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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reflecting on a Haudenosaunee Waldorf-inspired Experience
Joaquin Munoz, Augsburg University
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.
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.