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Indigenous education

Indigenous education

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Indigenous education refers to the inclusion of indigenous knowledge, models, methods and content within formal and non-formal educational systems. Often in a post-colonial context, the growing recognition and use of indigenous education methods can be a response to the erosion and loss of indigenous knowledge and language through the processes of colonialism. Furthermore, it can enable indigenous communities to “reclaim and revalue their languages and cultures, and in so doing, improve the educational success of indigenous students.”

Increasingly, there has been a global shift toward recognising indigenous models of education (methods and content) as a viable alternative within the scope of many different education systems. The inclusion of indigenous models of education has come to represent a significant factor contributing to the success of those members of indigenous communities who choose to access these systems, both as students/learners and as teachers/instructors.

As an educational method, the inclusion of indigenous ways of knowing, learning, instructing, teaching and training, has been viewed by many critical and postmodern scholars as important for ensuring that students/learners and teachers/instructors (whether indigenous or non-indigenous) are able to benefit from education in a culturally sensitive manner that draws upon, utilizes, promotes and enhances awareness of indigenous traditions.


For indigenous students or learners, and teachers or instructors, the inclusion of these methods often enhances educational effectiveness, success and learning outcomes by providing education that adheres to their own inherent perspectives, experiences and worldview. For non-indigenous students and teachers, education using such methods often has the effect of raising awareness of the individual traditions and collective experience of surrounding indigenous communities and peoples, thereby promoting greater respect for and appreciation of the cultural realities of these communities and peoples.

In terms of educational content, the inclusion of indigenous knowledge, traditions, perspectives, worldviews and conceptions within curricula, instructional materials, textbooks and course books have largely the same effects as the inclusion of indigenous methods in education. Indigenous students and teachers benefit from enhanced academic effectiveness, success and learning outcomes, while non-indigenous students/learners and teachers often have greater awareness, respect, and appreciation for indigenous communities and peoples in consequence of the content that is shared during the course of educational pursuits.


The importance of indigenous knowledge to modern environmental management is particularly pertinent in today’s world. Environmental and land management strategies traditionally used by indigenous peoples have continued relevance. Indigenous cultures usually live in a particular bioregion for many generations and have learned how to live there sustainably. This quality often puts truly indigenous cultures in a unique position in modern times to be aware of and knowledgeable about the interrelationships, needs, benefits and dangers of their bioregion. This is not true of indigenous cultures which have been eroded through processes of colonialism or genocide or indigenous peoples who have been displaced. See also traditional knowledge.

The promotion of indigenous methods of education and the inclusion of traditional knowledge also enables those in western and post-colonial societies, to re-evaluate the inherent hierarchy of knowledge systems. Indigenous knowledge systems were historically denigrated by western educators; however there is a current shift towards the valuing of these traditions. The inclusion of aspects of indigenous education requires us to acknowledge the existence of multiple ‘knowledge’s’ rather than one, standard, benchmark system.

A prime example of how indigenous methods and content can be used to promote the above outcomes is demonstrated within higher education in Canada. Due to certain jurisdictions' focus on enhancing academic success for Aboriginal learners and promoting the values of multiculturalism in society, the inclusion of indigenous methods and content in education is often seen as an important obligation and duty of both governmental and educational authorities.

Many scholars in the field assert that indigenous education and knowledge has a “transformative power,” which can be applied in the fostering of “empowerment and justice,” for indigenous communities. The shift to recognising indigenous models of education as legitimate forms is therefore important in the ongoing effort for indigenous rights, on a global scale.


There are numerous practical challenges surrounding the implementation of indigenous education. Incorporating indigenous knowledge into formal western education models can prove challenging. However the discourse surrounding Indigenous education and knowledge suggests that including indigenous methods in traditional modes of schooling is an “ongoing process of ‘cultural negotiation’, rather than a simple return to, or retrenchment of past practices.”

Associated Organisations

There are many organisations concerned with the promotion of Indigenous methods of education. The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes particular reference to the educational rights of indigenous peoples in Article 14. It emphasises the responsibility of States to adequately provide access to education for indigenous people, particularly children, and when possible for education to take place within their own culture and to be delivered in their own language.

There are also many organisations founded by and actively run by Indigenous peoples. On a global scale, many of these organisations engage in active knowledge transfer in an effort to protect and promote Indigenous knowledge and education modes. One such organisation, the Indigenous Education Institute (IEI) aims to apply Indigenous knowledge and tradition to a contemporary context, with a particular focus on astronomy and other science disciplines. Another such organisation is the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC). Launched during the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE) at Delta Lodge, Kananakis Calgary in Alberta, Canada in August 2002, the founding state/country members were Australia, the states of Hawai’i and Alaska and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium of the United States, Canada, the Wänanga of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Saamiland (North Norway). The stated aims of WINHEC include the provision of an international forum for Indigenous Peoples to pursue common goals through higher education.

See also

  • Alternative education
    Alternative education
    Alternative education, also known as non-traditional education or educational alternative, includes a number of approaches to teaching and learning other than mainstream or traditional education. Educational alternatives are often rooted in various philosophies that are fundamentally different...

  • Bilingual education
    Bilingual education
    Bilingual education involves teaching academic content in two languages, in a native and secondary language with varying amounts of each language used in accordance with the program model.-Bilingual education program models:...

  • Indigenous knowledge
  • Indigenous language
    Indigenous language
    An indigenous language or autochthonous language is a language that is native to a region and spoken by indigenous peoples but has been reduced to the status of a minority language. This language would be from a linguistically distinct community that has been settled in the area for many generations...

  • Indigenous peoples
    Indigenous peoples
    Indigenous peoples are ethnic groups that are defined as indigenous according to one of the various definitions of the term, there is no universally accepted definition but most of which carry connotations of being the "original inhabitants" of a territory....

  • Traditional environmental knowledge
    Traditional environmental knowledge
    Traditional Environmental Knowledge is a particular form of knowledge of the diversity and interactions among plants and animals, landforms, watercourses, and other traits of the biophysical environment in a given place...

  • Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
    Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
    The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 62nd session at UN Headquarters in New York City on 13 September 2007....