Verdde – a Mutually Beneficial Exchange
By Elisabeth Utsi Gaup, Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Verdde, Assistant Professor, Sámi University of Applied Sciences and Marikaisa Laiti, Researcher, Sámi University of Applied Sciences and Jennifer Godfrey Anderson, Assistant Professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador and Sylvia Moore, Assistant Professor, School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador
Verdde is a North Sámi word meaning “a mutually beneficial exchange” which, in this context, is the name of the collaboration in the field of Indigenous teacher education.
Verdde was established in 2005 as the first of UArctic Thematic Networks. Sámi allaskuvla and Nunavut Arctic College took the lead and ran a pilot program 2004–2005 that turned out to be a permanent activity within UArctic. They succeeded in building a strong collaboration in the first years by sharing experiences of teaching methods and knowledge rooted in their own culture with reciprocal respect for one another.
The goal of Verdde is strengthening cooperation within UArctic in the fields of teacher education, research, and the teaching of Indigenous languages and Indigenous Knowledge; and supporting mobility for students and faculty. Thus, Verdde makes it possible for Indigenous students and teachers to share knowledge and learn about each other’s experiences.
There have been many types of activities over the years. From the beginning, the main one has been faculty and student exchange. These exchanges have been mostly for brief periods of time, which has several benefits for students. Activities during the exchanges have included seminars to share cultural practices, allowing participants to gain insights into the education system of the Indigenous communities.
In addition to exchange activities, members of the partner institutions have met in many kinds of venues during the course of Verdde history. There have been presentations and panel discussions in conferences and seminars with plenty of informal discussions and meetings. Verdde members have also collaborated in developing courses that integrate and embed Indigenous knowledge systems in teaching.
This long lived cooperation within Verdde comes from the fact that we have our own niche in UArctic. Most of our network’s educators are from small universities located in communities with Indigenous language speakers. Since 2014, the lead Verdde group has functioned through close cooperation between faculty members from four education institutions: Sámi allaskuvla/Sámi University of Applied Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Ilisimatusarfik/University of Greenland, and Memorial University. Sámi allaskuvla has had the lead of the network since the beginning.
Effects of Verdde on our research and teaching
The collaboration that has taken place through the Verdde network has proven to be a significant, mutually beneficial exchange. In a survey and follow-up discussions, Verdde members discussed how the connections made through the network have had a profound effect on their teaching, research, and work at their university or school. It was felt that the network was a starting point for going deeper within each of the regions, starting with the cultural exchanges. Collaborating on projects, and sharing traditional values and ways of being, knowing, and learning has inspired their teaching and research. As representatives of countries around the Circumpolar North, the scholars said regularly connecting through the network and sharing cultural experiences also helped emotionally and spiritually, and collectively built motivation, determination, inspiration, and resiliency. As one member said, “we are all related, and we have dedicated our lives in different forms to education, and our collective has impacted each other and our students.”
The Verdde network has also provided the opportunity for students to connect globally through in-person and online platforms. These relationships have global significance as students recognize their shared experiences with environmental changes that are happening across the North. Participating in the exchanges has inspired students to post-graduate studies and reconnected them with their communities.
Throughout the surveys and discussions, Verdde members discussed the important personal impacts of the relationships. One member stated, “I have met so many people doing so many incredible and unique things I don't think I could have found in any other research position. The knowledge Verdde is producing, and the methods of communicating it, help bring people into cultures foreign from their own while also forcing one to think about their lifestyle and heritage.” We all hope this work continues to contribute to the lives of our students and future generations of our people.
How the connection can continue
The current members are committed to promoting place-based curricula and land-based pedagogies in the circumpolar region. During this time of environmental change, we concentrate on Indigenous teacher education that values sustainability. This aligns with UArctic‘s Congress Declaration from 2021: “In partnership with Indigenous peoples and communities, we seek to transform our education institutions and systems to be inclusive, relevant and responsive to Indigenous peoples, their perspectives, interests, and knowledge systems.” (#3)
During the Verdde virtual project in 2021, our network members worked with a variety of innovative technologies and digital platforms for online meetings and exchanges. We created a common sharing arena to share learning resources from all partners. The repository now holds over 100 items including curricula, syllabi, relevant publications, and multimedia resources. These materials attest to the history of publications about the network, the sharing of materials that foster learning across the North, and the commitment to co-developing courses. Most recently, a Memorial University member developed a one-unit course for Arctic mobility in Canada. This is now being used to prepare Sámi students for an exchange to Memorial University in the coming months. Verdde members are enthusiastic about having more student and faculty exchanges, both in person and virtually, across the network. This current course is a model for partner institutions to develop courses that prepare students for such exchanges in their regions.
During the last year, we have established a routine of monthly meetings; shared challenges and successes regarding Indigenous education; supported virtual student exchanges and guest lectures; and built foundations for collaborative research. Through these activities the Verdde network will continue its mutually beneficial work in Indigenous education.