Is there a place for Western mathematics in Indigenous education?

For many years I have been concerned about the lack of Indigenous students taking academic math routes in my school. By default, very few Indigenous students take Physics 11 and 12, as academic math is the gatekeeper to these courses.  For my final project in ETEC 521, I am planning to make this my research topic: What barriers or obstacles exist for Indigenous students who are required to take Western mathematics courses, for high school graduation? What changes could I make in my pedagogical approach to teaching mathematics, that would nurture Indigenous values and knowledge in an authentic way?

This week’s readings and interview with Dr. Brown, have completely turned my questions upside down.

First came Michael’s essay, “After the Makah Whale Hunt: Indigenous Knowledge and Limits to Multicultural Discourse.”  Why would Indigenous students want to commit to hours of studying for a subject that is not place-based, and may lead to careers away from one’s homeland?  Western mathematics and science also reinforce the notion of the “superior present”, which also is counterproductive when one’s culture places an incredible amount of value on the past.

Then, I watched Michael’s interview with Dr. Brown. Wow. Personally, I think every educator needs to listen to Dr. Brown’s insights. Every. Single. Minute. Multiple pieces really disrupted my thinking.  Firstly, Dr. Brown points out that in Western education, the emphasis is to learn alone. And whatever you do, DO NOT look at someone’s test… He continues to say that in every Indigenous culture, people know that they learn more together than when they are alone.   Traditionally, math classes are not collaborative in nature. Strike two for Western pedagogy. Dr. Brown delivered another “strike” (and by strike, I really mean philosophical awakening, speaking for myself) when he used the example of the shortest distance between two points. It turns out, it isn’t a straight line, when one considers the Indigenous perspective. Lastly, Dr. Brown emphasises the importance of story telling that are anchored in the land, in turn conveying emotionally embedded values. I can not think of one math teacher that I have ever had that attempted to story tell. For what it is worth, I do tell personal stories, that are designed to help students emotionally navigate my classes.  My motivation is to establish trust and to model honesty… Could I claim to be modelling an Indigenous way of teaching?  I do not know…

Lastly, Hare spoke of the importance of language, dance, drumming, story telling, and carving in her chapter, “Learning from Indigenous Knowledge in Education”.  The horror of residential school life was also described in haunting detail. How does mathematics fit into Indigenous knowledge? Why would residential school survivors want to send their children and grandchildren to Western public schools?  How can I, as a math teacher, authentically incorporate Indigenous knowledge such that it is “at the core of all learning experiences for Aboriginal children and youth.” (Hare, p. 103)

I honestly don’t know.


Dr. Lee Brown video – UBC
Hare, J. (2011). Learning from Indigenous knowledge in education. In D. Long and O. P. Dickenson (Eds.), Visions of the heart,  3rd Edition (pps. 91-112).      Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press.
Marker, Michael, “After the Makah Whale Hunt: Indigenous Knowledge and Limits to Multicultural Discourse”, Urban Education, Vol. 41(5), 2006, 482-505.

Leave a Comment

Filed under ETEC 521, Indigenous culture, Mathematics education

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *