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  • Reimagining the Four Rs of Indigenous Education for Literary StudiesLearning From and With Indigenous Stories in the Classroom
  • Candace Brunette-Debassige (bio) and Pauline Wakeham (bio)

Since the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015, universities across the country have been grappling with how to respond to its 94 Calls to Action. Given the TRC's focus on the residential school system that, for more than a century, removed Indigenous children from their families and placed them in institutions that attempted to eradicate Indigenous languages, knowledges, and the peoples themselves, many of the Calls to Action target matters of education.1 The response at the post-secondary level has, thus far, been uneven. In some cases, it has involved substantive changes such as implementing Indigenous course requirements and hiring more Indigenous faculty and staff. Unfortunately, the race to "indigenize" campuses has also resulted in "tokenized checklist response[s]" (Pidgeon 78) and the decontextualization and appropriation of Indigenous knowledges under the banner of reconciliation (FitzMaurice 72). Such tokenistic approaches bypass the transformative challenge of both decolonizing Eurocentric institutions—understood as dismantling settler colonial power structures, practices, and ideologies—and Indigenizing these spaces, or supporting the flourishment of Indigenous epistemologies, knowledges, methodologies, and languages. While decolonization and Indigenization may be considered complementary projects that may involve both Indigenous peoples and allies, Indigenization in particular requires Indigenous leadership and Indigenous intellectual sovereignty to prevent further problems of appropriation.2 Together, decolonization and Indigenization can and should be engaged by Canadian universities; ultimately, however, the goals of both projects extend far beyond these sites. As Unangax̂scholar Eve Tuck and allied scholar K. Wayne Yang argue, the ultimate goal of [End Page 13] decolonization—and Indigenization, we suggest—is nothing less than "the repatriation of Indigenous land and life" (1). For this reason, while Euro-Canadian universities may be one site for initiating change, they must not be the endpoint.

While debates about the possibilities and limits of "Indigenizing the academy" are taking place in broad institutional terms, it is vital to analyze how these dynamics play out in particular disciplinary contexts. In this essay, we reflect upon the specific challenges of practicing decolonial and Indigenizing approaches to teaching Indigenous storytelling within English departments that continue to be shaped by Euro-Western definitions of "literature," text-centered approaches, and Western canons littered with racist, heteropatriarchal, and colonial misrepresentations of Indigeneity (Episkenew 2009; Acoose 1995; Goldie 1989). To address these challenges, we argue for the value of thinking across disciplines and drawing upon decolonizing and Indigenizing pedagogies developed in other fields to help transform approaches to Indigenous literatures and storytelling in literature classrooms. In formulating this argument, we are inspired by Cree-Métis scholar Deanna Reder and allied critic Linda Morra's edited collection Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures (2016). As Reder explains in her introduction, she chose to include excerpts from Margaret Kovach's (Cree and Saulteaux) 2009 book, Indigenous Methodologies, precisely because the work that Kovach is doing in Education "has no equivalent in our field at the present time" (15). In this paper, we build upon Reder's recognition that insights beyond literary studies are vital to helping literature scholars reimagine how they engage with Indigenous stories and, in turn, teach their students. This is a point that Cree-Métis scholar Emma LaRocque also made in 2002 when she asserted: "I must emphasize that … interdisciplinary scholarship gained in fields such as Native Studies can only enhance the study of Aboriginal Literatures" (68).3

As two very differently situated women scholars—one Indigenous scholar based in Education and one settler scholar based in English—we have been engaging in cross-disciplinary exchanges of methods as well as a cross-cultural dialogue that takes seriously the unequal power relations shaping the academy in order to develop ethical approaches to teaching Indigenous literatures. This essay summarizes the fruits of those discussions by translating what is now a well-known approach in the field of Education—namely the "4Rs" of respect, relevance, reciprocity. [End Page 14] and responsibility developed by Verna Kirkness (Cree) and Ray Barnhardt (Euro-American) in 2001—for literary studies where it has been underutilized...


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