TWU Professor Reflects on Indigenizing B.C. Curriculum

As B.C. teachers prepare to integrate indigenous perspectives in to the curriculum, some universities are considering mandatory indigenous education. Matthew Etherington, an associate professor in Trinity Western University’s School of Education, thinks it’s a valuable idea, and can comment on why, as well as how instructors might shape their curriculum accordingly.

“Aboriginal perspectives help us see that knowledge is not secular, but a process derived from creation, and has a sacred purpose to nourish what indigenous scholar Marie Battiste calls ‘the learning spirit,’” he says. “They help us see that school is not the only organization with responsibilities for children, but also elders, parents, and family. Learning about and applying aboriginal perspectives breaks down the Western categories of knowledge such as art, ecological knowledge and religion, and explains the holistic nature of indigenous knowledge and its importance to aboriginal people.

“Unless we hear from those who hold to perspectives about subjects different to our own, we all run the risk of thinking that our view is complete and essentially that we are infallible. To learn, future teachers must become willing to refine their beliefs through the conversations and perspectives of aboriginal people.”

Etherington, who is also the director of TWU’s Institute of Indigenous Issues of Perspectives, has been teaching a course called Indigenous Issues in Education as part of TWU’s teacher curriculum for years. In it, rather than requiring students to write a traditional final exam at the end of the semester, Etherington has students put together a performance representing a personal journey of heart transformation. They perform before a group of indigenous elders and educators about how the course has awakened a commitment to be a teacher with a heart towards justice and reconciliation with indigenous people.

“Experiential learning is one of the most powerful tools to teach for change, and so the performance exam helps students give up cultural values and practices they had learned to cherish and take on new ways of doing things that are strange for them,” he says.

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Author: Amy Robertson