Chapter 5 : Indigenous Ways of Knowing

Inquiry 1: Indigenous Perspectives- Living in Relation with the Land

Land Acknowledgement

Begin the inquiry by offering a land acknowledgment and discussing why we acknowledge the land. It is essential to teach students that we must recognize the Indigenous land that the school is on to learn about and from it. 

As educators, recognizing that these lands are the traditional territories of Indigenous people and that all Canadians benefit from the land plays an essential role in modelling reconciliatory behaviour with your students. Reciting your school’s land acknowledgement helps create a foundation in students for learning about and from Indigenous people whose land we live on.

A land acknowledgement reinforces that we benefit from the land, and we all have a responsibility to actively work towards honouring Indigenous Peoples as equal partners in sharing the land. Land acknowledgments are only one step in cultivating greater respect for and inclusion of Indigenous Peoples, with the understanding of the importance of our Treaty responsibilities.

Chapter 5 Indigenous Ways of Knowing recognizes the importance of Indigenous perspectives and connections to land and place as we work towards reconciliation to address the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, particularly the call to "integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms" (clause 62) and "build student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy and mutual respect" (clause 63).

Sharing stories is a way of sharing knowledge among Indigenous communities. Your classroom materials should be culturally diverse and inclusive of Canada’s three distinct Indigenous groups. Here are a few examples of children’s books that illustrate the importance of learning from our Elders and include the three distinct Indigenous groups.

Teaching and discussing controversial and sensitive topics is essential because it helps students think in-depth and fosters critical thinking. Many issues involving First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples are controversial (land claims, self-government, blockades, hunting and fishing rights) or sensitive (residential schools, worldview). Building in and addressing controversial or sensitive topics at an early age allows students to explore and question in the safety of the classroom. Teachers may use some of the suggested questions in this inquiry to introduce more sensitive issues regarding the inequalities faced by Indigenous People.  Please keep in mind that Acts of Reconciliation and Reclamation are fundamental as we move forward as a country.  Our acknowledgement, and inclusion of Indigenous literature and media helps to create an understanding of the history, diversity, and issues that many Indigenous peoples face.  

It would be helpful for the learners to understand that traditional/cultural knowledge is passed as an: I Do, We Do, You Do model.  This mentorship model provides the close watching and coaching of the learner by the teacher.  This model would aid in learning from mistakes, as well as identifying areas of strength and need for reflection.  This helps the person who is learning of how knowledge is passed on, to connect with the sacredness of our relationship with Creator, Mother Earth, the plants, animals, and all other animate and inanimate beings as part of the Creators making. (Daniel Sylvestre)

To hook student interest, use the following provocation to initiate student thinking. 

Book Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaah/This is how I know by Brittany Luby, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley

An Anishinaabe child and her grandmother explore the natural wonders of each season in this lyrical, bilingual story poem. Brittany Luby created the book inspired by her childhood memories of time spent with knowledge keepers.

Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, Joshua. Cover illustration. Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaah/This is how I know by Brittany Luby, Groundwood Books Ltd. Front Cover, 2021

 As you read the book, help students become aware of the knowledge, information and guidance older people such as elders, grandparents, teachers, uncles, aunts, or mentors can offer. Students should be made aware that one must earn the right to become an Elder in a First Nations community. Not all Elders are seniors, nor are all old people Elders, and some Elders are younger. Elders are honoured because they have gifts of insight and understanding and are willing to share their knowledge. Discuss the role Elders play in Indigenous communities, provide picture books and other media that illustrate the connection Indigenous People have with the land to enhance the learning.

Discussion Questions

  • Why did author Brittany Luby decide to write this book?
  • What kind of signs in nature did the little girl see that let her know which season it was?
  • What did you notice about the title of the book
  • Which Indigenous language do you think that is*?
  • Can you name the three Indigenous groups in Canada? 
  • The Anishinaabe People are part of which group?
  • What do you think Anishinaabe means?
  • Do all Indigenous People share the same traditions and knowledge**? 
  • What is an Elder or Knowledge Keeper?
  • What can we learn from the Anishinaabe People and their connection with the Land?

* This question is an opening to a conversation about how Indigenous children were not allowed to speak in their language at school – this inequality affected children, families, communities and Indigenous People as a whole.

** Cultural diversity within the Indigenous people is frequently misinterpreted. There is a misconception that Indigenous People are one group who share the same culture, traditions, language and knowledge. Take the time to identify the three distinct Indigenous groups—First Nations, Metis and Inuit—and their unique connections to the land. Understand that these 3 distinct groups are identified by the Federal Government, that each Indigenous group on Turtle Island is distinct and that they all have their own distinct culture, traditions, language, governance, education, laws, customs, and ways of knowing.  A small step students can take in respecting Indigenous people, and their culture is learning the three Indigenous groups and their unique traditions and knowledge.

At this point in the inquiry, we want to harness students’ curiosity and build off of the provocations that have captured their interest by generating meaningful questions to continue to drive the learning process. This section will outline several pathways for question generation depending on the provocation(s) that your class engaged with. 

  • Lead a whole-group discussion and brainstorm around the book‘s theme with the goal of students generating questions about the role of Elders or Knowledge Keepers and their Indigenous Ways of knowing.
  • Review the pictures in the book with the students and guide them to generate their questions.
  • 5W’s and H Questions – Students will be able to ask and answer questions using the five Ws and an H to show understanding of key details in a text. Help younger students with question starters. (Who, what, where, when, why and how)








Possible questions

  • How do you know which season it is? 
  • How did you learn to identify the different seasons? What physical changes do Indigenous People use to identify changes with the seasons?
  • How does Mother Earth let you know it is summer, fall, spring, winter? Who helped you learn this?
  • What do Indigenous People teach us about the land? How are these teachings important to help us understand how we interact with Mother Earth?
  • In what ways do Indigenous peoples continue to pass on traditional knowledge from generation to generation?
  • Do you have an Elder, a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt or a mentor that shares knowledge with you about the land, family traditions, family recipes?
  • What lesson have you learned from a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt, a mentor or another adult?
  • How do you show respect to your parents or other adults? How do you think respect is shown in Indigenous cultures? Why do people not always respect Indigenous knowledge?

At this stage, students may be ready to engage in a group knowledge-building activity. It will encourage students to open their minds to many alternative ways of thinking about the provocations and the ideas generated thus far in the inquiry process.

Umbrella Questions

  • What do we need to know about the land to live on it? What do Indigenous People teach us about the land?
  • How do Indigenous peoples continue to pass on traditional knowledge from generation to generation?
  • Do you have an Elder, a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt or a mentor that shares knowledge with you about the land, family traditions, family recipes?
  • What lesson have you learned from a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt, a mentor or another adult?
  • What type of knowledge did Elders need to know, and share, about their ecosystems and environment to survive in it for thousands of years?
  • Can you create a list of the different things Indigenous people learned about to survive on the land?
  • Research different ways Indigenous people have used their knowledge of living things to meet their own needs.

Complete a Gallery Walk. Invite students to draw a picture of themselves with an Elder, a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt or a mentor doing a special activity together or learning a new tradition or skill. Suggest to the students that the drawing could represent a tradition/knowledge shared by the adult or mentor. Display images on the classroom walls so they are easily visible to students. Have students get up out of their seats and circulate the room. 

Use the See Think Wonder strategy to explore the pictures drawn by the students. Encourage students to observe and ask questions about other students’ traditions, grandparents or other adults. This can be a discussion activity with younger students, while older students can use the template to generate their questions. Have students practice being respectful when viewing other students’ pictures; the diversity of cultures and traditions in your classroom is an excellent opportunity for a teachable moment.

All of the thinking routines mentioned on this website have been adapted from the work of Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison (2011) Making Thinking Visible.

Use responses to inform and guide the learning process. They can provide insight into which concepts need clarity, what many students are already well informed about, and a general direction that many students want to pursue.

Yes/No cards – Use index cards and have students write Yes on one side and No on the other in large letters. Ask review questions about the lesson that require only a yes or no answer, and instruct the students to hold up the correct answer. This activity is a quick and easy way to assess students’ understanding.

Knowledge Building CirclesA Knowledge Building Circle is a class discussion activity to work out students’ questions and ideas. The circle activity aims to help all students improve their understanding by sharing their learning, ideas, and questions. This communal activity deepens students’ knowledge through increased exposure to the diverse perspectives of the class. The KBC aligns with the Indigenous tradition of the Talking Circle, where individuals take turns sharing ideas.

Begin by viewing the book The Sharing Circle by elder and author Theresa "Corky" Larsen-Jonasson. Use a talking stick during your knowledge-building circle, so students listen and share what they have learned respectfully. The student holding the talking stick, and only that student, is designated as having the right to share while the other students listen quietly and respectfully. This Indigenous cultural tradition is practiced during ceremonies, storytelling and sharing experiences with Elders.  

Here is an example of Putting the Talking Stick into practiceuse during speaking and listening activities to allow students to interact with others, contribute to a class goal, share ideas and opinions, and solve problems. Making a Talking Stick for the class. 

Some Indigenous peoples use a rock when having a talking circle.  This connects students to Grandfather Rock teachings, and to our connection with Mother Earth and our Ancestors.  We seek guidance and wisdom when we include a rock in our talking circles, to ensure we are moving forward in a good way, as Creator intended us to be, Kind and Compassionate.

At this stage, students may begin research to pursue their umbrella questions, or some of the following activities could be integrated into the process to ensure that students have an understanding of foundational climate science. The activities listed below will enrich the understanding of climate change.

Carousel BrainstormingWrite each topic/question at the top of a chart paper and tape the paper to the wall.

Topics can include: 

  • Wonders of the four seasons,                                
  • Animals, plants and changes in the natural surroundings                                    
  • Indigenous Ways of Knowing,                                    
  • Respecting Elders knowledge and wisdom

Complete the activity by identifying the similarities between the chart papers. Discuss how Indigenous knowledge passed from generation to generation is continuously shifting because of the changes in the seasons caused by climate change.        

Post guiding questions about the major topics in the story  

  • How is climate change affecting or changing the weather/seasons?
  • How can listening and reflecting on the knowledge Elders share help us to protect our Mother Earth?
  • How would I practice the knowledge that Elders share in my daily life?
  • How can I protect my health during hot, sunny days?
  • In what ways would we have to adapt in order to cope with climate change?
  • How will people live off the land if we can’t stop climate change? 

Outdoor Activity – Get outdoors to play Maple Trees and Marmots, an activity that explores the effects of climate change on animals and plants through role-playing games. This activity allows students to understand how climate change may affect plants and animals. Another game Lynx and Hare introduces the concept of predator and prey relationships and how their adaptations can be affected by climate change.

This step is designed to encourage students to integrate and synthesize key ideas. When students make connections and see relationships within and across lessons, this helps them to solidify knowledge and deepen understanding.

Consolidation Discussion

  • Ensure that every student can describe what they did, why they did it, and what they found out during the inquiry during a discussion session
  • Have students write a thank-you note to the land, the seasons, Elders, grandparents or other adults who teach them things about their culture or nature. Describe how and why you are thankful. 
  • Have students create a picture or collage of things from the land which they are thankful for

Think Pair Share

Students reflect on their learning by reading their letters or sharing their pictures/collages. They turn around and share their letter or artwork with another student.

Teachers will assess learning at different points throughout the inquiry using multiple methods. The following assessment provides an alternative evaluation method to standard quizzes and tests, that can be used after consolidation or at any point in the lesson to check for understanding.

Gallery Walk Pictures – Assess students’ knowledge and understanding by evaluating their Gallery Walk pictures

Other Suggestions

  • Gather evidence of learning with observations, thumbs up thumbs down, listening to conversations, anecdotal notes and comments, rough drafts
  • Conference with students – conversations can also include written evidence such as journals in which educators can read what students have to say about their learning rather than listening
  • Have students create a poster informing how Mother Earth provides for them and what they can do to protect her. Share the posters with other students by posting them in the school hallway

Allowing time for students to take action is an essential part of the learning process on climate change, as it empowers students and eases their eco-anxiety. Ask the students what they want to do to positively impact climate change. List their ideas and come up with a plan to put their action in place. Remind students that even when things get hard and seem so big they can always do something by taking an action. Their actions will create an impact.

Action can be taken in many different ways, these are some different possible ideas for Taking Action:

  • Walk for water – When senior students at Seven Oaks Met School learned that the local community of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation (the very community where most of Winnipeg’s drinking water is sourced!) has been under a boil water advisory for over 20 years, they were inspired to take action. They organized speakers and elders from Winnipeg and Shoal Lake to educate the audience about the water crisis. The event raised over $7,000 for the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation community and spread awareness across the region
  • The Shaughnessy Medicine Wheel Garden in Winnipeg was designed as a teaching garden, incorporating the medicine wheel’s circle teachings, including fire, Water, air, and Earth. The plants and flowers reflect these elements and colours in each quadrant and feature Manitoba’s traditional medicines and indigenous plants. Thirteen boulders encircle the garden to represent the 13 moons of the year, and seven cedar benches will represent the seven teachings. Providing an outdoor learning space for students and a natural setting to enjoy the environment for the local community. 
  • MMHS Arboretum, Community, Indigenous and Medicinal Plant Gardens Students, staff, community members and partners began planting trees, shrubs and wildflowers at Milliken Mills High School in 1994. Since that time, the arboretum and associated gardens have been enhanced and have flourished. This year we have made every effort to expand the nature of the gardens with an interpretive guide created by students across the curriculum. This, while the physical and plant make-up of the garden continues to evolve. This year, despite the challenges of face-to-face learning and participation, we established the indigenous medicinal plant garden and created a strong cross-departmental partnership in the school, which will see the roots truly become shoots as the project will become stewarded through teamwork.
  • The Herb Campbell Public School has created a visual landscape plan for a Medicine Wheel Garden Outdoor Classroom on our school site, which includes: A centred medicine wheel garden with indigenous plants surrounded by stone seating and an outdoor classroom frame; 9 local food gardens including six raised-bed gardens (for herbs, vegetables, fruit, and edible flowers) and three in-ground gardens (a Three Sisters garden, an indigenous berry garden, and a pumpkin patch); 4 outer garden areas with indigenous plants, shrubs, and trees connected to the four cardinal directions of our centred Medicine Wheel Garden; A wildlife observation/inquiry area with feeders, water supply, and log stump seating; Interpretative learning signs; Pathways connecting to our natural forest, meadow, and wetland habitats and other planting areas. 
  • Oak Park Outdoor Indigenous Learning Place created an outdoor Indigenous learning space that allows students, staff, and the community to connect with nature and celebrate Indigenous culture, tradition, and teaching. This project has many stakeholders, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, Indigenous knowledge keepers (academics, community members, Elders), and various divisional staff. To have all staff and students embrace Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, and being; to enhance our Indigenous students’ engagement and success in school. Having a teaching space in front of our school demonstrates our commitment to our school goal and reconciliation. It will also create endless opportunities for teaching and learning that honours, centres, and celebrates Indigenous culture.