Gaining new perspectives on Indigenous culture through community service learning

Posted on Monday, April 9, 2018

CSL Student smiling

Anthony Larocque, a fourth year student in conflict studies and human rights with a minor in Indigenous studies, first took the plunge into community service learning (CSL) in his fall 2017 anthropology course Native Peoples of Americas. This winter, he is pursuing a second CSL placement as part of the fourth year CDN4100 Contemporary Issues in Canada course taught by Professor Tracy Coates, while continuing as a cultural and programming assistant, at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, a community-based centre providing culturally-relevant programs and services for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

“As a CSL volunteer,” says Anthony, “I assist Wabano staff with various cultural revitalization programs for youth and seniors. I have been very fortunate to be immersed into Indigenous culture by making turtle medicine pouches’ kits, tobacco prayer ties and preparing sacred medicines for ceremonial use. Moreover, I have had the opportunity to partake in ‘Culture Night,’ a weekly event where community members gather to sing songs, share stories and listen to the wisdom and teachings of various elders.”

Coates, Anthony’s CSL professor, has been integrating the program in her courses since fall 2016. She says that “the CSL program is an important element of my courses, as it builds in additional experiential learning opportunities, which are an essential element of Indigenous pedagogy.”

For Anthony, the opportunity to participate in experiential learning has brought him a completely new perspective. “The roles I have been tasked with during my placement have allowed me, as a non-Indigenous person, to gain a better understanding of Indigenous culture from the people themselves.”

Anthony adds, “I believe that the roles I have played thus far at the Wabano Centre demonstrate that there are allies in the community that are committed to fostering healthy and meaningful relationships with Indigenous people. I take the time to listen to the client population to learn from their experiences and better understand their realities as Indigenous people living in the nation’s capital. Moreover, I am contributing to the core values of the Wabano Centre, to provide a safe space for Indigenous people to revitalize and to re-engage with their culture.”

Anthony recommends that other students consider taking part in community service learning when offered in their courses. “Not only are you learning and establishing links with content taught in the classrooms,” he suggests, “but CSL placements are also a time for networking and developing professional experience, which is phenomenal for building a strong and competitive CV.”  He expects to remain involved with the Wabano Centre indefinitely.

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