top of page

Foundational Characteristics of Indigenous Education

(Cajete, 1994)

  • A sacred view of' Nature permeates its foundational process of teaching and learning.

  • Integration and interconnectedness are universal traits of its contexts and processes.

  • Its elements, activities, and knowledge bases of teaching and learning radiate in concentric rings of process and relationship.

  • Its processes adhere to the principle of mutual reciprocity between humans and all other things.

  • It recognizes and incorporates the principle of cycles within cycles . (there are deeper levels of' meaning to be found in every learning/ teaching process).

  • It presents something for everyone to learn, at every stage of life.

  • It recognizes the levels of maturity and readiness to learn in the developmental processes of both males and females. This recognition is incorporated into the designs and situations in which Indigenous teaching takes place.

  • It recognizes language as a sacred expression of breath and incorporates this orientation in all its foundations.

  • It recognizes that each person and each culture contains the seeds that are essential to their well-being and positive development.

  • Art is a vehicle of utility and expression. It is recognized as an expression of' the soul and a way of' connecting people to their inner sources of life.

  • The ritual complex is both structure and process for teaching key spiritual and cultural principles and values.

  • It recognizes that the true sources of knowledge are found within the individual and the entities of' Nature.

  • It recognizes that true learning occurs through participation and honoring relationships in both the human and natural communities.

  • It honors the ebb and flow of learning as it moves through individuals, community, Nature, and the cosmos.

  • It recognizes that learning requires letting go, growing, and reintegrating at successively higher levels of understanding.

  • Its purpose is to teach away of life that sustains both the individual and the community.

  • It unfolds within an authentic context of community and Nature.

  • It uses story as a way to root a perspective that unfolds through the special use of language.

  • Story, expressed through experience, myth, parables, and various forms of metaphor is an essential vehicle of Indigenous learning.

  • It recognizes the power of' thought and language to create the worlds we live in.

  • It creates maps of' the world that assist us through our life's journey.

  • It resonates and builds learning through the Tribal structures of the home and community.

  • Indigenous thinking adheres to the most subtle, yet deeply rooted, universals and principles of human learning.

  • It integrates human individuality with communal needs..

  • It is founded upon successive stages of learning, i.e., how to see, feel, listen, and act.

  • It honors each person's way of being, doing, and understanding.

  • It recognizes that we learn by watching and doing, reflecting on what we are doing, then doing again.

  • It is always grounded in the natural basics of life.

  • Indigenous thinking recognizes that learning is complete only if it starts from the beginning and follows through.

  • One skill builds on another, but the basics must always be honored.

  • Learning is step by step. It recognizes that learning and teaching require overcoming doubt.

  • It honors the fact that learning requires seeing what is real about a situation, a thing, or an entity.

  • It recognizes that learning is about seeing the whole through the parts.

  • It honors the fact that true learning builds your self-confidence by coming to understand who you really are and living to your full potential.

  • Indigenous thinking honors the reality that there are always two sides to the two'sides.

  • There are realities and realities. Learning how they interact is real understanding.

  • It recognizes that thinking and learning who one is can he accomplished by learning who one is not!

  • We learn through our bodies and spirits as much as through our minds. From the Indigenous perspective; the purpose of training in learning and thinking is to bring forth your personal power; training develops your personal power through focused attention, repetition, and context.

  • Indigenous people recognize that personal power, learning and thinking are expressed through doing. Therefore, learning the doing is an essential process.

  • It recognizes that culture and its reality are invested anew with each generation.

  • Indigenous teaching mirrors thinking back to the learner.

  • Indigenous teaching emphasizes seeing things comprehensively: seeing things through and through.

  • The orientation of Indigenous learning flows from expectation, through exchange and context, to application of experience and vision.

  • How do I develop students' understanding of interconnectedness--through cross-curricular opportunities, through collaborating with other teachers or local partners?

  • How do I 'metacognitively' help students to think about thinking to reflect on reflection?

  • Do I provide opportunities for physical wellness, emotional wellness, and service in my classroom?

  • Do I understand how these elements connect to my students wellbeing on the whole and also in my class?

  • How much do I know about my students?

  • Do my students know that I care about them?

  • Do my actions align with my intentions, meaning do students actually experience what I am trying to convey?

  • Am I kind to students?

  • Do I care about their lives and their families?

  • Since communities are ever evolving, how I can incorporate ways for students to share about themselves and their communities in my classroom?

  • How do I intentionally and authentically learn about people (outside of just reading books)?

  • How do I respect (or incorporate when appropriate) the opportunities for spiritual connectedness in my classroom?

  • How do I use decolonizing language in my practice, in the content that we learn, in how we conceptualize things in my class?

  • Do we talk about the impact of racism--that it exists, how to 'fight' against it, and how to move beyond it (far future)?

  • How do I demonstrate to students that I respect them, care about them?

  • How do I 'give up my authority' while maintaining high expectations?

  • Do I understand the history of colonization, oppression, schooling, and stereotypes and how these impact how students view school and interact in my classroom?

  • Do I use language in my classroom that encourages sociocultural consciousness, affirmative attitudes?

  • Do I believe students come to school with a lot of knowledge (versus, that it is my job to 'fill the empty vessels)?

  • Is the 'stuff' that students come to school with viewed as an asset and not a deficit?

  • Do I understand how my identity and life experiences impact how I approach teaching, how students view my teaching, and how I could change or rely on any of those aspects?

  • Do I provide space either through content or other practices to help students think about their own identities? 

  • How do I both consider any challenges that students come to my classroom with while expecting students to do their best?

  • How can I help them to do their best in my classroom, in school more broadly, and beyond?

  • How do I communicate the purpose of high expectations and how students can hold themselves to doing their best?

  • Do I help students to set goals both in my classroom and beyond?

  • Do I differentiate lessons? Do I intentionally work to build both collective and individual understanding of a lesson/unit/idea?

  • To what extent do I incorporate  family involvement in my classroom? In my assignments? 

  • How are students interacting with community members and solving problems in my classroom that relate to an identified community need?

  • Do I invite people into my classroom explicitly and specifically?

  • How do I incorporate local knowledge?




























Origin/Emergence Understanding 




Empowerment vs. victimization

Authentic Earth-based/Land

Long-term vision

History and Connection


Vigor and Discipline






Current Topics


Knowledge and Native Communities


Practical Wellness



What are some BIG IDEAS of Indigenous education that can be incorporated into your curriculum, pedagogy, and practices as a teacher and school?

Big Ideas

Indigenous Education

What does "responsive" education mean?

A pedagogical perspective oriented towards placing a student's cultural and social identity at the center of an educational process meant to affirm and develop a student's academic achievement, cultural competence, critical consciousness and leadership efficacy.

  • Is my classroom-student centered or do I do most of the talking?

  • Do students look at me for the majority of the class time?

  • How do I build a community in my classroom?

  • Is my classroom an environment where all of my students can succeed?

  • Do I expect students to adapt to my way of teaching versus adapting my teaching to meet their needs?

  • Do my students know that learning happens everywhere? Outside the 4 walls of my class?

  • Do we go outside? 

  • How do I incorporate language in my classroom and intentionally make it less-English dominant?

  • How do I encourage students to use their language?

  • How do I approach non-English languages positively?

  • Do students see themselves and elements of their lives in the visuals that I provide? 

  • Do students see themselves and elements of their lives in the example problems or narratives that are told?

  • Is what my students are learning based on a 'big idea' that goes beyond my classroom?

  • How am I connecting what students are learning to something larger than either my content area or just the confines of the classroom?

Additional Resources
Core Values
Academic Excellence
bottom of page