How youth-led emotional learning and digital initiatives can forge pedagogies of reconciliation
Robert J. Ballantyne, Dr. Linda Radford, Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook
As part of a larger SSHRC-funded project titled “Developing mobile media spaces for civic engagement in urban priority schools,”1,2 two focus groups were conducted with Ottawa youth leaders from grades 8 to 11 who attended Màmawi Together: Youth for Reconciliation Day on February 22, 2019. In addition to surveying youth leader interpretations of the event and how it informed their understanding of reconciliation and digital citizenship, this research seeks to gather insights as to how teacher candidates can develop emotional and culturally responsive learning experiences3,4 for urban high school students and to enhance the civic engagement of urban youth. Through analysis of the focus group discussions, events like Youth for Reconciliation Day are necessary to bridge classroom and textbook understandings of Indigenous affairs with in-person experiences and encounters with Indigenous knowledge keepers and their allies. These kinds of culturally responsive learning experiences have a significant emotional impact on youth leaders, but appear to have a more limited effect in terms of increasing civic engagement.
On February 22, 2019, approximately 250 youth leaders in Grades 7-12 from Ottawa’s various school systems united for Màmawi Together: Youth for Reconciliation Day. The event engaged youth leaders in a series of lectures and workshops that aimed to build and sustain respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples through awareness-building and education, reflecting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action.6 Over a year following the event, the authors wondered how meaningful the event was for attendees and how it shaped their understanding of reconciliation and civic engagement.
Màmawi Together: Youth for Reconciliation Day was a full-day event that took place at the University of Ottawa, co-organized by the Faculty of Education’s Urban Communities Cohort. The authors were either lead co-organizers or lead facilitators at the Youth for Reconciliation Day event. The event was attended by approximately 250 Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth leaders in Grades 7-12 from Ottawa’s various public schooling systems. The youth leaders participated in wide-ranging lectures and workshops, a large group Project of Heart session, and then small group sessions including wampum belt making, blanket exercise, introductory Inuit and Métis cultural presentations, and then reflected on the entirety of their event experiences in school teams in a digital video recording shared with other attendees. Before leaving the event, youth leaders committed to developing reconciliation legacy projects to consolidate what they learned from the day’s speakers and workshops and share their insights with others.
This research takes a case study approach to investigate a social action curriculum project where Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at two Ottawa schools participated in focus groups to share their experience of being part of Màmawi Together: Youth for Reconciliation Day.1,2,7,8,9,10 Each focus group interview took one hour to conduct. They were then transcribed and analyzed. The key research questions were:
How did students experience events around 2019’s Youth for Reconciliation Day in regards to school community, citizenship, and related teacher and teacher candidate activities?
What did students experience both emotionally and intellectually by participating in Màmawi Together?
How did they develop their proposed reconciliation project, how was it carried out, or altered afterwards?
What connections did students make to reconciliation, treaty relations and citizenship through the event and project?
Participants were encouraged to offer interpretations and explanations of their experiences both at the event and following the event under the framework of considering Indigenous and non-Indigenous reconciliation and digital citizenship.
Since the event occurred a year earlier, youth leaders understandably had difficulty recalling specific details regarding the Màmawi Together: Youth for Reconciliation Day speakers and workshops and their post-event reconciliation legacy projects. However, all were able to clearly describe their emotional impressions about the event overall, especially the stories of the residential school survivor and her daughter who spoke to them. Most importantly, all focus group participants expressed that the event was a positive experience that furthered their education about reconciliation and Indigenous affairs, and motivated their desire to engage more deeply with Indigenous issues in the classroom.
I remember leaving the event in a really good mood… I like that everyone could come together and be the first step in making a difference, and actually bringing the issues into the light. Which I think is big.
I remember leaving the event a little more knowledgeable. There are a lot of things that I didn’t know about Indigenous culture before. It wasn’t taught to me, it wasn’t told to me at home. My mom doesn’t really talk about what she had to go through being Indigenous and stuff like that.
In school, when we were taught about the residential schools and things like that, it’s kind of like learning from a textbook, from a teacher. You learn the information, but it doesn’t really stick as what really happened… but when we went to the event, it kind of helped me realize the severity of everything.
Walking out of [the event], I want[ed] to learn more… there was a purpose for me being there. Not just absorbing information, but absorbing kind of like an emotion… This also helped me in other subjects, because I actually changed my way of learning through that… I had a feeling that if I had not gone to this, I actually probably wouldn’t have cared… not recognized this is something that’s actually important.
[Residential schools] kind of felt like fiction. Until I went and saw real people talking about it, because you know what happened, but in your brain, it doesn’t really, at least for me, it doesn’t really click, that it happened, like real people who are still alive, who still walk around, actually experience these things. So when you go there and you see real people talking about their real experiences, it just helps you connect how real it is and how lasting of an impact it actually had on people.
Youth leaders made deep emotional connections to reconciliation at Màmawi Together: Youth for Reconciliation Day, with all focus group participants expressing a desire to learn more about Indigenous history and current affairs following the event. This research, while small in scale, could suggest culturally responsive events like Youth for Reconciliation Day are highly effective in building social awareness competencies.10 However, how can longer-term youth civic engagement be fostered? It may not be enough to have just in-event (Flipgrid videos) consolidation activities and commitments to create legacy projects. Teachers and teacher candidates need further support to carry out event learnings forward in their classroom and undertaking difficult knowledge conversations and uncertain “emotional situations of learning to teach for reconciliation.”12,13,4 Perhaps future Youth for Reconciliation Day events should consider providing youth leaders and their teachers with post-event digital inquiry-based projects that contribute to existing legacy projects already underway.
1. Kane, R. G., Ng-A-Fook, N., Radford, L., & Butler, J. K. (2017). Conceptualizing and contextualizing digital citizenship in urban schools: Civic engagement, teacher education, and the placelessness of digital technologies. Citizenship Education Research Journal (CERJ), 6(1), 24-38.
2. Radford, L. (2017). Teacher candidates in the urban Canadian classroom: Rereading the digital citizenship paradigm through Atom Egoyan’s Adoration. Digital Culture and Education, 9(1), 1- 13.
3. Zembylas, M., Trifonas, P., & Wright, B. (2013). Critical Emotional Praxis: Rethinking Teaching and Learning About Trauma and Reconciliation in Schools. In Critical Peace Education: Difficult Dialogues (2013th ed., pp. 101–114). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-90-481-3945-3_7
4. Hildebrandt, K., Lewis, P., Kreuger, C., Naytowhow, J., Tupper, J., Couros, A., & Montgomery, K.. (2016). Digital Storytelling for Historical Understanding: Treaty Education for Reconciliation. Journal of Social Science Education, 15(1), 17–26. https://doi.org/10.4119/UNIBI/jsse-v15-i1-1432
7. Ng-A-Fook, N., Radford, L., Norris, T., & Yazdanian, S. (2013, spring). Empowering marginalized Youth: Curriculum, digital media, and character development. Canadian Journal of Action Research, 14(1), 38-50.
8. Germeten, S. (2013). Personal Narratives in Life History Research. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 57(6), 612-624.
9. McAteer, M. (2013). Action research in education. London: Sage Publications, Inc.
10. Alberta Teachers’ Association. (2000). Action research guide for Alberta teachers. Edmonton. Alta.: Alberta Teachers’ Association.
11. Durlak, J. (2015). Handbook of social and emotional learning research and practice . New York: The Guilford Press.
12. Aitken, A., & Radford, L. (2018). Learning to teach for reconciliation in Canada: Potential, resistance and stumbling forward. Teaching and Teacher Education, 75, 40–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2018.05.014
13. Bissell, A., & Korteweg, L. (2016). Digital Narratives as a Means of Shifting Settler-Teacher Horizons toward Reconciliation. Canadian Journal of Education, 39(3), 25. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1871580627/