This principle reflects the understanding that Indigenous peoples hold an extensive wealth of knowledge, even if this knowledge has not always been recognized by post-industrial Euro-centric cultures (Battiste, 2005). It also recognizes that Indigenous knowledge contributes to the non-Indigenous understandings in the world. As one example, educators are now growing in their understanding that the First Peoples Principles of Learning represent a highly effective approach to education that, among other things, supports deep learning, inclusivity, and responding to learners’ needs.
What is Indigenous Knowledge (IK)?
IK can be broadly defined as the complex knowledge systems that have developed over time by a particular people in a particular area and that have been transmitted from generation to generation. It includes ecological, scientific, and agricultural knowledge in addition to processes of teaching and learning. It also encompasses both the traditional and the contemporary as Indigenous knowledge continues to expand and develop. Because Indigenous knowledge has often been referred to as “traditional knowledge,” some people view it as unchanging knowledge based only in the past. Instead it is “an adaptable, dynamic system based on skills, abilities, and problem-solving techniques that change over time depending on environmental conditions” (Battiste, 2005). The body of IK can no more be summed up than the body of knowledge of any other society. It is vast, and based on context, often connected to specific geographical areas.
Inclusion of non-appropriated Indigenous knowledge (in the form of curriculum, resources, pedagogy etc.) in schools serves multiple purposes. It honours the fact that Indigenous peoples do have a robust and deep knowledge base that has been previously either ignored or denigrated (often as a part of colonial policies); it makes room in our schools for Indigenous learners to see elements of who they are reflected around them (an often necessary condition for the success of almost all learners), and it helps non-Indigenous learner develop understandings to bridge some of the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Integrating the traditional Indigenous perspectives of teaching and learning can also be immensely valuable in creating a more responsive education system for all students.
Relation to Other Education Theory
Constructivism supports the belief that there is not one objective reality to which all learners aspire to know and understand. Instead, the learners makes sense of the world based on their experiences in it (von Glasersfeld, 2008). In this light, one can appreciate that there are different ways of understanding knowledge. While most societies tend to value some types of knowledge over others, one can also presume that there can be value found in knowledge systems of various cultures (Jegede, 1995).
Rather than criticize the learners’ perspectives if they seem to contradict the paradigms being promoted in the classroom environment, an effective educational experience helps articulate learners’ pre-existing conceptual understandings and uses these to help to create bridges to new understandings (Aikenhead & Jegede, n.d.). Jegede (1995) proposes that the cultural knowledge held by the learner, even when it may seem to come into conflict with other concepts being taught, needs to be recognized, and can in many cases be used to help learners understand concepts stemming from other cultural worldviews. However, it is important to not view what has been traditionally taught in formal “Western” education as the pinnacle of learning. Providing opportunities for multiple ways of understanding the world can lead to a deeper understanding of the complexities of knowledge.
Implications for Classroom and School Include:
- The willingness of educators to see themselves as learners, and seek to develop their own understandings first
- Recognizing that all learners benefit from learning about (unappropriated) Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.
- Critically examining whose knowledge and voice has been valued in the education system.
- Understanding that education systems are not value neutral. Instead what is taught, and how it is taught reflects cultural values. Helping learners understand this may help them navigate through differing cultural beliefs.
- Ensuring meaningful inclusion of Indigenous content and/or perspectives in all curricular areas (without appropriation).
- Recognizing that Indigenous knowledge is connected to specific contexts. There is a great diversity in First Peoples across not only Canada, but also within BC. Because of this, it is important to understand that teaching resources that might be appropriate and relevant in one community might not be appropriate for another community or school district.
- Starting local. When deciding upon content that will be incorporated into the school or classroom, begin by checking with any local First Nations communities or Aboriginal organizations. Some may be able to help provide resources that are appropriate.
- Recognizing that local Indigenous people can also be effective resources. This can be facilitated by developing relationships with the local community or First Nations, Metis, or Inuit organization(s).
- Ensuring that Indigenous knowledge is not trivialized by turning deeply meaningful cultural practices into “arts and crafts” in the classroom. Instead, it may be more meaningful to help learners understand the cultural practices, and learn about the practices in an authentic venue.
Implications for Specific Curricular Areas
While each of the following areas is described separately (and briefly), it is recognized that multi-disciplinary educational experiences may better reflect the holistic emphasis of the FPPL. In general, the explicit inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and perspective in the curriculum is based on the understanding that First Peoples perspectives and knowledge are a part of the historical and contemporary foundation of BC and Canada. Practical applications of Indigenous knowledge are balanced with deeply respectful spiritual practices leading to informed decision-making that is in the best interest of self, others and the world around us“ (Michell et al, 2008).
In addition, the concept of learning through story or narrative is not restricted to Language Arts learning. Story is understood as a fundamental means to through which people can learn in all aspects of life. The emphasis on story also help learners to organize new concepts that develop from their learning.
For Sciences – it is important to understand that there are additional understandings of science that are not reflected in how science has often been taught in schools (which is not always in accord with how science is practiced outside of schools, what many refer to as Western science). Increasingly, both Canadian and international research has been “discovering” truths that have already long been known and shared by First Peoples. Incorporating First Peoples’ perspectives and knowledge in school science can “broaden all people’s worldview and understanding of our interconnected relationship with the earth and environment. Hence, incorporating First Peoples’ perspectives in school science has the potential to resolve social, cultural, and environmental crises that impact all humanity” (Michell et al. 2008).
In “Education Indigenous to Place” (2007) Barnhardt and Kawagley share the richness of Indigenous knowledge in the context of Alaskan First Peoples. In BC, the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and the First Nations Schools Association (FNSA) have developed a Science First Peoples 5-9, and Secondary Science First Peoples Teacher Resource Guides to help educators understand how to integrate local Indigenous knowledge into classrooms.
For Language Arts – it is important to understand that the word “story” in First Peoples’ contexts has a different meaning than it does in post-industrial Euro-centric contexts. Stories are narratives (traditionally oral, but now also written) that are used to teach skills, transmit cultural values and mores, convey news, record family and community histories, and explain our natural world. In First Peoples’ contexts, stories do not equate with the construct of “short story” as is often taught in BC classrooms. They do not necessarily follow what is often taught as the conventional story structure (i.e. follow the “story arc”), and can often have complex circular or cyclical structures. The story is an evolving form in Indigenous cultures, as is evidenced by the powerful work of many contemporary story-tellers who create story through spoken word, song, writing, and music. The explicit inclusion of Indigenous literature (in its various forms) in BC schools and classrooms is based on the understanding that this is the land from which that rich literature originates.
In BC, provincial courses such as English First Peoples 10, 11, and 12 have rich teacher resource guides created by FNESC/FNSA that can help educators navigate through potential resources to help teach these and other ELA courses.
For Social Studies – it is important to reframe some of the conversation around the history and development of Canada. There is increased awareness of the need to “teach social studies from the perspective of peoples who have been traditionally marginalized in, or excluded from, national narratives told in schools. This shift in outlook reflects a move away from engaging students with any singular conception of a national past” (Scott, 2013). This shift includes ensuring multiple perspectives in the telling of Canada’s stories of origin, its histories, and the movements of people. It also means including an understanding of the richness of Indigenous histories prior to, and post, European contact with First Peoples in this land. It also requires an age-appropriate examination of the effects of colonization and the legacies of governmental policies over the history of Canada, including Residential School policies that have a significant effect on our society today. An inclusion of First Peoples’ perspectives in Social Studies classes requires a critical examination of what is considered important to teach and learn, and whose voices have been valued or devalued in determining what is important to learn and understand in classrooms.
Resources such as FNESC/FNSA’s BC First Nations, Land, Title and Governance and Indian Residential Schools and Reconciliation Teacher Resource Guides can facilitate further learning in this area.
For Math – As with other curricular areas, there is growing recognition that education should be culturally responsive, and Math is no exception. Recent work on curricular resources in Math, such as Thuuwaay, ‘Waadlu x an’: Mathematical Adventures (Nicola & Jovanovich, 2011) demonstrates that the learning of Math can be approached through a culturally relevant lens. Students can be supported in understanding the mathematical concepts that are a part of Indigenous cultural practices. FNESC/FNSA have also developed a Math First Peoples Teacher Resource Guide to help educators integrate First Peoples knowledge into Math. In addition to these resources, exploring Math through an Indigenous lens is a part of the UBC Aboriginal Mathematics K-12 Network.
For Health and Physical Education – The emphasis on the need for balance integration of all aspects of being, and the interconnectedness of a person’s physical, mental, spiritual and emotional aspects are of particular significance to the teaching and learning in Health curricula. In addition, as has been noted, the health of human being is linked to the health of the land and environment.
Relation to Other Educational Theory
The concepts of culturally relevant and culturally responsive curricula support the need to integrate indigenous knowledge in all curricular areas. This process has come to be termed by many researchers as “culturally relevant” or “culturally responsive” teaching, and it has been identified as a necessary element of student success (Allen&Labbo, 2001; Gay, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Young, 2010). However, the inclusion of First Peoples’ knowledge and perspectives into classrooms for all students is necessary for more than culturally relevant or responsive education. The knowledge and languages of First Peoples in BC are connected to the land in this province. BC First Peoples’ languages and knowledge are not taught and learned anywhere else in the world; they are a part of the collective history and contemporary knowledge of BC and Canada.
Implications for the Classroom and School Include:
- Integrating indigenous knowledge and perspectives in all curricular areas as an integral part of all learning (and not as an “add-on”, or to do “only if there is time”).
- Educators undertaking their own learning to help prepare them to respectfully integrate First Peoples’ perspectives and content into their classrooms and/or schools.
- Modelling for learners the importance of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.
- Understanding that integrating authentic Indigenous knowledge will require relationships with local First Nations or Indigenous organizations to learn about locally held knowledge.
- Modelling for learners educators’ own learning about Indigenous knowledge and perspectives if necessary.
Relevant Core Competencies
- Involves making judgments based on reasoning: students consider options; analyze these using specific criteria; and draw conclusions and make judgments. Critical thinking competency encompasses a set of abilities that students use to examine their own thinking, and that of others, about information that they receive through observation, experience, and various forms of communication (2015, BC Ministry of Education).