Module 4: Reaching Geographically Isolated Aborigines

The Australian Flexible Learning Framework seeks to reach Aboriginal students in Wales who are often excluded from traditional (Western) educational opportunities.  The organization has designed and executed various elearning programs to help students earn Level I and II Land Conservation certification.  The rationale for the project seems very mainstream, and could be the rationale for any elearning program:  to reach students who are geographically separated from the learning institution.  Although the organization has many experienced teachers involved with the project, there is no mention of Elders or even tribes members in the decision-making process.  Neither is there much discussion of the teaching methodologies used, aside from mentioning that the courses use a great deal of storytelling.  A report on the project states that students were engaged by having them design learning objects that could be used by future students.  The quality of the students’ work, however, made it unsuitable for future learners.

The project seems to have several issues.  It does not use the expertise of Elders from the tribes, and we are not sure if the teachers use a place-based method of teaching that takes an holistic approach to land conservation.  We can’t be sure, for instance, whether the students’ prior knowledge about places and natural phenomenon is validated or whether it is ignored for a Western concept of place.  One cannot be too sure whether the organization relies heavily on storytelling.  Storytelling might be a dominant way of transmitting knowledge, but it isn’t the only way within Indigenous communities.  If the organization is indeed relying heavily on storytelling, then this could be a Western stereotype at work in an educational context.  I mention this site because it contrasts with what we’ve been learning about Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing.




November 27, 2011   No Comments

Module 4: How to Make a Drum

This site provides a lesson plan for teaching students how to make a traditional Alutiiq drum.  The really neat thing about this lesson plan is that it draws in many aspects of drum-making from an indigenous perspective.  For example, the student must learn about the various trees and animals that inhabit the area where these drums are traditionally made and used.  This is necessary if they are to select the best wood and skins for their instrument.  Students must also learn and utilize knowledge from western disciplines to construct their drum.  They must, for example, have some mathematical skill in order to make accurate measurements for the drum’s frame; they must also understand the science behind what makes drum skins shrink and stretch.

The lesson plan encapsulates place-based learning and constructivism very well.  It illustrates an holistic approach to learning, characteristic of Indigenous learning,  where students must pull information from diverse disciplines.  They must also test their knowledge by actually constructing a usable object.  The project develops metacognition and critical thinking skills because students can write about their experience constructing the drum, and can explore questions such as, “how did Indigenous peoples construct drums without the use of metal tools?”

November 27, 2011   No Comments

Module 4: Respecting Cultural Knowledge

This page from the ANKN website features a set of guidelines for educators, elders, teachers, researchers, writers and illustrators.  The guidelines were compiled after meetings and workshops with participants such as members of the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative, and the final document was ratified by representatives from the Native Educator Organizations.  The guide encourages educators and curriculum designers to incorporate indigenous knowledge into the classroom in ways that are beneficial to all, constructive, and respectful.

Significantly, ANKN recognizes Elders as authorities on cultural matters; yet, the guidelines are also geared to them.  Aside from the sharing of knowledge appropriate to the place, Elders have a responsibility to review contracts, release forms, and research transcripts, including papers that are to be made public.   They must also secure copyright for all cultural information that is documented.  These are important aspects of the Elders’ job description.  Not only does it ensure that accurate and appropriate information is shared, it protects this knowledge from commodification and misuse.

Guidelines for illustrators and writers specify that traditional names for places and objects must be retained as much as possible and authorship must be shared with individuals in the community who contributed to the creative work.  They must also ensure that sensitive information be made accessible as dictated by Elders.

This site is useful for research on place-based learning because it helps educators evaluate the source of the knowledge that they may acquire for their classes.  It is also enables them to recognize and validate prior knowledge that students bring to the learning environment.

November 27, 2011   No Comments

Module 4: The Axe Handle Academy

Linguist Ron Scollen and his wife Suzanne Scollen propose their idea for an “ideal” academy that takes an holistic, place-based approach to education.  At the Academy, three questions get asked of students and faculty:  how well do you know your place; how well do you know your community; and how well do you communicate.  Based firmly on a sense of place, the physical location that is meaningful to the Academy’s teachers and students, the curriculum covers a multitude of disciplines, geology, archeology, history, art, journalism, writing, etc under three heads:  communications, cultural studies, and bioregional studies.

The idea behind the curriculum is to produce graduates who are productive members of society and who ultimately will have a choice of careers to pursue.  So, rather than approaching the curriculum with a view of pushing students towards certain careers, such as researcher or scientist, a practice most evident in Western educational/intellectual traditions, the curriculum seeks to enable all students to become good researchers and good scientists, and just generally sensitive thinkers.   Graduates, regardless of the line of work or career path they ultimately choose, should be cognizant of the impact that their work has on their bioregion.  They need to be aware of the impact that various human activities has on their lives.

The Academy’s title “The Axe Handle” derives from an ancient Chinese proverb that they way to make an axe handle is to have an axe handy so that you can copy it.  The proverb informs the educational philosophy of the Academy where teachers are constantly learning new stuff, and they learn alongside their students.  The teachers model the cognitive skills that they expect their students to acquire, while encouraging students to share information and help each other learn materials.  This is a bit like the concept of constructivism where the educator does not dictate static knowledge to students, but engages them in the learning process by assigning them projects and problems to solve.


November 12, 2011   No Comments

Module 4: Place-Based Learning Articles

This website is a veritable cornucopia of articles written by Steven Semken, an authority on place-based learning and Indigenous education.  Most of the articles, particularly the ones written and published within the past ten years have links to pdf files that readers can download. Among the paper titles includes “Place-Based Teaching and Learning” which was recently accepted for publication in the Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning of Learning.  Unfortunately, that article is not accessible in pdf form, and readers will have to wait until the encyclopedia is published.  Other titles include

“A sense of the American Southwest: Place-based Earth system science for diverse students”

“Factors that influence sense of place as a learning outcome of place-based geoscience teaching”

“Design elements and learning outcomes of two place-based teacher professional programs situated in the Southwest United
States: Concordance with Universal Design for Learning.”

“Putting Earth science back in its place”

“Sense of place in the practice and assessment of place-based science teaching”

Steven Semken is associate professor in the Earth and Space Exploration department at Arizona State University.

November 10, 2011   No Comments

Module 3: AWABA database

The University of Newcastle, Australia maintains an online database of artifacts and documents relating to Aboriginal culture from the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie region.  The database categorizes the materials under the headings of culture, history, images, people, and places.  Unfortunately, much of the database’s contents were researched, written, and codified by non-Indigenous researchers and originate from the late 19th and 20th-centuries when research was practiced along the lines criticized by Smith.  The reproductions of paints, for instance, depicts Aborigines scantily clothed in sometimes primitive stances (feet apart, arms in the air) surrounded by a peaceful and placid—a romantic—view of nature.


The University of Newcastle.  A database of historical materials relating to the Aborigines of the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie Region.  Retrieved from

November 7, 2011   No Comments

Module 3: Indigenous Research Methodology?

This is a manifesto of the Umulliko Research Team which seeks to conduct research on Indigenous cultures in ways that places and keeps Indigenous voices at the center of the research in the process of advancing decolonization.  The writers echo Smith (1999) when they point out that research is a Western construct and practice that retells the story of colonization and hegemony.  This particular research team seeks to find ways to centralize the voices of those who have been silenced these many centuries.

Although this is a short manifesto, it is useful to research on place-based learning because it outlines some of the issues regarding research that has been done to date.   Much of this research has been used to implement policy including educational ones, which have succeeded in further alienating Indigenous cultures.

Smith, L. (1999).  Introduction.  In Decolonizing methodologies:  Research and Indigenous peoples.  London:  Zed Books, Ltd, 1-18.

The University of Newcastle, Australia.  Indigenous research methodology.  Retrieved from

November 7, 2011   No Comments

Module 3: The Pocahontas Paradox

In this article Cornel Pewewardy a member of the Comanche-Kiowa, Oklahoma, points out the many stereotypes promulgated in the movie Pocahontas.  The Hollywood movie portrays Pocahontas whose real name was Matowa (1595-1617), as a demure princess, deeply committed to the white man.  The legendary woman, however, is viewed by Native Americans as a sell-out, a traitor, who supported the invading settlers.  The reality, Pewewardy points out, is that Matowa was a politically important person who often served as an interpreter for both the Native Americans and the settlers.  She was kidnapped by the British, forced to convert to Christianity and later married John Rolfe, a British Colonist.  She traveled with her husband to England where she met King James I, but later died and was buried in England, far from her native home.

Pewewardy points out that when schools do not affirm identity of Indigenous students, these students adopt the negative identities of the dominant culture:  drinking, carousing, using drugs.  They do this because they do not want to be viewed as trying to be white, or middle class.  But, by engaging in these activities, their tribes view them as abandoning their heritage and the struggles of their people, and joining the enemy.  Although the movie portrays a sanitized view of Indians, it does show a defiant side of them, which was highly unrealistic for the period in which the movie is set.  Matowa is depicted disobeying her father’s orders and setting out to visit Captain John Smith in secret.  The movie makes little reference to the racism, deceit, and greed that characterizes the relationship between Native Americans and European settlers.

The movie features a song called, “Savages, Savages” which Hollywood had hoped would neutralize the effects of overt racism of previous centuries.  Unfortunately it has had the opposite effect because Native Indians take offense at the song, and it causes Indigenous children a great deal of distress when their school mates poke fun at them by singing the song.


Peweward, C. (1996/97).  The Pocahontas Paradox:  A cautionary tale for educators.  Retrieved from

November 7, 2011   No Comments

Module 3: Resilience and Aboriginal Communities in crises

The paper explores resilience created through reclaiming cultural identity and spirituality lost through colonialism as a means of addressing and overcoming issues facing Indigenous communities today.  The trauma of colonialism, characterized by attempts at ethnocide, have left deep scars in these communities, weakened families and left in its wake a culture of codependency manifested in behaviors such as alcoholism among Indigenous groups. Traumatic events include loss of hunting grounds and traditional lands, and rituals and religion, and this has resulted in a loss of traditional (and proven) survival practices and a breakdown of social cohesion within these communities. The authors do a good job in analyzing the psychological reasons behind negative, self-destructive behaviors among Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples were forced to live on reservations, or attend Residential Schools, and at the same time denied the privilege of practicing their religion and rituals that would help them overcome the trauma of their situation.  In short “Aboriginal peoples not only had to endure trauma, but they were at the same time deprived of the tools of resiliency (beliefs, rituals and institutions) which usually help traumatized societies to reconstruct their identity.”  The trauma which Indigenous peoples in Canada and the US endured is presented here .  The idea behind the Residential Schools, at least, was to “kill the Indian but save the child.”

The authors define resilience as “the capacity of a distinct community or cultural system to absorb disturbances, reorganize while undergoing change, retain key elements of structure and identity that preserve its distinctness.”

The authors maintain that cultural identity, the revival of cultural practices and rituals are important for resilience, and can stem the tide of alcoholism and suicide tendencies.

An example of reviving cultural identity, building resilience, and ultimately bringing about healing took place in the Innu-Montagnais villiage of Nutashkuan on the shores of the St. Laurence River.  Over 200 participants converged on a 10-day nature camp on ancestral hunting grounds.  The camp was led by a team of traditional healers from the tribe as well as clinical psychologists.  This is a great example of using traditional knowledge to bring about healing to a tribe.  One of the central issues that were addressed was the painful memories that participants had of Residential Schools.


Tousignant, M., and Sioui, N. (2009).  Resilience and Aboriginal communities in crisis:  Theory and Interventions.  Journal of Aboriginal Health, November:  43-61.  Retrieved from


November 7, 2011   No Comments

Module 3: Renaming ourselves on our own terms

This article examines the identity created for Indigenous peoples by the Europeans, and ways in which Indigenous peoples can reverse the devastating effects of colonialism.  The term “Indian” for instance, came from the Europeans.  Decolonization involves shedding the identity imposed upon Indigenous people by outsiders.  Indigenous Peoples and First Nations are acceptable terms to tribal people, and some tribes are now going back to their original names, such as Diné instead of Navajho.

The author summarizes the push towards decolonialism when he states: “For too long now, the native peoples of this hemisphere have remained passive while the European invader does away with all of the ancient place-names, and then comes up with new names for the native people and their land … This land is not Indian and we are not lndians….”

Many tribes had forgotten the origin of their native names, many of which were sacred in nature.  This self-naming is a human, natural process that is based upon self-determination.  It allows Indigenous peoples “of saying, not asking the world who we were.”  Unfortunately the practice persists.  Non-Indigenous researchers and government officials continue to provide Anglicized names for Indigenous locations towns, languages.  There’s a problem with the term “Indigenous” because it tends to lump all non-white peoples into the same mold, regardless of experiences under colonial occupation.

Written cultures are highly suspect to Indigenous peoples because of the many treatises that were signed and broken.  This explains why some indigenous educators, such as Tasha Beeds, are calling for using traditional stories as the basis for promoting literacy.

This paper is useful to place-based learning because it promotes rhetorical sovereignty:  the use of traditional names for Indigenous peoples, places, and objects.  Place-based learning is vital to Indigenous contexts because it expresses and defines their worldviews.  “Tribal language has a vital relationship to the philosophical thought process—cognizance of one’s worldview; it is our tribal identity in action and self-defining.” Where names given to Indigenous peoples by whites are adjectives, that describe their skin color, or other physical features, or their location, traditional names describe political standing, “numerical status” and social class.  It describes a tribe’s strength wealth, and power.

The non-Indigenous names that were given by the Europeans were intended to create individuals of tribe members, and in so doing destroy the tribes and assimilate Indigenous peoples into the mainstream culture.  That was the plan.  The author distinguishes between race, ethnicity, and culture.  Race is the arbitrary description of people based upon physical appearance.  Culture the set of beliefs and practices of a population, while ethnicity is the subgroups one often finds within a culture.  Race has no place education; some races are not more intelligent than others.

The paper examines the notion that Western cultures consider themselves more superior to others, and that those with the superior intellect have a moral obligation to dominate the lesser intellects.  That has been the justification all along for dominating Indigenous peoples, even in the feeble attempts to represent them, as in the film Nanook of the North.  Westerners view themselves as logical, and it is their job to control nature.  They view Indigenous peoples as one with nature, the very entity that must be controlled.

The author concludes that the issue isn’t so much race; that is, Indigenous people’s so-called inferior intellect, skin color, and beliefs.  The real issue is white European hegemony that has suppressed the history, stories, rituals, beliefs, and practices of Indigenous peoples.  The antidote to this malady is to infuse indigenous education with tribal stories, names, and histories instead of perpetuating the hegemony of the dominant society by forcing Indigenous peoples to follow and learn their own curriculum.


Beeds, T.  Finding a place to stand:  Indigenous education through oral and written narratives.  Retrieved from

Pewewardy, C. Renaming ourselves on our own terms:  Race, tribal nations and representation in education. Retrieved from


November 7, 2011   No Comments