By Julie Lebel
This year, I had the privilege of having the means to dedicate more time to my own decolonizing journey so that I can better support Foolish Operations’ learning and growing.
This project allowed me to carve out precious time to read books, articles, and resources; to attend workshops and panels by leaders and knowledge keepers in our community; to engage in discussions and be guided by board members, mentors, peers, parents and, as always, by children.
This project was supported by the BC Arts Council through the Arts Impact program and was imagined in close collaboration with my artistic associates Caroline Liffmann, and Sarah Gallos.
The project also lined up perfectly with another project supported by the City of Vancouver, through the Cultural Spaces Small Grant project, to explore what places and spaces are best to gather with families for performances, workshops, reflective practice and our more practical needs for office work and storage of props and costumes. I will share a reflection about this part of the process in a follow-up blog post.
Our process with Dorla Tune
Dorla Tune supported the beginning of our project in September leading our core team and board through strategic and organizational planning. Dorla suggested we create a short one page version of our plan to share with partners.
The Early Learning Framework
Dorla Tune also directed us towards BC’s Early Learning Framework. The online learning platform describes the Early Learning Framework as a guide that “supports readers in thinking about and fostering early learning.” In their words, the framework: “establishes a vision for respectfully living and learning together; supports the rich early learning experiences of children; provides a focal point for dialogue among British Columbians; [and], creates a common language and greater understanding of the importance of early learning.”
The First Peoples Principles of Learning are a core element of the Early Learning Framework. These principles were developed in partnership with the First Nations Education Steering Committee and the BC Ministry of Education. They are an important element of the BC education curriculum. As described in the early Learning Framework: “[The First Peoples Principles of Learning] articulate an expression of the shared wisdom of Elders from Indigenous communities throughout British Columbia and were embedded into the BC curriculum and the Early Learning Framework. This was done in an effort to transform BC’s education and early learning system to reflect Indigenous perspectives, knowledges, values, and understandings.”
During the last months of the fall and the beginning of the winter, Sarah, Caroline and I took the Early Learning Framework online learning course and explored the document through discussions and practice within Dancing the Parenting. We agreed to start our process with a few propositions and questions:
- “Learning requires exploration of one’s identity.” (p. 14)
- “Families are the first teachers, the primary caregivers, and the knowledge-holders of their children. Families have the most important role in promoting their children’s well-being and learning.”(P. 16)
- “How do I ensure parents/families, Elders, people of all cultures, languages, and spiritual knowledge keepers feel welcome in my program?” (p. 71)
Source : https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/earlylearning/teach/earlylearning/early_learning_framework.pdf
Exploring our identity, especially our lineages and languages is a natural entry point for our decolonizing work within Foolish Operations and Dancing the Parenting. As a bilingual (French-English) company focussed on intergenerational connection we have a lot to unpack and explore!
Our process with Aurelia Kinslow
Although we had many preparation conversations since the conception of the project, we officially started our process with Aurelia Kinslow in February, through her Sun Curriculum consulting practice.
Aurelia Kaililani Kinslow’s life’s work is rooted in her unwavering commitment to social justice, cultural revitalization and transforming education in Indigenous communities. She founded Sun Curriculum, a culmination of her research, artistic and professional endeavours, leading to a unique consulting practice that supports education professionals on their paths to fostering education experiences that are decolonized and rooted in social justice. Aurelia’s maternal lineage is Indigenous (Cherokee/Chickasaw), African-American (Fulani/Igbo) and Scottish. Her late hānai father was Kanaka Maoli. He named her Kaililani the hereditary name of his maternal lineage originating from Kohala, Hawaii Island. She now resides within the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh people with her family.
Kinslow’s artistic background includes a rich career in dance filled with performing, choreographing, and earning competition titles. She eventually directed her own Tahitian dance / ‘Ori Tahiti dance company, on Hawaii Island, called Varuahine Dance Ensemble. She taught dance at community, public education and higher education levels in Hawaii, California and Vancouver. Creativity, ingenuity, depth and an international, intercultural knowledge base complements her analysis of complex issues affecting Indigenous communities, afro-descended and migrant communities in the Pacific and North America. Stemming from her creative practice and commitment to ‘Ori Tahiti, her graduate research in Curriculum Studies at the University of British Columbia and in Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawaii, focused on the intersections of Indigenous pedagogy and decolonization through dance, culture and language revitalization.
Through her Sun Curriculum consulting practice, Aurelia Kaililani Kinslow facilitated a series of workshops and one-on-one discussions with Sarah, Caroline and I. One of the objectives of the workshops was to review current practices and align with the Early Years Framework. We assessed the relevance and limitations of the resource, and delved further into key concepts that are central to understanding Indigenization, including but not limited to:
- Land-based knowledge: reflecting on ways to learn on the land; ways of being in and/or with places; ways of providing stewardship;
- Relationships: reflecting on and reframing relationships beyond imposed notions of nuclear family units; to embrace connections with land, community, people who have been otherized and excluded;
- Decolonization: questioning colonisation’s personal impacts, as well as impacts on the world around us; learning about ways to trouble and challenge these interruptions in our personal, familial, communal relationships and understandings of the world;
- Personal and communal accountability: refocusing our commitment to include more openness, patience, pacing, the needs of those we build relationships with through our work.
In our sessions facilitated by Aurelia Kaililani Kinslow, Caroline, Sarah and I gathered in a conversation about the topics above, using the theme of lineages and languages, including our artistic ones, as an entry point. As long-time collaborators celebrating nearly 15 years together, I particularly valued getting to know more about how each of our journeys orient our life and our work in the present. In the throes of current life conditions, it’s easy to forget even my own history. It was invaluable to pause and share about our lineages to bring our past into the present so that we can orient better, make more grounded choices that will affect the futures of our families, and our artistic practices.
Later in the spring, Caroline Liffmann also facilitated a conversation about our lineages and languages with adult participants of Dancing the Parenting. It drew us all together closer and I feel we will be able to deepen our artistic practice together.
In our practice of Dancing the Parenting, Sarah and I also had a memorable moment with a Cantonese speaking grandmother and her grand-child. We had practiced making deliberate efforts to invite participants to share words in their languages during specific dance games or scores, throughout the class. Interestingly, that morning, she stayed longer after class, and we had a lovely discussion about traditional Chinese medicine and meridians. We all sat in close proximity while she shared massage techniques on herself and her grandchild. We hope that by opening the doors to all languages in the room, we can invite more knowledge sharing of practices, movements, stories and songs of the children’s first teachers.
Throughout the year, we were fortunate to attend many workshops, festivals and discussions that also explored languages and lineages. These events were carefully tended by precious artistic and cultural leaders. I was grateful for the many presentations, discussions and workshops happening concurrently in the community including:
- The Vines Festival,
- Still Moon Arts’ Festival,
- Africa with the Masters Festival,
- O.Dela Arts’ Talking Truths Circle Conversations through Matriarchs Uprising Festival,
- a workshop to learn the Ktunaxa Language through dance with Samantha Sutherland as part of Matriarchs Uprising,
- “Exploring the innovation of Indigenous-led organizations” as part of the T.R.A.I.N series by Mass Culutre Mobilisation Culturelle, and;
- The Coastal Dance Festival organised by Dancers of Damelahamid with evening discussions on relationships to land and languages.
This project allowed for our core team to attend these events together as artistic associates of Foolish Operations, reflect about our learning and to invite families of Dancing the Parenting alongside, whenever possible.
Our next step is to formalize our Family of mentors in the development of a learning and creating cycle. We hope to find ways to reciprocate the many ways my mentors have impacted Foolish Operations’ work. These “Agreements of Reciprocity”, as coined by Dorla Tune, is a way to find ways to extend our mentors’ impact to more artists and families, so we can continue to create welcoming dance experiences where children, adults, families, artists, and educators belong, and where we can strengthen the bonds between artists and audiences, children and caregivers, families and circles of support, people and our environment.