Nova Scotia·Eskasoni Community Bureau

Eskasoni elder bringing 'two-eyed seeing' into classrooms

Albert Marshall is sharing his wisdom as he works to incorporate Mi'kmaw knowledge into the public school system.

New Grade 12 course that incorporates Mi'kmaw principles will launch as a pilot program in 2023

Albert Marshall, 83, looks out at the Bras d’Or Lake from his home in Eskasoni, N.S. The Mi'kmaw elder's concept of ‘two-eyed seeing’ or etuaptmumk focuses on learning from multiple perspectives. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

This story is part of a series from CBC's Eskasoni Community Bureau, based out of the Sarah Denny Cultural Centre. This series comes from weeks of conversations with community members about what they feel is important to see, hear and read on CBC's platforms.

Albert Marshall has long believed in blending traditional Mi'kmaw knowledge with new ways of thinking. 

Sitting at his kitchen table in Eskasoni, N.S., the 83-year-old elder talked about his belief in seeing things from another person's perspective.

"Every action, or every phrase that you utter, your actions [must] be in harmony with nature and in harmony with people you're living with — because we're all related," said Marshall.

"We're all dependent on one another. You have to be responsible for your own actions, of your own being, since nature is sacred." 

Two-eyed seeing or etuaptmumk is a guiding Mi'kmaw principle that seeks knowledge through two or more perspectives. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Marshall and his late wife Murdena Marshall developed the guiding principle of two-eyed seeing, or etuaptmumk, as it's known in Mi'kmaw: a blending of strengths of Indigenous knowledge with Western science. 

Marshall is now using that framework to help create a Grade 12 environmental studies course that relies heavily on two-eyed seeing. 

"With my two eyes I see everything from my Aboriginal lens and this is what governs how I should coexist in this wonderful creation of ours," he said.

"In order to do that, we have to invoke the other lens and constantly seek other perspectives to learn, since we are very much immersed in this multinational make-up of this country."

About 25 years ago, the Marshall family discussed how few Indigenous students were enrolled in local universities. 

One of the best places to experience nature up close in Eskasoni, N.S., is within a trail system found on Goat Island. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

A graduate of Harvard University, Murdena Marshall approached Cape Breton elders looking for answers. She was told that in order to solve the problem, there needed to be a revamp of the same school system that stripped Canada's Indigenous people of their culture. 

"When the elders began to ponder it, they quickly realized what was missing," said Albert Marshall.

"They did not suggest the education system to increase more Mi'kmaw content, but they specified by saying 'integrate our ways of knowing into the institution.'"

Marshall says elders in Cape Breton realized they needed to make the education system in Nova Scotia more inclusive by incorporating teachings based in traditional Mi'kmaw knowledge. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Marshall said another Mi'kmaw principle known as netukulimk is used to help reinforce the actions of two-eyed seeing. 

Netukulimk sees all living things as being connected and is meant to create an understanding of how a person should live their life on earth.

Our Eskasoni Community Bureau speaks with Elder Albert Marshall, who shares his knowledge of 'Two-Eyed Seeing' or Etuaptmumk. His knowledge is now helping shape curriculum within the public school system and will be used in a Grade 12 environmental studies course.

Carola Knockwood, executive director of the Mi'kmaw services branch of the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, said work is underway to develop the Grade 12 course using etuaptmumk and netukulimk as guiding principles as they relate to climate change and environmental education. 

Knockwood said a netukulimk consultant was recently hired whose primary responsibility will be co-ordinating the development of the course with community partners and staff.

As part of its curriculum, students will be expected to take part in outdoor activities such as field trips and water sampling. 

By 2024, all Grade 12 students in Nova Scotia will be able to take an environmental studies course that relies on Marshall's knowledge. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

"Having learning experiences that are land-based will be a key component [woven] into the course," said Knockwood.

"It will benefit the students but it will also benefit the way in which we interact with our environment and develop relationships with it."

A pilot program will begin in September 2023, before an official rollout within all public schools in 2024. 

Marshall said that humans have an inherent responsibility to protect the earth because of their cognitive abilities, but no matter how much progress is made there's always room for improvement. 

"Our overall objective is how can we live and use love and compassion as our guiding principle," Marshall said.

"The word reciprocity captures that essence in which we constantly remind ourselves of using our two lens to capture the perspective [we] need now or for the future. Again, responsibility has to come from each and every one of us."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Pottie

Reporter

Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at erin.pottie@cbc.ca.

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