Early Childhood Waldorf Full Time Studies — an Indigenous Student’s Experience

Wahsonti:io Hill is a one of six full-time students who graduated last month from the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto’s one-year full-time Professional Development for Waldorf Teachers program, and one of two who chose to specialize in early childhood. Their program is called Professional Development for Waldorf Early Childhood Teachers Full-Time.* Wahsonti:io is third from the right in the photo above of the full time grads cutting the cake at their graduation.

Everlasting Tree School Connection

Wahsonti:io’s first exposure to Waldorf came through her friend, Chandra Maracle, who was one of the founders of the Everlasting Tree School at the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory (near Brantford). Chandra recognized the benefits of the Waldorf approach for Indigenous children, and she would drop little seeds to stimulate interest among her friends.

Later Chandra took her friends to visit some Waldorf schools and shared with them the knowledge she had gained about Steiner’s approach to children and learning. From what Chandra showed her, Wahsonti:io saw the beauty in Waldorf education and appreciated how it fit with Indigenous culture.

Wahsonti:io’s path then led her to take part in the RSCT’s Foundation Studies Encounter program in Thornhill, with Paul Hodgkins in 2008. At the time she had no intention to teach. She just wanted to understand anthroposophy and the foundations of Waldorf for her own personal interest.

Photo above — Family members at the graduation June 2019, L-R: Audrey Hill, sister, Karonto:ton, daughter, Ienenhstaienthos, daughter, Kakwiri:io, son, Ollie Beaver, father, Rarahkwaseres, son, Teiehkwa, daughter, Atiaktatie, partner, Wahsonti:io.

Journeying with her Children

Then when the Everlasting Tree School (a Waldorf initiative) started nine years ago, she enrolled her daughter in Grade One and her son in Kindergarten. Those were the only two classes being offered at the time. Her daughter, Teiehkwa, graduated from Grade Eight at ETS last June (2018). And this past year when Wahsonti:io was living in Thornhill to attend the full-time program, her daughter, Teiehkwa (photo below), took on the role of being the primary female at home, even though she was only 15 years old.

She made sure her Downs-Syndrome brother got up in the morning and got off to school. She did the cooking, and played the role of the mom. Wahsonti:io said that her kids enjoyed school. But, over the four years she struggled with cancer, starting at age 11, Teiehkwa missed a lot of school, and needed tutoring. It was during that time that Wahsonti:io had started in the part-time Waldorf teacher program at the RSCT, but had to withdraw so she could be there for her daughter.

Benefits of the Full-Time Program

Later, Wahsonti:io decided to do the full-time program at RSCT (instead of continuing with the part-time program). She knew she wanted to have a more in-depth understanding of the early years in Waldorf education. She said that having completed the full-time program now, she would not even consider the part-time program, given what the full-time program provides.

She said that at RSCT, all the instructors brought to the classroom an in-depth understanding from their own classroom experiences. Each built on the other in terms of understanding Steiner’s model of education and child development. She said the opportunities to do practicums with master teachers really enabled her to put into practice what she had been learning.

Putting the Learning into Practice

Wahsonti:io was grateful to have been able to work with Mary and Genevieve in the TWS Birchgrove kindergarten, as well as with Mario and his helpers in the TWS childcare. And also with Lea in the Parent and Tot, and with Laurie in her Hearthstone home childcare. Wahsonti:io said they were all amazing people. She also spoke of her feelings of being welcomed into the community here and made to feel at home by everyone she encountered. She said she feels fortunate to have been a part of it this year during her full-time studies at the RSCT.

One thing Wahsonti:io wants to do next is to take some courses in the Pickler method to better understand how the lower senses are formed in the earliest years of child development, and to learn what a child needs, and what they will not benefit them.

Marionette Show about the Seven Dancing Stars

Wahsonti:io said that one of the parallels between Waldorf and Indigenous cultures is the central role of stories and storytelling. Last January she was invited by Patti Wolfe to work with a group of experienced Waldorf educators to help develop a marionette show based on an Indigenous legend about the Seven Dancing Stars.

Patti had come to her with a script, but Wahsonti:io was able to help her find a more authentic version of the story. Patti also wanted to consult with her about skin color and clothing for the puppets that were to represent the Indigenous parents and children in the story. The marionette show was presented as part of the Toronto Waldorf School’s Children’s Winter Festival, and again a few weeks later for audiences at the Everlasting Tree School’s midwinter festival.

Wahsonti:io played the drum for the performances and got to see how a Waldorf marionette show was put together from very beginnings through performance for audiences. She said she was surprised how much work was involved in really doing it well. Photo below: Wahsonti:io and Patti during rehearsal.

Wahsonti:io says that the story of the Seven Dancing Stars is about the constellation of the Pleiades. She said that her people watch that constellation rise in the night sky so that they will know when to celebrate the midwinter ceremony, which is the most important ceremony of the year. It’s the appearance of those stars that signals the timing of the ceremony. Wahsonti:io said that many Indigenous traditions connect that constellation with the origin of their people.

About the Full-Time Program

Earlier, Wahsonti:io had taken courses to qualify for an Ontario Teaching Certificate. It was a 3 to 4 year part-time program. She said that program was more about what you fill the children’s heads with, and about the legalities and liabilities of teaching. After completing that program she did some second-language teaching in Indigenous language and culture schools. But Wahsonti:io said that what she learned in the Ontario Teaching Certificate program doesn’t begin to compare with what she learned over the past year at the RSCT, in terms of preparing her to stand before the children with love and a sense of who she is as a person.

Wahsonti:io had nothing but praise for the leadership of the full-time RSCT Waldorf teacher program and how Early Childhood Program Director Jan Patterson and Teacher Education Director James Brian work together, bringing their compassion, their skills, their knowledge and their organization together to make it all happen for the students. She said she also appreciated James’ help with finding a suitable place to stay, and the help of the Toronto Waldorf School in including her daughter in the first grade class while Wahsonti:io completed her teaching studies.

In addition, Wahsonti:io said she also enjoyed being able to make friends with other aspiring Waldorf teachers from all around the world, including students from Mexico, China, and Korea, and to have the opportunity to learn about their cultures. Now she feels she has lifelong friends from around the world. And with the professional development she was able to achieve at the RSCT she feels she now has something more to bring to the Six Nations children that would immensely benefit their spirits.

Bringing it all Back Home

Now that she’s graduated as a Waldorf early childhood teacher, Wahsonti:io plans to start a home childcare program on the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She says that although there are already four Ministry of Education daycares on the reserve, as well as several private home daycares, there are still long waiting lists, and there’s still a need. In addition to a Waldorf approach to early childhood, Wahsonti:io wants to offer an immersion in Mohawk language and culture for the children in her home childcare.

And now that she has experienced the community of living and studying here, she wants to try to re-create something of that in her own life through her home childcare and by encouraging others to take an interest in Waldorf, and eventually come to study at the RSCT.

*In case you’re wondering why the convoluted names, it’s because, for the last few years, the RSCT has been limited by the government to enrolling students who already have teaching experience, or in the case of part-time program, students who are currently teaching in schools. An application process is underway to reclassify the RSCT as a private career college. And once that process is complete and accepted by the government, the RSCT will once again be able to accept students into teacher education programs and early childhood teacher education programs without needing them to have had prior teaching experience or current teaching positions.

© Copyright 2018-19 RSCT Inc.  All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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Emergency Pedagogy April 5, 6, 2019 at Everlasting Tree School

The unspeakable happens every day. Afer that, nothing is as it was. Every day, children are traumatized by violence, abuse, war, expulsion, accidents, medical interventions or natural disasters. The younger the victim is, the longer and more intense the traumatic event continues, and the closer the relationship between the trauma victim and the perpetrator, the more lasting the traumatic shock becomes.

Dealing with Trauma

Psycho-traumas are psychological wounds that can lead to life-threatening complications if inadequately treated. If children and adolescents do not succeed in coping with their stressful events, various trauma sequel disorders can occur, which can eventually lead to a biographical break in the event of a severe continuing chronic process.

Often victims then become perpetrators. Waldorf education as emergency pedagogy is a partial aspect of an overall trauma pedagogy concept that is based on a four-phase trauma progression model. Emergency pedagogy is not trauma therapy. It is an attempt to stabilize traumatized children and young people by means of pedagogical interventions, to activate their self-healing powers and to support them in the processing and the biographical integration of their traumatic experiences.

Introduction to Psycho-traumatology Seminar

With Bernd Ruf, author of “Educating Traumatized Children”

Suggested Donation: $100

Friday, April 5th from 1 PM to 8 PM (dinner included)

Saturday, April 6th from 9 AM to 12 PM

at The Everlasting Tree School

775 Seneca Rd, Ohsweken, ON,

N0A 1M0

For more Information and Registratoon: Send an e-mail to info@everlastingtree.org or call 519-445-1333

Note: Presentation will be in German, with translation by Regine Kurek.

Indigenous Waldorf Marionette Performances

The Silk and Strings Marionettes group put their recent learnings about Indigenous culture to good use earlier this year in three performances of  “The Dancing Stars”, the Mohawk legend of the Origin of the Pleiades, at the Toronto Waldorf School’s Children’s Winter Festival in mid-January of 2019.

Putting the Learning into Practice

Many members of the group had attended last November’s RSCT Waldorf Development Conference and/or last years RSC Summer Festival’s Indigenous Waldorf Week which were about how to integrate Indigenous cultural material into the Waldorf curriculum in a respectful and good way.

The group consisted of current and former Waldorf EC teachers and RSC teacher trainees.

One of those trainees, Wasohnti:io Hill, was very instrumental in making the performances possible. She suggested this particular story and was very generous with her support, offering advice with respect to the creation of the script and costumes, doing the drumming and singing in the performance  and helping with the coordination with her Mohawk community.

After the TWS Winter Festival performances, the Silk and Strings Marionette group was invited to present the same “Dancing Stars” puppet show at the Everlasting Tree School at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.. The Everlasting Tree School is a Mohawk immersion school that just last year was recognized by AWSNA as a Waldorf initiative.

It was particularly meaningful that the group was able to offer two performances there on February 2nd, since this story is a central part of their community’s New Year ceremonies that are held right at that time of year.

Performing for an Indigenous Community

One of the players in the group, Patti Wolfe, sent this report about their experience at the Everlasting Tree School:

“Our performances at the Everlasting Tree School went very well indeed. Everyone from the ETS community and our marionette group were very excited about the opportunity to come together for the event.  We were beautifully welcomed with all the support we needed to stage the production and we were warmly hosted with bountiful servings of wonderful healthy food all day, including some specially prepared indigenous dishes .Two of the Everlasting Tree School teachers were able to step in at the last minute and take up supportive parts in the performance which very much added to the wonderful feelings of connection.

The audience was a mixed crowd of the very young, adolescents and elders as well as visitors from afar. This was a wonderful step forward in developing a stronger relationship between our established Waldorf community and this young and growing Mohawk immersion school that has chosen to embrace Waldorf pedagogy.

Sharing with the Community

Afterwards, we were able to sit together over soup and hear about Mohawk (Haudenosaunee) history and culture and to share questions and common contemplations. There was also some discussion about the possibility of future shared marionette shows. I would say that it felt good all round and in fact for me it felt very much like a happy reunion.”

It is encouraging to see how last year’s Indigenous Waldorf courses and conferences at the RSCT are bearing fruit in both regular and indigenous Waldorf school settings so close to home. Let’s hope that, as time goes on, Indigenous Waldorf will find growing acceptance across Canada and across the continent.

Photos are from the dress rehearsal for the Toronto Waldorf School performance in January 2019.

© Copyright 2018-19 RSCT Inc.  All rights reserved. Shared here by permission.

From Architecture to Education – Douglas Cardinal’s own Story

Douglas Cardinal wrote this, a few years ago, as a forward to the third volume of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on architecture, translated by Frederick Amrine. We are reprinting it here with Douglas’ permission:

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Photos are of Douglas Cardinal on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River, where he hopes one day to build an Asinabka Cultural Centre. Douglas was speaking to participants in an anthroposophical conference in the summer of 2016.

Architecture is a powerful medium that defines our everyday lives. When I am in the city amid the buzz of its activity what I sense most is the human chaos it produces. Cities and buildings have become functional, mechanical, analytical entities geared toward a materialistic and linear productivity. Human elements of love, beauty and compassion are, if not void, isolated to hermetic isles. Compartmentalization, alienation, and disconnection are paramount to mechanical efficiency, but originate much of our social malaise.

In the late 1950s, when I was a young architecture student at the University of Texas in Austin, one of my mentors who supported me in developing my own approach to architecture was Hugo Leipziger-Pierce. I felt, and still feel, that the profession should be geared towards creating balance and harmony between people and the environment. I wanted to develop my own practice to truly serve the needs of people by respecting and caring for families living more in harmony with nature, and with their own nature.

For this, Professor Leipziger-Pierce felt that it was necessary for my development to introduce me to the work of Rudolf Steiner. We spent many hours together as he translated Steiner’s philosophy of architecture, which at the time was only published in his native German language. I studied Steiner’s organic approach to architecture, its inspiration from nature, and the people who would live, experience and function in its spaces. The strong sculptural forms that he shaped into buildings captured my imagination and inspired me to approach architecture in a fundamentally different way.

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There is a strong spiritual emphasis throughout Steiner’s philosophy, which demonstrates a deep love and caring for all life, and a reverence and respect for everyone, particularly children. His philosophy is holistic and centered on multidisciplinary approaches to understanding the purpose and application of any single discipline. This understanding was reinforced by my own Anishnaabe elders who taught me that everything in the Universe is connected. Every action affects another.

The principles of organic architecture allow us to envision a building as an organic entity, where all stakeholders give shape to the form they will use and inhabit. It works with abstracted forms from within nature, as well as our own dynamic living forms, to create spaces that add drama to each function. Like an embryo, each cell or space is interconnected to each other. Placing that organism on the site, it evolves further to respect not only the internal forces that are shaping it, but the external forces as well, such as topography, landscaping, sun angles and wind patterns.

Many of these concepts, which I have come to apply throughout my architectural career, I learned through my study of Rudolf Steiner, who has remained a critical influence for me, along with others such as Francesco Borromini, Antonio Gaudi and Frank Lloyd Wright.

From Architecture to Education

In laying the foundation for the lives of our own children, my wife Idoia and I discovered Waldorf Education. Also based on Steiner’s insightful philosophy, Waldorf schools provide a similarly nurturing environment that connects discipline with the emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth of the child. This has confirmed for us both how important it is to share the work of Rudolf Steiner with as many people as possible.

I feel privileged to have been able to draw deeply from Steiner’s philosophy as an inspiration in my work and in my life, and believe that these translations will broaden his influence for the benefit of the architectural profession and society as a whole.

Douglas J. Cardinal

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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

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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.