Darlene Speidel is a Lakota woman who is the current Director of Cultural Resource Development and Publications for the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Center and is a longtime advocate for First Nations control of education and the development of First Nations bilingual/bicultural education programs.
Darlene has been involved in developing a variety of curriculum resources for Saskatchewan classrooms including Practicing the Law of Circular Interaction.
In this a brief interview, Darlene shares some of her perspectives on how First Nations teachings can help teachers in all classrooms help young people to develop more sustainable relations with the earth.
If we are going to generate a society in which both our people and non-First Nations people live up to our treaty relationships there has to be a 50/50 sharing in how we learn from each other. It is very critical that we make an effort to teach younger generations about the environment and how to interact with it in a respectable manner. In developing strategies for sustainable lifestyles a lot could be learned from the traditional environmental principles of First Nations.
In our culture, the ultimate goal in a person's life is to be a good relative, not just to other humans, but to the plants, animals, and all elements of the natural world. Everything we do that is cultural ties back to our environment, even our language is linked to the environment. Whenever I give a presentation or talk I usually start off with a discussion about our relationship with the environment and how we can learn from the environment.
Many people in First Nations cultures believe that the environment is nearing a state of cataclysm. Our Elders are concerned that if there is a cataclysm our young people won't survive because they don't know how to live off the land now that we have all of the luxuries of mainstream society. I fact that's a general concern the Elders have for the young people. We need to provide opportunities for our young people to learn about both the traditional and mainstream perspectives on resources and the environment, so they have the opportunity to make informed decisions about how they will live and on what they will accept and not accept.
They are learning from their families and Elders, they are learning from programs in their schools, and through cultural camps. Today cultural camps are an integral part of the education, health, and/or recreational programs in our communities. These cultural camps include teachings on:
Teachers who want to talk about First Nations culture and relationships with the environment need to have some rudimentary understanding of our traditional environmental principles and how to teach them.
They can consult curriculum packages, like Practicing the Law of Circular Interaction, that have been developed by First Nations people. As well, teachers can consult with Elders from a local First Nation and/or from elsewhere in the province. It is helpful to talk to Elders from different language culture groups because although there are commonalities each group is also distinct in their traditions. (Dene, Woodland Cree, Swampy Cree, Plains Cree, Nakawe (Saulteaux), Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota are the language culture groups in Saskatchewan). Teachers can also seek advice from Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Center staff and/or access the Center's resource library.
To receive a copy of the Practicing the Law of Circular Interaction curriculum resource, please contact the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Center.