Adam Gaudry, assistant professor of Indigenous studies

Connecting to community

Kate Bill, second-year student in the College of Arts and Science, knew that Indigenous Studies 331, Colonialism and Decolonization, would be a lot of work, but she was ready for the challenge.

"The syllabus had an amazing line-up of writers and a community-based service project," explained Bill, originally from the Pelican Lake First Nation. "I connected with the writers of the assigned literature in a way that got me out of bed, inspiring me to see hope and change."

Adam Gaudry, assistant professor in the Indigenous studies department, built this class with an experiential, community-based component with the Wanuskewin Heritage Park in lieu of a final exam. The class culminated in a public unveiling of the students' work for the park, similar to a poster presentation.

"Sometimes we can get really comfortable with just having written assignments," explained Gaudry. "We had to give up a couple of the traditional seminars to go out to Wanuskewin and to engage with knowledge in a different way and to leave the comfort zone of all of us. Even just going to a community space off campus is destabilizing in a good way."

Gaudry had taught the class before, but he wanted to add an experiential component this time that was working with and for a community organization. He said that in the Department of Indigenous Studies this sort of work is very important. "Everything that we do should be connected to community or benefitting community. It is in some ways safer to not do this, but ultimately it's the tone we want to set and it's what we want to do. It's a meaningful way to give back."

A Wanuskewin employee previously, Bill said that she was fascinated in partnering with them.

"We took into consideration what Wanuskewin was about, and one of the things that they push and strive for is to have child-friendly teachings," she explained. "We also hoped to communicate with an adult audience and maybe change some thoughts on Indigenous issues. We hoped for visitor engagement in our history with a better understanding of Indigenous perspectives."

Bill described some of the work that went into completing such a project, which was to tie together tipi teachings, women's roles in traditional societies and the contemporary issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. "One of the things that [my group] started doing right off the bat was to talk about our traditional beliefs, our traditional spirituality. We told each other stuff that our grandmothers taught us or that our aunties taught us."

She said that the project "was intended to improve writing skills, but it was also invigorating and healing."

Gaudry believes that getting students out of the classroom and having their work publicly accessible created many benefits for students, such as public speaking experience, research skills, the ability to make complex topics accessible and showing the advantages of community-engaged work.

Gaudry admitted that the class succeeded because of the commitment of the students. "The energy that they invested into it, the very conscientious projects and the passion they had for this is really what made this successful," he explained. "People are going to read it. People are going to be introduced to new ideas through things that they've done."

Bill agreed that it was a personally and academically rewarding class. "The class wrapped me into the arms of my ancestors in ways that no other class has done. The project allowed us to express our morals and culture in an active and responsible way."

Over the next few months, Wanuskewin Heritage Park will continue to incorporate the students' work into their exhibits.

Jordan Sherbino is a special projects officer in the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives.
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