Recommendation 4: Lifelong Learning
- School is only one part of an individual’s education, and an integral part of First Nations and Métis education.
- Elders, family, extended family, and community are important to teaching and learning.
- Respecting diverse perspectives of education is a multifaceted process that occurs in, and beyond, school.
- Mentorship, leadership and role models
- Planning for and managing transitions;
- Indigenous Knowledge and world-views;
- Connecting School to Community and learning to life.
First Peoples Principles of Learning1
“I see opportunities to address indigenous ways of knowing through activities that are interactive and engaging through: deliberate relationship building and making connections; hands on learning; looking at different ways of solving a problem; utilizing holistic learning (e.g. the Medicine Wheel): including the power of story; learning on and from the land.” (Myrna Turner, Cultural Coordinator, Muskoday First Nation Community School)
- 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.
When working with First Nation, Métis, or Inuit peoples, coming from a position of wisdom over assumption is crucial. Wisdom means that we ask in humility and respect. There are some cultural considerations where European ways of interacting have a very different impact when working with First Nation, Metis, or Inuit people.
What follows are considerations for non-Indigenous teachers when interacting with First Nations communities and families – protocols to remember and mistakes to avoid. We should not be fearful when we do our best and acknowledge our own disadvantage in not knowing what to do for every circumstance. This guide should help build some foundational ideas that may vary from community to community but have a universal application to most First Nations Peoples World-views.
Wisdom Through Experience: Engaging First Nations Communities and Elders
- Listen to what the Elders say and gain wisdom. Listen to their silence and gain greater insight;
- When speaking of Indigenous ways of knowing, you will always be telling the truth when you begin by saying, “As I understand it, … .”;
- A talking circle usually moves according to the sun’s movement, not according to a European time-piece’s “clockwise.” The agrarian Haudenosaunee (the Iroquois Confederacy) talking circles usually move according to the moon’s movement, not “counter clockwise”;
- When forming a talking circle, leave a space for Creator.
In the spirit of building a truly collaborative partnership and reciprocal relationship between the education systems in our province, the provincial education system will be looking to First Nation education organizations for their expert opinion when it comes to educating First Nation students and that by working together in a respectful partnership, we will improve the outcomes for all students in Saskatchewan. – Inspiring Success (2018)
Wisdom Through Research:
Contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence that a stereotype “learning style” for Indigenous learners exists. Instead, evidence points to their “recurrent learning strengths” that tend to be found among Indigenous learners. These strengths include:
- holistic more than analytic;
- visual more than verbal;
- oral more than written;
- practical more than theoretical;
- reflective more than trial-and-error;
- contextual more than non-contextual;
- personally relational more than an impersonal acquisition of isolated facts and algorithms;
- experiential more than passive;
- oriented to storytelling more than didactic sessions; and
- taking time to reflect more than quickly coming to an answer.
These recurrent learning strengths are evident in non-Indigenous learners to varying degrees, as well.
Frequently Asked Questions non-Indigenous teachers may have:
- What matters in making contact with First Nation Elders or grandparents? Is there a process that I should follow? Do I need to go through a specific channel? How formal does this process need to be?
- The Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre3offers guidelines in contacting Elders and the processes and considerations that are important.
- See also, Elder Protocol4
- What about the giving of Tobacco? Is there a ceremonial tobacco type, brand, or package that I should be using? Under what scenarios do I need to offer tobacco and which do not?
- Tobacco is one of the sacred gifts Creator gave to the First Nations people. Tobacco has been used traditionally in ceremonies, rituals and prayer for thousands of years for its powerful spiritual meaning. Tobacco has a variety of medicinal purposes. Tobacco establishes a direct communication link between a person and the spiritual world. The most powerful way of communicating with the spirits is to smoke tobacco in a Sacred Pipe. Even before the tobacco is put into the pipe the prayers have already begun. When used in a Sacred Pipe ceremony, the smoke from the tobacco carries the prayers to the Creator and it is offered to the Creator and the four directions. This creates an avenue of dialogue between the human world and the spirit world. In contemporary times, tobacco abuse is common among all people, this includes snuff that is ingested. Prior to the European tobacco distribution, First Nations people had their own tobacco that was used in ceremony. This tobacco was a mixture of Red Willow Bark and other plants that are referred to as Kinnikinnick. Tobacco is also an important part of medicine bundles that are used for protection, in keeping one safe.
- A tobacco offering is a universal protocol among First Nations people. Other gifts may accompany the tobacco including blankets, cloth (print), guns or horses. Many knowledge keepers or Elders teach that the gifts given are at the discretion of the person. The more contemporary gift is monetary, especially for meetings or other such events when prayer is needed from Elders. Most First Nations Elders will accept tobacco signifying their willingness to offer assistance. Tobacco offerings are given when we gather medicines, roots and berries, when we take anything from Mother Earth including the animals, it is used in hunting practices as well. Always put tobacco down first. Elders today wait patiently for young people to offer tobacco so that they may share stories and knowledge.5
- See also Tobacco Offering Protocol
- How do I provide empathy for situations that I don’t understand that can come up when working with children in a way that doesn’t threaten or undermine the family or community? How do I advocate in a way that doesn’t assume knowledge or experiences that I don’t have?
- The Indigenous Corporate Training Site provides some good advice when working with Indigenous Peoples (See Indigenous Corporate Training: 23 Tips on What Not to Say or Do When Working with Indigenous Peoples6 and 27 Tips on What to Say and Do when Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples7). Sensitivity to the community is of utmost importance:
- Don’t expect to consult with the same community in the same way on different issues. What worked last time may not work next time.
- Different issues will have different concerns and impacts. Take the time to learn the concerns of a community and modify your approach to respect the individual issue. It’s always good to avoid the cookie cutter approach when working with communities.
- How do I honour the story when I am not part of it?
- Consider the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission8
- Recognize the common elements found in Indigenous World-views9:
- Holistic perspective;
- All life is sacred;
- All forms of life are interconnected;
- Humans are not above or below others. 10
- Some basic understanding around First Nations World-views:
- All living things, including plants and animals, and their spirits are connected or related – law, kinship, and spirituality reinforce this connectedness. Our actions and decisions affect all else in the circle of life. All individuals are responsible for themselves in relation to all others.
- The well-being of the earth is central to traditional teachings and practices and is essential for survival.
- Time is fluid, non-linear, and measured in relation to cyclical events – the seasons.
- Indigenous cultures are guided by tradition and collected wisdom, yet are dynamic, adaptive and not relegated to the past.
- Adaptation has been and continues to be necessary for survival.
- What is the protocol in participating in meetings of First Nation Chiefs and Councils, Committees, etc.?
- The Indigenous Corporate Training Site has an eBook11 to guide you in working with Indigenous community meetings: What to avoid if you want to develop a good relationship with an Indigenous community. It also includes tips on:
- when to start the meeting (hint: it has nothing to do with your schedule;
- what not to do during the meeting;
- how not to wrap up the meeting.
- What do I need to be aware of in participating in ceremonies? How can I be curious without being disrespectful in participating in and learning about ceremonies that I don’t understand?
- The Saskatchewan Indigenous Culture Centre provides protocols for ceremonies such as protocols for offering tobacco, eagle feather protocols, and protocols for ceremonies including Sweat Lodge Ceremonies.12
- What matters about cultural immersion for teachers? Why would it be important? How might it support the work we do with children?
- See Theresa’s Story13:
In Theresa’s Story, student engagement seems to come from the personal connection that she cultivates between students and the source of the knowledge she presents to them. Knowledge disconnected from whom it belongs is only knowledge to be remembered (or forgotten). But knowledge associated with an authentic cultural source is knowledge to be engaged with – it’s more personal. Students not only remember something, they become connected to the source of that knowledge. This feeling of connectedness seems to be crucial.
For Theresa, authentic interactions with Elders and Knowledge Keepers brought more meaning to Indigenous stories and information, and thus greater confidence to teach this Indigenous content in her science classes. This richer meaning when expressed with confidence is picked up by students, with notable consequences to what they learn. Students realize their teacher is being authentic in a way they can relate to. In short, Theresa’s story illustrates the benefits from teachers interacting with Elders and Knowledge Keepers.
1First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC). Retrieved 5 July 2020, from http://www.fnesc.ca Can be downloaded directly from: https://saskmath.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/FNESC-Learning-First-Peoples-poster-11×17-hi-res-v2.pdf
2Brokenleg, M. (2003). The Science of Raising Courageous Kids, Reclaiming Children and Youth. Retrieved 9 July 2020, from http://martinbrokenleg.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/12_1_Brokenleg_Van_Bockern.pdf.
3Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre. Elder FAQs | SICC. Retrieved 5 July 2020, from https://sicc.sk.ca/elder-faqs.
4Joseph, R. (n.d.) Elder Protocol. Guide Book to Indigenous Protocol. Indigenous Corporate Training. pp. 20-23. https://www.ictinc.ca/guidebook-to-indigenous-protocol Can be downloaded directly from: https://saskmath.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Guide-to-Indigenous-Protocol.pdf.
5Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre. Elder FAQs | SICC. Retrieved 5 July 2020, from https://sicc.sk.ca/elder-faqs/ (See: “Why is tobacco important to First Nations people?” And “What is a tobacco offering?”).
6Joseph, R. 23 Tips on What Not to Say or Do When Working with Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved 5 July 2020, from https://www.ictinc.ca/23-tips-on-what-not-to-say-or-do.
7Joseph, R. 27 Tips on What to Say and Do When Working Working with Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved 5 July 2020, from https://www.ictinc.ca/27-tips-on-what-to-say-and-do.
8Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. (2015). Retrieved 5 July 2020, from https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf. Can be downloaded directly from https://saskmath.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
9Joseph, R., & Joseph, C. (2019). Indigenous relations: Insights, Tips, and Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality. indigenous Relations Press/Page Two Books.
10Some Saskatchewan Cree Nations understand their position with respect to others (i.e., plants, animals, the four dimensions of what comprises Mother Earth) as below these others.
11Joseph, B. 22 Ways to Derail Your Next Indigenous Community Meeting. Retrieved 5 July 2020, from https://www.ictinc.ca/22-ways-to-derail-your-next-indigenous-community-meeting.
12Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre. Elder FAQs | SICC. Retrieved 5 July 2020, from https://sicc.sk.ca/elder-faqs/.
13Aikenhead, G., Brokofsky, J., Bodnar, T., Clark, C., Foley, C., …Strange, G. (2014). Enhancing school science with Indigenous knowledge: What we know from teachers and research. Saskatoon, Canada: Saskatoon Public School Division. pp 1-2.