Ancestral knowledge boosts education for students | My View

For more than 500 years, Indigenous tribes, pueblos and nations have overcome plagues, famine, forced displacement and genocide — the aftermath of the colonization of this continent. And yet through it all, our Indigenous genius is able to shine through, allowing us to preserve our language, culture and connection to the land from one generation to the next.

Nowadays, as our communities weather a global pandemic, we are tapping into our ancestral knowledge and ways of being, ensuring the challenges become opportunities for innovation that can be taught to our current and future generations.

At the NACA Inspired Schools Network — the largest network of Indigenous schools in the country — our goal always is to provide a safe learning space for students, their families and communities.

With community safety and well-being at the core of our decisions, especially at a time when our Indigenous community has been disproportionately impacted during this pandemic, we reaffirmed our commitment to address the concerns of communities, families and parents about their children going back to school, while continuing to uplift quality, culturally relevant learning opportunities — even through an online model.

As experienced educators, we understand firsthand how critical in-person learning is, and we recognize learning can happen through personal experience with land, tradition, family and elders — who always have been our children’s first teachers and continue to play a critical role during these times.

The current situation presents an opportunity for innovation in reimagining Indigenous education through online, virtual remote and hybrid models, all the while honoring our experiences, knowledge and uplifting our students and families by providing necessary academic rigor, culturally relevant learning and social-emotional health and wellness.

We are combining the use of online learning and ancestral ways of teaching by creating harmony between learning from the land while in a digital era of learning. It is a core understanding of our network that Indigenous education does not happen without the land. Therefore, to give students an opportunity to engage with the land and to integrate culture during a time of distance learning, our teachers teamed up with schools to deliver land-based learning boxes.

Students self-selected from the choices of basil, sage, mint or rosemary seeds, which are year-round and easy-to-grow herbs that students can experience success with planting. We included a small planter in every kit so students who may not have outdoor space can still cultivate the plant indoors.

A complimentary packet accompanied each of the boxes to facilitate the learning of growing and caring of plants, medicinal properties and plant identification skills for extending their awareness of the plants that grow in their close surroundings.

This effort instills traditional values in our learning environment, while providing lifelong skills that are centered in our ways of life as well as an intentional integration in high-quality academic content knowledge through math, science, Native literature, personal wellness, Indigenous languages and Indigenous history.

We support schools in creating academically rigorous experiences that are rich in culture. Every day, our students are learning from the land and embracing their family and community responsibilities.

This is a time for our community to pull together and go back to the basics — not only school staff and leaders, but also our families, students and relatives — in the spirit of perseverance and community service.

We believe our students have not lost any learning opportunities. On the contrary, they are learning every moment, and this moment reminds us all what is most important: our culture, language and ways of being.

Valerie Siow is fellowship director at the NACA Inspired Schools Network, and Stacy Lesley is a member of the land-based healing and learning team at the Native American Community Academy public charter school in Albuquerque.

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