Hyde Park Engaging with Land-based Inquiry and Decolonization Education

Hyde Park

Hyde Park is located in the Northwestern quadrant of the City of London, and as a result, it is divided between the rural outskirts to the West and the urban center to the East. This area has a population of approximately 6 235 people, and while 89% of these people identify themselves as Canadian citizens, only 2% identify as Indigenous (City of London Planning Division, 2011).

There are no specific land claims laid on this neighbourhood that I could find, however history would indicate that the City of London was occupied by Odawa/Ojibwa tribes prior to the first contact and subsequent settlement of Europeans in the area, so it seems likely that this particular neighbourhood is on land belonging to one or both of these Indigenous tribes, though there is evidence to suggest the Oneida of the Thames may have claim to the land as well.

Particularly in the Eastern portion of the neighbourhood, services are largely focused on sales and consumerism. Shopping plazas are abundant, with large corporations taking up much of the space. Beyond these plazas, many small businesses can be found in the area as well, selling more niche or artisan products. Further to the West, services become more personal, with healthcare and childcare facilities, as well as transportation services such as the London Taxi main offices.

Beyond the small businesses, there is farm land, where the inhabitants of the land use the resources it provides to grow food. However, they do not eat this food, but rather sell it, using it to feed the growing population in return for a degree of profit.

Several small parks can be found throughout the community, including Jaycee Park, Springbank Park, and Foxfield District Park. While Jaycee Park and Foxfield District Park are more recreational parks, containing playgrounds and baseball diamonds, Springbank Park allows visitors to establish a connection with nature.

Settler colonialism is highly evident in this neighbourhood, and can be found anywhere. Starting with the name of the city itself, European settler influence on the land is rampant within the neighbourhood. London is the capital city of England, and in naming this city the same, the Europeans who settled here have ignored the histories and inhabitants that occupied the land already in favour of placing their own history and mark upon the land (Radu et. al., 2014). The Indigenous peoples who originally occupied and cared for the land were displaced, and the settlers began to exploit the land to build permanent homes, businesses, and infrastructure (Schreyer et. al., 2014). This claiming of the land extends further when we examine the name of the neighboourhood itself; Hyde Park is the name of a park in London, England, and therefore places further, more specific histories into the narrative of the land. While some roads in the neighbourhood bear a connection to nature and therefore the histories already present within the land, such as Seagull Road and Mallard Road, many of the roads in this neighbourhood continue this process of associating English histories and narratives with the already inhabited land. The use of the land by the settlers shows not a stewardship of the land, as is celebrated and honoured within the traditions of many Indigenous peoples, but rather a "mastery" of the land, where the land is exploited and made subservient to the needs of the settlers (Schreyer et. al., 2014). Entire swaths of land have been paved for parking lots and shopping centers, making the Eurocentric concepts of consumerism, capitalism, and industrialism tied into the land (Aldern and Goode, 2014). Few patches of natural land remain within this neighbourhood, namely small forested areas and large empty fields. However, even within these natural areas, settler colonialism has spread, as much of the more "natural" land is used for the growing of crops to feed the masses, and natural events such as flooding in specific areas are controlled, rather than learned from and avoided. These are but a few of the examples of the land being claimed, controlled, and exploited for entirely Eurocentric purposes, ignoring the presence and history of the Indigenous peoples who occupied the land for centuries prior to European arrival in North America.

My Journey in the Land of...
My Journey Through Hyde Park

I chose to walk around the area of the neighbourhood immediately surrounding the childcare facility that it supported. I chose this area for several reasons, the first being that it was the most immediately available to the children at the facility. Secondly, this area offered a good depiction of what the neighbourhood had to offer; it featured urban shopping centers in the East, and the rural fields and more natural spaces to the West. Finally, I felt that this area provided a wealth of examples of settler colonialism in particular, but also Indigenous and immigrant presences within the land.

The Nameless Man Made Pond

I chose to depict the small pond located behind the childcare facility for my picture. I chose this location because, as I discovered later, the pond itself is man made, but appears initially as this picturesque natural scene. Ducks skirt across the surface, fish can be seen below it, but the whole thing was created as a means to regulate the flooding that occurs naturally within the area. The pond therefore appeared to me as a visual example of the harmony between humanity and the natural environment, which struck me as a strong symbol of reconciliation.

Site 1: Indigenous Presences

Tipi Structure

This tipi structure was found in the forested area behind the childcare facility in the neighbourhood. While it is impossible to determine who erected the structure, it is evidence of the thinking behind the concept of the land as a knowledge resource. This structure was made from natural materials that had fallen naturally from the surrounding trees. The structure is non-invasive and impermanent, showing people working as a part of the land, not exploiting the land. While the structure may not be of Indigenous origin, it clearly shows that their way of thinking persists to some degree within this neighbourhood.

Site 2: Settler Presences

Man-made Pond Sign

The sign depicted is an indicator of settler presences and histories within the land. The pond described in the sign is man-made, and it was created to shift the nature of the land in favour of the needs of those who settled upon it. The sign shows that those who settled here and created the pond made themselves masters of the land, rather than stewards; they did not care for the land as a part of nature, but rather made it subservient to their needs (Shreyer et. al., 2014).

Site 3: Immigrant Presences

Eiffel Tower Replica

This replica of the Eiffel Tower is a clear indicator of immigrant presences and histories within the neighbourhood. The Eiffel Tower is an iconic symbol of France, and its presence within this neghbourhood shows to us that French immigrants have marked this land as being their own. By placing a symbol so synonymous with their native country, they are establishing a sense of ownership and superiority; they have, in essence, "claimed" the land in the name of France. They are espousing their own values upon the land, and subverting the histories and narratives already present within the land in favour of their own.

Inquiry

Inquiry

Students, accompanied by their parents who volunteer, will walk through the neighbourhood, to Springbank Park. Here, students and parents will be given a series of provocations in order for them to engage with the land around them, and those that inhabit it. This process will last over the course of a five day period. Three questions will guide the inquiry process, from my own perspective:

  1. How can we begin to engage with Indigenous knowledge and worldviews without participating in cultural appropriation?
  2. How can students come to understand that Indigenous peoples were here before us, and that they're knowledge and way of thinking is equally valid to what is today considered "orthodox thought"?
  3. How can students engage with the land as a knowledge resource and create a shift in their perspective?

Day 1: In Question with the Land

  • What do you know about the land?
  • What have you done here before, or in other spaces like this?
  • Why is this land important to the community? What do we use it for?
  • What other things could be done in this space?
  • Draw a picture of the land.

Day 2: Listening to the Land

  • What does it mean to listen to the land?
  • What do you hear around you?
  • What do you not hear?
  • What is the land saying to you?
  • What is the land's story?
  • What do you want to say back to the land?

Day 3: Inhabiting the Land

  • What is in the land around you?
  • How do these things engage with each other?
  • How do these things engage with you?
  • Are we the only ones inhabiting the land? Who else inhabits this space (animals)?
  • How do we interact with the others in the space?

Day 4: Preserving and Learning from the Land

  • Has the space changed since we first visited?
  • What is different about it?
  • What is the same about it?
  • How is the space alive?
  • Does the space need us?
  • Draw a new picture of the land. Show what has changed from our first visit.

Day 5: Reflecting on the Land

Students will create an exhibit, where they will demonstrate what they have learned about the land, and how their idea of it has changed, as visualized in their two pictures. Exhibits will be shown in the community area of the classroom. Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers will be invited to observe these exhibits, and engage with the children about their ideas. When the exhibits have all been observed, the Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers will be asked to speak about how they perceive the land, and what it means to them. When they have finished, students will then be prompted to consider:

  • How their ideas differ from those of the Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers.
  • Where their ideas overlap.
  • How can the two work together?
Reflection

Reflection

In engaging with the Hyde Park neighbourhood, and attempting to learn about and through the land it inhabits, I discovered a lot about the nature of settler colonialism within London, Ontario. As stated above, the very name of the city itself is an example of settler colonialism; settlers have laid a claim to the land and superimposed their own history and narrative over those of Indigenous peoples by naming the land after the capital city of England, and therefore forever associating it with English histories (Aldern and Goode, 2014). The names of most of the streets, and the structures and buildings present within the community also carried largely Eurocentric histories and ideals. Indigenous presences were there, but hard to find, and largely persisted only through connections to nature, and the spaces that were not industrialized used for capitalist purposes. Even in researching Indigenous histories in the area, there was little information available. The City of London makes no mention of any Indigenous histories when providing details about the neighbourhood (City of London Planning Division, 2011). Census data indicates that within the naighbourhood, only 2% of the population of 6 235 residents identify as First Nations (City of London Planning Division, 2011). Settler colonialism was highly evident within this neighbourhood, where even immigrant presences were more readily available than Indigenous presences.

Despite the lack of Indigenous presences that I could find, I recognized that there were still methods present to engage students with Indigenous way of thinking and learning from the land. Students could learn to recognize the land as a source of knowledge, that carried with it histories and narratives of many different peoples beyond the English settlers who named the city and the neighbourhood. Through my inquiry process, I aim to engage students, and their parents, in a learning process in which the land and the environment become the teacher. Students will be placed in a familiar, at least circumstantially, place, but will be prompted to consider that space in new and engaging ways (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016). They will be forced to recognize how their own experiences and biases shape their perspective of the land around them, and will then be made to consider how that space is alive. They will listen to the space, hear what it has to say to them, and establish a sense of communication. The space becomes a resource, not of material things, but of knowledge. Students will be asked to recognize the others within the space, in this case the animals. They are not the only inhabitants of the park, and they must share the space with those who live within it. They will be asked to consider how these others shape the space, and how their presence affects these others. Through this perspective, I hope to prepare the students to engage with the Indigenous peoples who inhabited the space originally. Finally, by having Elders and Knowledge Keepers of the local Ojibwa/Odawa tribe come to engage with the students ideas and perspectives, and to share their own, I hope to engage the students with Indigenous ways of thinking and learning from the land without running the risk of cultural appropriation. Through this process, I hope to build student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect; and to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in the classroom (Truth and Reconciliation Movement of Canada, 2015).

References

References

Aldern, J. D., & Goode, R. W. (2014). The stories hold water: Learning and burning in North Fork Mono homelands. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 03(03), 26-51. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/21228/18068

City of London, Planning Division (2011). Hyde Park Neighbourhood Profile. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from https://www.london.ca/About-London/community-statistics/neighbourhood-profiles/Documents/2014-Neighbourhood-Profile-Update/Hyde-Park.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2016). The Kindergarten Program 2016. https://files.ontario.ca/books/edu_the_kindergarten_program_english_aoda_web_oct7.pdf

Ruda, I., House, L. M., & Pashagumskum, E. (2014). Land, life, and knowledge in Chisasibi: Intergenerational healing in the bush. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 03(03), 86-105. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/21219/18048

Schreyer, C., Corbett, J., Gordon, N., & Larson, C. (2014). Learning to talk to the land: Online stewardship in Taku River Tlingit territory. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 03(03), 106-133. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/22237/18051

Truth and Reconciliation Movement of Canada (2015). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

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