15 Strategies for Teachers of Aboriginal Students

June 23, 2015

“The pedagogical challenge of Canadian education is not just reducing the distance between Eurocentric thinking and Aboriginal ways of knowing, but engaging decolonized minds and hearts.” [1]

This is an interesting junction in Canadian history as non-Aboriginal Canadians wake up to the harsh reality of the residential schools, as shown by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. This new awareness could well be the catalyst for real, fundamental change, and where more effective than in the classroom?


Teachers (and school districts) with Indigenous students have the opportunity to provide transformative change, not just in the Indigenous students, but in the entire student body and the families of the student body. The ripple effect will eventually reach out into the community and beyond.

Many Indigenous students are still suffering from the intergenerational impact of residential schools, and come from communities still suffering from the intergeneration impact of colonialism. Educators should all be aware that the home life of Indigenous students can be very different from that of students from more mainstream families. The worldviews, home language, protocols, and life experiences of Indigenous students – even of the very youngest – are not left at the door when they enter the school.

Some, not all, Indigenous communities continue to struggle with high levels of poverty, substance abuse, and violence so educators should also realize that this plays a huge role in the self-esteem of an Indigenous student. But, they should also realize that this is not the experience of every Indigenous student.

Here are some tips and strategies for teachers and school districts:

1. Establish a relationship between the Indigenous community(ies) and the school so that they learn from each other.

2. Ensure all teachers have a thorough understanding of the residential school system and an understanding of the impact of colonization.

3. Ensure all teachers have read the Executive Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

4. Include an acknowledgement of the First Nation territory on which the school is located, in the language of the territory over the front door of the school; if the school sits on overlapping territories, include both languages.

5. Include Elders and community leaders in teaching the students how to say the welcome in the language

6. Invite an Elder to provide a prayer or song at all school assemblies

7. Create school policy that advocates for and supports inclusion of Indigenous students

8. Ensure the library has a broad range of relevant Indigenous books and resources:

  • the resources should reflect the realities and culture of the Indigenous students
  • resources should not perpetuate stereotypes or freeze Indigenous Peoples and their culture as being part of “history”

9. Understand that many Indigenous students face racism on a daily basis [2]

10. Develop zero tolerance policies on racism

11. Engage the students at a physical, emotional/mental, intellectual and spiritual level by using a variety of teaching methods

12. Create an environment that is safe for Indigenous students – safe enough for them to share if they have been the target of racism in the school or if troubles at home are impacting their studies

13. Create an environment that is safe for Indigenous students to feel comfortable and proud to share information about their culture and history

14. Create an environment where humour and ‘group talk’ is encouraged, respected and accepted

15. Understand that sometimes family or community issues will take precedence over attending school

Since the TRC recommendations were released on June 2, 2015, we have already seen positive steps taken by teachers organizations, school districts and provincial governments.

“Canadian Teachers' Federation is currently working with four national Indigenous organizations in the pursuit of quality education for all. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami are joining with CTF on two educational resource projects.” [3]

In BC, the First Nations Education Steering Committee and the Ministry of Education signed a protocol agreement that included, among other positive actions “one professional development day for teachers next year will be focused on improving Aboriginal student learning." This is the first time Indigenous education will be the sole area of focus for professional development across the province and will help educators incorporate Indigenous content and perspectives into their classrooms.” [4]

There are other examples but these are just two that caught our attention. If education is your area of interest, here’s another article you might find of value “Tips for Teachers of Aboriginal Students

[1] Battiste, M. (2002) Indigenous Knowledge and Pedagogy in First Nations Education A Literature Review with Recommendations, Assembly of First Nations
[2] Aboriginal Perspectives on Teaching and Learning
[3] Canadian Teachers’ Foundation press release
[4] BC Ministry of Education website 

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