I began the Masters of Arts Education at SFU with excitement and a bit of trepidation. I had heard wonderful things about the program and the instructors, but starting any new learning adventure comes with a bit of nervous energy.
To say that my first course in the program was an incredible experience would be an understatement. Under the guidance of Dr. Vicky Kelly, we were introduced to a new world of indigenous ways of knowing, learning and experiencing life. We were immersed in the words of Cajete and Wagamese. We made drums, we sang and we were set free. We bonded over food and laughter and were reminded of the sacred in our everyday existence. I was transformed by it in countless ways.
One of the teachings that I will remember forever is the idea that our stories make us who we are, and that all people’s stories are sacred and important. It was a beautiful thing to hear my classmate’s stories of “becoming” and to share mine. Honouring each other’s journeys was very special. I also loved the teaching of the “medicine pouch”. Vicky told us that the things that we learn over our lifetimes are stored in our medicine pouches and that we can access them when we need to heal ourselves or help to heal others. Our art practices are in our pouches and our stories, our experiences, and our love. I find this idea such a beautiful way to remember the power that we hold and how capable and resilient we become as we go through life.
Vicky’s class was a catalyst for many changes in my ways of thinking about life, art and education. Vicky challenged us to learn a new art form that we were completely unfamiliar with and then to share our experience with the class. I chose photography. I gathered books about photography and watched tutorials, but I felt like where I wanted to be as a photographer was very far away from where I actually was. I was quickly overwhelmed and confused. I decided to focus on storytelling through my photos and to leave technical training until later.
I chose to tell the story of my fiance’s hunting trip in Kelowna. We had been together for two years and I had never really understood what was so wonderful about hunting. I had no desire to do it and I was a bit unhappy about how much time in his life this hobby was taking up. However, reading about the sacred meaning of hunting from the point of view of Cajete, with reference to the beliefs of many indigenous nations, helped me to open myself up to what important teachings hunting might provide for a modern human.
Below is an excerpt from my paper “my roots, my trunk, my branches”:
“Aki— Earth, I will walk her skin today attuned to her heartbeat, the feel of her thrumming against the soles of my feet (Wagamese 35).”
“People are the miracles that emerge from the ripped and worn pattern of your life and help you stitch it back together. You learn to see the pattern better then (Wagamese 59).”
“Tracking, from the Aboriginal perspective, connects people to their own spirits, the spirits of their land, the animals, plants, and other entities (Cajete 57).”
“The hunter is an archetypal form that resides in each of us, man or woman. The hunter is that part of us who searches for the completion that each of us, in our own way strives to find. […] Hunting from this perspective becomes a sacred act tied to our primal beginnings as hunter/gatherers. This is the perspective of becoming the animals we hunted, when humans and animals spoke to each other, and when humans began learning to be human, to be People (Cajete 58) .”
Hunting, and all it involves, is a primal foundation of human learning and teaching. All the physical, emotional, and cognitive abilities of humans are applied in the act of hunting. Hunting is a complete and completing human act. It touches the heart of the drama of being born, living, and dying, Hunting characterizes our species to such an extent that, even in modern society, men and women far removed from hunting animals for sustenance still metaphorically “hunt” to be filled, to be satisfied, to be complete (Cajete 58). “
When I first met Stefan, I asked him what his passion was. What made him excited to wake up in the morning. For me, it was art…more specifically theatre. I had been consumed with becoming a theatre artist or dancer and with participating in the performing arts since I was very young. It was the overarching passion of my life. The goal that I was working towards. I had already shared a bit about my passion with him and so I asked, “What is your passion?”
He didn’t have one.
I felt conflicted about that. I wondered if it was a sign that he didn’t have drive or a strong work ethic or if he didn’t have goals in life. Then I thought, maybe I can be his passion. I imagined a relationship with a man who spent every waking moment thinking about me and how to make me happy. OOooooo! Yes, that sounded promising.
We started dating and pretty quickly fell in love. As autumn came into full swing Stefan went on a few hunting trips with friends. He started talking about it more often and started planning more trips. I was a bit confused. I thought he didn’t have a passion, but this hunting stuff was taking up more and more of his time. Wait a minute! I was supposed to be his passion! He was supposed to want to spend every waking moment with me, deer be damned! So I resisted. A little sly comment here, a little redirection of the conversation there. A little roll of the eyes when he started to discuss it. I mean, get over it! You have something much more exciting standing in front of you! I won’t lie. I was jealous. What could possibly be so great about trudging around in the mud and waiting for a shot that never came? My heart also did not leap for joy at the idea of having a skull and antlers on my wall, in the house that I imagined myself in with Stefan. Sigh! Why couldn’t he have stayed passionless?!
After a while, I realized that the hunting was here to stay and that I should try to be supportive. Especially since he supported my passions and was willing to do artsy things with me. I tried to understand what it was that he enjoyed about it so much. At first, I thought it was spending time with his friends, and he does like that, but it definitely wasn’t the main thing. Then I thought it was the camping. That wasn’t quite true either. Then I thought it was being out in nature. That was the closest one, but still not the full picture.
When I started reading Cajete this term I was totally enthralled by the way he talked about hunting. About the role it played in the lives of both men and women and about the importance of it both in the past and the future. I started reading some of the stories and myths to Stefan. Cajete started to illuminate the experience of the hunt for me and what effects it might have on the spiritual aspects of a person. However, one thing was clear, no one could truly understand it without experiencing it first hand. Stefan was thrilled with my new found interest in his hunting and my ability to see it as more than a silly pastime that took him away from me for long periods of time. He invited me to go with him on a hunt in Kelowna and I said yes. Surprisingly, I actually wanted to go. After reading Cajete, I had a new curiosity about hunting and I wanted to experience it for myself.
As the time approached, I started to grow a bit anxious. What if I did something to scare away the deer and Stefan got mad at me. What if I was miserable the whole time? Should I pretend to enjoy it, or should I be honest? I was determined to try it, regardless of the outcome. That weekend I was recovering from a cold, and extremely tired from school and work, but I went.
It was a very peculiar experience. First, we woke up at 5:00am and made our way out to the mountain as the sun started to rise. We bumped along a seemingly endless dirt road and made a few wrong turns before we finally made it to the spot on which he had planned to hunt. He had bought me some warm hiking boots and brought me a pair of snow pants to keep me warm and dry, and I was incredibly happy to have them on such a cold morning. Everything was cold and frozen. With every step, we snapped frozen twigs underfoot and the sound echoed into the silence. He found a perfect walking stick to help me remain steady as we hiked.
As we climbed a steep hill, the first thing Stefan told me was to slow down. Don’t rush. Just go slow, listen and look. We moved slowly up the hill. He stopped to show me some deer scat and put his hand close to it to see if it was warm. Normally, that would have totally grossed me out, but today I was a hunter and I was thrilled that there were animals nearby. Stefan used a puff of powder to find out exactly which direction the wind was going in and decided how to proceed in a direction that would give us the best chance of getting eyes on them, without them smelling us first.
All of sudden he stopped. “There”, he said, pointing to the right. At first, I couldn’t see anything. I doubted him for a second. Was he hallucinating? Then I saw them. Two little white deer bottoms hopping away from us into the brush. It was a rush! We had tracked them! It was exhilarating to reach even this small amount of success on my first hunt. We tried finding them again, with no luck, but I did spot some bear tracks and found some interesting plants. We also stumbled upon some stunning views of the lakes and I got to take some pictures along the way. We had only allocated three or four hours for my first foray into hunting, as I was ill and we had some family obligations to attend to, but we both left feeling happy and not too exhausted.
I learned a lot about hunting, even though it was the briefest of experiences. I learned that there are an incredible amount of diverse skills that are necessary for it. There are skills associated with orienteering, tracking, shooting, and skinning that are all necessary for the initial hunt. The hunter must also be knowledgeable about the safety rules and ethics involved in the hunt and what is specific to each region. The hunter must also learn about the animals they are hunting in great detail: where they live, what they eat, how to tell them apart by species, sex, age and health. They also must understand how the animals see, smell, feel and express emotion. There is an unlimited amount to learn and experience if one is open to it.
I also learned about the spiritual side of hunting. The disciplines practiced in hunting are vast. Slowing down and being present was the most incredible part, for me. It is, in essence, a mindfulness practice. Slowing the mind and the body to a point in which you are open to and aware of what is around you. This is important for the hunt but also in everyday life. I am someone who is consistently “in my head” and wrapped up in what might happen next. So much so, that my older sister used to say to me, “Be here now, Bro.” when I wasn’t paying attention. It has been one of my greatest personal struggles, to escape from my thoughts of past and future and to be present in this current moment of existence. I can see how hunting might help me with this.
Though I may not ever shoot an animal, as I feel that is something that won’t ever interest me. I feel completely different towards the process of hunting in general. I have a much deeper respect for the skills and disciplines that are needed for it and deeper respect for the animals that make the hunt as difficult as it is.
It is amazing to me how the Creator brings together some things with the most incredible timing. I would never have imagined that my Arts Education Master’s program would prescribe a reading that would be so important in helping me to understand my future husband better and connect with him in a completely new way.
“Teachings come from everywhere when you open yourself to them. That’s the trick of it, really. Open yourself to everything and everything opens itself to you (Wagamese 58).”
–End of Excerpt–
The teachings that I learned throughout Vicky’s class remain with me every day and they are integrated into my life and my teaching. I have brought my drum and it’s lessons into Humanities, English, Dance, Drama and Art classes. I read from Wagamese and Cajete to my students. I have learned the technical workings of my camera and taken photography courses. I have learned how to bake and cook, which I was frightened to attempt before. Vicky inspired me to pursue the learning that I longed for, with the bravery and self-acceptance that it requires and to bring my learning to others in order to nourish my community in mind, body and spirit.
Cajete, G. (2003). Look to the mountain: An ecology of indigenous education. Durango,, CO: Kivakí Press.
Wagamese, R. (2016). Embers: One Ojibway’s meditations. Madeira Park,, BC: Douglas & McIntyre.