School Name: Richmond School District
School District: SD#38 Richmond
Inquiry Team Members: Leanne McColl: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Eguia: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7), Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Oral Language
Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), First Peoples Principles of Learning, Indigenous pedagogy, Land, Nature or Place-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? For our professional inquiry, we asked the essential question: How can we deepen our understanding and appreciation of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language with our learning spaces and our school communities?.
Scanning: As a school district, we are committed to the goals of our Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, signed in 2017. Goal 2 of this Agreement states: “The community of learners and educators in the Richmond School District will engage in the meaningful process of reconciliation through education by developing an understanding and respect for the histories, cultures, and worldviews of Aboriginal communities, beginning with the First Peoples of this place.” Because of this goal, we focused our professional inquiry on learning from a local First Nation, namely Musqueam, in order to learn more about the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language, and the Musqueam people themselves.
With the support of Vanessa Campbell from the Musqueam Language Department, we sought to promote a greater awareness of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language and Musqueam culture amongst our school district staff. Our staff has recently been engaging with the MOA teaching kit called Musqueam: Giving Information about our Teachings and are developing a deeper sense of the culture of our local First Peoples on whose traditional land we are located. Nevertheless, we continue to seek ways to learn and integrate the wisdom and world views of the Musqueam people. We hoped that with this inquiry and professional learning opportunity, the learners in our school district would continue to develop an understanding of, and respect for, Indigenous ways of knowing.
During the scanning process, a few Richmond students were asked the four key questions. Many were able to name two people in their setting who believed in them, from teacher librarians, classroom teachers to educational assistants. When asked what they were learning, students named traditional areas of learning, such as math, reading, writing, and spelling. Many said this learning was important because it would lead them to a job. When asked how it was going with their learning, many said, “good” or “ok.” For next steps, many indicated they plan to complete their homework, read or practice math. Asking the four questions was tricky because at the time of asking, we had not yet offered the professional learning series to teachers. We did not know from which schools the participating teachers would be coming.
Focus: At this year’s First Nations Education Steering Committee’s Annual Aboriginal Education Conference, the focus was on the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Article 13 states that Indigenous peoples around the world are continuously working to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures. After attending the 2nd Learning Forward BC Conference, From Poster (First Peoples Principles of Learning) to Practice, we learned about the language revitalization work occurring in other districts within the province. There is exciting work being done! In our district, we hope to build awareness, respect and understanding of the Musqueam language revitalization journey and consider what that can mean for our educational settings and students.
For our professional inquiry, we asked the essential question: How can we deepen our understanding and appreciation of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language with our learning spaces and our school communities?.
As a result of engaging in this professional inquiry, our hope was that teachers would gain an understanding of the connection between language, culture and identity, and that they would take one step forward in their journey towards reconciliation.
Hunch: We had a hunch that students and teachers are beginning to develop an awareness of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language, histories and contemporary realities of the Musqueam via the Musqueam teaching kit Musqueam: Giving Information about our Teachings. After an Indigenous Focus Afternoon professional learning experience offered by the district, teachers indicated their interest in deepening their professional practice with regards to including more Indigenous worldviews in their classrooms and school settings. Both educators and students, are making their way along the learning continuum of including Indigenous worldviews across the curriculum in an appreciative and respectful way. Some educators have also been asking about including hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language in their morning announcements or wanting to be more respectful when working with the language present in the Musqueam teaching kit. Although many teachers are very curious about the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language, we had a hunch that they have little to no experience with hearing the language, as well as little to no understanding of the protocols surrounding language use, and why those protocols exist.
New Professional Learning: In collaboration with Vanessa Campbell, we created a series of language appreciation workshops for staff, learning how to respectfully carry out this work. We are thankful to the Musqueam people for sharing their traditional language and oral traditions with us, and the educators of the Richmond School District, as a way to deepen our learning and to participate in reconciliation.
Taking Action: Before applying for this grant, we reached out to Musqueam knowledge keeper Vanessa Campbell to ask her if she would be interested in engaging in this professional inquiry. After she agreed, we, as a team, worked together to put together two language appreciation sessions for our K-12 Richmond teachers. Our planning team was very careful to ask Vanessa to guide us through this process. While we provided a flexible framework, we communicated to her that we hoped that she would take the lead, and communicate to our educators what teachings she, as a Musqueam language knowledge keeper, would most like to share.
In the first session, Vanessa was accompanied Mack Paul, another hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language learner, to assist her in leading the group. In order to build community, we opened in circle, to allow everyone to introduce themselves and say what brought them to our group. Then, we turned the session over to Vanessa and Mack. Together, they guided us through an interactive lesson on language, always leaving opportunity for questions. They discussed the different dialects of Coast Salish language in our local area, and the differences between them. They spoke on the importance of language to the Musqueam people, and the journey to Musqueam language revitalization, including the Musqueam language course being currently offered at UBC. They spoke about their own personal journeys to desire to learn the language, and what learning the language has meant to them and their families. As an added benefit to participants, District Cultural Worker and Musqueam knowledge keeper, Terry Point, was also present at our session. Because Terry has family connections with both Vanessa and Mack, their sharings with us and one another felt very personal, and there was a strong sense of community in the room. Terry, Vanessa, and Mack, also discussed some of the protocols around language, and why these protocols were important. We looked at some of the resources available to teachers in the teaching kit Musqueam: Giving Information about our Teachings. We closed the session by having all participants share a word of reflection, and some participants chose to share more deeply. Vanessa shared the word c̓iyəθamə cən meaning, in her words, “you have done enough, we are grateful to you”.
In the second session, we opened in circle. Although we hadn’t intended the whole first session to take place in circle, Vanessa felt comfortable in this set-up, and agreed to the same structure for this session. This time, we began with the story of the origin of the name Musqueam, or the story of the two-headed serpent, as told by James Point. Vanessa and Mack shared this story with us orally, with each of them alternating parts. This was a special gift to us as a group because Vanessa and Mack had prepared this sharing for us, and were presenting it for the first time together. In this session, we also learned that the local knowledge of the Musqueam people is continuing to expand in regards to language, and also their traditional history. By looking at the map of our local area with hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ place names, we then worked on practicing the sounds of the language by learning place names, and hearing some of the stories of our local place. We talked about how honouring the language with the correct pronounciation was difficult, and how the North American orthography gave readers the best chance to correctly pronounce words. We discussed a recent newspaper article which questioned the use of North American orthography. We then closed in circle, sharing our takeaways from the session.
Checking: In order to check, we had asked the participating teachers prior to the start of the language sessions the following questions: 1) What brought you to this session? What are you hoping to take away from this experience?, 2) How would you describe your current comfort level and knowledge in incorporating Indigenous worldviews, perspectives, and pedagogy into your teaching?, and finally, 3) How do you think this experience will impact your learners in your classroom and school contexts?. In the pre-surveys, we discovered there was quite a large range of comfort levels and experience with incorporating Indigenous worldviews, perspectives, and pedagogy into teaching. While some teachers seemed quite at ease, others were just beginning in their journeys to explore Indigenous learnings. From the pre-surveys, the main theme that emerged was that teachers were curious to know more, not just about the language, but also the culture of our local Indigenous people. They also expressed feeling a sense of responsibility, especially as educators, to learn. Said one teacher, “I feel like I know very little about the First Nations of our area, especially language, and I feel a responsibility to know more. I feel this both as a teacher in this area but also as someone who was born and grew up here, on a more personal level.” This notion of responsibility to learn was coupled with a sense of wanting to be respectful of the learnings. Almost every teacher talked about ways in which they hoped they might be able to share their learning experience with their students in concrete and respectful ways.
In terms of the post-surveys, we asked the following questions: 1) What are you taking away from these language sessions? 2) How have these sessions helped you to move towards including Indigenous worldviews across the curriculum in an appreciative and respectful way? How might your students benefit from your learnings?, and 3) What questions do you still have?. In terms of the post-surveys, sentiments that were conveyed included hope for the future in terms of deeper understandings and reconciliation between individuals, and communities, but also a feeling that the process was going to be long, and take effort. All teachers were able to articulate a place at which they could start, or some direction that they could take in terms of moving forward from these sessions. All teachers were left with wonderings about further resources that would allow for their understandings to deepen. They had questions about story, and the language itself (including words to share with their students). Many teachers talked about being appreciative of this opportunity, and desired for more opportunities such as this to be offered in the future.
Reflections/Advice: In this professional inquiry, our greatest gains were in the nurturing of relationships between our school district and Musqueam knowledge keepers. We are thankful to Vanessa and Mack for sharing their traditional teachings and stories with us. After their participation in this inquiry, we asked Vanessa and Mack if they would like to join our Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement Committee, and they were excited about the opportunity. This is a committee which is committed to obtaining more Indigenous representation and voice, and so this was a very positive result.
In terms of advice for people who might want to do similar work in this area, we feel that it is necessary to do background work ahead of time, including consulting with the community and being aware of protocols. We also feel that it is very important to hand over leadership of these types of endeavors to the Indigenous knowledge keepers. As collaborators, we feel that it is necessary to be flexible and responsive, and understand that relationship building as well as learning takes patience and time.
Overall, we feel the goal of our professional inquiry was to create supportive, caring spaces that honour First Peoples Principles of Learning for our teachers and all of our students (Indigenous and non-Indigenous), and while we feel that we succeeded in our language sessions to achieve this in a small way, we know that there is much more work to be done. We wonder how language appreciation and awareness work could happen in schools. We feel so honoured and grateful to have had this learning opportunity with Vanessa Campbell and Mack Paul, as this professional inquiry could not have taken place without their support and participation, and we look forward to working with them again in the future.