Teachings

In this section, you will learn about the importance of the diversity of teachings which include ways of knowing, being and doing.

Introduction

Indigenous teachings encompass ways of knowing, being, and doing that are actively practiced or learned by many people. Original practices and teachings are distinct to each Nation and continue despite centuries of legal and extralegal oppression and demonizing. The more one understands Indigenous People through our relationships with each other, language, and the land the more it is evident that our knowledge systems are rich and necessary. 

The idea perpetuated by many non-Indigenous peoples was that Indigenous Peoples lacked knowledge and morals. This was and is untrue but used to validate land acquisition, imagined superiority, and control over the original peoples of this land. Indigenous Peoples were not empty vessels roaming the lands aimlessly waiting to be saved and conquered. Rather, they thrived and flourished with each other and the land through sophisticated kinship systems, child-rearing practices, deep spirituality, and knowledge of and respect for the natural world that surrounds them. Indigenous knowledge systems contributed to the first newcomers’ survival on this land yet this piece of history is often disregarded or diluted. Educator Yatta Kanu says that to repair the damage that has been done, “Teacher education programs have to address colonialism and racism as well as [Indigenous Knowledge].”1

Ways of Knowing

Forcible disconnection from culture was legislated by the government. “Knowledge and ways of knowing are embedded in languages: Indigenous languages contain knowledge about these lands, the earth, and how to live in harmony with it and each other. … Due to colonization wherein Canada‘s Indian Act legislation had banned Indigenous ceremonies resulting in a disconnection between several generations to learn the richness of their identity and languages, a lot of knowledge must be regained.”2The Aboriginal Healing Foundation explains that “Indigenous worldviews are centered on the idea of interconnectedness, and thus, all things are connected: the present, past, and future; all people and all of creation; individuals and their kin; and within oneself, the spirit, heart, body, and mind.  Many Indigenous cultures focus on teachings from the circle, which represents connection and balance within a system of ongoing change.”3 Pedagogies inherent to original Indigenous ways of knowing can be woven into Alberta curriculums and will enhance all students’ sense of well-being. ”Holistic” approaches to teaching may engage students with different learning styles.4

Distinct Teachings

Although the term Indigenous is widely used as a blanket term to describe all First Nations, Métis and Inuit, it is important to understand that there are many distinct Nations with distinct teachings that have shaped Nations from time immemorial. In what is now Alberta alone there are 49 First Nations, 140 reserves, and eight Métis settlements. Indigenous People live across the province, and each person has their own personal story. The distinct teachings of people and Nations across Alberta emphasize the need to use local learning. There are digital or print related resources written by Indigenous People that feature ways of knowing, but learning from nations and individuals is the most genuine way to enhance one’s understanding of ways of being, knowing and doing. 

First Nations

Betty Bastien emphasizes the need for accessing local knowledge when she says: “Knowledge is relational and dependent upon the relationships that are learned in childhood.”5Original Indigenous methods of educating children extend beyond the walls of indoor space. Leroy Littlebear explains that “Learning is viewed as sacred and holistic, as well as experiential, purposeful, relational, and a life-long responsibility.”6 Education was woven into daily lives and the environment that sustained Indigenous People. Ceremonies continue to enrich and strengthen Nations. Practicing ceremony and balancing original ways of living with current contexts has enabled First Nations to survive colonization and will ensure that they thrive into the future. Each Nation has ways to teach how to live a good life. For example, Janet Fox (Maskwacis) describes a Cree teaching embedded within the structure of a teepee. “The Fifteen Teepee Pole teachings were a way of sharing fifteen important values or virtues with children. Each teepee pole represents a value and teaching that is paired with that value. The teepee was the first classroom. The teachings follow Wahkotowin or natural law.”7  To deeply learn more about teachings such as this, please connect with Elders or Knowledge Keepers and learn within the space of the teepee. Creating and sustaining relationships with those providing experiential learning opportunities involving teaching is essential. In the Indigenous world, knowledge is relationships.8

Métis

Traditions and teachings are unique to the Métis with strong roots connecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous ways of being.  “Métis holistic perspectives require consideration of the many facets of life of a people, including the traditional knowledge that has sustained them over generations. Métis understand the environment as sacred relationships linking such things as language, learning, people and social structures, traditions, land (including all parts of the Earth and atmosphere), spirituality, self-development, harmonious interactions, Indigenous knowledge, health, imagination, economic conditions, balanced approaches to life, political systems, and values.”9 The Métis sash, the flag, the distinctive jig, and the Red River Cart all have significant symbolism and history. To learn more about Métis teachings, connect with Métis People, communities, and organizations and refer to the resources listed below. 

Métis communities, families, and individuals are distinct and some continue to follow Métis teachings and ceremonies. An example of a tradition that some may or may not follow includes celebration of newborns into the communities. “In Métis communities when a baby was born it was cause to celebrate the birth of new life into the world. Many people would come and visit with the mother and child and introduce themselves to that new spirit. The role of the Elders within the community was very important at a birth…the Elders usually sit there and the baby is passed from one Elder to another, and the Elder gives something, whether it’s a few words or a touch or even just their energy. There’s some that will rock [the child] and they’ll sing. So each Elder will give that child a gift and that gift will walk with them.” 10

Inuit

Rapid legislated changes forced Inuit from nomadic lifestyles to unfamiliar settings which disrupted ways of being, knowing and doing thereby increasing trauma and intergenerational trauma.11 “Indigenous ways were suppressed, forbidden and purposefully destroyed by colonizers who implemented new systems. The government’s colonial assimilation policies resulted in Inuit experiencing living conditions many would expect to see in the developing world (e.g. overcrowded housing, families living in shacks, absolute homelessness).”12

Many Inuit continue to flourish today despite the negative social conditions projected upon them. “At the heart and soul of the Inuit culture are our values, language, and spirit. These made up our identity and enabled us to survive and flourish in the harsh Arctic environment. In the past, we did not put a word to this; it was within us and we knew it instinctively. Then, we were alone in the Arctic but now, in two generations, we have become part of the greater Canadian and world society. We now call the values, language, and spirit of the past Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit [often referred to as IQ].”13 

“The following beliefs are foundational laws known as Maligait, held by Inuit for generations. They provide a foundation for all Inuit in a lifelong process of learning how to live a good life. • Respect all living things. • Work for the common good. • Continually plan and prepare for a better future. • Maintain harmony and balance.”14

To learn more about Inuit teachings, connect with people, communities and organizations and refer to the resources listed below. 

Reciprocity

When seeking gifts of teaching, knowledge, advice, and guidance it is important to practice reciprocity. “Reciprocity acknowledges a mutual exchange of benefits or privileges and is expressed through the act of exchanging gifts.”15 Individuals and nations follow protocols such as offering tobacco and gifts to begin relationships and when asking for the sharing of knowledge, information, or advice. Many Indigenous Peoples have teachings around reciprocity and protocols that extend beyond relationships with people. For example, tobacco and prayer are offered as a thank you to the earth when medicines, plants, or flowers are harvested. Gift giving and reciprocity are important elements for building and maintaining good relationships. 

The resources listed in relation to teachings are entry points into further learning, which is best done through connecting and learning from people. 

Reflection

  • Reflect on what new information you have learned or relearned that may enhance your understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing and how can this knowledge help inform your practice?

  • How can learning about Indigenous teachings (ways of knowing, being, doing) facilitate actions towards reconciliation?

  • What actions can you take to connect with Indigenous peoples to enhance your understandings of teachings while creating lasting relationships?

Related Resources

A version of traditional Cree teachings about parenting, the mossbag and the swing are shared through this digital story.

This video playlist features many videos with specific Cree teachings from mossbag teachings, birth, smudging, four laws, pipe and others.

The Sacred Relationship explores how reconciling the relationship between Aboriginal People and the rest of Canada can lead to healthier water.

A variety of short videos that speak to topics including “Sacred Relationships, Creation Stories, People of the Land, Ceremony and Identity, and more. Educators can download lesson plans to accompany each video.

Learn about some aspects of Métis Culture.

These cards are downloadable or can be pulled up on your screen.

Authentic engaging lesson plans that speak to five foundational knowledge themes in Métis Education.

A lecture on how Blackfoot pedagogies influenced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Narcisse Blood speaks to the connection of language and worldview from a Blackfoot perspective.

Dr. Leroy Little Bear speaks to Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science.

Jerry and Jo-Ann Saddleback: Traditional Concepts of Family and Community. A video touching on traditional concepts of family and community.

A video that introduces Cree traditional woman’s teachings.

ASBA Indigenous Advisory Circle Members discuss the Indigenous worldview and how to bring that into the classroom.

ASBA Indigenous Advisory Circle members discuss Indigenous culture. In order to reach understanding, it is important to retain the Indigenous way of life and to share it with others.

ASBA Indigenous Advisory Circle Elders talk about the importance of the family in Indigenous culture; how it facilitates the passing on of values, traditions and ceremony.

ASBA Indigenous Advisory Circle Elders explore the importance of keeping the oral tradition alive and in teaching the next generation about this tradition.

In this introductory module, students learn the significance of stories and storytelling in Indigenous societies. We explore history that comes from Indigenous worldviews, this
includes worldviews from the Inuit, Nehiyawak, Kanien:keha’ka and Tlingit Peoples.

A print and web version of this resource includes contemporary and historical photography, maps and written descriptions on a variety of topics written by Indigenous Peoples.

This interactive digital professional development resources touches on many foundational knowledge topics. This section focuses on Developing an understanding of the diversity of worldviews within First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultural and linguistic groups in Alberta.

This interactive site supports the Glenbow Museums learning initiatives. “It features Blackfoot way of life; how we lived with our families; the environment; and
neighbours. It is also about how these relationships are still important to us.”

This article speaks to worldview.

This study discusses the sigificance of langauge and Indigenous knowledge.

This paper discusses Indingeous Knowledge systems.

A book designed to assist educators in coming to understand the larger frameworks of Cree ontology (ways of seeing the world and one’s place in it), epistemology (ways of understanding knowledge), and methodologies (ways of teaching).

A journey into Blackfoot cultural ways of understanding and experiencing the world, the author shares her personal story of “coming home” to reclaim her identity .

This book chronicles aspects of Blackfoot life and history . Fundamental belief systems,including traditional stories, sacred places, dances and ceremonies are included. Strong relationships as one of the most important keys to survival are examined in detail.

The Elders in Those Who Know have devoted their lives to preserving the wisdom and spirituality of their ancestors. Despite insult and oppression, they have maintained sometimes forbidden practices for the betterment of not just their people, but all humankind.

The awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.

This book provides a glimpse into worldview, values, beliefs, and aspirations of the Nakoda or Stoney People.

Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit means all the extensive knowledge and experience passed from generation to generation . The book is a collection of contributions by well- known and respected Inuit Elders as a way of preserving important knowledge and tradition, contextualizing that knowledge within Canada’s colonial legacy and providing an Inuit perspective on how we relate to each other, to other living beings and the environment.

This document gives insight into “What is the protocol to follow when inviting an Elder, knowledge keeper or cultural advisor to participate in your meetings or events?”

Poo’miikapii: Niitsitapii Approaches to Wellness is a topic (4-courses, 12 units) offered as part of the Interdisciplinary Master of Education (MEd) program. Centered in Niitsitapii (Blackfoot) ways of knowing, being, and doing in relation to poo’miikapii (harmony, balance,unity).

A document summarizing the significance of the “Lighting of the Qilliq”.

Weaving Ways is intended to be a complimentary guide for educators who are deepening their foundational knowledge and educational approaches to foster reconciliation.

An infographic that teaches to the concept of learning as holistic from a First Nations perspective.

An infographic that teaches to the concept of learning as holistic from a Métis perspective.

An infographic that teaches to the concept of learning as holistic from an Inuit perspective.

Meet Elders from across Canada as they answer your inquiries.
This series gives insights into a variety of topics as well provides the opportunity for you to ask specific questions.

Debra Courchene talks about her smudging traditions in this video.

This video gives insight into what a “sacred fire” is.

This video gives insight into the significance of the Inuit practice of “Lighting the Qulliq”

The story of Inuit and research is the story of a people resolute and resilient in the face of change. It is also the story of how the Canadian Arctic research landscape was changed by a people.

The National Representational Organization Protecting and Advancing the Rights and Interests of Inuit in Canada<

A short PDF describing Métis Traditional Environmental Knowledge.

A facilitator guide: Parent workshop on Parent-Child Attachment which includes examples of traditional parenting techniques from nations across Canada.

An informative poster that summarizes traditional Inuit Values.

“In Rekindling the Sacred Fire, Chantal Fiola investigates the relationship between Red River Métis ancestry, Anishinaabe spirituality, and identity, bringing into focus the ongoing historical impacts of colonization upon Métis relationships with spirituality on the Canadian prairies.”

A background report featuring First Nations, Inuit and Métis Women and Mothering across the generations

Footnotes

1Kanu, Yatta. “Decolonizing Indigenous Education: Beyond Culturalism: Toward Post-cultural Strategies. Canadian and International Education Vol. 34 no. 2, Article 2. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7458/c78ffb092ac2300efa0802711f1d48129711.pdf.
2Makokis, Leona J., Marilyn V. Shirt, Sherri L. Chisan, Anne Y. Mageau, and Dianna M. Steinhauer. mâmawi-nehiyaw iyinikahiwewin. (Blue Quills First Nations College, 2010.), 13. Retrieved from http://www.bluequills.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/BQ_SSHRC_2010_final_report.pdf.
3Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Addictive Behaviour Among Aboriginal People in Canada (Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2007), 1. Retrieved from http://www.ahf.ca/downloads/addictive-behaviours.pdf.
4 Aboriginal Education Research Centre. Nourishing the Learning Spirit: Elder’s Dialogue. Proceedings of the Nourishing the Learning Spirit: Elders Dialogue Conference held at the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, Saskatchewan, March 26-29, 2008.
5Bastien, Betty. Blackfoot Ways of Knowing: The Worldview of the Siksikaitsitapi (Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press, 2004), 77.
6Littlebear, Leroy. Naturalizing Indigenous Knowledge. (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009), 22. Retrieved from http://neatoeco.com/iwise3/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/NaturalizingIndigenousKnowledge_LeroyLittlebear.pdf.
7Fox, Janet. pg. 61. Taking Care of Our Children (Toronto: Best Start Resource Centre, 2016) as stated in Best Start, Zhi-gid-minaan Nda-nii-jaan-sag – Growing Together with Our Children (Toronto: Best Start Resource Centre, 2016). Retrieved from https://www.beststart.org/resources/aboriginal/GTWOC_final.pdf. Best Start. Retrieved from https://www.beststart.org/resources/aboriginal/TCoOC.pdf.
8 Littlebear, Leroy. Naturalizing Indigenous Knowledge. (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009), 8. Retrieved from http://neatoeco.com/iwise3/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/NaturalizingIndigenousKnowledge_LeroyLittlebear.pdf.
9 Métis Nation of Alberta. “Métis Traditional Knowledge.” Retrieved from https://www.metisnation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Metis-Traditional-Knowledge.pdf.
10Métis Centre of NAHO, 2010, p. 13 as stated in Best Start. Zhi-gid-minaan Nda-nii-jaan-sag – Growing Together with Our Children (Toronto: Best Start Resource Centre, 2016). Retrieved from https://www.beststart.org/resources/aboriginal/GTWOC_final.pdf.
11Best Start. Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre.Atuaqsijut: Following the Path Sharing Inuit Specific Ways Resource for Service Providers Who Work With Parents of Inuit Children in Ontario. (Health Nexus. 201), 9. Retrieved from https://resources.beststart.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/K84-A.pdf.
12ibid
13 Tagalik, S. 2009-2010. Inunnguiniq: Caring for Children the Inuit Way (Prince George, BC: National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health, 2009-10), 1. Retrieved from http://www.ottawainuitchildrens.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Inuit-caring-EN-web.pdf. British Columbia: National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health.
14Best Start. Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre.Atuaqsijut: Following the Path Sharing Inuit Specific Ways Resource for Service Providers Who Work With Parents of Inuit Children in Ontario. (Health Nexus. 201), 9. Retrieved from https://resources.beststart.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/K84-A.pdf.
15National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry. Protocals, Symbols, and Ceremonies. https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/protocols-symbols-and-ceremonies/