Crossposted from Digital Democracy blog

Meet Chris Martin and Kali Anevich, two educators at Six Nations Polytechnic (SNP), a Haudenosaunee-governed Indigenous educational institute on Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation! Chris is a Water Project Lead at the SNP’s STEAM Academy for high school students, and Kali is a Geography and Environmental Science Teacher, also with the STEAM Academy.

Since 2021, Chris and Kali have been involved in a very creative and inspiring use of Terrastories by directly integrating the tool into the secondary school curriculum at the STEAM Academy. We caught up with Chris and Kali after the Spring semester to learn more about how they’re working with Terrastories.

Rudo Kemper (RK): Can you tell me a little bit about the STEAM Academy at the Six Nations Polytechnic and your overall mission?

Chris Martin (CM): The Six Nations Polytechnic Academy (SNP) is an educational institution on the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, dedicated to providing education to community members or other people that are interested in first-hand Indigenous knowledge, education and skills training. SNP organizes a program called the STEAM Academy which is a high school offering a redesigned educational experience, with a strong focus on student success and mobilization of Indigenous knowledge.

RK: How did you first hear about Terrastories?

CM: We heard about Terrastories through the Ohneganos Indigenous Mapping project on Six Nations through Dr. Dawn Martin Hill, and through collaborating with the Ohneganos team on offering students different educational experiences more tailored to their worldview. That’s how we met you (Rudo) and started collaborating more. After learning more about how we could use Terrastories at SNP, it was just a matter of finding the right class and occasion to bring Terrastories into the classroom, and this past semester we were finally able to pull it off with a Grade 12 Learning Strategies class. 

RK: Why did you decide to use Terrastories?

Kali Anevich (KA): it’s kind of interesting: we’ve done mapping projects before using tools like ArcGIS, which definitely has some awesome features for interactive mapping, but what we really liked about Terrastories is the way you can embed stories directly into the tool and onto the map. So for this project at the STEAM Academy, we had students who were able to share stories about native animal species in the land that they actually witnessed themselves, which is something we weren’t able to find so easily on other mapping platforms. For example, one student mapped an amazing story of a golden eagle that they saw and even found a feather of. With Terrastories the student was comfortable to share that and felt really proud to contribute their story to the map. I don’t know if I would have heard the student share that story otherwise.

RK: So, how have you been using Terrastories in class this semester?

CM: We used Terrastories in collaboration with college students participating in a University of Waterloo course called Water in the World. The college students conducted research and gathered data about Indigenous animal species in the Grand River watershed and Haldimand Tract area. Then, what our students did was take that data produced by the University of Waterloo students and mapped it onto Terrastories. So they were populating data from all around Six Nations and the Haldimand Tract, in some cases in areas where they’ve either seen that animal before or know that they are there – that was so cool to see that convergence of the research with the knowledge of the high school students.

In addition, the students were able to add stories in the Cayuga and Mohawk language about these species onto Terrastories. We also considered how we could use the flexible way in which you can create taxonomies and categories in Terrastories to represent our traditional knowledge. We were able to embed our Haudenosaunee worldview by utilizing our traditional Thanksgiving address as the basis of organizing and categorizing the research.

KA: What we did was build the Terrastories “Type of Place” category with the tenants of the Thanksgiving Address – i.e. the waters, the fish, the plants, the food plants, the medicine herbs, the animals – to be able to filter the data and stories per each tenant. That was our way of using the existing tools in Terrastories to really embed that Haudenosaunee worldview.

Terrastories as used in the Six Nations Polytechnic course, showing the categories of the Thanksgiving Address. 

CM: Finally, at the end of the class, the students were invited to participate in a summit called A Global Engagement 2022 Desmarais Family Summit: Water in the World. We were invited to the University of Waterloo and got a campus tour, and got to meet the students and professors from the Water in the World class that we’d only seen on Zoom.There was an opening sacred fire for this event, and one of our students opened the inside of the event with our traditional Thanksgiving address. And then we had another of our students volunteer to sing an Esganye song, which was a traditional Haudenosaunee social song about water. At the event, our students had the opportunity to share about their Terrastories project, and each received decorative lab coats from the University of Waterloo. It was all very cool for the students to experience.

Six Nations Polytechnic STEAM Academy students at the University of Waterloo.

RK: What was the experience of the students using Terrastories?

KA: I think that a lot of the students caught on how to use it really quickly. We started in a somewhat tedious way because there was a lot of research done by the University of Waterloo students to add, and in a way it was nice to have that repetitive style of adding data where the students got comfortable adding points to Terrastories. And once they were comfortable, they were able to add their own stories, and that’s where things really took off. A number of the students took photographs which they were able to add to the map, along with their stories – for example, one student added a beautiful photo of a Cardinal bird that they were really proud of – and that was really awesome to see, and allowed them to really make Terrastories their own.

CM: Another aspect of their experience was that for us as educators, you could kind of gauge their personal interests depending on what we and they were mapping. When we were more focused on mapping buildings in Six Nations, some students became more interested and we had one student that really wanted to map all the Haudenosaunee longhouses that we have. And that was a really cool moment because we saw how much that meant to that student. They are more shy in disposition and to hear them advocate for themselves, and communicating “this is really important to me and I want to use this opportunity to tell the story of this location,” that was really powerful, it was really cool.

KA: We also had an art class collaborate with us on this project. The students of that class were drawing some of the bird species that we were putting into Terrastories, and in that way we could feature student artwork into the stories as well, which was a nice addition along with embedding personalized stories that went along with the research.

Photos and drawings by the students visualized on Terrastories.

RK: What are you looking forward to next in using Terrastories?

KA: Since this was the first class to use Terrastories and they were just getting baseline data, there was nothing on the map when they started. Moving forward, hopefully with other classes in the future, the students can build off what this first class did and learn from the data and stories that have been added already. Also, we’ve got so many awesome artists at the STEAM Academy, so we’re hoping that moving forward we can incorporate more digital art into Terrastories. We just got access to some illustration software like InkScape, and so we look forward to getting more iconography from the Haudenosaunee culture to add.

RK: Do you have any recommendations for others if they want to use Terrastories, either for integrating the tool into a curriculum or just generally?

KA: I think a key piece of teaching and learning which people often forget about is that when students feel connected to something, they are way more engaged. With Terrastories there is a lot of flexibility to be able to really map anything, and so giving students the chance to put their own stories on the map, and form genuine connections to the content on Terrastories was huge in terms of engagement. Because the focus was on their community and stories, we could have mapped anything as long as they felt connected, and that makes it such an awesome tool to use in education. Not to mention that it’s so interactive and audiovisual – there are images, text, audio, video, so that’s all the styles of learning all at once.

CM: I really like what Kali just said about that connection to a place, and I think it really resonates with Six Nations and the Haudenosaunee community. The mapping work with Terrastories really allows us to bookmark where we are on our learning journey, with the resources we have and the people that surround us, and where more work is needed. In addition, it’s a great way to archive our knowledge and decolonize our education. For the students, they feel like they’re contributing to their own education, and simultaneously building the capacity of others. It turns them into learners and teachers at the same time.