revitalization? All questions worth talking, listening and reflecting on. Good talk!