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  Sihtoskâtowin ᓯᐦᑐᐢᑲᑐᐃᐧᐣ Circle –  The First Peoples Principles of Learning

The First Peoples Principles of Learning were put together by Indigenous Elders, scholars and knowledge keepers to guide the development of the curriculum and teaching of the English First Peoples course created by the BC Ministry of Education and First Nations Education Steering Committee in 2006/2007. They represent an attempt to identify common elements in the varied teaching and learning approaches that prevail within particular First Nations societies. It must be recognized that they do not capture the full reality of the approach used in any single First Peoples’ society.

The Principles are as follows:

  • Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.

Learning occurs in the context of lived experiences. It involves the well-being of self and others. Some people may see this balance in the Medicine Wheel approach to wellness (spiritual, mental, emotional, physical). One way to view this is the principle of Wahkohtowin. This is the Cree Law governing all relationships which means kinship, and it is founded on the idea that everything is related, we are all relations (the people, the land, the animals, the earth, the skies). It is in daily practice that we honor our ancestors for the path they created for us by acknowledging them in the things we do, and knowing what we do now affects our children and grandchildren.

Things to consider:

Facilitators should have an understanding of Indigenous worldviews by participating in professional development opportunities in person and online. This could also be created by building relationships with the Indigenous community, Elders and Knowledge Keepers. There are many online module-based learnings to expand knowledge and understanding. In addition,  learning materials need to be relevant to the learner. How does the material connect to the learner’s lived experiences?  How is the material presented? Is it representative of an Indigenous perspective? How does the learning environment take into consideration the overall well being of the learner? Are there opportunities to connect to resources in the community if needed? Are there opportunities to bring in Elders and Knowledge Keepers? 

  • Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).

Learning is experiential, learning is circular (see CBE PDF), understanding and meaning are created through relationships between learners and facilitators. Sources of knowledge include the land, people, and experiences, time and place shape learning. 

Things to consider:

Does the material connect to local experiences? Can it? Are facilitators willing to learn alongside learners? Are Indigenous and non-Indigenous people both learning in process together? Within an educational setting, this may mean staff to student; student to student, faculty to staff; each of these relationships honors the knowledge and gifts that each person brings to the classroom. Does the program use circle discussions? Are there opportunities for learners to be mentors in the learning environment? Can you use local resources? 

  • Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one‘s actions.

One’s actions have an impact on others and we need to take responsibility for our actions. The energy (positive/negative) that you put out to the world will come back to you. We have an impact on our environment, community, and social circles based on our attitudes and behaviors.

Things to consider:

Are the expectations of the learning environment understood?Are expectations reasonable and flexible? Are there opportunities for extra support or resources to achieve expectations? Is there autonomy in the learning environment? Does the learning environment nurture positive relationships?

  • Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.

Family members and community members have roles and responsibilities within the family.  Teaching and learning is the responsibility of all, Elders and Knowledge Keepers play a significant role in learning and access to them is important.

Things to consider:

How are learners using knowledge in their everyday lives? Are there opportunities to share how they do this? Are there opportunities to have Elders and Knowledge Keepers in the learning environment? Does the program have some flexibility around family responsibilities and needs? Are there supports or resources available to assist?

  • Learning recognizes the role of Indigenous knowledge.

Knowledge is acquired from experience, the land, the animals, the plants, the ancestors, and the spirits. Knowledge is not static and changes over time. Indigenous knowledge systems have been around for thousands of years and are sophisticated. There is not only one way to see the world, does the material/discussion reflect and respect this?

Things to consider:

Is there an opportunity to bring Indigenous perspectives in the learning environment? Do the materials validate and bring Indigenous knowledge systems into a contemporary context? Is there an opportunity to share the current lived Indigneous experience  in the learning environment? Is there an opportunity for inclusion of Indigenous content? Does the learning environment provide a respectful place for Indigneous voices?

  • Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.

Oral traditions are used to transmit stories, values, skills, and histories.Gaining wisdom is a process through listening, observation, and asking questions. 

Things to consider:

Is the learning environment inclusive of different ways of learning? Are oral processes available for assessment, progress and evaluation? Are there opportunities to bring in Elders and Knowledge Keepers to enhance learning through stories and teachings? 

  • Learning involves patience and time.

Learning is not to be rushed, learning is a lifelong process.

Things to consider:

Does the learning environment allow for the opportunity to “circle back” to previous material/concepts? Is the pace appropriate? Is the schedule of learning flexible? Are there other opportunities to continue learning whether that be in your agency or another? 

  • Learning requires exploration of one‘s identity.

Language, history, community, ancestors, culture, ceremony are all part of one’s  identity. It is important to remember that there may be learners from many different nations that attend your program, and some that do not belong to a nation or settlement. Some may or may not be on a personal journey to reconnect to their Indigneous identity. Do not assume that all Indigneous learners smudge, attend ceremony, or have access to any of the above.  Learner’s experiences form a basis for identity and learning. Identity is relational to family, kinship, community and land. Identity is also physical, emotional, spiritual and mental.

Things to consider:

Do you know the learner? Their nation? Their family? Does the material recognize that racism in the larger society affects learner identity (job interviews, historical educational experiences, when accessing services such as housing, healthcare, funding)? If the learner expresses interest in learning more about their own identity, do you know if they have access to this? Is there an Elder or Knowledge Keeper that is connected to your program/agency that could assist the learner? Does the learning environment offer a place for learners to smudge? 

  • Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations.

Sacred knowledge is connected to particular members of the community and particular practices. It is embedded in story, ceremony, teachings, and some knowledge is not shared freely.

Things to consider:

Does the learning environment provide opportunities to share with learners knowledge from Elders and Knowledge Keepers? Does the Indigenous learner feel pressured to share knowledge with others in the learning environment?  Does the learning environment allow for relationship building with Indigenous communities and members? Are the resources used in the learning environment credible (such as books, articles, movies, etc)? Is the learning about Indigenous knowledge being shared by Indigenous people (Elders/Knowledge Keepers/Indigenous community members)? Is there an understanding of protocol to be followed when requesting sharing from Elders/Knowledge Keepers?

The links below will take you to the printable version of the First Peoples Principles of Learning as well as examples of use within a classroom setting. I have provided the  Indigenous Education Holistic Lifelong Learning Framework as an example of collaboration and putting together a framework to benefit learners. These examples are not adult specific but allow for readers to see how they can work in learner settings.


First Peoples Principles of Learning 

ANED/ GVSD How it looks in the classroom

CBE Holistic Learning Framework



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