First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI), located on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, is currently preparing an Indigenous sustainable food systems undergraduate degree, which may be the first of its kind on Turtle Island (North America). Colonialism has drastically reduced Indigenous peoples’ land base for subsistence food production and also has decimated traditional knowledges—including those associated with food production and preparation. In turn, these losses have resulted in high food-insecurity rates and associated unhealthy diets, such as epidemic levels of diabetes, high levels of cardiovascular disease, and significant mental health issues. Mezirow’s transformative learning theory, with its emphasis on profound changes in perspective, holds promise as a tool for decolonizing the minds of Indigenous learners and preparing them to lead efforts toward self-determined food systems.
In a new JAFSCD article, "Good Words, Good Food, Good Mind: Restoring Indigenous Identities and Ecologies through Transformative Learning," authors Keith Williams and Suzanne Brant outline the compatibility between transformative learning theory and Haudenosaunee worldviews.
Transformative learning theory—grounded in Western thought—cannot lead to a truly decolonized food system because it offers the Indigenous learner little to rebuild that which was deconstructed. Although transformative learning theory and Haudenosaunee ways of knowing are incompatible, transformative learning theory could help Indigenous learners to challenge implicit colonial narratives as part of the process of decolonization. The same theory may also have value for cultivating allies in non-Indigenous contexts.
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According to the authors, further research that would benefit the Indigenous food systems program at FNTI and others involved in decolonizing Indigenous food systems education initiatives at the post-secondary level includes:
- Studying the applicability of transformative learning theory and the use of traditional teachings and principles in other Indigenous food systems in higher education environments, which would help to create both a body of evidence and principles to support further decolonizing food systems education initiatives, and ideally would lead to more equitable and healthier communities and food systems;
- Exploring the use of transformative learning theory for supporting non-Indigenous food systems allyship could build on the goodwill in the alternative food movement toward Indigenous food systems activists, advocates, and researchers;
- Documenting the long-term implications of our educational model on learners and their communities, both during the Indigenous four-year degree and after graduation, would help us to serve our learners and their communities more effectively;
- Documenting traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) about specific Haudenosaunee agricultural practices and crop varieties for incorporation into our curricula would deepen our ability to teach students to revitalize a more fully realized Haudenosaunee food system; and
- Determining how best to prepare and support teachers to deliver a decolonized food systems curricula in Indigenous contexts would ensure the efficacy of our programming and develop a cadre of instructional staff who could share their expertise with their Indigenous and mainstream food systems education colleagues in other institutions.
*** Originally printed in Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development: Williams, K., & Brant, S. (2019). Good Words, Good Food, Good Mind: Restoring Indigenous Identities and Ecologies through Transformative Learning. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 9(B), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2019.09B.010