An inukshuk in Quebec

How to incorporate Indigenous Ways of Knowing into your teaching

Indigenous Ways of Knowing refers to the consciousness shared from generation to generation within each Indigenous community. It refers to the complexity and diversity of Indigenous ways of learning and teaching, and its goal is to help educate people about the vast variety of knowledge that exists across diverse Indigenous communities.

There is such great diversity within Indigenous communities, and so this concept brings awareness to the distinct knowledge and practices of each Indigenous community while also acknowledging shared ways of knowing.

Within all Indigenous communities there is a deeply ingrained sense of respect for Mother Earth, and so Indigenous Ways of Knowing are immersed in a deep respect for the land. Indigenous peoples understand that they are in relation to all of creation and that there is an inherent responsibility to honour the balance between all things. Balance and harmony are key.

Indigenous Ways of Knowing as a path to reconciliation

Many Indigenous peoples do not have access to their communities, families, their history, or even basic necessities. As a result, many Indigenous peoples feel alone, forgotten and out of place. Much of their language, stories and ways of knowing have been lost through genocide.

Teaching Indigenous Ways of Knowing is vital to reconciliation as it offers Indigenous communities the opportunity to learn their culture, their way of knowing, and the value that their life holds.

“Indigenous Peoples believe that their actions today have an impact on the next seven generations, so we have to make space for Indigenous learners to know that they belong, that they hold value,” says Ryan Walker-Melton, Indigenous Outreach Specialist at ABC Life Literacy Canada. “Including Indigenous Ways of Knowing when teaching Indigenous learners returns to them the power of their people, the strength of their ways of being, and the competence and capacity to bring their communities back into harmony for the next seven generations to come.”

Strategies for literacy practitioners

Incorporating Indigenous Ways of Knowing into your teaching can help create a more inclusive classroom environment. By doing so, literacy practitioners can help their learners develop a deeper understanding of Indigenous peoples’ cultural history and traditions.

Here are some steps to incorporating Indigenous Ways of Knowing into your adult literacy programming:

Educate yourself

Educating yourself is the first step to successfully integrating Indigenous Ways of Knowing into your programming. This includes learning about the history and experiences of Indigenous peoples in your local area and across the country. Consider seeking out professional development opportunities or working with Indigenous educators and Elders to deepen your understanding.

There are several free resources available, including:

Decolonize your classroom and remove bias

It is important for teachers to recognize and challenge their own biases and assumptions about Indigenous cultures and peoples. This includes acknowledging and addressing stereotypes and misrepresentations in textbooks and other teaching materials.

Review materials so that classroom displays and bulletin boards are inclusive of all people. Ensure that supplemental books and videos do not reinforce existing societal stereotypes. When such examples in books are observed, point them out to learners and encourage them to think about them critically and to challenge them.

Use oral traditions

One way to integrate Indigenous Ways of Knowing into teaching is through the use of traditional stories and oral histories. These stories can be used to teach lessons about the natural world, history and cultural values. It is important to seek permission from the appropriate sources before using any stories or teachings, as some may be considered sacred or not for public sharing.

Work with Elders

By working with Elders, you can help to pass on the Indigenous Ways of Knowing in a sincere and heartfelt way. Consider inviting an Elder to your classroom and ask them to share the creation story from their point of view. If possible, invite someone from the same band as many of your learners.

Be sure to follow protocol when working with Elders. Protocol is the respect that is shown towards Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. If you’re wondering what the protocol is for the particular person, activity or nation, you can ask the Elder if there is someone you can talk to about it or if they have any guidance for you. Usually, the Elder will have a helper or an in-between person whom you can ask about the appropriate protocol. Additionally, while the Elder likely won’t ask for money, it’s important to offer an honorarium as a token of appreciation.

Hands-on practice

Give learners the opportunity to participate in hands-on practices from their culture. Consider activities such as drum making, beading, mitten making, making dream catchers or traditional dances. Consider asking Elders to lead these or possibly even learners who are comfortable sharing their heritage with other students.

Incorporate Indigenous art and culture

Consider incorporating Indigenous art, music and other forms of cultural expression into lessons. For example, practitioners can use Indigenous art as a starting point for discussing different styles of art or to introduce a particular historical event. Similarly, Indigenous music can be used to teach about rhythm, melody and cultural traditions.

Teach with a medicine wheel

When you put something into a medicine wheel, which typically consists of four quadrants, you can see how certain things affect one’s mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. By utilizing medicine wheels, you can open up a discussion about the importance of balance, wellness, and wholeness. For example, if you’re teaching about financial literacy, you can discuss how improved financial literacy skills can impact financial wellness and specifically one’s piece of mind, stability, security, etc.

Community building practices

Teachers can also incorporate Indigenous Ways of Knowing into classroom management and community-building practices. For example, incorporating circle practices, where students sit in a circle and take turns speaking, can help create a more inclusive and respectful classroom environment. The talking stick, which is used in some Indigenous cultures to designate the person who has the floor during a discussion, can be adapted for classroom use to promote respectful communication.


Incorporating Indigenous Ways of Knowing into teaching Indigenous adult learners is an important step toward reconciliation. Ultimately, incorporating Indigenous Ways of Knowing into teaching requires an ongoing commitment to learning, reflection, and collaboration with Indigenous educators and community members. By doing so, practitioners can help create a more inclusive and culturally responsive classroom environment that supports the success and well-being of all students.

To access teaching resources for adult learners, visit our programs and initiatives page.