ICE Project Conference, May 2018
Written by Jean Kavanagh
Everything was in place. Members of the ICE project had arrived in Tromsø, from as far away as Sweden, Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australia. Hotel bookings were confirmed, the minibus was hired, waffles were ordered for breakfast. My role, as research assistant to Torjer Olsen, had involved facilitating all the preparations, and the three-day conference was now about to begin.
Day One began with breakfast in Árdna, where the group assembled for the first time together, and introduced themselves. This was followed by an open seminar on campus, on the situation for Indigenous education on Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia and Sápmi, with Torjer Olsen and guest speakers Bill Fogarty and Sharon Harvey. After lunch, a project group meeting was held, where all participants in the project gave a short presentation about their research and their goals for the project, and discussed the Work Packages, before relaxing over dinner in the city centre.
The following day, proceedings moved out to the hotel at Sommarøya, where the day began by setting out the goals and ambitions for the project, taking into account the different contexts, ideas and experiences of Indigenous research in education. Moving beyond the idea of doing fifteen different projects, there was discussions about democracy, and different ways of governing, and a lively debate about the definitions and concepts being used. How does the Indigenous concept of citizenship tie in with the political and philosophical definitions? Should this project focus on Indigeneity, rather than Indigenous Peoples? What is Indigenous Education? Diane Smith stated, ‘The thing I’m finding really interesting here is hearing the stories from the different countries about the history of citizenship, all of the weird and wonderful diversity in the forms that that takes, especially in the relationship between the Indigenous people and the nation state. I think that’s just reaffirmed for me the need to always question the things that we take for granted in our own countries’.
A discussion about sharing articles and ideas then ensued, both within the group and on public forums, and looking at co-publications within the project. Dissemination strategies were then examined, looking at various audiences, defining the needs of communities as an ongoing process, and capacity building within institutions, communities, and informing curricula and teaching resources.
One of the main goals of the project, producing a book, was discussed, including the thematical format, the common ground of principles and theories, the presentation of case studies, and how this project can include Indigenous methodologies. An editorial committee was decided upon – Torjer Olsen, Bill Fogarty, Hilde Sollid and Kjersti Fjørtoft.
After lunch, the participants divided into the two Work Package group meetings, and, due to the blazing sunshine, moved out of the conference rooms to tables outside.
Work Package 1 looked at the education policies in different countries, the idea of traditional citizenship, language policies, why citizenship is important in education, how this is used in Indigenous contexts. The historical aspect of citizenship was considered, how political theory could relate to practice in schools, and how policies and policy documents could be seen as a common ground.
Work Package 2 looked at doing curriculum analysis in the countries involved in the project – Norway, Sweden, Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, historical mapping of the mainstream curricula, Indigenous education in the national curricula, and case studies involving policies and how these relate to the classroom context, the teacher, teacher education and textbooks, and how these come back to language and place-based communities. A research question might be: ‘What has the position of Indigenous Education been in the mainstream curricula over time?’
After a coffee break, the rest of the afternoon was taken up with discussions about these ideas from the Work Packages, and how the two could be brought together.
Day 3 began with a look at Work Package 3: Ethics and Methodology in practice, ethics, and methodology in writing. This was familiar ground for scholars engaged in Indigenous field work, and not so familiar to others. As Kjersti Fjørtoft remarked, ‘Within philosophy, methodological questions are not at stake in the same way, because we are not doing empirical work, we are not doing field work. When we are discussing methodologies, it’s more about how you read texts, what is your interpretation of the text, or how are we arguing, so that’s a different way of thinking of methodology’. Sharon Harvey enjoyed the discussions that ‘have been particularly robust around research ethics, working with Indigenous communities, insider and outsider status in terms of who is Indigenous and who is not, who can research, what can they research, and under what conditions, and these are very different concepts from different countries. This is one of the most valuable parts of this meeting here, in Norway, getting these different perspectives, and tangling with those, and trying to figure out where we stand as a group. And I think we’ve made some great progress in that respect’.
The afternoon timetable was then abandoned, in favour of allowing people to have their own discussions with other members of the group, as many issues had been raised that warranted debate. One example of this was the concept of language and place, and place-based pedagogy. As Bill Fogarty said, ‘Language is intrinsic to maintaining but also developing a sense of place, and one of the things that I’m very keen on looking at is education that doesn’t allow for connection to place, or to the language that comes from place, particularly for Indigenous peoples, and that can be very damaging. We’re very keen to explore how this tension between national curriculums and concepts of place actually play out on the ground. That will be some of our case study work, to examine some of that’.
The group then came together, consolidated their ideas and experiences of the last few days, and discussed moving forward with the project. Torjer Olsen summed up, by saying ‘The three days that we have had, it’s been a pleasure to be here – exhausting of course, but a pleasure to just lead the discussion that is basically going by itself. And it’s been amazing to see all of you contribute, working, struggling at times, but also finding ways of doing this project.’ He also added, ‘From a UiT perspective, as the Arctic University, in a sense we are on the outskirts of everything. So for us, it’s important to be a part of an international context, it actually communicates that the things we do are not necessarily provincial, or only relevant for a smaller context here, and that’s an important thing for us to bring back to our everyday jobs’.
And for me, as research assistant, seeing the project move from the proposal stage, through organizing the bookings, and communicating with everyone by email beforehand, the culmination of all the preparations for this conference was very rewarding. Gathering all members of the project together, where everyone met, some for the first time, created a space where ideas came together, and debates were engaged in. The experience of seeing the scholarly process that took place, giving the project shape and substance, with such experienced academics in the field, was an inspiration in itself. Hilde Sollid had the final say: ‘I think that now I am really looking forward to the end conference, because I think we will look back to this time with great pleasure, as this is the point where the project came together in many ways.’ Overall, like the May weather, the prospects looked good, and with a positive group dynamic established, the sun certainly shone on the first ICE Project conference in Tromsø.