Our words, our ways: teaching First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners. Summary by Judy Payne

Posted by in Aboriginal Pedagogies, Curriculum, Elementary, Secondary

Alberta Education. (2005). Our words, our ways: teaching First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners. Alberta Education. Aboriginal Services Branch and Learning and Teaching Resources Branch. Retrieved from: https://education.alberta.ca/media/307169/o11.pdf. May 9, 2015

Our words, our ways: teaching First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners (Alberta Education, 2005) is a resource guide for those involved in the education of Aboriginal students developed through Alberta Education and the Edmonton Catholic Schools’ Aboriginal Learning Centre. Battiste states that there “continues to be a lack of materials and resources, and lots of tension and sometimes apathy, in making inclusive, culturally responsive, anti-oppressive education.” (2013, p.28) I chose this resource as it puts the theme of “our relationship: reframing Indigenous and Western epistemological and societal relationships to benefit Aboriginal students”, into practice through the provision of information on Aboriginal cultures and perspective, knowledges, strategies and lessons that enable the holistic approach to be used in a way that benefits all students. It can be used through my role as a school based resource teacher as a resource that teachers can use in the classroom to adapt teaching and assessment strategies to build upon inclusion for all learners. It can begin to provide for that lack of resources which Battiste speaks of. The students on my caseload often have the words, “needs movement breaks”; “requires interactive teaching”, “need to use concrete examples” within their Psycho-educational assessments and individual education plans. The activities that are suggested in “our words, our ways” provide all of these in a manner that a teacher can apply across the curriculum, through the use of Indigenous ways of learning that would be entwined into the methodology of teaching.

The role of Indigenous knowledge, content or perspectives

“Our words, our ways” begins with an acknowledgement of “the wisdom and foresight of our ancestors who signed Treaties 4, 6, 7, 8 and 10 so future generations would have an education, and participate in and contribute to Canadian society as First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.” (p.iii) The entire resource is based upon Indigenous knowledge, and this perspective is evident on every page with the examples, the wisdom shared and the incorporation of story telling into every activity that is given to use. The main writer for this resource, Marnie Robb, I believe to be a non-aboriginal woman as there is no mention of any genealogy within the research. She has been involved in working with the Smallboy/Mountain Cree camp to establish a school that reflects the cultural values of the community, as well as a policy advisor in Alberta Aboriginal government relations. The contributing elders included George Bretton, an elder with the treaty 6 First Nations, Christine Daniels of the Metis Association of Alberta, and Liz Poitras who is a Cree woman who grew up in Slave Lake, Alberta, as well as a teacher of all levels. In researching the genealogy of the elders, the discovery of the obituary of Joe P. Cardinal, the son of Patchakes and Honoreen Cardinal who was born at Birch Mountain in northern Alberta on Nov. 19, 1921 gave me cause for reflection of the scope of knowledge of the elders, and the breadth of the Aboriginal communities that they crossed. The research also lead me to a website of family names within the Aboriginal community, http://www.aseniwuche.com/our_story/familynames_cnt.html, allowing for a deeper understanding of the importance of storytelling as a source of education, learning and cultural identity. The gatherers and sharers of information are also well respected, widely accomplished persons including Evelyn Good Striker of Lakota/Dakota ancestry, a former director of Alberta Education’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Services Branch and Tracey Poitras-Collins Cree/Métis ancestries who was project manager of the Yellowhead Tribal Council’s First Nation Student Success program project which is operated through their Yellowhead Tribal College.

The first four chapters of the resource provide the background and perspective for teaching through the Aboriginal ways of learning, “the teacher’s relationship with each student is based on observing and learning about the individual child and his or her unique learning needs in order to help the child grow holistically— spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally” (p.v). Situated within the framework of the Nations of Alberta, the methodology crosses through these provincial boundaries, as this is also a resource recommended by the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education. It walks the reader through the sections of: Worldviews and Aboriginal cultures; Aboriginal students: who they are? how do they learn?; the classroom as a community, and sharing the responsibility – enabling the reader to gain a richer understanding of the why and how of the activities that follow. The importance of understanding relationships lies as the heart of the role of the teacher in embracing the sharing of knowledge through an Aboriginal lens.

The benefits and challenges of using this resource

“Our words, our ways” is beneficial in a multitude of ways: it provides for the teacher an overview of knowledge of culture and of the areas of importance within the principles of learning while providing specific activities for use in the classroom. Within the resource, the inclusion of a specific section for authentic assessment as well as on teaching students with learning disabilities challenges the teacher to look at their overall practice in a more holistic fashion.   References and places to find more information are provided so those who wish to delve further, may do so with relative ease. The basics of getting started as listed (p.26) allow any educator to make a plan and do so in a manner that recognizes and respects Aboriginal teachings and practices to address what Battiste speaks of in that “the education system has not yet ensured that non-Indigenous children develop an accurate understanding of the Indigenous peoples in Canada and their knowledge systems, much less who is their neighbour.” (2013, p.32) The clear benefit is that there would be a beginning to meeting the challenge of having Aboriginal ways of learning become imbedded in our practice, and as the majority of the teachers are non-Indigenous people, begin to “unsettle ourselves to name and then transform the settler – the colonizer who lurks within, not just in words, but by our actions” (Regan, 2010 p.11).

As with any resource, there will always be challenges. A concern I always have, in most any context, is that “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing”. This resource is extensive and provides a great starting point and framework for a teacher to begin; however, it would be ill-conceived and certainly disrespectful if a teacher were to take this one resource, and not delve further into changing practices and building their own knowledge. Clearly stated is “be willing to invest time” (p. 26); given the complexities and breath of the teacher’s role today, finding the time is often a challenge. There are numerous occasions where the best of intentions in changing practice fall short as the momentum to actually “do” the change wans over time. A further potential challenge would be in a teacher looking at the strategies and then making the leap that by incorporating these into their teachings, they are meeting the needs of their Aboriginal students to be taught in an authentic manner. The resource itself is over two hundred pages, one must invest in not only reading it, but rise to the challenge of practice.   A final challenge would be in the presentation itself to students, and educating the non-Indigenous parents, which requires support from colleagues and those in positions of authority. Regan states, “experiences showed me that most non-Native people resist the notion that violence lies at the core of Indigenous-settler relations” (2010, p.21) and goes on to further explain that “once most non-Natives understand the ways in which colonial violence is embedded in the institutional structures of Canadian society that gave rise to the residential school system, they genuinely want to do something to remedy the situation” (2010, p.22).   Within a classroom a teacher may make a start with this resource, to truly meet the challenge, one requires a community effort in learning.

My practice

As not only a school based resource teacher, but also as a department head, I can be one piece of the community required to adequately meet the challenge presented.   A first step in using, “Our words, Our ways” as a resource would be to follow the pathway laid out, and begin with the students. Our school has a small yet active Aboriginal club, an Aboriginal Enhancement teacher, and support worker, all of whom I have met with in the past in order to begin to build the community for learning. These people have a wealth of knowledge regarding local customs and traditions that need to be respected.   My focus is for the students who are on my caseload, both officially and unofficially, and using this resource to look at the practice we have of meetings, of individual education planning, assessment and adapting teaching.   An example of the process we could follow is outlined.

Initial program information sessions

            Prior to students coming into our classes that assist student learning, we have a parent/student open house. During this time current students make visual presentations to the group regarding various aspects of the classes, from social, to the building, the teacher and what to expect. The students then lead smaller groups on tours of the school, while staff are available to answer any parent questions. In utilizing the knowledge from this resource, I look to the chapter on “the classroom: a community of learners” (p.41-59), and the section on “welcoming parents” (p.62), ensuring to include those in our school who are able to offer their wisdom within the welcome we should provide, the class set-up and how to infuse Aboriginal content that maintains cultural integrity into the welcome.

Within class structures

As the leader within the department I feel it would be part of my role to assist the teachers in finding resources, in building knowledge and understanding, and in providing the climate for this to become the way we “are”.   Many of the concepts presented within this resource fold well into what I consider best practice for all students with whom I work.   Parents play such a large role as an advocate for their child, and again, through working with our Aboriginal Enhancement teacher collaborating to find ways to invite parents in, and to make sure I am “walking the walk” is key to any change occurring. As students are in a variety of classes, providing the entire resource for teachers, and in teaming with them to use the instructional and assessment strategies within the course would be a further method of utilizing this resource. We have a number of reluctant learners for whom any one of the learning strategies would be beneficial. Part of our department plan next year is to have a strategy of the week, taught in every class in order to build common language and give students a variety in the method of learning that they can use. The entirety of chapter 5 and the strategies presented provides the resource to use. Collaborating with teachers to integrate these methods of teaching into the curriculum and utilizing the knowledge of parents of Aboriginal students, as well as our Aboriginal staff will allow us to weave the “First Nations Principles of Learning” into the classrooms of our department.

Within the school community

Part of my role as a resource teacher is to assist teachers with assessment of students, as well as provide the basis and structure for supports. As I read through “our words, our ways” and came across the section on “authentic reflections of important learning” (pp. 113 – 122) I had a moment of reflection thinking, “Well, I will just photocopy this and when I give the pro-d on this to staff, I have my hand-out!” My role continues to be on education of staff on all the methods of assessment and the purpose of assessment – to find out if a child has absorbed what we thought we taught, and if we find that they have not, we re-teach in a variety of ways then re-assess using a variety of methods so we can give students feedback on their knowledge and learning. The purpose of assessment is actually to have us examine if our teachings are effective, and if not, we need to reflect and change.


The resource, “Our words, our ways” provides an extensive overview of methods teachers can use to begin to reframe the relationships and practices we as teachers in a Western society have to benefit Aboriginal students. In utilizing not just the resource as a document but incorporating the ideas and practices that are provided into our ways of educating, I feel the benefit will be for all students, and as a passionate advocate for inclusion, that continues to force us to re-examine how we do what we do and challenge ourselves to be better.

By Judy Payne


Works cited

Alberta Education. (2005). Our words, our ways: teaching First Nations, Métis and Inuit    learners. Alberta Education. Aboriginal Services Branch and Learning and Teaching Resources Branch. retrieved from: https://education.alberta.ca/media/307169/o11.pdf. May 9, 2015

Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing Limited. Retrieved from http://ubc.summon.serialssolutions.com/2.0.0/link/0/eLvHCXMwhV1LC8IwDA4-Lt50Kj4m7ORt0sfWx9kH_gDvo9sy8OJdf73N3ERl4LGFtCGEhqTJ9wFIsWPxz5tQWFG6NJeutD5gFJXOMdVYaGS5kypXf1t1fkftOn9niAyRE7JkXxn2ZjPgxqbGu7JuAHfe6-Rr1J7iyWkMA5oxmEAPbwERJzdNFgHMXrAd92gbESasq3l371OYH5DgpW_Xh1cmwlZgBqvT8bI_x_6CrKnEZI1-Yg4Dn9vjAiJuE2ZcWhIDRlJx6SpuC8OUFQZ9suCWEHQcsITwc7e1RKallNaoVafQGkaipnKg8kEIw8q7N25qCzwBM6d18A. May2015


Regan, P. (2010). Unsettling the settler within: Indian residential schools, truth telling, and reconciliation in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press. Retrieved from http://ubc.summon.serialssolutions.com/2.0.0/link/0/eLvHCXMwhV3JCsIwEB20Xry54gr9gUrbpFnOovgBei5Jm4CXHtT_xxmtWKXiMRkYQsgk701mAWDpJo6-7gSWpMIKj-DD6MKXqhSIRArmDHdIukv2N1TnO9Wu9XeGM478RHShK1QcvLu60dlSKMgaFTAVcaEGVKL-E1o_mb3kKpFSJnWBntdYfKTm0_uzH0BAOQlD6LhqRI2W66CMMaxP1dXdbpRTHiKUCx8DdwnJvXquJrDY747bQ4T68tpRk9fLT6cQIPV3Mwi9417ZUpuMe66tMNZQhTiZmVjZ1Jg5jFoUzGHVnH1tVI5MOEPC91OMUAXtcdGqcwn95785OR9W0PNoHG792I87vcWF7g. May 2015