Bank Street Releases Occasional Paper Series #49

The new Bank Street Occasional Paper Series #49—“Indigenous Pedagogies: Land, Water, and Kinship”—launched today to explore how educators can integrate Indigenous pedagogies into curriculum, offering children opportunities to engage with the “more-than-human” world in meaningful ways while exploring their unique roles, responsibilities, and gifts within and across communities.

In the Q&A below, guest editors Anna Lees, associate professor of early childhood education at Western Washington University, and Megan Bang, professor of learning sciences and psychology at Northwestern University, offer a close look at Indigenous pedagogies and demonstrate how these approaches can promote connectedness and enrich learning for children, as well as what this looks like across different contexts.

Q: How can Indigenous pedagogies grounded in land, water, and kinship support children’s understanding, appreciation of, and respect for the world around them?

A: In short, Indigenous pedagogies are about kinship. Beginning with strong relationships offers a foundation for children to develop their understandings of the roles and responsibilities they hold within their communities. They also come to understand the gifts that other humans and more-than-humans offer and the gifts they can receive in return. We believe that an emphasis on relationality in this way, with humans and more-than-humans, is transformational in educational settings that, for the past few hundred years, have promoted Western paradigms of individuality and human centrism that have not made space for fostering children’s developing relationships and understandings of land, water, and kin. If these relationships are seen as valued in children’s education and cultivated through Indigenous pedagogies, our collective understanding, appreciation, and respect for the human and more-than-human world around us will take form in ways that lead forward toward livable futures for all of us. Learning to think and act for collective wellbeing should be the fundamental purpose of education—and, in our opinion, is what Indigenous pedagogies aim for.

Q: Generally speaking, what is the extent to which Indigenous pedagogies are seen in current schools and school systems? Is there a widespread recognition that these studies should be further integrated into classroom instruction?

A: We do not see Indigenous pedagogies as common practice in most public schools and school systems, or publicly funded early learning programs. But they should be. These current conditions are grounded in historical projects of colonization, with particular efforts of epistemicide and prohibitive policies in school-based education. To be clear, we are not claiming to put forth new pedagogies or practices through this work but to highlight how communities have always engaged models of Indigenous education through pedagogical engagements and continue to do so. Our hope for this issue is to encourage continued conversation and collaboration between educators interested in deepening their understandings and working toward appropriate enactments of Indigenous pedagogies in their classrooms. This issue should only be the beginning of examples offered around how Indigenous pedagogies take form and are understood across a diversity of learning environments. We look forward to learning more as others continue to share.

Q: How can educators design curriculum that encourages students to connect to the more-than-human world? What are the challenges that may come along with that?

A: In some ways, this is simple—design curriculum on and with lands, waters, and human communities. We also recognize a multitude of challenges in current school systems that must be overcome to engage Indigenous pedagogies with and on lands and waters. Overall, outdoor time in schools has been viewed as recreational in nature, with intentional teaching and learning being relegated to the indoors. Nearly all instructional time in school settings occurs inside of building-based classrooms and, in many cases, through regulated and heavily scripted curriculum. Additionally, in early learning, there are often licensing guidelines that explicitly limit the types of outdoor spaces that allow children to be present. And, these permitted outdoor spaces are often heavily designed apart from the surrounding ecosystem with fencing, roof coverings, and turf, which and separates them from the natural world. Additional challenges arise through assessment, class size and structure, work load, educator and leadership preparation, and more. Again, we hope that opening conversations and collaboration around Indigenous pedagogies strengthens the communities of educators sharing these efforts and offers more space to support others interested in broadening this work.

Q: How can Indigenous pedagogies prepare young people for a changing climate and other social and ecological challenges that the world faces and will continue to face on a larger scale?

A: For us, this returns to the need for cultivating children’s ethical relationships with human and more-than-human relatives. By building ethical relationships, children come to understand collective responsibility and how their own roles and gifts alongside others contribute to collective wellbeing. When these forms of ethical responsibility and commitment to collective wellbeing are learned on and with lands, waters, and kin, children also build their understandings of complex socio ecological systems across time and come to see how consequential patterns have occurred in the world and continue to unfold. When the focus and values that shape teaching and learning shift, children can also come to see that other decisions about how to live well with those around you—to live with reciprocity and respect —is necessary and possible. We also find it important to emphasize the significance of intergenerationality in considering how Indigenous pedagogies engage children with changing climates. Age segregation has been a technology of colonialism and does not help communities to build on the knowledge of past generations to wisely navigate the present and future. Children do better with families and communities—learning should engage them.

Finally, we caution pedagogical framings of earth as a dying planet without hope for livable futures. This narrative is not healthy for young people and has had particular impact on adolescent mental health. Situating our current realities across timescales and with the guidance of elders and teaching from ancestors offers a greater foundation of knowledges, experiences, and perspectives to determine a path forward while thriving in the everyday. We must continue to work to cultivate a deep sense of awe, wonder, and respect for the world while meeting the adaptation and mitigation demands of a changing climate.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from this issue?

A: We hope readers will leave this issue with excitement, interest, and optimism toward continuing the work of engaging Indigenous pedagogies in politically and ethically responsible ways. We also hope the issue offers some clear examples of the different ways Indigenous pedagogies are enacted across educational settings. Further, we think making visible for others how Indigenous pedagogies are already in process in their own settings and can continue to be developed helps build the field’s capacity to approach this work in their own context. Attending to the specific places and geographies that educators work in is central to Indigenous pedagogies. While principles can and should guide educators, ultimately there will need to be engagement with specific lands, waters, and peoples. We hope that readers can see themselves in this work and make sense of their positionality and responsibility in furthering understandings and enactments of Indigenous pedagogies wherever they are situated.

Read the full issue of Occasional Paper Series #49