Landing : Athabascau University


“Oh yes, I went to the white man’s school.  I learned to read from school books, newspapers and the Bible.  But in time, I found these were not enough…the Great Spirit has provided you and me with an opportunity for study in nature’s university, the forests, the rivers, the mountains, and the animals which includes us.”

Tatanga Mani (Walking Buffalo)

Stoney Nation


Many are aspiring to decolonize education and looking to bring an Indigenous perspective to curriculum and resources.  However, First Nation communities seem to be cautious in straying too far from the colonized system.  Some have concerns that too much attention to indigenous forms of learning will decrease chances of success in high school graduation.  But what good is a high school diploma void of real-life skills or job prospects?  For some high school is a steppingstone to post secondary, however, like many schools inside or outside First Nation communities there are a group of elite learners we are failing in our responsibilities as adults.  These elite learners will flourish through an indigenous approach to learning.  This involves more than re-creating Eurocentric curriculum resources where First Nation learners can see themselves.  That is akin to using online learning for reading textbooks when the true potential is as an adaptive learning tool.  Should we be decolonizing or indigenizing and why be concerned with terminology?

Many Questions

Some questions that come to mind while exploring this decolonizing vs indigenizing include: How do we see to the scope required to indigenize learning?  Is it possible to indigenize learning within a colonized system?  Are these very questions and terms Eurocentric?   What is it about language that drives our behaviours and why are Indigenous languages so key to indigenous learning?  When we use the word decolonize are we disempowering ourselves?  Are we metaphorically fighting for peace?  We have learned that to colonize is to impose rules on a geographically balanced culture (human or nature) whereas decolonize is to free ourselves from a Eurocentric way of being.  Are we just hoping to free ourselves from the colonizer perspective with no idea where to start?  Is there power in using different terms?


indigenous with small ‘I’

Indigenous used with a small ‘i’ is the word that will lead us to fulfill our responsibilities as adults caring for our 7 generations.  Small ‘I’ indigenous starts with a humility.  This humility will help us to listen to our natural world so we can learn from her.  The small ‘I’ indigenous is about connection to the natural laws that govern the Eurocentric lawmakers.  Despite its humble small ‘I’ indigenous word, it holds for us the most effective and efficient system of education.  Are we wasting our precious time trying to decolonize a colonized system?  Are we trying to fix a worn-out vehicle when its time to hop on the proverbial Star Trek Enterprise that indigenous education has provided us? 


Look to the Mountain

If you are a professional educator who wants to read specifically about education from an Indigenous educator perspective, then ‘Look to The Mountain’ by Gregory Cajete is a great resource.   In this book, Cajete summarizes foundational characteristics of indigenous education with the first listed characteristic of “A sacred view of Nature permeates its foundational process of teaching and learning.”  If this is the first foundation, then to begin our work to indigenize education we need to expose our children and youth to the outdoors.  To sunlight and natural time rhythms so that they can calibrate themselves to their natural geographies.  This seems difficult to envision in our current systems, yet many are moving towards nature-based learning with a drive to meet our children’s wellness needs.  Hopefully more will follow with mentored hands on learning to produce community relevant projects and processes.   In a time when being outdoors is more critical than ever to deal with mental wellness and poor school ventilation systems here are three ways to start indigenizing learning:

  1. Prayers of Gratitude – gratitude is the lens of an indigenous spirit.
  2. Take Learning Outside – nature is the teacher.  What skills can we learn so we can be better observers of nature?
  3. Do – learn through doing. What community-based projects can be used to provide opportunities to practice behaviours and skills.


Prayers of Gratitude

Gratitude is a lens of an indigenous spirit.  Cajete speaks about another foundation where indigenous education “recognizes that each person and each culture contains the seeds that are essential to their well-being and positive development”.   In essence an indigenous perspective values the resources they have in front of them and has faith they will be provided direction on their respectful use.  This perspective has been effective in the past assisting the ancestors in developing new regenerative technologies.  What simple resources are available to you outside?  What unique geography or ecologies can you explore and appreciate? 

Take Learning Outside

Nature is the teacher.  What skills can we learn so we can be better observers of nature?  How do we quiet our minds to allow our intrinsic teacher to speak to and through us?  What lessons do plants and animals have for us?  What do the stars tell us about our history and for what purpose?  What hidden truths are held within the ancient stories that we have yet to discover?   What activities could provide space for experience, interaction and story between nature, elders, and young people?

Do – Learning by Doing

Indigenous learning is expressed through a sense of play.  From birth to age 7 children were free to play and taught safety by their caregivers.  After that learning was participating in daily life and learning through being a productive part of the community.  As an apprentice you were guided by the community specialists in whatever skill area you showed natural attraction or abilities towards.  Like the Creator created you just for that purpose.   What community-based projects can be used to provide opportunities to practice behaviours and skills with community specialists?  How can we play roles and learn through our mistakes in safety?


The Elephant in the Eurocentric Box

What is important to your community?  Is the wellness of your children priority to achievement tests that measure your Eurocentric understandings?  Have we yet extended our definitions of literacy and numeracy to incorporate visual and temporal communication?  Are we basing our curriculum content on swinging provincial politics?  Why are we not just using community-based perspectives starting with local ecologies and holistic perspectives?  As much as the intent of politics and education leadership is to meet the Truth and Reconciliation objectives or the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights (Capital ‘I’) to decolonize for indigenous peoples, we are spinning our wheels in the colonized bog trying to get to the interstellar flight of indigenous ways of knowing. 



Time is Now

It is time to begin using power words like indigenize, reconnect, sunshine, and water.  Instead of running from something, move toward something more effective.  Start with an attitude of gratitude and you will soon see things you can do to continue forward movement.  The act of decolonizing education by adding a brown face and tipi to the math or science textbook may be helpful for those looking for a friendly academic tool to get a high school diploma.  And while getting a high school diploma demonstrates your ability to adhere to Eurocentric ideals and perspectives it does not provide skills to live in a changing world.  In a changing world we need to have all our naturally given talents, gifts, and a clear inner voice to navigate.  The time is now to open the doors for our children and youth to create new worlds and ways of being through a pathway by indigenizing learning. 


“I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.” - Mother Teresa








What education examples can you share of decolonizing education or indigenizing learning?




Bevan Janzen

Bevan Janzen

About me

An aspiring 'expert learner' who is passionate about facilitating the gifts and talents of nature and humans.