Occasional Paper Series

Issue 49
Indigenous Pedagogies: Land, Water, and Kinship


by Anna Lees and Megan Bang

Children exploring riverIndigenous communities, across lands and waters, engage in and build complex knowledge systems emergent from particular values and ways of perceiving and being in the world (Cajete, 1994; Deloria & Wildcat, 2001). Indigenous knowledge systems, values, and ways of being are understood and enacted within socio-ecological systems grounded in reciprocal kin relations. Meaning: for Indigenous peoples, teaching, learning, living, and being in relation with human and more-than-human beings is central to our knowledge systems. In Issue #49 of the Bank Street Occasional Paper Series, “Indigenous Pedagogies: Land, Water and Kinship,” we bring together Indigenous educators and researchers to demonstrate how Indigenous teaching and learning takes form across contexts.

Indigenous lifeways have endured since time immemorial and demonstrate how humans and more- than-humans can live reciprocally in healthy, thriving ecosystems. That said, projects of colonization throughout the globe have worked to decimate Indigenous value systems and ways of being and have denied the intellectual legitimacy of Indigenous knowledge systems. This has in part occurred through the reconstruction of land as property (Harris, 1993) and resource for capital gain, and the positioning of humans as superior and entitled to control land, water, and more-than-humans, while denying the personhood and capacities of non-human life forms. These foundational relational construals between humans and the natural world defined by the notion of human supremacy have been named many things over time (e.g., human exceptionalism). They have created the conditions for hierarchical forms of social power throughout history in which Indigenous communities across the globe have been positioned as less-than-human, thus legitimizing or pardoning the violence of colonialism (Bang, 2017). The settler colonial paradigms driven by human supremacy that continue to drive global modernity have devastatingly altered global ecosystems and resulted in changing climates that put the future of not just Indigenous peoples, but all humans, and our more-than-human relatives, in peril.

Settler colonialism has built structures and social systems that required the separation of Indigenous peoples from our homelands and communities and forced new ways of living and being—including individual land allotments, farming, patriarchal social structures, age segregation, and language assimilation. The forced shifts in foundational relations and routine practices of everyday life are consequential for the ways in which Indigenous peoples learn. The separations have disrupted the pedagogical practices and knowledges of Indigenous communities, and impacted the ways in which Indigenous knowledge systems are learned and developed in new generations. Efforts to eliminate Indigenous knowledges as complex intellectual systems have also taken place through compulsory schooling and the onset of boarding (or residential) schools. This continues in the present in a plethora of ways. For example, there is a profound absence of Indigenous peoples, our histories, or our lifeways in pre-K-12 education, which produces a citizenry that has no or minimal knowledge of Native peoples or ethical commitments to our sovereignty, and even our right to exist as peoples (Sabzalian et al., 2021; Shear et al., 2015).

Read the Full Essay (pdf) Full PDF of OPS #49

Guest Editor

Anna Lees (descendant of Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians) began her career as an early childhood classroom teacher in rural northern Michigan. Now, an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Washington University, she partners with schools and communities in teacher preparation. Anna is committed to developing and sustaining reciprocal relationships with Indigenous communities to engage community leaders as co-teacher educators, opening spaces for Indigenous values and ways of knowing and being in early childhood settings and teacher education. She is currently engaged in research around a land education professional development model led by tribal nations and a relationship-based site-embedded professional development model with tribal early learning programs.

Anna Lees

Guest Editor

Megan Bang (Ojibwe and Italian descent) is a professor of the learning sciences and psychology at Northwestern University and recently served as the senior vice president at the Spencer Foundation. Dr. Bang studies dynamics of culture, learning, and development broadly with a specific focus on the complexities of navigating multiple meaning systems in creating and implementing more effective and just learning environments in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics education. She focuses on reasoning and decision-making about complex socio-ecological systems in ways that intersect with culture, power, and historicity. Central to this work are dimensions of identity, equity, and community engagement. She conducts research in both schools and informal settings across the life course. She has taught in and conducted research in teacher education as well as leadership preparation programs. Dr. Bang currently serves on the Board of Science Education at the National Academy of Sciences. She also serves as an executive editor of Cognition and Instruction and is on the editorial boards of several other top tiered journals in the field.

Megan Bang