In addition to Métis and Inuit peoples, BC is the home for 203 First Nations bands whose languages represent 17 distinct linguistic groups (Terbasket & Greenwood, 2007). This diversity means that there traditionally has not been one homogenized expression of educational principles as there might be in a single group of Indigenous peoples; however, there are still strong similarities in the ways of knowing and learning, and commonalities in cultural constructs and worldviews among Aboriginal peoples that could serve to enhance the public education system for all students, and these are found in the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL).
Who Developed the First Peoples Principles of Learning?
In 2006/2007, The BC Ministry of Education partnered with the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) to create the English 12 First Peoples course. The development of this curriculum included significant input from Indigenous knowledge-keepers and educators from BC and was unique in a number of ways. First, the process began with the creation of an Advisory Committee which included, among others, Indigenous scholars and educators. The Indigenous Elders, scholars, and knowledge-keepers on the Advisory Committee helped to ensure that the course was able to authentically embody aspects of First Peoples’ values around teaching and learning. This meant that the course had to take into account, not only authentic First Peoples content, but also reflect First Peoples’ epistemology and pedagogy. Second, it included the development of the First Peoples Principles of Learning. In an effort to help the course focus more authentically on First Peoples’ experiences, values, beliefs and lived realities, the following set of learning principles specific to First peoples were articulated by the Indigenous Elder, scholars, and knowledge-keepers to guide the development of the curriculum and the teaching of the course.
- Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.
- Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
- Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one‘s actions.
- Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
- Learning recognizes the role of indigenous knowledge.
- Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
- Learning involves patience and time.
- Learning requires exploration of one‘s identity.
- Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations.
First Nations Education Steering Committee, 2008
Why Are They Called First Peoples Principles?
Some peoples wonder about the differences between “Aboriginal”, “First Nations”, “Metis”, “Inuit”, “First Peoples” and “Indigenous”.
Aboriginal and Indigenous are terms that include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. These are all discrete cultural and political groups of peoples within Canada. Some people consider “Aboriginal” a political word imposed upon the First Peoples of Canada, and instead prefer to use their specific identity (i.e. First Nations, or the name of their specific First Nation; Métis; or Inuit). The First Peoples Principles of Learning was named as such in order to be inclusive while not using the imposed term of Aboriginal.
The term “Indigenous Peoples” is an all-encompassing term that is commonly used in an international context and includes the Aboriginal or First Peoples of Canada, and other countries. It is often helpful to use “Canadian Indigenous” if referring to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Currently the federal, provincial, and territorial governments use Aboriginal, Indigenous or First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI), as do the various Ministries of Education.
Do The Principles Apply to All First Peoples?
The BC Ministry of Education and the First Nations Education Steering Committee documents that refer to the principles note that “[b]ecause these principles of learning represent an attempt to identify common elements in the varied teaching and learning approaches that prevail within particular First Peoples societies, it must be recognized that they do not capture the full reality of the approach used in any single First Peoples society” (British Columbia Ministry of Education and First Nations Education Steering Committee, 2008, p. 11). However, even given this disclaimer, the Principles are generally recognized as reflecting common values and perspectives about education held by First Peoples in BC.
It is also worth noting that there are First Nations in BC that have their own powerful sets of principles that teaching and learning, and educators are also encouraged to find out if there have been principles articulated by the First Nations in their regions.
How Are The FPPL Being Used Now?
The use of the First Peoples Principles has grown in the years since they were first included in BC curricula. Recently, the Ministry of Education directed its focus to helping educators understand that Aboriginal education is beneficial for all students, and the First Peoples Principles of Learning are being introduced into all curricular areas.
In the last decade the British Columbia Ministry of Education has indicated an increasing commitment to including the First Peoples (or Aboriginal) perspectives of teaching and learning in British Columbia schools (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2013-2014). Initial integration of First Peoples’ content into various curricula was initially intended to support the success of Aboriginal learners; however the principles that govern traditional First Peoples’ perspectives of teaching and learning have gained a more prominent place in the BC education system as educators are recognizing that they promote educational practice that is also effective for non-Aboriginal learners.
Currently, the BC Education system is undergoing change. The process includes a move toward teaching and learning that is more responsive to the contexts and needs of the learners, and the explicit inclusion of what are termed “Core Competencies”. These are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning. The broad categories includes more specific competencies: communication, critical thinking, creative thinking, personal awareness and responsibility, social responsibility, and positive personal and cultural identity.
The increased emphasis on personalization and the recognition of the importance of paying attention to more aspects of self may be new to the BC education system, but they are not new to Indigenous peoples. These initiatives echo what has already been known by First Peoples – that education is a complex process that is personal, holistic; embedded in relationship to each other, to self, and to the land; and is most effective when it is authentic and relevant.
The value evident in First Peoples knowledge has also now been more formally recognized in the revisions of the BC curricula. In an early document in the transformation process, the BC Ministry of Education indicated that “[c]urriculum writers need to consider the First Peoples principles of learning. The Ministry needs to ensure that First Nations ways of knowing are respected in all curriculum areas” (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2012). As the FPPL gain prominence in discussions about education in BC, more and more educators are interested in developing a greater understanding of them, and what implications they can have for our practice in classrooms and schools.