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Living in a Good Way with Indigenous Values and Beliefs | Pulling Together: A Guide for Teachers and Instructors
Section 3: Integrate – Ethical Approach and Relational Protocols

Living in a Good Way with Indigenous Values and Beliefs

More Indigenous people are accessing public post-secondary institutions. They are doing this for reasons that are both similar to and different from those of other students. On the one hand, there is a desire to obtain better-paying jobs or to meet market economy demands. On the other, there is a unique and important part of the journey, which is the need to build on the capability of Indigenous Peoples and to improve the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous communities. As Verna Kirkness and Ray Barhardt (2001) assert, Indigenous students and communities are seeking an education that will also address their communal need for “capacity-building” to advance themselves as a distinct and self-determining society, not just as individuals. In this context, a “job” may be important, but more as a means to an end than as an end in itself (p. 6).

Kirkness and Barnhardt (2001) shared a series of relational protocols for engaging with Indigenous students, with cultural integrity, in post-secondary learning:

Respect for First Nations cultural integrity:

  • There is not one knowledge – this requires that we move away from normalizing a Western approach to knowledge acquisition to accepting and respecting that other knowledges are part of the learning experience (pp. 7–8). This diversity helps all learners.

Relevance to First Nations perspectives and experience:

  • Not all knowledge is literate – this requires that we create a space for different ways of learning knowledge in orality and “culturally [accommodating] … how knowledge is constructed and passed on to others” (p. 9).

Reciprocal relationships:

  • Learning is not a passive process of receiving knowledge from the expert or “sage on stage.” Learning and teaching is a two-way process, between the student and teacher, of exploring other levels of understanding. Learning is “sense-making and skill-building through active participation in the world around them” (p. 11).

Responsibility through participation:

  • This requires that we shift our practice to working with Indigenous Peoples and communities to facilitate a “more hospitable environment” (p. 13) across the institution, across programs, and in the classroom.

Facilitating and nurturing relationships weaves these protocols together. For educators, relationships with Indigenous communities and lands are an essential part of walking with Indigenous Peoples. As Lorna Williams (interviewed in Ormiston, 2012), Líl̓wat scholar, states:


The relationship is not only the relationship that we have person to person between the people who are leading the class and receiving teachings in the class, but the relationship amongst the members of that immediate community. As well, what is emergent in a relationship that people find themselves within the space within which they find themselves. And the space is, in this case, not just the university but the land that we’re on and the community that we’re a part of.