“Indigenous knowledge is a growing field of inquiry, both nationally and internationally, particularly for those interested in educational innovation.” (Battiste, 3) For years, people have been studying how to increase student success among First Nations, Métis and Inuit students in our country: A population of people who have been reported by statistics Canada as the fastest growing, yet least successful in obtaining a high school education. Study after study has reported that Indigenous knowledge, heritage, and languages are a remedy which will empower Aboriginal students if they are integrated into the Canadian educational system. (Battiste, 9) I would argue that the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and practices is in fact beneficial to all students due to the focus on a holistic and lifelong approach to education. The challenge of course is to find a respectful way to blend and include both what has become a systematic Eurocentric view and the Indigenous ways of knowing to include them both into a contemporary more modern and effective education system.
There is a strong need to decolonize our current system of education. The curriculum in all subjects needs to include the voice of indigenous people, the exposure of years of injustice which has occurred through our colonial history. The past needs to be deconstructed and bring to light the social, political, economic and emotional reasons that Aboriginal voices have been silenced. I have heard teachers voice the argument that there are few if any FNMI students in their classes so teaching about these issues is not culturally relevant or responsive to the students who are in my class. For this statement I have to responses. The first is just because students have not self-identified as being First Nations, Métis or Inuit does not mean they are not there. Do not buy into the preconceived notions of what these people look like. The second thing that I say usually as a follow up is that the colonialized history of FNMI peoples in Canada has a lot of similarities to colonized history of other people around the world. I have had many students express to me after hearing about FNMI issues that their parents/grandparents went through a similar thing. There are of course many other reasons that learning about these issues are important to all students, but I have found that after listing these two most of the naysayers start to re-think their position.
One of the biggest road blocks that stands in the way of fully infusing Indigenous knowledge is that teachers know little about the history, culture and issues themselves. Many administrators assume that Aboriginal teachers are richly endowed with Aboriginal knowledge, language and relationships; the reality is that many Aboriginal teachers feel as equally unprepared as the rest of us who feel the need to build Aboriginal content into our classrooms. (Battiste 25) One of the steps to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing is to educate the teachers. Some schools teacher candidate programs have are beginning to have this as a part of their course load. In most programs I have heard that these courses are just the tip of the iceberg and more needs to be done. As well as good as these programs may or may not be only helps newer teachers and not those of us who have been in the profession for more than 5 years. Much more needs to be done to ensure that all teachers feel comfortable not only dealing with the material, but to ensure that they are not further perpetuating the many misconceptions and misinformation that exists about FNMI people.
Scholars like Marie Battiste and Susan Dion have said that the best way to accomplish this is to focus on the similarities between the two systems rather than the differences. This is a concept of which I strongly agree with and have tried to incorporate in my own teaching practice. In Toronto the School Board has a mandate to focus on character development, with each month having a focus on a new positive character trait in order to promote well-rounded students. This concept is not new. Indigenous knowledge teaches people how to take responsibility for themselves, to develop their relationships with others and the world while modelling competent and respectful behaviour; all of which sound remarkable similar to the idea behind the character development concept that is actively happening in the TDSB. This is an good representation that the two ways of learning can be blended if educators and school boards work together to fulfill the Ministry of Education Mandates which have been around since 2007 to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into the Ontario school system as outlined in the following document fnmiframework
Another distinctive feature of Indigenous knowledge and pedagogy are learning through doing and through observation. Both of which are authentic experiences and allow for individualized instruction and learning through enjoyment. Elements of this feature can be found in inquiry and experiential learning. I personally have been using this idea in my Fashion class where most of the learning occurs through the hands on projects that my students are making. It works, at the end of almost every class I hear my students complain that the two hours went by too quickly. I admittedly feel the same way. I learn just as much form my students who come up with new techniques and ideas as they learn from me. This helps to cement the idea of lifelong learning with my students. This format of teaching and learning allows for the relationships between my students and I to become strengthened as well which only aids in their success. It will only take a little ingenuity to come up with ways of incorporating this approach in all subject areas; perhaps not every day, but at least on occasion.
As teachers “we must all open our minds as well as our hearts to the different ways knowledge is constructed, shared, and valued if education is to benefit all students…the future benefits of indigenous knowledge to our Canadian society cannot be overestimated. The inclusion of Aboriginal world views, values, languages, culture and approaches to learning experience for all students” (Dickason and Long 104-107)