May 10, 2017
Q&A with Dr. Jo-ann Archibald
After 35 years with the UBC Faculty of Education, Dr. Jo-ann Archibald (Q’um Q’um Xiiem), Indigenous scholar, author and pioneer in the advancement of Indigenous education, retires this July. A professor of Educational Studies, Dr. Archibald (B.Ed. ’72) served as associate dean for Indigenous Education and director of the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP). Author of Indigenous Storywork: Educating the Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit, one of Dr. Archibald’s research themes focuses on storytelling, and much of her pedagogy focuses on intergenerational learning and mentoring.
Why are mentoring and intergenerational learning so important in Indigenous settings?
Dr. Archibald: I think what today we call “intergenerational learning” comes from an Indigenous traditional way of learning from parents and grandparents. Grandparents in particular, would help teach their grandchildren through storytelling.
Young children learn about the environment through stories. Stories that include the origins of names for mountains, rock formations and rivers encourage children to develop a relationship with the environment, much like a kinship. Trickster stories are often told to young people.
I’m from the Stó:lō, which means “river.” As a young child I developed a sense of place from the stories my grandfather told me. Now that I am a grandparent—I recognize I have more patience with my grandchildren than I did with my own child. And I have much to give back through storytelling.
Elders and grandparents have an important role, and are seen as teachers. Stories told by grandparents enable learning within a family closeness, and within a cohesive, experiential and loving environment.
How do you incorporate intergenerational learning in a university setting?
Dr. Archibald: Incorporating intergenerational learning within the current day educational setting is very important for me.
Today in the university, we talk about mentoring. That’s an important context. That’s what happened with grandparents, they mentored the next generation.
Within our Faculty of Education, in NITEP, we have Elders interact with our students. The mentoring could take many different forms. It could be Elders from communities where our field centre sites are located. Elders may take students on a medicine walk or talk about Indigenous names of plants. Some Elders might teach how to weave cedar. Some may come in and tell stories or be available to talk to the students. Sometimes they mentor one on one, sometimes one to a group. Some Elders interact on a continuous basis, others visit one or two times. NITEP students learn about environmental or Indigenous science, traditional forms of teaching and learning, and different forms of Indigenous knowledge through Elders and cultural knowledge holders. The students can use what they have learned from Elders to shape their future teaching approaches.
With graduate students, Elders may guide them on advisory committees for their research. We also use scholarship that includes Elders’ perspectives. That’s how we encourage our current day practice of intergenerational learning in both undergraduate and graduate education.
What I’ve tried to do at UBC is create a learning space within the programs so that intergenerational learning can be integrated.
How does intergenerational learning support inclusiveness?
Dr. Archibald: Intergenerational learning and Elder interaction keeps our current students connected to their communities. Many have to leave their home territories to complete their UBC programs, so having interaction with Elders helps our students feel more comfortable and connected to their communities, which in turn shows that the knowledge of Indigenous people has an important place in university studies. For me that’s part of inclusive education.
And for some students who have not grown up in Indigenous communities, it’s even more important to have this interaction with Elders to develop a connection to students’ cultural heritage.
Student-to-student mentoring is also very important. The older students mentor those coming into the program. It can be a very close generational mentoring; it helps maintain Indigenous culture connections and is an inclusive form of education—no one should feel alone or left out.
How do you integrate storytelling within teaching?
Dr. Archibald: With courses I teach and even when speaking to a class, I use story as an exemplar of things to think about, connected to the topic, and relevant to the particular group. This pedagogy provides an opportunity for the learner to share what they understand about the story. Appreciating the perspective that each individual shares, and showing that every contribution can be valued is an important part of storywork pedagogy.
In teaching future educators, I use story as a form of pedagogy. When you understand how to work with a story, a simple, short story can have very important meanings. I frequently use trickster stories because trickster gets into some sort of predicament by ignoring or forgetting the good teachings. Often that’s where the story stops—then the listeners, the learners, can think about what they would have done or how they might solve the trickster’s situation. There are several different ways in which the listener/learner may respond, which could be put into a holistic framework. In the physical realm, they may share how they would problem solve or take action. In the spiritual realm, the learner may relate to taking care of their inner being. In the emotional realm, they may relate to the characters’ or their feelings and in the intellectual realm, they develop new understandings or knowledge. Each person has the opportunity to share his/her idea about what the story means in oral, written, and other mediums A story provides lots of opportunities for different types of engagement and is a form of inclusive education.
Who have been your mentors and what does mentoring mean to you?
Dr. Archibald: My grandfather, my father’s father, was an important mentor to me growing up. Part of my doctoral research was to learn from Elders—cultural knowledge holders—the importance of stories in teaching and learning and learning from the land. That’s when I began to appreciate intergenerational learning. As an adult, I was ready to learn more from my grandfather.
I have had the benefit of some good mentors at UBC. For example, Verna J. Kirkness (UBC professor emeritus, former director of NITEP and UBC’s First Nations House of Learning) was a great mentor for me. I watched her in action to learn from her leadership approaches and had many conversations with her.
It’s important for me to be a mentor to others. I’ve had the opportunity to mentor lots of students. These students are out in the community now, leading and mentoring others. That is the intergenerational learning—our NITEP students graduate and say that mentoring is their way of giving back.
Once you’ve been privileged to learn from others, it becomes your responsibility to share with and teach others.
I like to use Musqueam Elder, Dr. Vincent Stogan’s (Tsimilano) Hands-Back Hands-Forward teaching. When we get together to do important work, we often stand in a circle to share some thoughts to establish a comfortable learning and working environment and to connect with each other—we put our left palm reaching upwards, a symbolic way to reach back and receive help from those who have gone before us. When we receive this knowledge, we have the responsibility to incorporate it in our everyday lives. And the other responsibility we have is to share that knowledge with others, symbolized by putting the right palm downward. So we receive help and we give help.
Mentoring is a form of helping one another with a good heart and a good mind.
Now that you’re retiring, do you feel like you’re transitioning to an Elder?
Dr. Archibald: An Indigenous person doesn’t usually proclaim themselves an Elder. Others recognize someone as an Elder. It’s not an age attribution, but more a cultural recognition of a knowledge holder.
At this point, I value what I’ve been able to learn and quite conscious of my responsibility to be a mentor to others.
My mentoring focus has been on graduate students and teacher candidates—educating educators. Although my thinking is now shifting back to young children as I started my career teaching Grade 2 and 3.
I love what I do with my grandchildren, so I’m thinking more about storytelling and young kids. I am now thinking about the role of grandparents in educating their own and other young children. I wonder what might I contribute to other grandparents in this regard? Now I feel as though I’m coming full circle.