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  • Smrithi Adinarayanan

Aspects of Indigenous Education

Indigenous or traditional education refers to educational approaches and systems that are connected culturally, linguistically, and historically to Indigenous peoples and communities around the world. It is a form of education that respects and incorporates Indigenous worldviews, traditions, languages, and knowledge systems.

Indigenous worldviews have evolved from a profound connection between people and their environment. This relationship is rooted in several key beliefs. Firstly, Indigenous cultures recognize that all existence is guided by the principle of survival. Secondly, the very act of survival resonates with the natural energies and cycles of the Earth. These energies are perceived as integral to a greater cosmic design. Thirdly, all entities in this intricate web of life have specific roles to fulfill, essential for maintaining balance, harmony, and the overall well-being of existence. Furthermore, everything is seen as an extension of this grand design, sharing the same essence as its source, often referred to as "Gitchi-Munitou." This essence is commonly understood as "spirit," forming the connective thread that binds all things to each other and to the act of Creation itself.

The impact of colonization on indigenous education has been very significant. Many local traditions and knowledge systems have vanished or exist only in museums due to focus on modern education. The impact is so deep that people have doubts about the relevance of traditional knowledge in contemporary times. A very high focus on job-oriented education has led to the systematic dismantling of traditional education.

In today’s context, we see that many of the problems that humanity faces like health crisis, economic decline, ecological crisis, warfare etc can be solved by connecting with one’s roots and mining the vast traditional knowledge that is available. However, we have moved so much into contemporary education that it looks almost impossible to access, decode and apply local knowledge.

Indigenous education has long regarded experiential learning as a core element of understanding life processes, interpersonal connections, the family environment, and one's connection to the land. Indigenous ways of knowing see the growth of personal identity as a commitment to nurturing one's passions and abilities rooted in a deep sense of inherent belonging within the broader community. Indigenous education has distinct pedagogy which is often determined by the community, the geography and cultural practices.

Leanne Simpson, a powerful voice of Indigenous people highlights seven principles of Indigenous worldviews.

  1. Knowledge is holistic, cyclic, and dependent upon relationships and connections to living and non-living beings and entities.

  2. There are many truths, and these truths are dependent upon individual experiences.

  3. Everything is alive.

  4. all things are equal.

  5. The land is sacred.

  6. The relationship between people and the spiritual world is important.

  7. human beings are the least important people in the world.

Though there is a huge diversity amongst local traditions and indigenous knowledge systems, there seem to be a lot of commonalities as well. What aspects of Indigenous education may be interesting to look at?

Cultural Relevance: Indigenous education prioritizes the preservation and promotion of Indigenous languages, traditions, and cultural practices. It recognizes that culture is integral to the identity and well-being of Indigenous individuals and communities.

Community Involvement: Indigenous education often emphasizes community-based learning and decision-making. Elders, knowledge keepers, and community leaders play a crucial role in shaping and delivering education.

Holistic Approach: Indigenous education recognizes the interconnectedness of all aspects of life, including physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual dimensions. It seeks to nurture the whole person and community.

Land-Based Learning: Many Indigenous education approaches incorporate land-based learning, recognizing the spiritual and practical importance of the land. Learning often takes place on traditional territories and involves activities such as hunting, gathering, and storytelling.

Oral Tradition: Indigenous cultures often have strong oral traditions. Education may include the passing down of knowledge through storytelling, songs, and oral histories, as opposed to written texts.

Elders and Knowledge Keepers: Elders and knowledge keepers are highly respected figures in Indigenous education. They are often the primary source of cultural and traditional knowledge and serve as mentors and guides to younger generations.


Indigenous education often teaches the interconnectedness of all living beings and the environment. It promotes a deep sense of responsibility for the land and a commitment to sustainable practices.

Indigenous Pedagogies: Indigenous pedagogies are teaching methods and approaches that are culturally relevant and sensitive to the needs of Indigenous learners. These methods may include storytelling, experiential learning, and collaborative activities.

Intergenerational Learning: Indigenous education often emphasizes the importance of learning across generations, with elders passing down knowledge to younger community members.

Indigenous education weaves together the threads of culture, community, and ancestral wisdom. It is a profound testament to the resilience of Indigenous peoples who have, throughout history, fought to preserve their languages, traditions, and ways of knowing. As we reflect upon the facets of Indigenous education, we find ourselves not merely in the realm of academics, but in the heart of a deeply spiritual journey.

Indigenous education teaches us that learning is not confined to the four walls of a classroom, but rather, it thrives in the embrace of the land, the guidance of elders, and the echoes of storytelling. It reminds us that true education is not just about acquiring knowledge, but also about fostering a profound sense of belonging, interconnectedness, and responsibility to both our communities and the Earth.

As we stand at the intersection of Indigenous wisdom and modernity, we are presented with an opportunity to honor the voices and visions that have endured for generations. Indigenous education beckons us to listen, to learn, and to support the resurgence of cultures that have endured despite centuries of adversity. It reminds us that the strength of a people lies not only in their past but in their unwavering commitment to shape a brighter future for generations yet unborn.

In the journey of understanding Indigenous education, we are called to embrace humility, respect, and reciprocity. We must recognize that the knowledge shared by Indigenous communities is a gift, one that carries with it the weight of history and the promise of a more inclusive and harmonious world. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that Indigenous education continues to flourish, illuminating the path towards a future where all cultures and knowledge systems are celebrated and respected.

In the spirit of unity and mutual learning, let us endeavor to walk alongside Indigenous communities, fostering a world where the tapestry of education is woven with threads of respect, diversity, and love. For it is in this shared journey that we find hope, healing, and the promise of a more enlightened and equitable world for all.


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