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Douglas Cardinal Foundation for Indigenous Waldorf Education – Fondation Douglas Cardinal pour une éducation autochtone Waldorf

Our Vision:

To promote, support and perpetuate Indigenous language, tradition and the wisdom of the Elders through Waldorf education.

Promouvoir, soutenir et maintenir la langue et les traditions autochtones grâce à la pédagogie Waldorf.

So the challenge today is to get back to the original principles of respecting the child and developing a concept of education around the child’s needs, around the child’s rhythms and teaching the child to be responsible, to follow his own talents, his own path and his own direction.

And I believe the system of Waldorf education does that and is open to bring in the languages, the teachings of the elders and the thousands of years of knowledge and traditions of being in harmony with the land, in harmony with each other, because their whole concept of teaching is teaching the child that we are all connected.

Douglas Cardinal

To see the complete video of Douglas on Indigenous Waldorf education:

Waldorf  is 100 years old – watch the video

Would you like to make a donation?

Donations made to the foundation will aid to finance scholarships for indigenous teachers at Waldorf education training centres and on-site Waldorf training for indigenous communities.

Any donation is appreciated. Thank you!

You can donate through PayPal:

Donate Button

Or you can mail your donation to:

Douglas Cardinal Foundation for Indigenous Waldorf Education
140 Bruyere St.
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 5E1

The Douglas Cardinal Foundation for Indigenous Waldorf Education is registered with Canada Revenue as a charity and will issue tax receipts for donations.

Interested in actively working with us? Join our Google groupIndigenous Steiner/Waldorf Working Group

For more information or to arrange a training session, contact our team:

In Western Canada through Dale Saddleback (English, Cree)

In Eastern Canada through James Brian (English, French)

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Indigenous Culture and Education Update

Way-forward

There seems to have been a recent surge of interest in Indigenous culture not only in Waldorf circles, but in Canadian society at large.

At least some people are finally asking “Why is a quarter of Canada’s prison population Indigenous?” instead of just totally ignoring the status quo (as in this Feb. 18th, 2018 story from “The Conversation”) .

In a recent Canadaland podcast from October 22nd, Ryan McMahon wonders out loud how a city like Thunder Bay can be white nirvana for some, while remaining “Murder Bay” for the Indigenous population.

Finding The Path Forward

In a Toronto Star story from October 31, Star reporter and this year’s Massey lecturer, Tanya Talaga, who is herself Indigenous, highlights the role that educators can play in Indigenous reconciliation. From that story:

“The Indigenous experience in all of these colonized nations is startlingly similar, Talaga said. It is marked by violent separation from the land, from families and from traditional ways of life.

In Canada, that experience has seen children removed from their homes and placed in residential schools and foster care. It has also resulted in an epidemic of youth suicides.

“When children are born into adversity, into communities without clean water or proper plumbing with unsafe housing, parents suffering with addictions and traumas, when they have to leave their communities to access health care and education — basic rights easily obtained by other children in this country — when they do not have a parent to tuck them into bed at night or tell them that they love them, children die,” Talaga said.

She gave high praise to educators for taking it upon themselves to learn and teach about the true history of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

“While education has played a huge role in damaging relations between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, it is also going to play a crucial role in reconciling that relationship,” she said.

Legions of teachers are reading and teaching books by Indigenous authors and historians even if their governments are not keeping pace with what they are doing in the classroom.

“The educators will always lead us forward,” she said to loud applause….”

Walrus

The Walrus magazine published an excerpt from Tanya Tagaq’s book “Split Tooth”, a fictionalized account of Indigenous youth experience, in their October 2018 issue.

Student Walkout in Ontario

Back in September non-Indigenous students across Ontario walked out of their classrooms for a day of protest against premier Doug Ford’s rollback of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum, as well as changes to the Indigenous curriculum in Ontario. The following is from a CTV news story dated Sept. 21st, 2018:

“It’s time for all students to stand up and fight for our right to education. We the students will walk out, protest, and demand the reinstatement of the 2015 sex ed curriculum and re-establishment of the indigenous curriculum rewrite. We the students will not stop. We will not relent. Not until we win this fight.”

The Upside Down

In Australia, while the general attitude towards the Indigenous peoples is probably no farther ahead than in Canada, there are a few bright spots, such as the National Museum of Australia exhibit on the Seven Sisters Songline, and Bill Lang’s book “Old Man’s Story”.

In New Zealand, Neil Boland is working on promoting a working together of Waldorf and Indigenous cultures.

The Indigenous Waldorf  Movement

And on the Waldorf front, the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto and the Douglas Cardinal Foundation for Indigenous Waldorf are not the only organizations working on bringing Indigenous and Waldorf cultures together.

In the United States, the Lakota Waldorf School has been a pioneer in integrating Waldorf and Indigenous culture. And in a recent issue of the Waldorf Today newsletter, there was an announcement about a gathering Oct 5-7 in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento titled:

“Reconnecting – Bringing Indigenous Wisdom into Life and Education Weekend”

The announcement ran as follows: “We invite you to a gathering on Indigenous People’s weekend for educators, and all who care about our young people and the future of Mother Earth. With well known native artists/educators James Marquez, Stan Padilla, Aiona Anderson and Waldorf educators Jack Petrash and Nancy Poer

Reverent awareness of our interconnectedness with the natural world is primal knowledge among First Nation’s indigenous peoples. Today there is alarming disregard for our Mother Earth, and a disconnect from the very sources of life itself. We need a vital reconnection more than ever.

In this gathering respected indigenous educators and healers will share their native wisdom in dialogue, story, art, food, ceremony, healing practices for daily life and making beautiful crafts as community gifts. We will look at how we can enhance the Waldorf curriculum with renewing ideas. This ongoing work on behalf of our young people is to bring them a truer, deeper story of our nation’s history and support a higher, more inclusive understanding of life.

White Feather Ranch retreat center, at a site of ancient native grinding rocks, is an hour east of Sacramento in the Sierra foothills. There are rustic ranch style accommodations and 70 acres for camping. The program includes campfires, a chance for sleeping under the stars, a sunrise ceremony on Sunday followed by practical indications for our teaching curriculums….”

So Indigenous Waldorf is not just a local phenomenon.

Excitement Building for Waldorf Development Conference on Integrated Indigenous Cultural Material in the Waldorf School Setting, Nov. 9th and 10th at the RSCT in Thornhill

As of Monday Nov. 5th there have been registrations from as far away as Squamish B.C., Washington D.C., Detroit, Buffalo, Kingston, Ann Arbor, London, Montreal and the Waldorf Academy in Toronto. And from the Toronto Waldorf School alone, 18 teachers have registered. In total so far, 75 people have already registered for this event.

That’s compared to 55 people who attended last year’s conference. The difference in numbers might indicate that this year’s topic has caught the imagination of Waldorf teachers across the continent.

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to learn about integrating Indigenous material into the Waldorf curriculum. Here’s a link to the website page with links to online registration forms (the links to the online forms are down at the bottom of that page).

There will be online registrations only, for this event. Deadline for registering is Friday Nov. 9th at 6 pm. But please register as early as possible to help with planning the food and the space. Thank you.

“We Will Gather Our Minds” – Akwesasne Indigenous Educators Conference Report

In the lead up to the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto’s Nov. 9th & 10th Waldorf Development Conference which will address the topic of how to incorporate Indigenous cultural material in the Waldorf school setting, we thought it might be relevant to publish two reports on a unique conference which took place last August at the Akwesasne reserve near Coburg, Ontario. The conference was designed to introduce Indigenous educators to Waldorf pedagogy and was led almost entirely by Indigenous Waldorf educators. 

Please note that if you want to attend the November Waldorf Development conference you must register online in advance. This is because lunches need to be pre-ordered and the space needs to be prepared with enough chairs etc.. So please register as soon as possible. Registration closes Nov. 9th at 6 pm. No in-person registrations will be accepted at the start of the conference.  Click Here to get to the page on the RSCT.ca website, with the online registration forms. 

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Fifty-three Mohawk educators, from five different reserves, along with some Oneida language teachers, met last August for a three-day conference at the Akwesasne reserve near Cornwall Ontario to share and learn about indigenous Waldorf education.

Indigenous Leadership for Indigenous Waldorf Education

Most of the leaders and presenters at the conference — Sean Thompson, Amy Bombery and Chandra Manacle (from Everlasting Tree School) and Tara Skidder (Akwesasne Freedom School) — were, themselves, indigenous educators. Waldorf was new to many of the participants, so it was ideal that they could hear about it from fellow indigenous educators.

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The sole exception was Elise Pomeranz, who, while not being indigenous herself, has been working closely with the Everlasting Tree School. Elise led workshops in painting and clay. Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto executive director and Douglas Cardinal Foundation president, James Brian, attended the conference as a participant and organizer.

Douglas Cardinal was there

Douglas Cardinal himself was on hand to give the keynote address, and he stayed all through the day, participating in all the activities with the others. Douglas Cardinal is an indigenous architect from the Blackfoot band in southern Alberta who first encountered the work of Rudolf Steiner while studying architecture in university in Texas.

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Douglas has started working on preliminary plans for a purpose-built indigenous Waldorf school for the Akwesasne reserve. Actually constructing the planned building is still several steps away. Fundraising will be required. Stay tuned for further details as the plans evolve.

Thanks to the National Indian Brotherhood

The “We Will Gather Our Minds” event was organized by the Douglas Cardinal Foundation for Indigenous Waldorf Education and funded through a grant from the National Indian Brotherhood Trust Fund (money from the residential-school settlement).

The funding for the “We Will Gather Our Minds” enabled the Foundation to offer the conference at no cost to the educators, even paying their travel costs and providing accommodation for participants in the three day event.

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The Douglas Cardinal Foundation would like to host more such workshops on an every-six-months schedule, but future events like this will depend on funding proposals that are still pending.

The report above was based on a conversation with James Brian, who attended the conference as a participant and organizer. The group photo (at the top of this post) is reprinted from the Akwesasne Freedom School Facebook page by permission. The other photos are from James Brian.


The report below is from Augsburg University professor Joaquin Munoz, who also wrote the daily blog posts about last summer’s Indigenous Waldorf Week course at the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto. In this report he reflects on both the Akwesasne conference “We Will Gather Our Minds” and on his experience participating in the week-long RSCT course.

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Reflecting on a Haudenosaunee Waldorf-inspired Experience

Joaquin Munoz, Augsburg University

She:kon

It will probably be impossible to calculate exactly how much impact the Waldorf educational world will experience from the experiences with our Haudenosaunee teachers in the last two weeks in Canada. From July 23rd to August 3rd, 2018, I was given the amazing opportunity to connect with Haudenosaunee educators working on Waldorf-inspired initiatives.

This was an especially important experience for me, as I was able to connect to Indigenous folks enacting Waldorf education practices. This was the subject of my dissertation, The Circle of Mind and Heart. In my dissertation, I did not get to connect directly to Indigenous educators, families or students who had experienced Waldorf education- in Toronto and in Akwasesne, I did! I it was a truly wonderful experience, both from the Waldorf education part of me, and the Indigenous education side of me.

Our first week at the Rudolf Steiner Center Toronto has been written about extensively, and I will not speak much about the second week of meetings at Akwesasne because that meeting is largely for the Haudenosaunee alone. I would like to say that the learning shared there was such a beautiful exchange. It saw, in some ways, a different direction of Waldorf inspired work.

The Rudolf Steiner Center Toronto work saw Haudenosaunee language, history and culture brought to the larger Waldorf education movement. The meetings in Akwesasne were in way completing the transaction, with our teachers brining aspects of Waldorf education for Haudenosaunee people to the folks gathered there.

The Rudolf Steiner Center Toronto has provided an amazing, and very necessary new impetus for Waldorf educators the world over to examine; the weeks I spent learning from teachers at the Everlasting Tree School and other educators from across the Six Nations Territory, have opened up a space for the important work of deciding what Waldorf is, and what it needs to be.

What Waldorf Education Is

In many respects, the greatest service that was provided to us in these two weeks has been the opportunity to come together in reaffirming what we love about Waldorf education. In discussions, in art projects, in engagement with teachers and students in warm and caring ways, in the deep considerations of spiritual impulses and implications, many of us found powerful kinships. There was a great deal of deep thinking and reflecting on what our activities, what they produce, and how they impact our students. We constantly spoke of the importance of connecting with our students in meaningful ways, and of the need to build authentic community with those around us.

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What Waldorf Can Become

Along with the learning and deep connecting that occurred, many of the participants were thoughtful and cognizant of the important questions we must ask regarding Waldorf education’s inclusion of Indigenous ideas, history, culture and language. At the same time, questions arose of the appropriateness of Waldorf education’s inclusion for Indigenous youth.

Key ideas that came up during the two weeks I was present included questions of cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation, colonization and decolonization, the importance of relationships and understanding, and the continued need to move into the future, and being rooted to a truthful past.

Ultimately, the two weeks were most significant for opening up crucial spaces for folks to ask questions, consider answers, and ask even more questions. This shows the important connection of relationship, of people and of coming together.

About a week after returning from my trip to Canada, I returned to my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, to conduct professional development work for a Waldorf school there. During my time with the school, I told many of the experiences of my time in Canada, and shared my commitment to their mission and work. It reminded me again of the words expressed to my friends in Toronto, of the duty, of the obligation, to honor the relationships I had started there.

With my friends in Tucson, I felt a renewed sense of this duty to a relationship. I have a renewed sense of mission, as I plan to continue working with folks doing Waldorf education, who are working to make it the best it can be for all children. My time working with the Toronto Steiner Center, the Everlasting Tree School and the Akwesasne Freedom School have all embued me with a deep sense of hope, purpose, and forward motion.


Once again, please note that if you want to attend the November Waldorf Development conference you must register online in advance. This year for the first time, the November Waldorf Development conference is open not only to teachers and administrators but also to parents and any other interested persons. No in-person registrations will be accepted at the start of the conference. Registration closes Nov. 9th at 6 pm. Please register as soon as possible, if you want to attend. Click Here to get to the page with the online registration forms. 

 

Talking with Dale Saddleback, keynote speaker for RSCT Waldorf Development Conference, Nov. 9, 10

Dale-320-2In recent years there has been a ground swell of interest in the role of Indigenous peoples, including acknowledgement of which bands lived on the land where schools are now located, and an awareness that teachers are the ones who can help spread awareness of, and respect for, Indigenous culture and people, to the new generations of students they are educating. On November 9th and 10th,  at the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto’s annual Waldorf Development conference teachers and parents will have a unique opportunity to hear from someone who is devoting his life to building a new synthesis of Waldorf pedagogy and Indigenous nehiyaw traditions to help new generations make a living connection with the Indigenous peoples and traditions that have gone before.

Online individual and group registration forms for the conference can be found at this link.

Indigenous nehiyaw educator Dale Saddleback was raised on the Pigeon Lake Reserve #138A, south of Edmonton Alberta, among the nehiyawak (Cree). He was among some of the last students in Canada to experience the infamous residential school system (but just for kindergarten and grade one as a day-schooler). The remainder of his elementary and high school was more cross-cultural, as he attended county schools with children from mostly rural Alberta farming communities.

Dale says, however, that it wasn’t until university that he learned about treaties. But while growing up on the reserve, his life was enriched by experiencing many powwows and other traditional ceremonies which involve dancing and singing. In his teens Dale learned about some dance ceremonies and took part in sweat lodges among others.

Elders and Ancestors

Dale’s great grandfather was one of those who kept the Sundance (thirst dance) culture alive underground during all those decades when it was prohibited by the Government of Canada. The prohibition of ceremonies was finally lifted in 1951, and continued sponsoring Sundance from 1952 onward. Dale argues that Indigenous peoples in Canada were not even considered to be human beings until these prohibitions were lifted.

Dale says that the success he has achieved in life is rare among indigenous people due to systemic barriers. He credits his continued practice of traditional ceremonies for being able to keep going all the way through to postgraduate studies, in spite of the many negative influences that he and other indigenous peoples have had to deal with, living in rural Alberta.

Dale’s main project has been developing cross cultural curricula suitable for students from all cultural backgrounds, based on the outcome of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2015 ninety-four Calls to Action. He has consulted with numerous school boards on topics related to Indigenous curriculum design.

Toxic Social Environment

Dale has found that in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, racism and stereotyping of indigenous people is still very prevalent among many of the people who live there. Dale says that Indigenous people are often living in second and third world conditions on the reserves, and that, as late as the 80s and 90s, the local KKK would gather after dark and burn crosses in the fields near Provost, Alberta, not far from the Saskatchewan border.

He says it is due to a kind of systemic racism that there are so many indigenous people in Canadian jails and that is why people like Kevin Annett — a white Anglican minister who tried to advocate for the Indigenous cause and who helped expose the residential school scandal through his movie “Unrepentant” — are so treated so badly.

Dale says the Northwest Mounted Police (now the RCMP) who were originally tasked with protecting treaty rights of the Indigenous, have instead historically turned to protecting the infringers. And regarding some recent Indigenous rights issues, he asks “what’s the use of a duty to consult, without those being consulted, having a veto over federal/provincial/municipal/county projects going ahead, if they are not in the best interest of the First Nation”. And he says that’s why the Mikisiw Cree will likely be taking their case against the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision against them to the UN.

It wasn’t that long ago that a pipeline blew up in BC and another Indigenous community had to be evacuated.

Dale believes that the best way to address the injustices of the present situation is through better education for young people. And that’s why he helped found the Douglas Cardinal Foundation for Indigenous Waldorf Education and spent so much time raising money to bring workshops that build skills developed in Waldorf settings, and to raise awareness about the potential for the development of Steiner’s methods and techniques for use in Indigenous contexts.

Like Douglas Cardinal, Dale was another Indigenous person from Alberta, who managed to overcome the challenges of his life situation and achieve something in the wider world. In Douglas’ case, that was becoming a world-renown Indigenous architect. Douglas Cardinal first discovered Rudolf Steiner’s architecture through a professor he had at the University of Texas. While Dale is Cree from northern Alberta, Douglas is Blackfoot from southern Alberta.

How did Dale Connect with Waldorf?

While he was working on his masters degree a few years ago at university, Dale’s computer broke, and he went to his band to ask for assistance to get a new one. Someone there decided that Dale should attend a week-long workshop on Waldorf Indigenous Education that was just then being given by James Brian at Enoch Cree Nation, just west of Edmonton.

So Dale went. He arrived a day after the start of the program. He soon recognized that Waldorf was the key he had been looking for, and he realized he needed to utilize these new insights into the capping paper he had been working on for his masters degree. That was the turning point and the start of his involvement with Waldorf, back in August of 2013. Dale was amazed to realize that Waldorf had been around for more than 90 years and he was only hearing about it for the first time.

Introducing Waldorf to Indigenous Communities

Dale has introduced Waldorf to five or six bands but he says it’s like fighting the provinces or the federal government. He has had trouble getting many Indigenous leaders to take interest. He says that because of how the leadership of the bands was set up by the Indian Act, those who end up in charge are often more concerned with feathering their own nests, than in promoting understanding of treaties and the welfare of the band. But in spite of obstacles like these, Dale perseveres, and has increasingly been called upon by school boards to help design curricula related to Indigenous ways of being-in-the-world.

Recently Married

In March 31st of this year, Dale married an Nova Scotian woman, Dr. Claire Poirier, who was recently awarded her Ph.D. in anthropology with distinction. He says she has studied in Indigenous communities as part of her field work, and as an ethnographer.

And just recently, they have had a new baby. His name is Lazlo, born May 22, 2018. Dale is currently working on his Ph.D., while also doing a lot of volunteer work on behalf of the Douglas Cardinal Foundation to help promote Indigenous Waldorf education wherever he can. Dale also participated in last summer’s AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America) conference in Bethesda, Maryland where he presented on Indigenous nehiyaw Steiner possibilities and joined with others to form a committee to promote social justice for all peoples, and sang in the Cree language for all the delegates.

Waldorf Teacher Development Conference Nov 9th & 10th

Dale Saddleback will bring his wealth of knowledge and experience of Indigenous ways and culture to the RSCT’s Waldorf Development Conference November 9th and 10th at the RSCT in Thornhill, where he will be addressing the question of how to introduce teaching on Indigenous topics into the Waldorf curriculum. Don’t miss this opportunity. 

Register now using the online forms at this link. 

Lead photo of Dale was taken at last year’s AWSNA conference in Bethesda, Maryland.

Indigenous Waldorf Week — Day Five

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At the end of Friday’s Indigenous Waldorf Week, RSCT Executive Director James Brian presented a certificate of affiliation to representatives of the Everlasting Tree School, on behalf of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA). This confirms the school’s status with AWSNA as a regisitered initiative. L-R in photo: Chandra Maracle, James Brian, Amy Bomberry, Kathy Smith, and Sean Thompson.

Notes and report by Joaquin Munoz

Shé:kon

The end of a thing is always the hardest part. Being in such close contact with folks, learning, thinking, growing and changing with people is a process that is never direct, always dynamic, and fluid. So it is always hard when it comes to an end, because it feels scary and empty. Now that a teacher is not nearby to direct us, where should we go? What will be do? The sense of community that was build might feel like it is gone. What is powerful about this week is the sense of mission and commitment going forward. So many powerful ideas were presented to us and so many tools were given as a way to further our own investigations.

In fact, what may be an even bigger gift than the information about Haudenosaunee language, culture and history given to us, is that we now have a powerful framework by which to learn about all indigenous languages, cultures and histories. If we borrow from the Thanksgiving Address shared by Sean Thompson on the very first day, we now have a way to envision a path forward. We know then, that every culture has words, phrases and beliefs about what it means to approach the world and make sense of it. From the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, we know that there are words and phrases to represent winds, birds, animals, people, trees, plants and relationships. Knowing the word is not sufficient, however. One must learn the meaning, the significance and the symbolism of each one.

Thus, we can begin a study of the language, history or culture of the peoples around us by attempting to learn more of their worldview, their knowledge, and the way they understand knowledge. And what we immediately must see is the complexity of the worldview. It is in this complexity that we must enter, and learn from, with the greatest respect.

The Danger of a Single Story

In her TedTalk “The Danger of a Single Story” Chimamanda Adiche describes the challenge of overcoming our biases and stereotypes when we observe others. She reminds all of us that every single person is a complex and complicated individual with amazing experiences and unique perspectives. There is a danger in operating solely from a belief in a single way a person is or can be. Assuming that anyone can only be one way reduces their complexity, and takes away a part of their humanity.

As we learned this week it is absolutely essential that we carefully study, and work to understand the experiences of Indigenous folks around us. We cannot reduce people to simple stereotypes, to single stories, but rather, we must learn of the complexity of their experience, and appreciate this. In this way, we can come to truly appreciate a group of people.

“It Wasn’t False, But It Could Have Been a Little Bit Truer”

During the week, one of the most profound statements came during a story. When asked about a book on Haudenosaunee culture, Chandra Maracle assessed it, saying “it’s not false, but it could have been truer.” This line is crucial, in that it presents educators with a special challenge. It challenges us to work to understand the complexity of people, and to know more about their history, language and culture. It challenges us to continuously seek to learn and understand the cultures around us, to not reduce them to single stories for the sake of convenience or efficiency. The statement reminds us that we are constantly working to develop our knowledge, and that it is not an endpoint. Rather, it is a continuous path and destination. It is the continuous work of trying to learn about, and understand another culture’s worldview.

“There Needs to be Real Truth to Get Real Reconciliation”

All of this is to say that our learning and understanding this week is meant to serve as one step on our path. This week is not the end of what we are called upon to do. It is only the beginning of our task. This work represents the start of learning, engaging and developing our awareness around the experiences of the Indigenous people around us, as way to contribute to the one of the most important tasks of all: truth, reconciliation, and healing. In order to get to the reconciliation and healing, we must have the real truth, as Amy Bomberry said. It is in this work that healing can happen for all people.

It is in this task that we must make a commitment. It is central to the commitments we promise to hold, symbolized by the Wampum belt. It is central to the relationships we created this week. And in these relationships, the ending no longer has to be the hardest part, because we know it is only the first step of a greater work to be done.

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Group photo of Indigenous Waldorf Week participants at the RSCT Summer Festival of Arts and Education, July 2018.

Indigenous Waldorf Week — Day Four

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Sharing commitments around the pine tree in the TWS forest playground.

Notes and report by Joaquin Munoz

Shé:kon

Today, we were given a profound gift by our Haudenosaunee teachers today that constituted a mental and spiritual reminder to all of us: we were gifted the reminder of our relationships to each other, and the work that must be done to keep them alive and healthy. We were reminded of the important historic ties we have towards each other, and the responsibility this places on us today as people, both Indigenous and others.

This reminder of relationship began today with our homework, where we discussed our own research on the Indigenous peoples on the lands where we come from. For me, this required a review of the Anishinaabe and Lakotah peoples of Minnesota. We were also asked to explore resources for learning about the peoples of our regions, and this showed me the various bookstores, galleries, the Minneapolis American Indian Center, and other spaces to learn about the experiences of these tribes.

From a practical standpoint, this useful for teachers to know, but it spoke much more deeply to the lesson we have been receiving all week long: of the need for us to learn about, and build relationships with the people around us.  This lesson of relationship was then imparted deeply in the discussion of the Wampum belt history of the Haudenosaunee. What became evident was the deep, personal and powerful meaning these sacred symbols represent.

The Meaning of Law

Along with the profundity of relationships and responsibilities was considering the nature of law. In Western views, law often connotes restriction, confinement, or punishment. It was incredible to hear of the Wampum which represented the Great Law. While responsible for delineating behavior, the Great Law needs to be read with a different lens.

“Law” Sean Thompson told us, “is the great, large goodness and right-ness.” And fundamental to the large goodness and right-ness is the connection and relationships shared by people. Like the Wampum belt that represents it, it is the path, the way.

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Passing around a wampum belt during Thursday’s class.

Wampum Belts as Sacred Ties

In learning the history of the beads, belts, ties and colors, we learned of their significance as markers of relationship and responsibility. It was interesting to see and hear the stories of the various belts, and how they represented relationship between Haudenosaunee, members of the Six Nations, and to relationships with non-Natives, including the Dutch, French and British.

What is amazing about these representations is the significance of each color, each design, each bead, all of it. Each one represented a powerful reminder to parties connected to it of the supreme responsibility for maintaining the relationship it represented. This is not a call for perfect, pristine harmony and peace; it is a call to remember the connection forged by the relationship and value it. To think and consider the connection and relationship above anything that might be gained from desecrating the relationship.

And we were taught that, far from demonstrating a doctrine of separation, as in the one shown above, the belts demonstrate connection, friendship, and relationship. They a built in peace and reciprocity. They allow for, and even value, the diversity and difference in the lives of people, but still call on them to remember the connection, the relationship, and the respect.

An Invitation to Renew

While the Great Law implores us to build, cultivate and protect the relationships we share, these are not simple, or organic occurrences. The relationships we build must be taken care of. The require attention, care and conscious actions to keep healthy.

As we were told by Chandra Maracle, the single arrow can easily be broken, but the arrows bundled together are unbreakable. But the arrows must be kept together. And that means that the relationship must be looked after. It must be refreshed; it must be polished.

The most powerful symbol of this was shared with us at the end of our session, of the 50 Chiefs of the Confederacy, linking arms, around the great White Pine, to signify their connection and commitment to each other, and the protection of the Everlasting Tree.

This symbolizes, to me, a completely different view of humanity and reality; it symbolizes a deep, deep commitment to those who surround you, and a commitment to the connections we share. It symbolizes the need to view each other as legitimate people, with legitimate ideas and actions, and it symbolizes that I assume the same about you. It does not value supremacy, control or hierarchy. It values connection and togetherness. It reminds us that the Great Law is the Great Good. And that we must work together to acknowledge it, and each other.

It is part of the Original Instructions.

It is part of the Sacred Thing That Happened When We Were Given the Great Law.

It is a part of What We Must Remember.

It is part of What We Must Not Forget.

It is part of Living in the Shade of the Great Tree.

It is part of the Law That Is In The Seed.

(inspired by “The Law is in the Seed by Alex Jacobs).

This week has helped to inspire me to remember these connections, these relationships, and to work to keep them alive and strong.

Indigenous Waldorf Week — Day Three

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Day Three activity. It’s not all sitting and listening at Indigenous Waldorf Week.

Notes and report by Joaquin Munoz

Shé:kon

We have been given so much by our Haudenosaunee instructors at the Indigenous Waldorf Week. It would be impossible to calculate the amount of content, history, language and perspective we have received listening to their stories, teachings and reflections.

Many of my colleagues have remarked how grateful they are to hear so much Mohawk speech and song. Many talk of how they are deeply inspired and touched by the materials they have seen, and want very much to know more about Indigenous people in their own communities.

The Gesture of Gratitude

Many people feel that the greatest force permeating this week is one of gratitude, of thanks. The gesture that has been brought to us by our Haudenosaunee teachers asks us to consider the notion of gratitude from a refreshed, and powerful perspective. From the very beginning of our week, we were immersed in a Mohawk way of thanks, of gratitude.

On the very first day, listening to the Thanksgiving Address in Mohawk language, with only pictures to orient our thinking, we were challenged to determine the significance of all we had heard and seen. As non-speaker, it was evident to me that what we had witnessed was important, and profound, but my first interpretation was not one of gratitude; I assumed that what I had seen and heard was a telling of the creation of the universe.

Recognizing a Need that has been Dormant

It was only after hearing the interpretation and translation from Amy Bomberry, Chandra Maracel and Sean Thompson that I understood the significance of what I had just heard, and perhaps more important, recognized a need in myself that is dormant. The need to have gratitude, the need to revere.

We were taught, for example, that students at Everlasting Tree are given the Thanksgiving Address throughout their entire schooling life. First they are shown, then they are taught, and then they make it their own. The idea of teaching, on a daily basis, the action of gratitude is such a powerful and profound notion.

The gesture that has been brought to us by our Haudenosaunee teachers asks us to consider the notion of gratitude from a refreshed, and powerful perspective.

The Waldorf Connection

This idea is one that is not foreign to Waldorf education. It is one that Waldorf education is absolutely in connection to. Consider, for example, one of the most used verses in Waldorf schools, “The sun with loving light,” which reminds us that, “in sunlight shining clear I revere.” Revere, to “to regard with respect tinged with awe.” To be aware. To venerate. We later say that from the sun, we receive “light and strength” and in return, we offer “love and thanks.”

Thanks.

Gratitude.

What is different, and I argue, of supreme importance in the learning we have received this week comes from the depth and breadth of gratitude offered, and the constant reminder it engenders in us. The exercise of engaging in thanks, with “one mind” towards so many things, from the winds to the sun, moon and stars, from the insects to the water and fish, we are implored to remember all of the things around us that require our respect and reverence.

Deliberate Practice

If this is offered every day as a deliberate practice, I wonder how the treatment of each of these beings would change. As Chandra pointed out to us on the second day, our actions can become destructive when we do not live with this gratitude in mind. To have gratitude towards all things would no doubt cause us to treat things in a very different way, and with a very different feeling.

Our second and third days of engaging with the Thanksgiving Address, we were challenged to think more deeply about the importance of relationship implied within it. Not only did we think about the gratitude we had for each element, being or creature, we then thought about how these beings all interconnected and impacted each other in a web of reality and relationship.

Seeing the Connections between Beings

Much like the web we built with Amy on the first day, our engagement with the Thanksgiving Address challenged us to see the connections between all of these beings, and perhaps, as important, to envision the connections we could not see. To ask ourselves “what do all of these things need from each other, and what do they need from us?” This gratitude calls on us to revere what we see, and what we don’t see.

To give gratitude to the people around us, but to equally give gratitude to the ancestors who came long before us, and to those to come. We may give gratitude to the plants that nourish us, but do we remember to thank the insects that work diligently to help make fruits and vegetables a viable food for us?

Our engagement with the Thanksgiving Address challenged us to see the connections between all of these beings, and perhaps, as important, to envision the connections we could not see

What all of this has challenged in me, and others I have heard, is the degree to which I offer gratitude to all things. As I sit here writing, drinking my iced coffee, it occurred to me that I did not stop to consider the water that went into making this, the coffee beans that grew on a plant, the person who made this for me to nourish myself and enjoy.

The idea of a daily action of gratitude, and a method for offering gratitude to all that is, is one that many have said will become central to their daily practice. I for one am deeply humbled and grateful to have received this learning, that I am approach the world with more gratitude, awareness and consciousness.

Thanksgiving Address