Considerations for Supporting Indigenous Families

*NOTE: Please see Supporting Families section for ways to support all families (including Indigenous families). The remainder of this section provides support specific to Indigenous learners. As always, please consult your local Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and Indigenous leaders with respect to the families within your community. This section is intended to be a general guide.

Often, Indigenous families exist in two worlds: theirs and the world of mainstream Saskatchewan. It is important for us to be culturally sensitive to the potential that this dichotomy may exist.

Teachers will need to be cognizant of intergenerational trauma that also may exist. Dr. Glen Aikenhead warns that in some regions, with some families, “… teachers represent an institution – education – that for several generations did everything in its power to “kill the Indian”1 in every child. Thus, you enter the interaction as the one with immense power.” 2(Aikenhead, 2020) Schools, administrators and teachers need to be aware of fear and resentment toward educational institutions that may reflect the history of some families in some circumstances. Similarly, many indigenous families greatly value education. Teachers should practise equity defined by reconciliation: mutual respect through understanding.

Non-Indigenous teachers should become students, taught by the Indigenous adults of your learner as to what they want for their child. Our job is to enter into a collaboration with Indigenous families to understand their holistic, relational world in terms of schooling. In short, your interaction with the family is a culturally responsive one, in which the family feels empowered in its collaboration in their child’s year of math.

Some Indigenous learners are shy about sharing information about their culture. The more comfortable they feel in your classroom, the more they may be willing to let you know, from time to time, what is happening at home that teaches you about their culture. A holistic understanding of education includes that family events and experiences outside of school are as important as attending school. The Indigenous concept of “close family relatives” is translated into mainstream Saskatchewan culture’s concept of “extended family relatives.”

Other specific topics related to supporting First Nations families can be found on websites developed by other organizations that are in the same position as a math teacher. These are listed here along with an edited table of contents/description with items pertaining to teaching math to Indigenous students.



First Nations and Métis Education: An Advisory for School Boards

  1. The Importance of Relationships (pg. 9-11)
  2. Home/School Difference (pg. 40)
  3. Racism (pg. 40-41)
  4. Supporting Students (pg. 58)
  5. Classroom Teachers Effective Teachers (pg. 60)
  6. Parent and Community Engagement (pg. 63-65)
  1. Models of Engagement (pg. 14-15)
  2. Parental Engagement (pg. 16-17)
  3. The Positive Relationship Between Family Involvement & Student Success (pg. 20-21)
Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students – The Report of the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Students

Although this document contains reflections for First Nation Schools, it involves all educators.

  1. Voices of First Nation Students (pg.  4-8)
  2. Considerations (p. 43-44)
 Promising Practices within Diverse Educational Systems
  1. Strong Community, Parent and Youth Engagement Through Relationships (pg. 9)
  2. Engagement Mentorship Programs/Transition Supports (pg. 9)
Kate Nonesuch Family Math3 Good activities to offer for home teaching or simple math in the classroom (also has some great folding box patterns.)

A First Nations Dice Game for introducing yourself during a family visit.

(See also Stick Games and Theoretical/Experimental Probability)

    1. Use a set of 4 stick “di” for this activity.
      1. Stick di are identical flat sticks (popsicle sticks are great) marked, painted, or decorated in specific ways on one side only. For this example of a dice game, two of them are the “male” dice and the other two are the “female” dice.
    2. Take turns throwing the di (hold the bundle of 4 in one hand at shoulder height and drop or mildly throw them. You can keep throwing the dice as long as you are earning points. When you earn a “0” on a throw, your turn is over and the next player gets their turn.
    3. Points are scored as follows:
  • All marked sides up or down:  
2 points
  • Both male sides up and both female sides down:
1 point
  • Both female sides up and both male sides down: 
1 point
  • Any other combination:
0 points


  1. Play the game. The winner is the first person to get 10 points.
  2. Think about the game you played. Which outcomes appear to be the most frequent?   Why is this so?
  3. Play the game again. This time use tally marks to record your results in the chart below.
4 marked sides up
4 marked sides down
2 male up,          2 female down
2 female up,    2 male down

Both Empowering the Spirit4 and Elder Albert Marshall’s “Learning Together by Learning to Listen to Each Other” speak to the goal of two-eyed seeing (the English translation of the Mi’kmaw word etuaptmumk). Elder Marshall describes it this way:

“I, you, and we need to learn to see from one eye with the best or the strengths in the Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing… and learn to see from the other eye with the best or the strengths in the mainstream (Western or Eurocentric) knowledges and ways of knowing… but most importantly, I, you, and we need to learn to see with both these eyes together, for the benefit of all.”5

1Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (2015). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.  (p. 130).

2Aikenhead, G. (2020). Indigenizing Mathematics [In person].

3Nonesuch, K. (2008). Family Math Fun. Retrieved 5 July 2020, from

4Pedagogy – Empowering the Spirit. (2020). Retrieved 4 July 2020, from

5Elder Albert Marshall. (2018). Retrieved 4 July 2020, from