Indigenized Slam Poetry
Kelly McCarthy and Kathleen Meiklejohn of Spencer Middle School and their English/Social Studies 8 students have been participating in a 2017-2018 SET-BC Aboriginal Education Synergy Project.
Their project aims to have students use diverse texts and multimodal approaches to explore their worldview and identity. Working with local community partners (Aboriginal Elders and communities) students have the opportunity to learn about, share, and create a digital, multimedia “Slam Poetry” piece that will explore personal, cultural and historical events and experiences that relate and connect to the experiences of the local Coast Salish First Nations. The pieces will be shared in a final, culminating celebration and performance in May.
In the fall of 2018, Kelly and Kathleen started their students off on a year-long Indigenized Slam Poetry project. This project has multiple components, first exploring student world-view and differing world perspectives. Following from there, the project will explore the experiences of Canadian First Nations people, the Truth and Reconciliation Council’s 94 calls to action, and examine how these perspectives shape students’ personal perspectives. Ultimately, the learning and reflection from these perspectives will inform the students’ work as they create their final Slam Poetry pieces.
“My role as the aboriginal teacher is to support how we indigenize curriculum in an authentic way… I see our project as a piece of the reconciliation. I think it’s important for students to understand it isn’t historical. This is the present. This is happening in current day. Kelly and I want the 94 calls to action to hopefully show our students that reconciliation is important and that they can play a role in reconciliation; that we can move forward as a united entity to better things for our aboriginal communities.” – Kathleen Meiklejohn
In this video, Kelly and Kathleen invite Brother Rick Peter from the Cowichan Nation into their classroom to introduce Coast Salish drumming to the students: “One of the key things that Kathleen and I talked about from the very beginning of this project is how to make it authentic. We really wanted to load up our kids with lots of guest speakers and videos that can make it more real, so that they can put a face to the teachings that they’re receiving…It means a great to have Elders and Knowledge Keepers to bring in for students to learn culture through them…to ensure that we’re not broaching the lines of cultural appropriation. Having Elders in the school to teach our students what they need to know about culture, and have it come first hand from a Knowledge Keeper, is extremely valuable.”
“One of the things I love to do, is sharing what I was taught… Everybody comes together, unified as one. One body. One mind. One Spirit. Working together. And this is one of the things that our drums do – that’s unifies everybody.”– Brother Rick Peter
In this video, Ren Louie, an Aboriginal Role Model and alum of Spencer Middle School performs a Blanket Exercise – an exercise that helps students visualize what the map of Canada, and the anthropological landscape for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, looked like prior to and after Confederation – with the Grade 8 students of the school:
“Reconciliation, with its role in Western education is really in the baby steps of the process right now. It’s a really giant step forward from where we once were. Five years ago, we didn’t get a chance to do the Blanket Exercise here at Spencer Middle School. Today, the graduating class has all gotten a chance to see the Blanket Exercise. It has been a powerful experience. So the role of reconciliation in educational facilities is terrific.” – Ren Louie
From the Synergy Project’s perspective, Kelly and Kathleen see the Blanket Exercise as a way of solidifying all the information that their students have been learning up to this point in the year and synthesizing it to incorporate into their Slam Poems. To have the opportunity to experience the Blanket Exercise and develop a personal connection to the topic of Reconciliation is paramount at this time, when students are writing their Slam Poems and expressing their perspective on the 94 Calls to Action and using their own voice for Reconciliation in Canada.