Just another day: Walking and contemplation on learning and knowledge

Shuyuan Liu

Photographs courtesy of Shuyuan Liu

This article not only references Stephanie Bartlett’s Walking on This Earth, Finding Belonging: Ruminations of an Unsettled Settler but also my own thoughts about learning based on French philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s (1984) concept of ‘the everyday,’ which I pondered while writing the qualifying examination for my doctorate. Stephanie’s article considers her positionality when combining a non-Indigenous and Indigenous paradigm: she reflects on her encounters with the land, and the more-than-human relatives to the land, via a photovoice and poetic inquiry. When JCACS’s special issue on ‘Walking and Attuning to an Earthly Curriculum’ was released, I was eager to read Stephanie’s article for two reasons. First, I wanted to know what Indigenous knowledge has to do with non-Indigenous people. Second, and more particularly, I was keen to see what indigenous knowledge has to do with me — a non-settler and non-Indigenous resident who recently moved to Canada and plans to stay for a while.

I did not have much knowledge of Indigenous people before coming to Canada. The Chinese government recognizes indigenous people’s existence, but the actual term is rarely used; instead, “ethnic minority groups” is the preferred phrasing. During my years working in the United States, my familiarity with Indigenous people was limited to a mysterious Native American tribe: the Hopi group, residing on the land of the Navajo (mostly on a Navajo reservation in Arizona). Their traditional beliefs in god reflect historical values of exploring human beings’ origins. Upon coming to Canada, I appreciated that the government gave Indigenous people the name ‘First Nations’ to convey their high status. Yet even then, Indigenous knowledge did not strike me as especially important; the beliefs reminded me of folklore and superstitions — similar to my grandmother, a woman with no more than Grade 2 literacy but who accumulated rich wisdom while living through war times in the 1940s.

My parents are both forestry engineers in China. They have always been passionate about the land there, whereas I did not develop a similar connection in my childhood. Strangely, though, I found myself drawn to the forest and grassland here in Kingston, Ontario — and I began to understand my parents’ ties to the forest. When Stephanie mentioned her experience extending the “shifting relationships between humans and the land” (p. 215), I recalled my own experiences in my motherland of China. The photovoice inquiry, and specifically her photos, made me feel quite peaceful. It also helped me through my doctoral qualifying exam, together with the scenery from my window (see images at the start of this article). I thought of my daily walks near where I live in Kingston, surrounded by trees and grass, during the hot summer and cold winter.

Living in Kingston is unique from my time spent in other places. I had mostly lived in big cities before this. Both the cities in China where I grew up and where I attended college are home to millions. I then spent a decade in Los Angeles. These urban areas’ industrial advances consumed nature’s beauty. So it took me some time to adjust to suburban life here in Kingston. I began taking daily walks around the neighborhood rather than sitting in traffic or catching the metro. Stephanie’s photovoice methods when walking resonated with me, calling to mind everyday life in Kingston and the often ignored parts of modern existence — that is, the alternative views and knowledge to be gleaned from our surroundings.

Later, while writing my qualifying exam, I further developed my ideas about learning. It was then that I read Lave’s (2019) articulation of situated learning and everyday life, where Lave referenced French philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s (1984) conceptual framework of the everyday. Lefebvre chiefly questioned whether the everyday is considered primitive and “low culture” compared to the relatively highly sophisticated cultures tied to subjects such as science, arts, and technology. In other words, is the knowledge present in our daily lives not worthy of being seriously discussed and is hence devalued? If not, then how do we talk about such knowledge?

I see Stephanie’s walking and finding belonging as a way to reclaim the everyday knowledge that has been colonized by capitalism and colonialism (as Lefebvre noted) — the everyday whether living among skyscrapers or in the countryside, where one can walk along a wooded path no one has discovered yet. Searching within nature, the land, and its wisdom is a fundamental way to reclaim the everyday. Lefebvre advocated for the return of everyday life to regain what has been lost to the modern world. For me, living in Kingston offers a medium to reclaim the everyday that was lost when I lived elsewhere. Similar to Stephanie’s photos which bring the viewer peace, the everydayness of walking to the grocery store, doing chores, making food at home, reading, or writing on a summer afternoon infuses life with color by situating a given day within the historical lens of the modern world.

Returning to a question I asked myself — “What does the Indigenous way of knowing have to do with non-Indigenous people, and especially with me?” — I regard Indigenous ways of knowing as alternative ways of knowing: a paradigm shift, a way of contemplating the land and the world that we never considered before. This paradigm shift is not free from struggles and conflict. But it is through these debates, contemplations, and criticality that we can reclaim what we have lost in everyday life.

References

Lave, J. (2019). Learning and Everyday Life: Access, Participation, and Changing Practice. Cambridge University Press.

Lefebvre, H. (1984). Everyday life in the modern world. Transaction Books.

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