Indigenization Guide: Reconnection and the Need to Indigenize

The following is an excerpt that combines two chapters from Pulling Together: A Guide for Teachers and Instructors by Bruce Allan, Amy Perreault, John Chenoweth, Dianne Biin, Sharon Hobenshield, Todd Ormiston, Shirley Anne Hardman, Louise Lacerte, Lucas Wright, and Justin Wilson.

How Indigenous Peoples are Reconnecting

I’m speaking for Okanagan Indigenous peoples in terms of the way we think about land. We never have ever thought of it, I don’t think, as anything static. As anything physical. We’ve always thought about it as a process of interactions, a process of changes and a process that’s ongoing … And so a lot of things that we think about as Okanagan people is how those systems should inform us, in terms of our interactions and the principles that we need to think about and adhere to. In the process of learning in our society, one of the things that we have come to understand is that there always needs to be that connection to and from the individual, and the connection of the family, and the connection to community, and how that intersects to the natural world.

– Jeanette Armstrong (as quoted by First Nations Studies Program, 2009)

In Indigenous epistemologies, interconnections with every living being and with place (the land) provide power and self-determination. They are remembered and passed on through language and stories. Indigenous ways of knowing, being, doing, and relating (epistemology, axiology, and pedagogy) are reaffirmed through resilience of spirit, resilience of knowledge retention, and the ability to share and transfer these gifts to subsequent generations.

These knowledge systems are now being brought into post-secondary education through experiential and on-the-land courses and programs. Course design and delivery rest with the partner Indigenous communities, and the institution creates a space within its programming to enable learning in a different way. Here are two examples of courses that support reconnection with the land:

  • Camosun College – IST 250: QĆÁSET Indigenous Cultural Camp[1]: QĆÁSET is a SENĆOŦEN word meaning “spiritual renewal.” This course brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous students together to operate within an Indigenous experiential learning praxis cycle: experiencing (engagement in “real-life” learning experiences), reflecting (internalization of the experience), making meaning (analysis of the experience), and acting (application of experience to other “real-life” situations). This course brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and provides the opportunity to engage with Indigenous knowledge systems.
  • University of Northern British Columbia – First Nations Studies Program (FNST) experiential learning courses[2] (winter, spring, summer semesters): The FNST offers a variety of 100- to 400-level courses, designed and delivered in co-operation with various Dakelh communities. Each year a different element of Indigenous epistemology is explored, from traditional technologies to environmental stewardship. This four-minute video explores the pedagogy and transformational learning during the first offering in 2013: Experiential UNBC Course Leads to Cultural Milestone for Northern BC First Nation.[3]

However, Indigenization is more than including courses in programs and content in curriculum. To appreciate why Indigenization is important in education, we need to acknowledge some important political and societal shifts.

The Need to Indigenize

We maintain, however, that recognition of the distinct place of Aboriginal nations in the Canadian federation and accommodation of Aboriginal culture and identity should be regarded as a core responsibility of public institutions rather than as a special project to be undertaken after other obligations are met. Educational institutions have a pivotal role in transforming the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and Canadian society.

– Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Final Report, Volume 3: Gathering Strength (1996, p. 477)

British Columbia is the only province that does not have historic treaties within its provincial boundaries, with the exception of Treaty 8 in the northeast of the province. The first modern-day treaties, such as the Nisga’a Treaty and the Tsawwassen Final Agreement, are changing the responsibilities of public organizations, including educational organizations. As public post-secondary teachers and instructors, we have a responsibility to ensure that students have the knowledge and skills necessary to work with and build relationships with Indigenous Peoples and communities. This includes a working knowledge of the changing political and social landscape and emerging and re-establishment of rights and title of First Nations, Métis, Inuit organizations and communities. It also includes incorporating the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous issues can no longer be considered a fringe concern; instead, Indigenous views, perspectives, and self-determination form part of the learning landscape in our institutions.

A Guide for Teachers and Instructors is part of an open professional learning series developed for staff across post-secondary institutions in British Columbia. These guides are intended to support the systemic change occurring across post-secondary institutions through Indigenization, decolonization, and reconciliation.

Learn more:

  1. QĆÁSET Indigenous Cultural Camp: 
  2. Experiential learning courses: 
  3. Experiential UNBC Course Leads to Cultural Milestone for Northern BC First Nation: