TWU professor shares indigenous issues course with other educators

Matthew Etherington, PhD., brings a unique perspective to indigenous issues in education—not only because of his journey as a non-indigenous person, but also because of what he’s learned in teaching his students about what he calls “transformation of the heart.”

The associate professor of education and a director of Trinity Western University’s Institute of Indigenous Issues and Perspectives will be sharing what he’s learned with other educators at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education’s Annual Conference. It’s taking place at the University of Calgary from May 28 to June 1.

Etherington will present a paper called Aboriginal Perspectives and Issues in Teacher Education, named for a class he teaches annually at TWU. During the course, future teachers learn about transforming their hearts as well as their minds.

“When hearts change, which they must, misunderstandings and wrong attitudes begin to disappear,” Etherington says.

Instead of writing a final exam, students perform for a panel of indigenous elders at the end of the term to demonstrate how what they’ve learned has changed them.

During his presentation, Etherington will share some of the challenges that non-indigenous student-teachers experience when asked to include indigenous perspectives, outcomes, philosophy and assessment into their entire curriculum.

“I recognize that my knowledge and experience is limited as a non-indigenous person. At the same time, teaching this course has been an experience that is difficult not to share with other educators. I am encouraged by the words of indigenous scholars who have said that although we desperately need Indigenous teachers as facilitators and agents of change, we can also acknowledge that a good, sensitive and effective teacher can be a member of any race.

“As a non-indigenous person who believes in seeking truth and justice, and having taught this course for a number of years, I have begun to explore a particular question that many other non-indigenous faculty have also asked: ‘What is the relationship between appropriation of indigenous thought and “deep” learning—particularly in light of current understandings of cultural appropriation?’ I have been watching, listening and learning from indigenous teachers, and I have been able to relate to the struggles that non-indigenous students experience during the course. My role has involved sharing with them how I was able to move forward and see and experience what I could not see before.”