Happy January! A few months ago, I began thinking about an ‘appropriate’ land acknowledgement to share with my kindergarten class. After reading some books to my class and talking with others, I was still a little stumped. I felt like I wanted to go deeper in creating a meaningful land acknowledgement with the children, but I didn’t know where to start.
At the same time, I was taking a graduate course titled Pedagogical Documentation. Through that course, I began to think a little deeper about documentation and its connection to place-based pedagogy. In this blog post, I share my documentation process as I began to rediscover my neighbourhood, paying particular attention to the small ordinary details. As educators, I firmly believe that we cannot ‘teach’ a land acknowledgement until we, ourselves, have thought more in-depth about our neighbourhoods, the land we live on, and the multi-species we share it with. By sharing my reflection, I hope that you find inspiration to take a closer look at your neighbourhood. The experience of documenting my surroundings and connection to the land I live on has shifted my understanding of how I will explore our school community with our class children.
My favourite tree. Although I had passed it almost daily for the last three years (it is on my dog-walking route), I didn’t notice it until this fall. After discussing land acknowledgements and being given the task of coming up with one of our own for a graduate class assignment, I began to wonder about the history of my neighbourhood. I decided that I would try and look at my community with ‘fresh eyes.’ One day, I discovered this tree. It grows in between two fences—one belonging to the city, one belonging to the homeowner. Over time, it has grown to bend the metal fence and continues to manoeuvre around the constraints of two barriers, all the while growing tall and strong. This tree reminds me that many species, past and present, have and will continue to share this land. I also wonder about things like ecological stewardship, learning about my neighbourhood’s Indigenous history and how development is affecting the remaining green space we have. Thinking about my land acknowledgement also piques my curiosity about critical place-based pedagogies.
Placed-based pedagogies have “direct bearing” (Gruenewald, 2008, p. 308) on communities’ environmental and social well-being in which families reside. Therefore, they can play an essential role in cultivating a strong connection to citizenship.
Thinking about fences:
I read an article by Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw (2012) titled Postcolonial Entanglements: Unruling Stories where she explores the relations of “humans and non-humans” specific to postcolonial Canadian settings by taking a closer look at the encounters between indigenous deer and settler-children along a fence at a childhood centre in British Columbia. One quote from the article that has stayed with me is her inclusion of observation by Instone (2010), who observes, a fence becomes “a line of communication,” not just a division”: Far from being stationary and fixed, the fence is a dynamic space of contestation and the interaction that activates all manner of work” (p. 97).
On this walk, I began to wonder about the fences in my neighbourhood. I call this the ‘ravine’ fence. This fence runs along a section of our street that separates a ravine and wooded area from our residential neighbourhood’s backyards. As I look back on these photos, I wonder how this fence influences our encounter with the ravine behind it? Perhaps the most disturbing thing that comes to mind is that the ‘no household dumping’ sign is the only form of environmental stewardship that I have engaged in with these woods. I have never thought about how to “get in there,” but now I wonder. Is this particular side of the fence that borders houses accessible from any other ‘side’? Where is the ‘here’ if I was coming from another direction? I suppose the fence keeps out animals, but I wonder about how it might promote a feeling of separation and a lack of responsibility for the space behind it. The municipal sign enforces a by-law, implying it is ‘owned’ by the city alone, not the neighbourhood’s citizens/residents. My thoughts remind me of a quote from Gruenewald (2008):
Critical place-based pedagogy cannot be only about struggles with human oppression. It also must embrace the experience of being human in connection with others and with the world of nature, and the responsibility to conserve and restore our shared environments for future generations (p.314).
I walk Apollo past the fence in the background daily. Today was special because there was fresh snow with a few animal tracks. Apollo was really excited and began smelling all of the tree trunks, sections of the fence, and snow patches. Observing him picking up other animals’ scent sparked my curiosity of what animals he may be detecting. Who else lives here? Who travels through this space? And by who, I am referring to animals that also call our neighbourhood home.
Shifting my attention from the ‘details’ of my neighbourhood (fences, houses, fields) to the dynamics of these places (stewardship of the ravine behind my house, or thinking about the animals with who I share my neighbourhood) was a very reflective experience for me because I had to go beyond what I could ‘see’ and think deeper about the power relations that exist among humans and non-human species in community settings. The shift from place-based pedagogy to critical place-based pedagogy recognizes that communities are social and political constructions that often marginalize individuals and ecosystems (Gruenewald, 2008). For place-based pedagogy to be critical, it must recognize how power works among all participants of a ‘place’ including the environment, animals, and the individuals that live within it (Gruenewald, 2008; Giroux, 2020)
I’m still documenting my neighbourhood (I have decided to continue this project was the seasons’ change). After observing and taking notice of the everyday details of my neighbourhood, I feel a lot more connected to the land I live on and the multi-species I share it with—Past, present, and future. And I think this will make all the difference when I revisit creating a land acknowledgement with children in my class.
Giroux, H. A. (2020). On critical pedagogy. Bloomsbury Publishing
Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational researcher, 32(4), 3-12.
Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (2012). Postcolonial entanglements: Unruling stories. Child & Youth Services, 33(3-4), 303-316.