Not all education and learning is done in the classroom. From listening to people speak, to doing work in communities... I really started to question the traditional, classroom method of education and learning.
In Fall 2018, Natalie Cross, a 4th year Huron Political Science and English student, decided to take ‘Documenting Residential Schools’, a History course with Dr. Tom Peace as a way of learning more about Indigenous histories in Canada. What she didn’t anticipate when she registered was that the course would then lead to a week-long summer learning opportunity on Manitoulin Island and a Research Fellowship through the Centre for Undergraduate Research Learning (CURL) investigating experiential learning and the goals of reconciliation.
In collaboration with the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, ON, and the Shingwauk Residential School Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario students in Dr. Peace’s class had the opportunity to work on research projects investigating the connected histories of the Mohawk Institute and Shingwauk residential schools. Students visited these spaces, were introduced to the history of residential schools, and participated as researchers on a digitization project transcribing letters from E.F. Wilson. The Rev’d E.F. Wilson was an Anglican missionary who trained at Huron College, and eventually went on to be the founder and first principal of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Homes in Sault Ste. Marie.
In Natalie’s words, “Many of his letters illuminate student narratives – told through the lens of Wilson’s framework and evangelical influences – which contextualize and embed Huron College within the residential school network even further.”
After the course, Natalie was keen to keep researching and exploring. She successfully proposed and won a CURL Research Fellowship that explored experiential learning in relation to residential schools and Indigenous history. “We’re in an interesting moment in education where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) public education aspect is being talked about, especially in universities,” Natalie explains. In her CURL project, Natalie explored questions such as, “Does experiential learning help to facilitate reconciliation? Can it? Does it meet the goals that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission sets out? Do communities value that?” She notes that it is essential to explore in greater depth how universities are responding to the Calls to Action of the TRC, and how post-secondary institutions can incorporate Indigenous aspects both in and outside of the classroom experience. According to Natalie, “Not all education and learning is done in the classroom. From listening to people speak, to doing work in communities… I really started to question the traditional, classroom method of education and learning.”
This past summer, while conducting her research project, Natalie also participated in the Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI), a week-long learning opportunity born out of the vision of Lewis Debassige and the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF) to foster understanding between non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities. Natalie reflects that during MISHI she listened to stories from community Elders, based in Anishinaabe values and teachings, learned about the land, traditional ways of knowing and treaty history, all from how the people of Manitoulin Island define their history. “It taught me that content is more than a book,” Natalie says, “It can be a story that someone tells you, or an experience you hear from someone, or even the food you’re eating.”
Natalie also learned a great deal about ethics: research ethics, community ethics, and ethics when working with Indigenous communities. She reflects, “We have these ethical frameworks available in our undergraduate classrooms, but we don’t think about it as often as we should.” Natalie says that the experience opened her eyes to what a liberal arts education can give you, and she was able to see how experiences in a classroom can better inform what you learn outside of the classroom. “I’m understanding research. I’m understanding ethics. I learned archival research and how to relate to texts and how texts relate to each other and to the world.”
When asked if more Huron students should participate in experiential learning, Natalie responded, “Absolutely. It teaches you a lot about yourself and how you learn. It challenges you in good and productive ways and ways that you can see reflected in the classroom.” She says, “These experiences have been so impactful because you remember so much from them and how much you learn when you’re not in a traditional classroom, but rather when you’re learning from other people.”
To learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, please visit: http://www.trc.ca/
To learn about MISHI, please visit: