Teaching Through an Indigenous Lens

Written by JGI Canada Blog Staff. 

Meet Carissa MacLennan.  She is the Director of Education and Youth Engagement at Jane Goodall Institute. When she’s not reading books on development and attending talks on social innovation, you may find her furiously scribbling in her notebook and reminiscing about the faraway places she’s travelled. Carissa spearheads JGI’s education for sustainable development programming, including providing support for educators and youth program facilitators to bring Aboriginal Traditional Ways of Knowing into their work with youth.  With World Water Day around the corner, we caught up with Carissa to discuss, what else? Water!


How does JGI Canada engage with Aboriginal communities dealing with water issues?

The Jane Goodall Institute believes that traditional knowledge of Indigenous Elders and communities around the world is integral to creating sustainable change.  JGI has been working with Canadian First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities for the last four years to empower youth to take action in issues they find important.  Most recently, JGI has focused on supporting educators and program facilitators to build the knowledge, values and skills of youth to become effective community leaders by using the example of water.  Many Canadian Aboriginal communities are faced with series water issues such as access to clean drinking water. This is just one example issue on which youth can take positive action.

JGI produced a guide called Protecting our Sacred Water.  How did you come up with this guide and what is its purpose?

JGI and our partner, Learning for a Sustainable Future, created the guide through collaboration with a group of First Nation and Métis Edlers and educators. It supports educators and youth program facilitators in respectfully incorporating locally relevant Traditional Ways of Knowing into their work with youth. The focus is on how to help engage Aboriginal youth to take action and create positive change on issues related to water. We also provide professional development to adults who work with youth and small grants to assist youth-led action projects through the use of the guide.

Throughout your career, you have worked with Indigenous communities in many parts of the world.  What has been your most inspiring experience yet?

I think developing JGI’s and LSF’s guide has been one of my most inspirational experiences to date.   This process began in March 2012 when Dr. Goodall met with a group of Elders, First Nation traditional teachers and youth, and Métis and First Nation educators in Sudbury.  During this meeting, we spoke about how to motivate First Nations youth in becoming community leaders.   Instead of discussing of the challenges, the dialogue naturally turned to opportunity. This was wonderful, as often groups can get stuck on the challenges when addressing complex issues. The wisdom, knowledge, and respect in the room was incredibly uplifting.

Wow, that sounds like a really incredible experience!

It was. And I found that as a non-Aboriginal educator, it was a very safe space for me to ask questions and challenge my own assumptions.  I definitely walked away from that project with the knowledge and skills to be a more inclusive educator.

This spring, you are traveling to Yukon to deliver professional development to educators who work with First Nation youth. Tell us what you’re most looking forward to.

Working one-on-one with teachers and program facilitators!  As a former secondary teacher, I really miss working with the students. The greatest joy in my position now is working with inspirational educators to create rich and dynamic professional development sessions.  Sometimes teachers and facilitators just need reflective space and new critical questions to get them thinking outside of the stresses in their day to day teaching.

That’s a great point, often we are so focused on the immediate that it’s useful to have an external body challenge our thinking.

And having a safe space to think creatively and practice new ideas is extremely important!  This is why I particularly enjoy working with teachers to identify new approaches they can bring back to their classrooms.   But, I am also looking really looking forward to being in a new part of the country and getting a chance to do some hiking!   Maybe see the aura borealis?

Thanks for speaking with us Carissa. If you see the aurora borealis, the JGI blog demands those photos be available for our followers!

JGI Canada is currently running the Project Blue contest for Teachers or Youth Program Facilitators working with Aboriginal youth. If you are taking action to address water issues in your community, tell us in the comments section for a chance to win a printed learning guide. 

4 responses to “Teaching Through an Indigenous Lens

  1. When speaking about collaborations with First Nation & Metis Educators it is important to specify the region or communities worked with. As a FIrst Nation educator in the Southern region of Ontario I can clearly say that we are a very tight knit community where our names and communities are important. The common behaviour of grouping us together as nameless homogenous peoples perpetuates a lack of recognition and understanding of the diverse nations and distinct differencences between us. This book “Protecting our Sacred Water” should clearly identify that it reflects the knowledge of the “Anishinaabe & Metis Elders Elders residing in the Great Lakes region” for example as traditionanal knowledge is intimately tied to the land base of traditional territores and therefore specific to that traditional territory. How one community views water and uses it in one region may be entirely different in another…there are basic similiarities granted but the comfort of just generalizing traditional ways of knowing or viewpoints and then capping it with dialogue such as “First Nation & Metis” is insufficient. We as a people are not nameless. We as nations are not nameless. The government definintion terms are not accurate. I encourage you to use our nations when referencing our contributions to the development of this book. I encourage you to avoid homogenizing our contributions. I encourage you to name traditional territories and regions from whence the information obtained came from.

    • Thank you kindly for your comments. We at the Jane Goodall Institute respect the diversity between and within First Nation and Métis communities and acknowledge that the name of the guide does not represent this diversity. Yes, the guide was informed by Anishinaabe Elders, educators and Métis in the Great Lakes region. However, it is important to note that the guide is written in a way that encourages communities to incorporate Traditional Ways of Knowing that are reflective of the region, land, knowledge , and traditions of where it is being used. This is very important. We do not prescribe how communities should take action or on what issue regarding water. The guide outlines the steps teachers could take to bring in local knowledge and address local issues based on water. We are looking for individuals from different First Nation and Métis communities to use the guide with their youth and provide feedback. If you work with youth and are interested in working with us on this, we would be happy for your thoughts and contributions! You can email us at roots_shoots@janegoodall.ca

  2. Pingback: Education for Sustainable Development | Change is in you·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s