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Indigenous Ways of Knowing Course Design

Authors: Dr. Gabrielle Lindstrom, PhD, and Lorelei Anselmo

Indigenous pedagogy is learner-centered and based in relationality. Instructors need to be aware of their own power, and make those power dynamics transparent to students. The goal of Indigenous education is movement towards being the ultimate person that the Creator meant us to be.

Dr. Gabrielle Lindstrom, PhD

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Ethical Space of Engagement in Curriculum Development Processes: Indigenous Guiding Principles for Curriculum Development Projects

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What are Indigenous ways of knowing?

While there is great diversity among Indigenous Peoples, there are also some commonalities in Indigenous worldviews and ways of being. Indigenous worldviews see the whole person (physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual) as interconnected to land and in relationship to others (family, communities, nations, natural world, etc.). This holistic view is an important aspect of supporting Indigenous students. (BCCampus, Section 2: Who are Indigenous Students? Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being, n.d.).

Consider the following guiding principles and reflective questions to build your understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing taken from the Ethical Space of Engagement in Curriculum Development Processes (Lindstrom, 2022).

Understand and identify how your personal values and beliefs influence curriculum.

  • Where does your knowledge, either personal or disciplinary, come from?
  • How do your values and beliefs shape your understandings about knowledge?
  • What assumptions do you have about yourself that may be different from the assumptions you have about Indigenous people, culture, way of knowing?

Cultivate relational accountability in course design approaches.

  • Who are you relationally accountable to?
  • What is your comfort level in expanding your knowledge network?
  • What do you know about Indigenous people and how did you learn it?

Offer identifiable benefits to the Indigenous community such as building up relational networks and contributing back to Indigenous communities.

  • From your perspective, what does it mean to practice reciprocity and in what contexts?
  • How are Indigenous perspectives being included?
  • What has been offered in return for the knowledge, either conceptually or physically (through tobacco, etc.).

Validating the course design through a parallel process that recognizes the knowledge, authority, and expertise of Indigenous peoples as self-determining entities in the course design process.

  • What are the processes for validating your own knowledge, for validating disciplinary knowledge?
  • How is knowledge validated via a Western paradigm?
  •  How do you envision processes for Indigenous-centered course design?

Where to begin with Indigenous ways of knowing?

Indigenous ways of knowing course design practices can help you examine and plan for a course that includes ways of knowing, being, connecting, and doing. Consider the following principles in action (Lindstrom, 2022.):

Individual/independent reflection

How can you incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into your course with limited knowledge of Indigenous culture?

  • Assess your current knowledge and the role of culture in shaping your knowledge.
  • Gather information resources that would help you to better respond to critical reflection questions.
  • Evaluate information and conduct self-analysis to assist in identifying gaps in knowledge, enduring biases, and assumptions.
  • Begin to brainstorm resources and pathways to assist in addressing knowledge gaps, reframing current knowledge, and developing opportunities for transforming your perspective.

Expanding understandings of relationships

How can you build Indigenous community connections?

  • Identify and access academic and community educational resources that would enable collective knowledge capacity building around Indigenous peoples, perspectives, and culture.
  • Develop an academic and community contact list of individuals who you can begin relationships with such  as the UCalgary’s Office of Indigenous Engagement
  • Take an active role (and encourage your students to do so as well) to independently locate educational resources that are accessed through reputable and authentic Indigenous community sources. Identify on-campus supports to assist you in assessing the quality of resources.
  • Evaluate information gathered and reach out to appropriate contacts who may offer guidance and support.

Giving back to community

What are the protocols attached to knowledge sharing in Indigenous communities?

  • Assess group responses and identify opportunities for reciprocating to those involved.
  • Ensure cultural protocols are followed.
  • Consider:
    • Offering to do a presentation for an Indigenous colleague around a course-related topic.
    • Inviting a Indigenous community member to an event as a means to give back to the community.
    • Developing a community-engaged learning component as part of your course design to ensure opportunities for reciprocity.
    • Sharing resources unique to your course with Indigenous contributors to embody the principle of reciprocity.

Checking back with the community

How can you know that the Indigenous knowledge you’ve incorporated into your course is accurate and respectful?

  • Reach out to the Elders who you have consulted with and invite them to a presentation or informal conversation.
  • Clearly explain how you incorporated Indigenous knowledges and respectfully ask for feedback. Be mindful that Elders’ feedback may not be the type we are typically used to in a peer-review process.
  • Incorporate any feedback or suggestions Elders have.

Assessing the quality of Indigenous print and web-based sources

How can you assess Indigenous knowledges gathered from web-based, peer-reviewed literature, and print sources?

  • Validating course content enables you to leverage current relationships with Indigenous peoples or utilize some of the previous steps to build new relationships.
  • Consider creating a feedback loop to ensure Indigenous community and academic collectives are kept current on the progress of your course design.
  • Explain how you incorporated Indigenous knowledges and respectfully ask for feedback.

Why use Indigenous ways of knowing course design?

Incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing in course design involves providing all students with an equal opportunity to participate. Indigenous ways of knowing course design recognizes that some teaching practices and norms can lead students to disengage and acknowledges that some Western forms of assessment can be biased and fail to accurately measure students’ understanding of the course material.

An Indigenous ways of knowing course design is an accessible, inclusive, safe, and successful place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and focuses around the following: (BCCampus, Section 2: Who are Indigenous Students? Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being, n.d.).

  • Encompasses an understanding of and practicing community protocols.
  • Honours Indigenous knowledges and ways of being.
  • Is inclusive of students, the institution and Indigenous communities; also recognizes one’s own connections to various communities.
  • Continually seeks to develop and sustain credible relationships with Indigenous communities.
  • Involves Indigenous communities in the designing of academic curriculum to ensure Indigenous knowledge is valued and that the curriculum has culturally appropriate outcomes and assessments.
  • Centres meaningful and sustainable community engagement.
  • Means Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are both learning in the process together.
  • Results in all involved within the institution, including the broader Indigenous communities, gain experience in sharing knowledge in a respectful way.

How to use Indigenous ways of knowing course design?

Begin with the following question: In what areas of your course/modules might Indigenous perspectives be authentically included? (Mintz, 2021).

A decolonized curriculum is not only more inclusive, it also problematizes established paradigms; engages with issues of power, hierarchy and equity; traces ideas’ origins; and shows how key concepts have been used for good and ill.

Decolonizing the syllabus involves exposing students to a wide variety of voices, perspectives and analytical frameworks; foster debate and discussion; and construct their own understanding of the subject matter.

A decolonization approach begins with a recognition that classrooms are sites of power, privilege, hierarchy, inclusion, exclusion and implicit norms about appropriate forms of argumentation and behavior that themselves reflect certain cultural presumptions about gender, race and other variables.

Pedagogy should reflect that the instructor is not the sole holder of knowledge. The learning process should allow for opportunities for students to engage in investigation, dialogue and critical reflection, ultimately leading students to become independent and critical thinkers.

What does Indigenous ways of knowing course design look like in the classroom?

Chambers and Blood (2010) refer to Siksikaitsitapi pedagogy as “more than teaching and learning….[it] is about a way of living, being, and learning” (as cited in Prete, 2021, p. 2). Consider Blackfoot pedagogical methods of teaching and learning (Prete, 2021; Bastien, 2004):


A personal responsibility that seeks to transform the knowledge seeker


Shapes the knowledge seeker by teaching the relationships and connections through language 


Transmits knowledge from generation to generation by living the law of reciprocity


Give their lives away by sharing their personal experiences with others

Place and stories:

Share knowledge by bringing the land alive through visits


Bastien, B. (2004). Blackfoot ways of knowing: the worldview of the Siksikaitsitapi. University of Calgary Press.

BCCampus (n.d.). Section 2: Who are Indigenous Students. Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being.

BCCampus (n.d). Pulling together: A guide for Indigenization of post-secondary institutions. A professional learning series.

Ferguson, Deschenes, C., & Bens, S. (2021). Designing an Indigenous Wellness university course: A reflective case narrative. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(1), 1–16.

Lindstrom, G. (2022). Ethical space of engagement in curriculum development processes: Indigenous guiding principles for curriculum development projects.

Lindstrom, G., Ahenakew, C., Bastien, B., Weasel Traveller, A.,Provost. M., Crowshoe, L. & Smith, J. (2021). Misaamokaksin Transitioning and Transforming Treaty-Based Education. Peigan Board of Education. Indigenous Services Canada.

Mintz, S. (2021, June 22). Decolonizing the academy. [Online forum post]. Inside Higher Ed.

Prete. T.D. (2021). Integrating traditional educational practices of the Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot confederacy) into a post-secondary context. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 40(4), 372–381.