Aboriginal Elders: A Grade 12 Unit Lesson Plan-Reviewed by Patti Alison

Posted by in Aboriginal Pedagogies, Curriculum, Elders, Lesson Plan

My resource for our Common Bowl, that links to our topic of Elders and Intergenerational Learning, is “Aboriginal Elders: A Grade 12 Unit Lesson Plan” authored by Shelley Janvier and Erica Mohan (Janvier & Mohan). The Unit Plan was designed in 2003 by an EDST 565 class at the University of British Columbia. This resource focuses on the inclusion of Elders into the Grade 12 curriculum because as the authors state students will learn about the roles of Elders in Aboriginal communities and “learn that Elders are sources of knowledge from whom we can learn first hand” (Janvier & Mohan, Introduction). The unit plan contains six lessons with reference lists and learning materials. The online version of the unit plan does not include the learning materials; however, the full version is available at Xwi7xwa Library.

The authors include a section called “A Discussion of Elders” where they define, discuss and explain Elders, their importance and contributions to Aboriginal communities. Throughout the discussion, references are made to research studies, community members and additional support materials. “Elders are recognized as sources of knowledge” (Janvier & Mohan, A Discussion of Elders) and are vital to the wholistic framework that includes sharing knowledge regarding mind, body, spirit and heart. They intended to “create a resource for educators that moves away from purely textbook based and individual learning towards wholistic lessons that include collaborative and hands-on activities, reflection, creativity, and autonomous learning” (Janvier & Mohan, Rationale).

The authors use the Four Rs: Respect, Relationships, Responsibility and Relevance as a framework for the unit plan (Janvier & Mohan). This is a deliberate choice in order to expand students’ awareness and use of the Four Rs as well as to connect to Indigenous approaches to ways of knowing and interacting.

The benefits of this unit begin with the deliberate inclusion of Elders in the curriculum and the respect the authors have shown in providing their rationale: “Express the importance of elders in Aboriginal communities as leaders, healers, sources of knowledge, and transmitters of culture. Foster a respect for Elders”. Indigenous education has been integrated into the new curriculum in British Columbia and this lesson plan can be woven into classrooms as teachers shift their practice to privilege Indigenous pedagogy. The authors’ intention was to include this unit as “education about Aboriginal people for all students”; therefore, this unit can be an extension of working with students in English or Social Studies classes through integrating Indigenous stories, histories and relationships.

One of the main challenges comes from the authors themselves in that educators who use the resource are not able to situate the authors’ backgrounds or personal perspectives. I wonder if this may be a result of the time period (2003) when the resource was produced, as the situating of educators as settlers/colonizers may have been a relatively “new” approach to decolonizing and indigenizing curriculum and educational practice. Even though the resource contains Aboriginal sources from a variety of Indigenous perspectives, the concern is that the lesson plan may not follow all appropriate protocols. Another area to explore would be the resources themselves especially the website links. The Angel Fire link goes to a webpage about Elders including a definition and protocols; however, the site’s definition differs from what Jo Ann Archibald explains in her book, Indigenous Storywork: Educating the Heart, Mind, Body and Spirit. “From my understanding of First Nations cultural ways, authority and respect are attributed to ‘Elders’ – people who have acquired wisdom through life experiences, education” (Archibald, p. 37). In contrast the Angel Fire website states “Generally in First Nations Elders are defined as older people. To be recognized as an Elder, the age criterion ranges from fifty to seventy years of age. It is thought that before the age of fifty people tend to be too busy and may not be able to think at the level required of an Elder” (Angel Fire website). The website does not have sources for the stated information. Another suggested website, “The Virtual Circle: The Aboriginal Community Site” is no longer available.

The authors also advise educators to use caution when addressing the area of residential schools: “Unless the student has a strong personal connection with his/her Elder and there is an understanding between them, we would recommend that this subject be omitted” (Setting up interviews). In discussing this aspect of history, I situate myself as a settler who has and continues to benefit from my position in the dominant culture. In the past few years, I have attended First Nations Education Steering Committee workshops where educators have been offered resources for respectfully and responsibly incorporating the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools into the curriculum. The unit plan features six lesson plans which can potentially be taught sequentially over approximately eight classes. The lessons are hands-on, collaborative and reflective. The students work through learning about Elders, preparing to interview Elders and culminating in a celebration of and for the Elders. The pre-loading aspects of the lesson plan are practical and seem to prepare students for the interview through focus questions and collaborative discussions. Learning materials include readings about the various roles of Elders in Aboriginal communities (Learning from and about Elders). The authors integrate the Four Rs with the Medicine Wheel Diagram when setting the foundation for the interviews. The interviews are open-ended and allow for Elders to be interactive partners in the process. After the interviews students will take part in a sharing circle with a “speaking rock”. As I have been learning about Indigenous protocols, I would want to learn more about the appropriate protocols for talking circles to ensure that I can respectfully follow the necessary guidelines. This lesson plan features intergenerational learning as youth have an opportunity to engage with and learn from Elders. The unit’s culminating assignment is a reflection on the experience through essay writing. I think this final assignment could be revamped to allow for students to reflect through other methods besides a written essay. Alternate assignments could include oral presentations, digital storytelling, storyboards, illustrations or journals.

Overall this unit plan has positive, applicable aspects, such as the opportunity for students to learn about respectful protocols and to engage with an Elder in a comfortable setting that can be implemented into classroom practice with some resource updates and more current sources. The importance of Elders and story can be explored through Dr. Jo-Anne Archibald’s “Indigenous Storywork” or Thomas King’s “The Truth About Stories” book and lecture series. Updates would include fixing broken links; connecting to new sources such as the Teaching for Indigenous Education website which features interviews with Elders and stories by Elders; and linking to community resources including the Urban Native Youth Association or the Musqueam Cultural Centre. Another aspect that can be updated is the connection to allies in the community through the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements. Aboriginal Educational consultants would be an effective starting place for collaboration and community building for this lesson plan.

By Patti Alision


Angel Fire. Wisdom of elders. http://www.angelfire.com/trek/puknet/elder00.html

Archibald, J. (2008). Indigenous Storywork. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Janvier, S. & Mohan, E. (2003). Aboriginal Elders: A grade 12 unit lesson plan. Vancouver: University of British Columbia. Retrieved June 6, 2015 http://www.indigenouseducation.educ.ubc.ca/pedagogy/classroom-connections. Also available at XW17XWA Library.

King, T. (2003). The truth about stories: A native narrative. Canada: CBC.

Kirkness, V. J., & Barnhardt, R. (1991). First nations and higher education: The four R’s—

respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility. Journal of American Indian Education, 30(3), 1-15.


Teaching for Indigenous Education. Education UBC. Retrieved at: http://www.indigenouseducation.educ.ubc.ca/