Here is our current reality: Change is necessary in order to have a habitable planet where people can teach and learn in any field. For me this means that there is no room for me to say that I am teaching in a “different” arena than climate and eco-justice. I need to teach tools for climate change resistance no matter the topic of my course is. Some of these rewrites are very readily available but some are farther from the dominant cultural radar. This is an era that calls for creative re-imagining from the party line that claims there can be any subject separate from the earth. Following the lead of an excellent former student from one of my classes, I am beginning to hold the land as a central person in every subject and teach its history and significance as the starting place for any learning.
My approach has four elements:
- Teaching climate change resistance, not just climate change.
- Including Community Engagement.
- Facilitating non-shaming dialogue.
- Acknowledging the land as a central figure in each subject.
An important element is that I am changing my syllabi to teach climate change resistance, not just climate change. Many of us have been saturated in how very bad everything is but lack skills for critically contributing to or building activist movements. Robin Wall Kimmerer has a powerful example of this in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants. She recounts asking students of an examples of a negative interaction between humans and the natural world and everyone can think of numerous interactions. However, when asked of a positive interaction the room went silent. The one without the other can be a dangerous combination resulting in despair driven apathy. Therefore, every issue I teach, be it the devastating effects of agribusiness to oil pipelines, has a corresponding lesson about a resistance movement or alternative and successes.
Each course will have a Community Engagement component so that learning about climate justice movements is accompanied by a doable action. The Community Engagement in rooted in the development of better Eco Justice Dialogue that I described in my previous post in which the term begins with learning how we can express climate change concerns and proposed courses of action that engender collaboration and critical thinking rather than shaming and finger-pointing.
This fall I am teaching two Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies courses on Queer Theory and Sexuality Studies. While these courses typically cover the “Main Themes” and key players in the Western white cannon (e.g. Butler, Foucault) with maybe a nod to the two-spirit movement, I am coming back with a greater commitment to decolonizing the syllabus.
In 2013 I taught my first university course “Women, Gender, and Colonialism in Canada 1600-1920.” One assignment was to write about the work of one of the people studied in the course. An Indigenous student wrote her paper on “False Creek” as a central figure in the history of the land.
In Vancouver (Musquem, Squamish, and Tseil-Waututh nation’s land), white settlers intentionally shortened the run of the creek in order to starve local Indigenous nations off their land. She wrote about the creek itself as a person and the vital role they played in the community and its suffering at the hands of colonial violence. She ended the essay with the succinct statement that the land must be an historical person in any subject.
Six years later, I am still working to integrating this into my course content: the land is where our learning begins. This means that instead of beginning the term with teaching the concept of gender performativity, I begin with how the idea that land and bodies are to be controlled and exploited for profit is recent and intertwined. We begin with examining how colonialism is a deeply capitalist project that intends to put different bodies to use in different ways. Over the term we will examining how settler colonial nation states (Canadian, the USA) uses patriarchal control of reproduction and homophobic sexual taboos to control family according to the desired production of capital gain.
Hetero-patriarchy was colonially instituted on the land the university occupies. It was taught in residential schools as a way to alienate Indigenous children from their cultures and disrupt their sense of belonging to a nation, a culture, and the land. The story of hetero-patriarchy, not just as culturally constructed but as capitalistically mandated, is the story of separating people from their land so that Indigenous nations would lose the literal ground from which they assert sovereignty and challenge the nation-state’s perceived right to exploration.
Over the course of the term, we will read testimonies of Indigenous LGBT people and the establishment of two-spirit movements that reclaim traditional, sacred roles of gender and sexual diversity. We will study these accounts in relationship to work done by such groups to fight for land and water rights. I highly recommend that everyone makes themselves familiar with projects such as:
- The Queer Ecojustice Project
- Hilltop Urban Gardens
- Two Spirit Nation
- Our Climate Voices
- Movement generation
The Queer Theory and Sexuality Studies courses I teach in the fall will include course material from Queer Indigenous Studies and from the Queer Eco-justice Project curriculum site. Together we will study groups working for change such as those listed above and find tangible ways to support their work or projects created during the term. The shift in focus is tricky but important. No matter what we are teaching we need to teach eco-justice and climate resistance if we are going to have a world where any course of study remains possible.