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Wolf Ceremony

Sebastian was enrolled in the TI course one summer when it was offered as part of the Indigenous Education and Community Collaborations Institute. Although this was a different context than the regular teacher education program, many of the same processes occurred. In fact for Sebastian, the TI journey was enhanced by the extra time he spent learning on the land.

As a secondary visual arts pre-service teacher, Sebastian entered his TI journey as someone introverted, creative, and deeply connected to nature and place. He saw art as a tool for learning and was particularly interested in the indigenous perspective that embraces the functionality of art. At the beginning of his TI journey, he was very interested in the notion of generous listening and asked:

What is being listened to?

He wanted to make a visual archive of his experience within the institute and use art as a representation of what he was hearing. Sebastian’s progression was not linear and his journey swirled and surged with layers of questions that revolved around ceremony, wondering:

  • What is the value of having ceremonies/rituals in the classroom?
  • What about the idea of using ceremonies in the classroom to build community and learning?
  • What role does art play in ceremonies?
  • [What is the impact of a] loss of ceremony?

For his first winter count, Sebastian sent a short song on the topic of generous listening along with the following explanation:

Generous listening…open, clear…confusion and other streams set in.The mind lets go in the end. The temporary and then the gone.Multiple voices….what are they saying?

He also included an image of a wolf sketched on an old piece of plywood.

At their first meeting, Sebastian and his mentor talked together about the importance wolves held for him and eventually the mentor suggested he consider looking into the wolf as a type of animal guide. What could he learn from wolves that might inform who he was as an educator? What ways do wolves have that might shed light onto his questions around ceremony? How might he observe wolves more fully in order to learn from them? What wisdom does a wolf hold?

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Later, as part of the institute, Sebastian spent three days learning on the land at nearby Todd Inlet. After that experience, he created a second winter count that showed the interconnectedness between all things:

To describe this image Sebastian wrote:

I made this image on the land. The land gives us all we need. I have learned so much being on the land and find it hard to return to the classroom. I feel connected to nature in a way I rarely experience. The more time I spend in nature the more I want to remain in nature.

Oral tradition > we remember what we are supposed to.

Stories > amazing and insightful.

Cedar bark > bathing, pre-ceremony. You can use cedar for everything.

Alongside, was this poem:

My mind is at rest.

No more tests

Just the land and I

No need to try

all is given

take what you need

Listen to Raven

and you’ll succeed.

In Sebastian’s third winter count he moved away from drawing and instead chose to cover a stick with velvet.

He wrote that this demonstrated:

Nature is covered by colonial materials. The royal velvet is a symbol of the [loss] of Nature. The majority of the stick cannot be felt. You feel the soft lie.

At this stage, Sebastian began to move into deeper realms of questioning and connected what he was learning from the land to the wolf and to the community.

Nature is covered. It affects all of us. The global family. The wolf is loyal and has a strong family bond. We can learn from the wolf. What do you have covered? What aren’t you revealing? What does it feel like? How can you adapt and how can you cure the problem?

Notice that Sebastian began with a discussion of nature, transitioned to the community, the wolf, and finally expanded into a series of questions in the second person. Even as he questions the reader, one cannot help but wonder how much these questions might be posed inwards, towards himself.

Sebastian began to resist the required course readings and found a resonance with indigenous ways of knowing, experiential learning and oral culture. His mentor honored his feelings and noted that, “We walk in 2 worlds in the institute.” Sebastian began to ponder ceremony as a way to build community. He also revealed parts of his own process by living within his questions, rather than looking for pat answers.

By understanding the other you can better understand thy self [and] situations. What does it feel like to be outside the group? Experience it. Go outside the group. By doing this you will better your understanding of the other. You will build compassion, empathy especially.

For Sebastian it was very important to seek solitude. In his annotated bibliography entry, he struggled to expand his understanding of wolf as discussed in Medicine Cards (Sams & Carson, 1988):

Wolf could also be telling you to seek out lonely places that will allow you to share your teacher within. In the aloneness of a power place, devoid of other humans, you may find the true you. The gift of wisdom comes to you when you have walked enough pathways and found enough dead ends to truly know the forest. In the rediscovery of every inch of ground comes the knowledge that nothing ever remains the same.

In this way, Sebastian was engaging the complex terrain of teaching and learning. His journey was fluid and dynamic, much akin to the movement of water, that as it flows, cannot help but leave the terrain it touches transformed.

Sebastian’s final winter count was a painting that was full of his ruminations.

The flames in the middle of the piece represent ascension. The flames/ fire represents the things we need to release and let go of. This is a process and you can see the fire moving upwards and away.

The central house like structure in the middle is open and we can see inside. This structure flows within nature. I like the idea of our houses being more than a square box and that nature should and can be incorporated in it. In the top right you can kind of see a residential school. It is covered in red and you can see red thoughout the piece. The red represents the blood and tears that has been shed because of residential schools. The bottom is Todd’s Inlet with the dock. The viewer’s vantage point is looking at the land from the ocean. Perhaps we are on a canoe.

Sebastian was very satisfied with his participation in the TI course. He valued the vulnerability of his peers and the new perspectives he was exposed to. He found that he changed not only what he learned, but also the way in which he engaged in his learning:

I have learned another way to learn, through experiential learning, a way of learning that is slowed down and harvested through saturating oneself in Nature and learning from the land. I am very thankful I had the opportunity to enjoy this summer program.

For his final guided inquiry conversation, Sebastian discussed with his peers:

  • How can I use ritual and ceremony in the classroom?
  • What ceremony and ritual do we engage in that we are not conscious of?
  • How do we take a moment to connect to spirit, to something larger and deeper that what we initially see?