This is a collaborative series developed by the College Fund’s Environmental Sustainability, Native Arts and Early Childhood Education program initiatives. This is the second blog of a six-part series focused on place-based education.
In the fall of 2017, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC) hosted a series of traditional Native Arts workshops that relied heavily on the surrounding environment for source materials to help produce a woven cedar mat. Using local resources and materials to create and revitalize traditional Native art forms is the essence of place-based education in the arts.
The effect on participants was profound. While working with the cedar tree one participant stated, “The smell alone centers you–it is working with medicine.”
Geography plays a critical and vital role in helping to restore and preserve lost or endangered traditional Native art forms. For example, the locations of tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) allow the TCUs to draw on the cultural knowledge associated with surrounding landscapes as they host academic courses and community extension workshops in traditional Native arts that are indigenous to that region.
In addition, geographical locations allow for a deep connection that is developed through inter-generational learning. Culture bearers and master artists hold cultural knowledge and teachings. Through traditional Native arts workshops, they are able to pass this knowledge on to the next generation of knowledge keepers. This is essential in geographical areas where Native art forms are lost or endangered; in these areas, inter-generational learning is breathing life back into Native art forms.
The value of inter-generational learning, and the connection between learning and the culture and land is evident in the College Fund’s work with TCUs.
The Anishinaabe people have a unique relationship with the plants and trees. It is the understanding that if this were to disappear, the connection we have to the Black Ash tree would be lost. This is an ever-evolving problem. With each elder that passes, knowledge is lost because it is not a common practice for our younger generations to sit and learn from the elders, therefore, the connection with creation is lost. Furthermore, an art form that is specific to the Woodland Indians will have less and less representation.
-Kim Anderson, Program Administrator, White Earth Tribal and Community College
Place-based learning creates a framework to incorporate traditional cultural practices into the work of TCUs which are creating and building systems of Indigenous knowledge that are present in the classroom, in the daily activities of the students, and within the communities in which the TCUs are situated.