If we are respecting the First Peoples Principles of Learning and Indigenous knowledge systems, we need to ensure that our classrooms and schools are full of rich, authentic Indigenous resources. This is important for First Nations, Inuit and Métis learners who deserve to see positive and dynamic representations of who they are in their learning environments. This is also important for non-Indigenous learners, so that they do not leave our education systems with the same gaps in knowledge and understanding about Indigenous peoples in Canada that we may have had in our own K-12 and post-secondary learning.
We know that until quite recently, most student resources contained little or no authentic Indigenous representation. There has been a general absence of Indigenous voice in education resources. In addition, resources that did include Indigenous content, knowledge, or perspectives often implied that Indigenous people only existed in history, and did not reflect the thriving peoples and cultures today. Many resources also often contained inaccurate, racist, or pan-Indigenous representations of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis in Canada. It is helpful to remember that resources that do not differentiate between First Nations, Métis and Inuit, or that assume knowledge and perspectives are the same for all First Nations across this land reflect an inherently racist perspective because they deny the distinctness of First Nations, Métis and Inuit, and the diversity between First Nations.
More educators are now becoming more aware of the need to use authentic Indigenous resources. But what does this mean exactly? In an effort to help educators choose learning resources for their schools that authentically reflect Indigenous peoples in Canada, and help K-12 teachers make more informed judgments about which materials to use the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) defines authentic Indigenous resources as historical or contemporary texts that
- present authentic First Peoples voices (i.e., are created by First Peoples or through the substantial contributions of First Peoples);
- depict themes and issues that are important within First Peoples cultures (e.g., loss of identity and affirmation of identity, tradition, healing, role of family, importance of Elders, connection to the land, the nature and place of spirituality as an aspect of wisdom, the relationships between individual and community, the importance of oral tradition, the experience of colonization and decolonization)
- incorporate First Peoples story-telling techniques and features as applicable (e.g., circular structure, repetition, weaving in of spirituality, humour).
First Nations Education Steering Committee, 2016
These are more than resources that are accurate; they are resources that are created by Indigneous peoples. Using resources created by Indigenous educators, writers, or developers addresses the invisibility of Indigenous voice in our schools and classrooms, and better guarantees more accurate and respectful representations of First Nations, Inuit and Métis. It helps ensures that we are not only learning about – we are also learning from. When we think of resources in the classroom, we can also think about the people who can provide teaching as a resource; this is especially important if we are honouring that much Indigenous knowledge is locally held, and held by people who may share their knowledge orally. Just think about how far it would take Canadian consciousness to fully understand that Indigenous peoples and cultures have rich and vital perspective and bodies of knowledge.
Authentic Resource Evaluation Criteria
Educators who are interested in ensuring that student resources with Indigenous content, knowledges or perspectives are authentic and respectful may also choose to evaluate these resources against the following criteria adapted from Authentic First Peoples Resources for Grades 10 to 12 and Adult Learning (FNESC, 2021). Some statements will be more applicable to some resources more than others. I also acknowledge that the descriptors of excellent, fair, and poor, can be variously interpreted, so it is vital to ensure that Indigenous educators be a significant part of any evaluation process. It can be helpful to review resources collaboratively as this provides the opportunity for professional learning as educators share knowledge and perspectives with each other.
|Resource created by, or in significant collaboration with First Nation, Inuit and/or Métis writers, developers, creators etc.|
|Recognizes diversity between and among First Nations, Inuit, and Métis (distinct societies, communities, ways of life, histories, languages), including recognition of diversity between First Nations|
|Shows contributions of First Nations, Inuit and/or Métis to contemporary society|
|Represents of First Nations, Inuit and Métis as enduring, not vanishing or assimilated|
|Portrays of Indigenous’ languages and dialects respectfully|
|Representation of individual First Nations, Inuit, or Métis lives, past or present accurately|
|Is devoid of obvious or subtle Indigenous-specific racism or prejudice|
|Avoids stereotypes of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis|
|Uses sensitive language, free from loaded or offensive words|
|Portrays of diversity of human strengths and weaknesses|
|Presents events, issues, problems accurately and respectfully|
|ILLUSTRATIONS (where applicable)|
|Depictions of First Nations, Inuit, and/or Métis ways of life (past or present) are authentic and accurate according to place and time|
|Reflect diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis (i.e., recognizes differences between not only First Nations, Inuit and Métis, but also between First Nations cultures)|
What can you do? Move from awareness to action.
Taking Action in Classroom/Learning Environments
- Learn to develop a critical eye with resources. Ask who developed them and whose voices, perspectives, and/or knowledges are centred.
- Work with colleagues to evaluate existing learner resources using the Resource Evaluation Criteria.
Taking Action in Educational Leadership Roles
- Create opportunities for educators to evaluate existing classroom and school resources against the Authentic Resource Evaluation Criteria.
- Ensure authentic Indigenous resources are included in all classrooms at all grades.
How might the use of authentic Indigenous resources, as opposed to resources created by non-Indigenous people, impact
- Indigenous learners experiences in education?
- non-Indigenous learners’ perceptions of Indigenous peoples?
(a snippet of Wayi Wah! Indigenous Pedagogies: An Act for Reconciliation and Anti-Racist Education, anticipated publishing date – September, 2022)