It’s Monday. I power-walked with Angie this morning, played an hour of table tennis after school with the team, then walked home in time to take Arwen to dance and get groceries. I still have my section of a proposal to write tonight. I just wrote my blog from the weekend. I’m too tired to write anything new tonight, so I’ll continue reliving my presentation from Saturday. I am standing at the front of an auditorium filled with Grad students, professors, and educators. I am sharing my research from Black Lake.
“The purposes and objectives of the study were defined as follows:
1. To learn from the past;
2. To record a “non-renewable resource” from the Elders regarding Dene teaching methods, content curriculum and educational values in Black Lake;
3. To encourage input into teaching strategies by the Black Lake community (First Nation);
4. To rethink, adapt and mesh methods, curriculum and values that are European and urban in origin to better meet the needs of Dene students;
5. To assist non-Dene teachers teaching Dene students;
6. To enable teachers to:
• better understand and instruct Dene students (a reciprocal process!),
• acknowledge and respect the differences between Dene and non-Dene cultures,
• build on the similarities between Dene and non-Dene cultures,
• develop curriculum which better suits contemporary Dene students and meets the requirements of Saskatchewan Education, utilizing the Adaptive Dimension, Native and Métis curriculum guidelines and Gender Equity policies,
• integrate cultural methods, traditions and values into many mainstream classes, such as science, math, social studies, reading and writing, history and geography,
• act as a bridge between the Dene world view and the non-Dene world view;
Our elders accepted that the Dene world view could not simply be restricted to traditional ways of understanding. They recognized that these traditional ways must be
broadened and extended to assist today’s Dene in creating a future, while still retaining Dene “Naowere” (essence). The definition of the world which they [Elders] suggested is thus a flexible one. It is intended to provide us and our children with the resources to be equal participants and contributors to the wider society. In this way, our survival as a distinct people will be ensured. (The Sahtuontine Long Ago)
7. To enable Dene teachers to incorporate personal experiences into their teaching methods, content curriculum and educational values that are fortified by research.
“Harold Schultz from the McDowell Foundation said, ‘I am following this project with great interest because what is being undertaken in this study is so unique. Developing a Dene questionnaire is a big undertaking and will truly give the Dene people of Black Lake an opportunity to express their dreams and aspirations for the schooling of their children.’
“An 18 year old questionnaire respondent said, ‘I think the survey was pretty good. It showed me what I should learn to be ready for my children. I should be ready when the time comes to pass my knowledge on to them and hope the best for them.’
“Having worked together for four years and sharing an enthusiasm for the project, the team members agreed that it was very important to define roles based on personal strengths and experiences.
• Ann Alphonse (who had married into the community and was taking her masters in Bi-lingual Bi-cultural education) Questionnaire Coordinator (compiled and interpreted Elder cohorts)
• Sheena Koops (new and outsider): Project Coordinator (compiled and interpreted student cohort)
• Joyce Mercredi (born and raised in the north, Dene FN member, although she did take some of her high school and university in the south): Translation Coordinator (compiled and interpreted adult cohort)
“Even as the questionnaire was being drafted, Ann Alphonse, Curriculum Development Officer, and her Teacher Associate, Georgina Bunker, were beginning to translate it. This early translation was essential because some concepts were difficult to translate and the English version needed to be modified to better encompass the Dene perspective. Joyce Mercredi and other Dene experts (mentioned in the acknowledgements) met three times to discuss the accuracy of the translation draft. In order to gain accurate feedback, Ann Alphonse took part in these meetings also. Insights into Dene teaching methods, skills and values were already evident during this socio-linguistic exercise. The importance of the language in distinguishing unique Dene perspectives was already becoming apparent.
“The questionnaire was administered in three stages. First, the Elders were visited by translators who carried both an English and Dene questionnaire to each interview (we also got permission to give gifts as cultural protocol of a blanket which were well received). From this efficient exercise, 21 questionnaires came in before Christmas. After Christmas, the questionnaire administration lost momentum. The research team struggled to get the adults (40 to 60 years) in the community to complete questionnaires. The questionnaire was long and time consuming and this may have been the greatest reason for the lack of completed questionnaires. Also, we did not provide translators or guidance to the adult cohorts, which may have contributed to a possible lack of comfort the adults felt in completing the questionnaire. The questionnaires from the adult cohorts trickled in until May. Most successes still came by directly administering the questionnaire. The student cohort was slightly easier to deal with because the questionnaires were administered in class. Students were given the opportunity to use English class time to complete the questionnaires; however, it was made clear that the questionnaires were not mandatory. Some translators and all students used the English version because most do not feel as comfortable writing in Dene, regardless of the fact that orally they are more proficient in their first language, Dene.
“The responses to the questionnaire from each age cohort were tabulated and summarized as outlined in the next section of this report. The research team then approached the task of making sense of the responses with the understanding that interpretation may be defined as an effort “to conceive in the light of individual belief, judgment, or circumstance” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 633). As the initial questionnaires came in from the Elders, Ann Alphonse compiled the data. She was quick to begin her interpretation because the material was relevant to her courses in the Bilingual Bicultural Masters program at the University of Arizona. Writing in a reflective and often personal style allowed Ann to utilize her 13 years of experience as a northern educator. It was important for her to acknowledge that she was not an impartial bystander, but an educator who saw the need for more culturally relevant and motivating material in the school.
“When Sheena Koops began to compile the data from the high school student cohort, she thought at first that the interpretation should focus on the statistics from the questionnaire, which are provided in the following section of this report. However, after a second reading of Ann’s interpretation, Sheena began to see the potential of utilizing her own voice to comment on the students’ opinions. In a natural progression, Sheena developed an interpretation of the data based on her own perspective, comparing and contrasting the student cohort to the Elder cohorts.
“Joyce Mercredi was responsible for compiling the data from the adult cohort, of which she is a member. By drawing on beliefs voiced to her by friends, relatives and community members, she brought a wealth of information to supplement that provided by the adults who completed the questionnaire. Her Dene heritage and professional expertise are reflected in the information compiled from the data.
I wasn’t able to share all this information in the presentation. I kept telling stories, like Victoria being called the Orange Baby and how Kathy McDonald stayed up all night and made dry meat for me so I’d have some to take home the morning I flew out.