As a graduate student at IslandWood, I am often tromping down literal and figurative trails. It seems like a constant process of making new discoveries, whether it’s learning how to reach a challenging student, witnessing different stages of plant life cycles through the seasons, or falling down rabbit holes of research material about exciting passions. A “path” that started as a bushwhack and now has become a widened, well-traveled trail for me is what it means and looks like to “Indigenize” our education field. My interest springs from my own personal journey in exploring my Native American roots, as well as learning about and from an ancient system of knowledge that has survived the colonization and genocide of settlers, but has yet to be acknowledged by mainstream education as a viable model. I strongly believe that not only will Indigenizing our education spaces benefit our Native youth, but will have what is known as the “curb-side effect”, meaning that it will inherently benefit all who are involved, as it is a holistic and balanced approach to teaching and learning.
Based on readings and personal experiences, I’ve outlined four characteristics below of Indigenizing education (identified by “From Where the Sun Rises: Addressing the educational achievement of Native Americans in Washington State”); ways that I already see it in Environmental Education; and ways that we can further Indigenize education spaces (taking it a step further).
Belonging: Children are cared for by caring adults and treat each other as related.
- Environmental Education: acknowledging and teaching students that they are a part of an ecosystem to which they belong and depend on for survival. In turn, these systems rely on the reciprocal relationships of humans in order to thrive in harmony.
- Take it a step further: to provide opportunities embedded in the learning experience in which youth are interacting and learning from their elders/older generations and vice versa (intergenerational learning).
Mastery: Fostering balance for spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical competence.
- Environmental Education: learning is experiential and takes its own course in time for each learner. Learners will learn what they need to know when they need to know it. Storytelling and learning by doing are primary modes of learning about the world and how to foster a relationship within one’s ecosystem and community.
- Take it a step further: acknowledging students as whole people that have spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs met by their relationships with their family and community. Connecting students with those community members and inviting those members into the learning experience to provide more opportunities for these needs to be met.
Independence: Individual freedom and self-management. Never rewarding for doing well, the reward is appropriate self-management.
*I relate this to “self-regulation”, which is understood by Western science on a more neurological developmental level (controlling emotions and impulses, thinking ahead and planning, calculated decision-making, etc). The idea of “never rewarding” can be compared to Western concepts of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards/punishments.
- Environmental Education: promotes self-regulation/management by providing opportunities such as team building and sharing vulnerability with peers and adults, facilitated by educators trained in creating positive and supportive spaces. Outdoor educators have observed a trend of longer attention span and less impulsive behavior with students labeled as “ADHD” or with low impulse control issues after being immersed in nature for a few days during school overnight programs.
- Take it a step further: Be diligent about usage of praising language or indications that some students are “better” or “more advanced” than others. Emphasizing all students gifts within the learning community as equal in importance and significance, while expecting and believing in each student’s’ ability to be responsible beings.
Generosity: Giving to others and community. Unselfishness.
- Environmental Education: learning and committing actions of stewardship in own ecosystem and community. Expressing gratitude through language or actions to others and/or reflecting on personal gratitudes.
- Take it a step further: practicing giving to others with no expectation in return, doing it for the sole purpose of upholding one’s own end of the relationship (true reciprocity). Serving those that have not given to you before for the sake of serving and being generous.
I’d like to note that the characteristics of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity are not the entire or only ways of Indigenizing the education space, but merely starting points. As we all continue to tread forth in our education endeavours, I’d encourage all educators to reflect on how they embed these elements into their teaching practice, as well as how they can further Indigenize their teaching space (being careful not to be appropriating or misrepresenting). Check out some readings and resources in the sidebar if you’re interested in learning more about what it means to Indigenize education spaces and examples of those doing the work right now.
For further reading, see:
The Conflicting Educations Of Sam Schimmel (NPR segment): https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/05/30/610384132/the-conflicting- educations-of-sam-schimmel
Education for the Eighth Fire: Indigeneity and Native Ways of Learning by Melissa K. Nelson