Section 4: Incorporating Diverse Sources of Indigenous Knowledge
By now you have learned that Indigenizing curricula is not about adding content related to Indigenous history or culture; it’s about shifting to an approach that incorporates Indigenous worldviews, including Indigenous pedagogies and approaches to knowledge. In this section, we explore how the complex sources of Indigenous knowledge can contribute to curricula.
Diversity among Indigenous Peoples
In the Foundations Guide, you learned about the diversity of Indigenous Peoples. When considering integrating Indigenous knowledge into your courses, it is critical to keep this diversity mind. Some things to consider:
- When you include a resource, identify which Indigenous Peoples it comes from. For example, don’t say “This is an Indigenous story,” but rather “This is a Tsimshian story.”
- If you are including an experience or concept that was common to many Indigenous Peoples (for example, residential schools or the important role of Elders), be sure the curriculum acknowledges that there are important differences as well as commonalities among Indigenous groups.
- Consider how you can integrate Métis, Inuit, and Urban Indigenous peoples’ sources of knowledge into your courses, in addition to First Nations content. This annotated bibliography of Métis resources [PDF] includes many pre-vetted sources.
- Consider whether you will incorporate concepts from a diversity of Indigenous Peoples, or focus on the local peoples. Depending on the context of the course, either choice may be appropriate.
Diversity among forms of knowledge
In academia, we often think of knowledge as coming from experts in the forms of academic papers, presentations, and research results. In Indigenous communities, knowledge comes from many other sources, for example, from the land, from stories, or from relationships between people.
Mainstream academic knowledge often strives to be universal and impersonal. The most respected forms of knowledge are generally studies that can be replicated in different localities and cultures, by different researchers. In Indigenous knowledge systems, knowledge that exists in relationship to specific lands and people is highly valued. In the context of curriculum development, this means creating opportunities for educators and students to share their personal experiences, feelings, and identities as a form of knowledge, and to learn from the experiential knowledge of Indigenous people.
Our entire Western education system moves from narrative to exposition, from story to essay. We beat the story out of people; we punish them for it quite literally. And then what happens is, to re-engage with ourselves, with our spirit, with our land, and to re-engage with Indigenous peoples and other cultures, we must find, seven generations back again, we must find our hearts and our spirits and our kin and our land once again, and we must find those stories once again.
– Allan Luke, 2015
Indigenous cultures have long valued oral language to transfer knowledge, and Indigenous Peoples use a variety of complex practices and protocols to pass along oral histories, such as witnessing ceremonies and potlatches. In Indigenous cultures, community members are often trained from a young age in the skills of oral communication. In the context of curriculum, this means considering opportunities for sharing stories, ideas, and experiences orally, rather than through a written assignment or presentation.
Expressions of knowledge
Stories, dances, songs, and ceremonies are important sources of knowledge in Indigenous cultures. It is important to keep in mind that resources may be non-textual in nature. For example, attending a ceremony or community event could be a learning resource. Exploring the local environment with an Elder could be a resource. Learning in a respectful way about a piece of artwork (such as a mask, textile, or regalia) could be a resource. Consider including opportunities for learners to experience these expressions of knowledge.
Activity 1: Indigenous Learning is Complex
Time: 5 min
Watch the video Indigenous Learning is Complex by Dr. Susan Dion, a Potawatomi/Lenape professor at York University. Watch from 2:45 to 6:25.
Reflect on the following questions:
- What are some of the pitfalls to avoid when selecting Indigenous content?
- What does it mean for a resource to acknowledge the humanity of Indigenous Peoples?