Indigenization Guide: Integrating Indigenous Epistemologies

The following is an excerpt from Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers by Asma-na-hi Antoine, Rachel Mason, Roberta Mason, Sophia Palahicky, and Carmen Rodriguez de France. 

The full title of this chapter is: Integrating Indigenous Epistemologies and Pedagogies into Curriculum Design and Development

Understanding Indigenous epistemologies and pedagogies is the first step; the next step is taking action to integrate them into curriculum development. Often educators turn to learning activities as a first step in Indigenization. However, including or adapting learning activities without changing other aspects of the curriculum is not a holistic approach to Indigenization, and in some cases can result in trivializing and misappropriating those activities (this is discussed more in Section 4). Interweaving Indigenous approaches should involve considering all of the following aspects of your course design:

  • Goals: Does the course goal include holistic development of the learner? If applicable, does the course benefit Indigenous people or communities?
  • Learning outcomes: Do the learning outcomes emphasize cognitive, emotional, physical, and spiritual development? Is there room for personalization, group and individual learning goals, and self-development?
  • Learning activities: Have you included learning activities that are land-based, narrative, intergenerational, relational, experiential, and/or multimodal (rely on auditory, visual, physical, or tactile modes of learning)?
  • Assessment: Is the assessment holistic in nature? Are there opportunities for self-assessment that allow students to reflect on their own development?
  • Relationships: Are there opportunities for learning in community, intergenerational learning, and learning in relationship to the land?
  • Format: Does the course include learning beyond the classroom “walls”?

Activity 1: Examples of Courses that Interweave Indigenous Knowledge 

Time: 60 – 90 min

Type: Individual

Review the following case studies of post-secondary courses that have been developed to interweave Indigenous knowledge. Notice how these courses have considered Indigenous approaches in all of the aspects listed above (goals, learning outcomes, learning activities, assessment, relationships, and format).

Teacher as leader: In this example, a non-Indigenous educator shares her original and revised syllabus and reflects upon her process and learning as she worked to Indigenize her course. In reading Lindsey Herriot’s reflection on her course, “Teacher as Leader,” pay attention to the process she used to Indigenize her course, the collaboration with Indigenous colleagues, and her own learning journey throughout that process. How does her shift in focus from content to values align with an Indigenous pedagogical approach?

Note: If you are not using the online version of the Curriculum Developers Guide, you can find the original syllabus in Appendix B, the Indigenized syllabus in Appendix C, and the instructor’s reflection on becoming an Indigenous educator in Appendix D.

In these audio recordings (See Part 1[2] and Part 2[3]), Dr. Gloria Snively talks about her experience as a non-Indigenous environmental educator who has worked with Indigenous communities for four decades. She shares her advice about how to braid Indigenous approaches into science education and how non-Indigenous people can overcome fear of mistakes and build positive relationships with Indigenous community members. For more on Dr. Snively’s experience, read her open textbook (co-edited with Dr. Lorna Williams from the St’at’yem’c First Nation) Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science.[4]

Activity 2: A Call to Personal Research: Indigenizing Your Curriculum 

Time: 30 min

Type: Individual

Learn about how to integrate Indigenous ontologies, epistemologies, and pedagogies into your curriculum by reading “A Call to Personal Research: Indigenizing Your Curriculum” [5] by Adrienne Castellon (2017), assistant professor and stream director for Masters of Educational Leadership at Trinity Western University.

Activity 3: Dr. Susan Dion’s video series on Indigenous Pedagogies 

Time: 30 min

Type: Individual

Watch some of this video series[6] about exploring Indigenous pedagogies, featuring Dr. Susan Dion, a First Nations (Lenape-Potawatomi) professor at York University.

Activity 4: Critical Review of Your Curriculum 

Time: 1-3 hrs

Type: Individual, Group

This activity will provide an opportunity for you to critically review and adapt a lesson, activity, or assessment that you have used in your teaching and to revise it to incorporate Indigenous approaches. Examine one of your lessons, activities, or assessments to determine if you have included any Indigenous epistemologies or pedagogies. Identify one or two instances where Indigenous epistemologies or pedagogies could be interwoven into your lesson, activity, or assessment. For example, are there any areas where you could include a greater focus on the emotional and spiritual knowledge domains? If possible, work in collaboration with a colleague or get input from a colleague on your work. If there is an opportunity for your course or lesson to be taught, gather student input as well.

After you have finished your adaptation, reflect on the following questions below (adapted from the work of Halbert and Kaser [PDF], 2014[7]):

  1. Does every student have genuine opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of and respect for Indigenous ways of knowing?
  2. Do all students have the chance to teach someone else and through doing so contribute to the community as a whole?
  3. Will Indigenous students see themselves reflected in the curriculum on an ongoing basis and not just as a “one off” or as a special unit?
  4. Is deep listening a part of students’ everyday experience?
  5. To what extent are students expected to do the best they can on all tasks while keeping an eye on how they can help others?
  6. Will every student feel their voice is valued?
  7. What are the opportunities for learners to express themselves in a variety of ways?
  8. Is oral storytelling valued?
  9. Will students have opportunities to connect with and learn from Elders?
  10. Do assessment activities value holistic development?

Activity 5: Sharing Examples of Work (G)

Time: Ongoing

Type: Group

How can you share the work you have done in your critical review and lesson adaptation activity with others? How can you learn about efforts that others in your institution (or other institutions) have taken toward Indigenization of curriculum? Consider ways to share, in person or through text, these examples in a way that supports learning from each other.

Learn More:

  1. Schalay’nung Sxwey’ga: Emerging Cross-Cultural Pedagogy in the Academy: 
  2. Gloria Snively Audio Recording Part 1: 
  3. Gloria Snively Audio Recording Part 2: 
  4. Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science: 
  5. A Call to Personal Research: Indigenizing Your Curriculum: 
  6. Susan Dion Exploring Aboriginal Education: 
  7. Spirals of Inquiry: