Anishinaabe Ways of Learning In today’s world, one of the most difficult aspects of Indigenous knowledge for the Euro-western community to come to terms with is Indigenous understandings about the world and their place in it. Significantly, Euro-western society has created methodologies about how the world came to be by way of a linear scientific
Anishinaabe Ways of Learning
In today’s world, one of the most difficult aspects of Indigenous knowledge for the Euro-western community to come to terms with is Indigenous understandings about the world and their place in it. Significantly, Euro-western society has created methodologies about how the world came to be by way of a linear scientific and historical religious process that works well for the types of knowledges it recognizes. These methods are not always the same for Indigenous peoples due to their different learning objectives and way of life. If as a society you objectify nature as a part of your worldview, then you probably believe that you are not dependent on it for survival. If your worldview includes nature as something to view subjectively, you probably believe in the interdependence of nature and your dependence on it for your survival. Indigenous ways of knowing include both survival skills and social skills that tie one directly in a relationship with nature. It also teaches proper conduct in how to live in a symbiosis relationship within the eco-systems Indigenous peoples live in. Although Indigenous knowledge and oral history is mostly cyclical rather than linear, there can also be a similar approach to contemporary events with that of Euro-westerners. Among the Anishinaabe for instance, there are two types of oral histories: Ancient Oral traditions are those that tell of a time before human beings existed and when giant creatures roamed the earth. These are sometimes referred to as myths and legends; however, Elders referred to them as mystery stories because they have some truth but are not always fully understood because they come from a distant path. They explain why the earth became the way it is and that there are lessons for human beings to learn from the mistakes these primal beings made in the past. Oral traditions after the events of Turtle Island Story are the more common stories that people remember of events taking place in this cycle of life and can be easily validated. These stories mostly take place in more recent times and correlate with Euro-western under-standings about history.
Two World Views on Education
Before colonization, for most Indigenous peoples, education was an informal way of being taught to understand the world they live in. In fact, the traditional education that Indigenous children received involved every facet of their lives. It included the development of relationships with everything that affects their lives in the natural world. This included relationships with each other, relationships with non-humans that inhabit the world, and relationships with beings that are beyond the physical world.
ANISHINAABE: Human beings must learn to live in a state of co-existence with all their relations who are the other life forms present within the Creation. This is knowledge and skill which must be passed down from generation to generation.
EURO-WESTERN: Human beings must learn to dominate over the earth and all other living forms are for the betterment of the corporate structure. This knowledge and skill must be passed down from generation to generation.
Life Long Learning
In more traditional times, Children learned from an early age that they had a responsibility to others. Even before they entered the world, the learning process had already begun. Mothers began speaking and singing to their unborn children even while still in the womb. They began to share with the unborn child the lessons of life. They described for the child the different animals they would encounter. The Anishinaabe felt that the soul of the baby was active and aware even before birth. These ideas and practices are presently endorsed to some degree by Euro-western medical practitioners who acknowledge that infants in the womb are quite aware of their surroundings before birth. Today it is not uncommon for many mothers of all backgrounds to sing to their unborn babies.
As Anishinaabek children began to grow up, they had to learn their responsibilities relative to other beings that are part of their world. For many Indigenous societies, it relied on putting the boys through a fast in a Vision Quest. The fast continued until, by way of a dream or vision, the child learned about the non-human being that he is to have a relationship with for the rest of his life. Once found, the child honored this being throughout life. This was done through offering of feasts and prayers. Sometimes it required keeping a part of this being in a sacred bundle. It was believed that in order to be successful in life a child had to develop a relationship with each of the animate aspects of creation – the human, the non-humans on earth and non-humans outside of the earth. Most of all, the child learned to develop a relationship with himself.
A well-known Cree/Ojibway Elder, late Peter O’Chiese was asked by a woman, how she can become more spiritual? Peter answered that she was already born a spirit. What she had to do was learn to become a human being. When one learned to become a full human being, then they could say that they were Mino-Bimaadisiwin or living the good life, a life to the fullest, a 360-degree vision of the world.
For Indigenous peoples of North America, learning was experiential, and children were never physically reprimanded for doing something wrong. In the past, Indigenous families were criticized by the Christian clergy for not using corporal punishment and for allowing children too much freedom. It is only in recent years that corporal punishment is now seen as a detriment to society by most non-Indigenous North Americans. However, with freedom came social values that were taught. For example, there was always someone in the extended family who could take care of a child if there was a problem or who could direct a child if there was a mistake made. Likewise, children were taught if they made a mistake, they alone had to take responsibility for their actions. Therefore, it was essential that they received instruction from all members of the extended family.