Traditional knowledge and education

traditional knowledge

The importance of time in pedagogy.

Hello everybody, my name is Daniel Stevens. I am a citizen of Nipissing First Nation and a proud educator. I was asked to write about the importance and the value of Indigenous traditional knowledge to improve and move forward in Ontario in education and for us as a Federation. As I always do, I start with a caveat. There is no singular Indigenous traditional knowledge, no one particular bank of wisdom, especially since Turtle Island is home to over 600 nations. Each with their unique world views, culture and traditions, all I can do today is share the perspective I have gained from my people.

I know we find ourselves in some challenging times. We find ourselves wondering how to engage students in the importance of education with little continuity and consistency. No longer are classrooms bound by brick and mortar. To say this is a stressful time is an understatement.
In this crisis, I find myself resorting to ways taught to me as a child. Ways of approaching knowledge and skill acquisition and adapting them to this new world, I find myself questioning some of my most basic presumptions surrounding educational pedagogy. Several questions surface in this new age of connection problems, routine insecurity, and disruption. At the forefront of those questions is “What is necessary?”. What is necessary to teach, learn, but most importantly, connect?. In this search for an answer, I have begun to appreciate the importance of time in a new context.

It has become a game of endurance, resilience, which all of which takes time. My Nation knows, like many others, how to endure and we know the true meaning of resilience. Perseverance is not easy and requires slow, carefully planned moves to preserve and propagate what is important to us as a Nation. This process requires us to examine who we are, who we were, and whom we want to be. We hold on hardest to what is left and rebuild. We must give ourselves time to master the knowledge and wisdom we have left.

I remember watching my aunties and uncles perform daily tasks, preparing food, or creating or repairing something as a child. We all had a part in the process, but it was based on mastery of skills over time. It was instilled that these tasks served a higher purpose, and errors could be costly in many ways. There was a responsibility and reverence in watching and learning how to do the work correctly. The child’s duty was to learn, observe, and hone essential skills before attempting. We could not touch and contribute in one step until particular skills were mastered in the previous one. Much of what was being used or prepared could not be wasted. We learned to respect our learning over the attainment of goals. It taught us focus and dedication because each newly mastered skill integrated us and gave us more responsibility. In a sense, we became more dependent on each other’s contributions, more connected.

Much of my teaching uses that approach that focuses on the value of repeated practice and gives it the time and space needed. Maybe there is some traditional knowledge there, and maybe there isn’t. All I can do is remain faithful to my process because it is a part of me and reflects where I come from. Traditional practices are different for every Nation, but my Nation’s respect for time is clear and ever-present in everything we do. In the end, the strength of the connections with the knowledge takes time. It is how we use the time we have that makes the difference. It takes time to find the meaning behind the ability and the wisdom from the perspective. This is why taking time for us isn’t an idle task.

I hope we are entering a new era of education, one that will cast aside the rigidity of the industrial education model filled with bells, frameworks, and metrics.

The system must realize that success cannot be measured externally. Success is an internal metric for self-worth, confidence and pride in one’s skills through contribution to the larger whole. Many of my students come back to say how they appreciated their time learning with me. The focus wasn’t on getting through the material but on getting to know the material.
Time must be given for students to be independent, be less guided, and find their path in many cases.

The biggest lesson I tried to impart upon my students is the importance of resourcefulness. Resourcefulness comes from the ability to move forward regardless of the circumstances, even if slowly.
As a Federation, we must take the time to examine who we are, where we come from and where we want to be. Change is inevitable but how that change comes about is as important as what we are changing and must reflect whom we want to be. It is not about the goal; it is about the journey. As an education system, learning about each other is essential. However, we must do so authentically. Understanding who is among us helps us understand who we are. As education workers, we must use our collective wisdom to make the alterations needed to support the future and broaden its perspectives.

There is much work to be done, and in times of crisis, it is best to move with precision and dedication to the cause to make it better for everyone, not just a few. It is also an opportunity to use the new skills we are learning and master them. To bring us one step closer to each other and strengthen our connections over time.



About Daniel M. Stevens
At the time of writing, Daniel M. Stevens was a teacher in District 4, Near North. Daniel was recently appointed Director of Education for Nipissing First Nation.

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