Reviewed By: Natalie Daily, Britten Kuckelman, and Hollie Locke
Link to article: https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/ijidi/article/view/32212
The Library and Information Science (LIS) field has historically operated from a colonial position with regard to Indigenous communities, which has often lead to overlooking Indigenous ways of knowledge (pg. 67-68). The origins of many LIS practices can be traced to Medieval Europe and are incompatible to Indigenous knowledge practices (pg. 69). Additionally, merely using the hiring process to address diversity in the LIS field is not enough if practices regarding how services are offered to diverse communities aren’t driven by cultural transformation (pg. 69). In order to encourage more effective LIS services for Canadian Indigenous communities, the authors of this paper designed a course to lead LIS students through the practice of unlearning that which is yoked to the colonial mindset. The authors detailed their goals for the course, the methods they utilized to achieve these goals, and in-depth reflection to analyze the success of their efforts. Ultimately, adopting a posture of humility allowed students to learn from their classmates and prepare themselves for working in service to diverse target communities.
Canada has an Indigenous community that makes up close to 5% of the total population of the country (Statistics Canada 2017). Recently, the country has been having a public reckoning over Indigenous issues through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and recent efforts by the government to acknowledge the “occupation of unceded land” and recognize the rights of Indigenous people to control their own records (pg. 81). The course described in this paper offers a guideline for how to embed cultural competency in LIS coursework in a country that is demonstrating how to take the lead in integrating the Indigenous experience into society.
According to the authors, the purpose of the course was to cultivate a responsive learning environment where students could develop skills that are critical for work after graduation by providing strategies for support of Indigenous information needs. The primarily aim of this research was to determine the effectiveness of the pedagogical approaches, learning tools, and course materials that were utilized for this course (p. 72). Was this course successful in achieving its goal to prepare students to work with Indigenous peoples in support of ongoing developments in Indigenous culture, languages, governance, legislation, and litigation?
In order to assess how successful this course was in achieving its goals, the authors decided to draw from their own reflections on the design and teaching of the class rather than from the students’ input. According to the authors, the analytic process was “iterative” with both their “insights” and “humility” as educators developing throughout the course (p. 72). The authors followed a pedagogical practice that included developing an iterative planning and reflection process each week with face-to-face meetings where assignments and activities were discussed. Major themes of the course included Positionality & Awareness, Prior Knowledge & Unlearning, Reflective Practice, and Cultivating Humility (p. 73). Throughout the course, students were assigned weekly, non-graded reflective writing prompts, group work, and anonymous surveys (p. 74). In order to develop personal awareness and positionality within the framework of the course, the authors found, through trial and error, that utilizing collaborative tools that allowed the students to respond to the material with anonymity provided students with the opportunity to voice their concerns about making mistakes or offending classmates. For each of the major topics, the authors provided a lesson to the students and an activity that supported the advancement of the skills discussed. For example, during the unit of Prior Knowledge & Unlearning, the authors focused on Indigenous history and contemporary issues and encouraged students to question and potentially “unlearn” professional assumptions and biases towards Indigenous peoples (p. 76). Students were then assigned a reading activity about past federal policies that impacted Indigenous communities, which corresponded with the lesson (p. 76).
The authors struggled with the theme of prior knowledge and unlearning throughout the course. They found that students lacked basic knowledge of the history of settler initiatives in Canada and struggled with how much of it to teach during a masters level course (p. 76). On top of these knowledge gaps, they struggled to challenge students to unlearn the very core skills the students were taught in their professional programs. “The helping narrative, that part of being a professional is knowing what help is needed, bumps up against some of the ideas we wanted to critically engage with, and in some ways is counterintuitive to the concept of professional and intellectual humility” (p. 77). While the authors did not indicate any successful class activities, they identified a new way to frame this theme earlier on in the course for future classes.
Through multiple iterations of the coursework, the authors designed activities to provide students with the opportunity to critically reflect on and question normal practices in their profession. To this end, the authors provided the students with real life scenarios and asked students to strategize solutions. The authors then provided students with a framework for addressing dilemmas to teach students how to engage with challenging situations. This activity allowed students to challenge what is considered normal ethical practices (p. 78). To introduce the final theme of humility to the students, the authors assigned course readings and videos and then gathered reflection on questions about humility within the profession. “Overwhelmingly the reflections identified intellectual, professional, and cultural humility as key things that students learned about and will carry forward with them” (p.79).
Canada is not alone in having a history that is shaped by its relationship with its Indigenous groups, and making a concerted effort to “unlearn” cultural constructs and implicit bias is a concept that has implications for societies with their own Indigenous groups. Additionally, many societies have other diversity issues related to their colonial pasts that tend to shape the way that certain groups are treated. Incorporating “unlearning” into formalized coursework for LIS students is a way to give credibility to the knowledge of oppressed and/or disenfranchised groups and how to best serve them. This coursework should focus on unlearning biases resulting from settler, colonial, or Western culture that can be harmful to Indigenous peoples’ and other minority groups’ ability to gain appropriate access to information resources and materials.
Nathan, L. P., & Perreault, A. (2018). Indigenous initiatives and information studies: Unlearning in the classroom. The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion, 2(1-2). 67-85.
Statistics Canada. (2017, October 25). Aboriginal peoples in Canada: Key results from the 2016 Census. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025a-eng.htm