6.4: UDL for Indigenous Pedagogies

Indigenous Pedagogies have been used on Turtle Island (North America) to teach and transfer knowledge since time immemorial. A quick summary of the First Peoples Principles of Learning, offered by the First Nations Education Steering Committee in BC, touches on many of the topics identified in the Indigenous pedagogies module.

Given the Universal Design for Learning is about approaches to teaching and learning equitably, the following 9 principles “ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors (First Nations Education Steering Committee, n.d.)”.

  1. Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits and the ancestors.
  2. Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships and a sense of place).
  3. Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions.
  4. Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
  5. Learning recognizes the role of Indigenous knowledge.
  6. Learning is embedded in memory, history and story.
  7. Learning involves patience and time.
  8. Learning requires exploration of one’s identity.
  9. Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations.
Download a PDF copy of these principles from the First Peoples Principles of Learning(opens in a new tab) website.

Wherever possible, these principles should be considered and adapted when helping to create a climate of inclusiveness for all students in a classroom, but in particular, for First Nations, Métis or Inuit students.

Utilizing UDL Principles

The goal of UDL is to support learners to become masterful learners in the way that meets their learning goals and needs. As stated in section 6.1, “Every decision we make, as educators, includes unconscious bias.” UDL implementation helps educators to create space for indigenous pedagogies in their content, while also helping to support the innate needs and self-determination of all learners, with appropriate emphasis on the needs of Indigenous students.

Circling back to case study 2 mentioned in 6.1, there are two perspectives that should be examined. To begin with, the student who is far from home and does not feel a connection with the course or assigned readings may utilize UDL by using action and expression. This student could benefit from using multimedia to seek out various forms of Indigenized course content. For example: Isaac Murdoch, Storyteller on YouTube.

The faculty member who is experiencing discomfort about their own qualifications to teach Indigenous elements could use UDL engagement to begin building competency with Indigenous knowledges. By using engagement with Indigenous knowledge holders, faculty will have practiced representation, action, and expression guidelines but with a focus on Indigenous knowledges and community which in turn will help the Indigenous student experience learner success.

The professor can increase their own awareness of other supports that do not operate at the institutional level by seeking out post-secondary institutions (the local college may have resources and support) for advice or reaching out to other organizations. Organizations such as Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC)Opens in a new tab. offer great programming, resources and support with the general public who feel the same way as the professor. Educators can get started by observing what other post-secondary institutes including colleges are doing as well as boards of education (they usually have an Indigenous consultant for Indigenous curriculum and pedagogies).

OFIFC would be able to provide support to the professor by possibly offering programming in order for the professor to feel comfortable and confident to introduce Indigenous elements to the course. For example: writing a respectful land acknowledgement would consist of learning about the land that the institution is situated on and how that history came to be.

OFIFC would also be able to help the professor seek out and invite an Indigenous knowledge holder to guest teach. For example: teachings about the medicine wheel would require an Indigenous knowledge holder because those teachings are so vast, broad and each First Nation would have a different version of the teachings according to geographical location.

Building reciprocal relationships with organizations such as Indigenous student centres, Friendship centres, other post secondary institutes (colleges) and Indigenous communities will provide what the professor needs so that when this scenario happens again, they will be prepared with authentic resources and support.

Other common Indigenous education related challenges related to resources that the professor should be aware of include: access to transportation, access to affordable texts, access to reliable technology and access to safe spaces.

Colonialism and the Indian Act have created systemic barriers that continually ignore Indigenous knowledge and voices. To combat systemic barriers, professors can implement UDL Guidelines to provide options to learners to reduce barriers and support a more holistic learning environment. For example, assessment submission options that allow for storytelling, deliberate opportunities for reflection throughout content, consistent space to engage previous personal and generational knowledge. Educators can also hold their institutions accountable by actively engaging the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to ActionOpens in a new tab. and becoming an ally of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous knowledge.

A Word of Advice:
The professor should never ask an Indigenous student to do this work. It is not the student’s responsibility to educate the professor!

Activity4: Brainstorming

Universal design is about learning that supports the learner equally. Brainstorm all of the different ways UDL can support the 9 learning principles specific to First Peoples offered at the beginning of this section.

For example, if Indigenous students cannot see themselves reflected back in the course or content whether it’s through the course content or in their educational institutions, their ability to learn and experience success equally is affected. Indigenous principles on Indigenous education address this in principle 2, “learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).”

You are invited to brainstorm in the way that works best for you, which may include writing, drawing, creating an audio or video file, mind map or any other method that will allow you to reflect and refer back to your thoughts.

Alternatively, a text-based note-taking space is provided below. Any notes you take here remain entirely confidential and visible only to you. Use this space as you wish to keep track of your thoughts, learning, and activity responses. Download a text copy of your notes before moving on to the next page of the module to ensure you don’t lose any of your work!


First Nations Education Steering Committee. (n.d.). First peoples principles of learning. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from http://www.fnesc.ca/first-peoples-principles-of-learning/(opens in a new tab)


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