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Ethical Space of Engagement in Curriculum Development Processes:

Indigenous Guiding Principles for Curriculum Development Projects

Created by Dr. Gabrielle Lindstrom, PhD, Educational Development Consultant in Indigenous ways of knowing, January 2022

Oki. Niisto nitanikkoo Tsapinaki, nimok’tooto Kainaiawa. Greetings, I am Gabrielle Lindstrom, a member of the Kainai First Nation. After reflecting on the needs of UCalgary faculty, the following principles have been developed in close consultation with the Office of Indigenous Engagement, the Circle of Advisors, Taylor Institute Indigenous Strategy Working Group and have been taken to the General Faculties Council, Teaching and Learning for feedback. Guided by Indigenous Elders, the principles represent a shared vision based in the spirit of collaboration and shared space, and a desire to ensure Indigenous knowledges are protected and validated.

This resource is guided by ii’ taa’poh’to’p, University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy and outlines core values that should be considered when undertaking curriculum development projects in the context of programs or individual courses that involve Indigenous ways of knowing, being, connecting and doing. The ii’ taa’poh’to’p, Indigenous Strategy offers a cultural framework for conceptualizing and understanding these principles which are encompassed through concepts of shared space/ethical space, transformation, renewal, and ways of doing (policy and practices), knowing (teaching and learning), connecting (relationships and community), and being (identity and inclusivity). The ethical space is understood in the ii’ taa’poh’to’p, Indigenous Strategy as a conceptual space intended for respectful and critical dialogue and making the implicit explicit. Ongoing dialogue about Indigenous knowledges, curriculum processes and assumptions will provoke thoughtful reflection which will enable the UCalgary academic community to work on developing transformative, parallel processes so Indigenous faculty, staff and community can see themselves reflected in curriculum, both in the process of developing the content and in the content itself.

This resource is meant as a starting point for critical reflection, ethical relationship building, informed and respectful decision-making and ensures that Indigenous knowledges are protected. The principles advance the notion that curriculum development from an Indigenous perspective is not a standardized, one-size fits all endeavor that can be carried out according to a course or program design template or framework. Each principle is followed by points for further critical reflection, including a series of reflective questions, as well as suggestions for how these principles could be put into action. The questions are suggested entry points to incite deeper thinking and the practical examples highlight how departments and programs might mobilize the concepts in curriculum planning. However, you may have more specific questions and/or different pragmatics based on program and disciplinary contexts.

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    Transformation and renewal, ways of being: Understand and identify how your personal values and beliefs influence curriculum

    • Curriculum development is not neutral but is shaped by curriculum developers’ biases and assumptions.

    Indigenous epistemology is a relational one and as lifelong learners, our most enduring relationship is the one we cultivate with ourselves. Indigenous knowledge keepers emphasize that knowing self, knowing identity is fundamental to being in good relations to others and everything around us. Critical self-reflection on how knowledge and identity are deeply interconnected is an entry-point for transformational learning in curriculum design processes. The ii’ taa’poh’to’p concepts of transformation, renewal and ways of being are relevant because they provide a conceptual and conscious entry point for reflecting on change and growth as a natural part of learning and coming into new ways of developing knowledge. Ways of being denote how our identity is inextricably woven into our understanding of knowledge. Reflecting on our identity and the values and beliefs that shape who we are illuminates deeply held biases and assumptions that require shifts in order to undertake the journey of transformation.

    • Where does your knowledge, either personal or disciplinary, come from? How do you know what you know?
    • What is the purpose of knowledge and what is important to know, to learn or to forget?
    • How do your values and beliefs shape your understandings about knowledge? How do you make these values explicit through your philosophy (teaching, professional, discipline, etc.)?
    • What assumptions do you have about yourself that may be different from the assumptions you have about Indigenous people, culture, way of knowing?

    Scenario: Wanting to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into curriculum with limited knowledge of Indigenous culture.

    Individual/independent reflection: Start by critically reflecting on your positionality. One way to this intentionally is to start a reflective journal or jot down on paper your values and beliefs about the role of culture in shaping your identity. This is about understanding your story: who are you? Where do you come from?

    • Assess current knowledge and the role of culture in shaping your knowledge
    • Gather information resources that would help you to better respond the critical reflective questions above
    • Evaluate information and conduct self-analysis to assist in identifying gaps in knowledge, enduring biases and assumptions.
    • Begin to brainstorm resources and pathways to assist in addressing knowledge gaps, reframing current knowledge and developing opportunities for transforming your perspective.

    Shared space/ethical space, Ways of Connecting: Cultivate relational accountability in curriculum development approaches

    • Involving Indigenous community members, Elders, faculty and leaders as needed – (ongoing consultation with Indigenous stakeholders to determine level of involvement).
    • Develop knowledge of local and regional First Nations and other Indigenous groups whose language, traditions and cultural practices emerge from the land.
    • The knowledges come from the collective and are passed down in the oral tradition, therefore we must acknowledge the Nation whose knowledge it comes from. For example, do we have permission to share Blackfoot Star stories.

    Indigenous epistemology is grounded in local contexts. Indigenous knowledge is local knowledge and generated through multiple embodied experiences with the land and Indigenous people. Indigenous curriculum development modalities do not occur in isolation from community, land and knowledge-keepers. Shared space and ways of connecting as highlighted in the ii’ taa’poh’to’p emphasize the importance of relationship-building, community engagement, and ethical spaces for dialogue. Relational accountability means being responsible to the Indigenous nations, communities and individuals from which curricular concepts and knowledges may be derived from. Being aware and understanding that shared space also encompasses broader inter-nation Indigenous relational contexts and perspectives that continue to impact academic spaces. Relational accountability occurs through connection, engagement, learning and dialogue. Direct experience in-relationship to land, people, knowledges, histories, and languages informs curriculum. Critical self-reflection on the principle of relational accountability can assist in identifying both possibilities for expanding relational networks and gaps in knowledge that require attention.

    • Who are you relationally accountable to?
    • What is your comfort level in expanding your knowledge network?
    • How will you know when your curriculum development circle needs to be large or small?
    • What do you know about Indigenous people and how did you learn it?
    • Do you feel confident in your knowledge of the regional First Nations and other Indigenous groups? Why or why not and how might you learn more?

    Scenario: Development of new certificate requires a component on Indigenous knowledges but curriculum/program developers and/or program leads lack Indigenous community connections.

    Expanding understandings of relationships: As a curriculum project team, start by brainstorming the questions above. Ask a team member to keep track of responses. Your team may have other relevant questions that emerge as you work through the reflective questions. Engage in group dialogue about what it means to be relationally accountable – are there differences to between Indigenous notions of relationality and mainstream Western perspectives?

    • Assess group responses and look for patterns that may highlight epistemic disconnects, barriers to intercultural understandings or opportunities for expanding relationships with Indigenous peoples in ways that would enhance curricular constructs and group/team dynamics.
    • Identify and access academic and community educational resources that would enable collective knowledge capacity building around Indigenous peoples, perspectives and culture (i.e., online MOOCS, campus events through the Office of Indigenous Engagement, community webinars, Elder teachings, educational and cultural learning resources through the local Aboriginal Friendship Centres, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website).
    • Develop an academic and community contact list of individuals who your team can begin building relationships with. UCalgary’s Office of Indigenous Engagement is an excellent place to start!
    • Ensure that your group takes an active role to independently locate educational resources that are accessed from reputable and authentic Indigenous community sources. If your group is unsure, identify on-campus supports that would help you assess quality of resources.
    • Evaluate information gathered and reach out to appropriate contacts who may offer guidance and support as your team works through this curriculum phase.

    Ways of Knowing, Doing and Connecting: Practicing reciprocity

    • The curriculum project should offer identifiable benefits to the Indigenous community.
    • Indigenous nations have experienced a collective loss both from a resource perspective as well as an epistemological standpoint. Curriculum development should build up relational networks and contribute back to Indigenous communities to ensure it does not become an extractive process.

    The ii’ taa’poh’to’p Indigenous Strategy demonstrates how Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and connecting in the context of teaching, learning and curriculum development are supported through community engagement and reciprocal knowledge exchanges. Specific Indigenous protocols ensure that reciprocity is upheld. In the context of teaching and learning, knowledge is a sacred gift, and one is responsible for reciprocating this gift in appropriate ways that are dependent on the context. Given that we are always learning, possibilities for reciprocity are part of life. Critical self-reflection on the principle of reciprocity allows us to broaden our sense of responsibility and reframe our relationship to knowledge.

    • From your perspective, what does it mean to practise reciprocity and in what contexts?
    • From your faculty, discipline, unit perspective, what are the opportunities for practising reciprocity?
    • How does the curriculum project benefit Indigenous communities, the land, Indigenous languages, etc.?
    • How are Indigenous perspectives being used within the curriculum project?
    • What has been offered in return for the knowledge, either conceptually or physically (through tobacco, etc.)?

    Scenario: A curriculum project involved consultation and input from several Indigenous peoples including Elders, Indigenous scholars and community members.

    Giving back to community: Group and individual reflection on the principle of reciprocity is a key component in achieving the vision of transforming practices as outlined in the ii’ taa’poh’to’p Indigenous Strategy. Embodying this principle begins with reflection and dialogue using the questions above as starting points. Your team may have other relevant questions that emerge as you work through the reflective questions. Engage in collaborative group dialogue around what it means to be reciprocal in terms of knowledge sharing – what are the protocols attached to knowledge sharing in Indigenous communities?

    • Assess group responses and identify opportunities for reciprocating to those involved in your curriculum project.
    • Ensure cultural protocols are followed ( Have you offered Elders tobacco (or other culturally appropriate protocol item) and an honorarium for sharing their knowledge?
    • Can you offer to do a presentation for an Indigenous colleague around a topic related to your curriculum project?
    • Would inviting Indigenous community members to an event or on-campus feast be a feasible option for giving back to the community?
    • Can you develop a community-engaged learning component as part of your curriculum project to ensure opportunities for reciprocity?
    • What other resources (both conceptual and practical) that are unique to your program/discipline are you able to share with Indigenous contributors to embody the principle of reciprocity?

    Shared space, renewal, Ways of Knowing, Being and Doing: Validating the curriculum through a parallel process that recognizes the knowledge, authority and expertise of Indigenous peoples as self-determining entities in the curriculum development process.

    Indigenous epistemology provides a framework for balance in relationships, perspectives, and power. Indigenous knowledge is validated through processes of transparency and community engagement. Different kinds of knowledges require different validation processes. Some processes related to sacred knowledge transfers may never be appropriate for academic contexts but regardless of the context, developing a parallel validation process will be necessary. The ii’ taa’poh’to’p Indigenous Strategy offers conceptual reference points that can help to redress past harms by avoiding future ones. The concept of shared space underscores the need for parallel validation processes by centering community dialogue and shared interests. Renewal helps us to envision processes for accountability and renewing commitments to transformation. Ways of knowing, being and doing bring the validation process full circle to connect back to teaching, learning and research, developing personal and professional identity, and to appropriate cultural protocols and institutional policies. Too often Indigenous knowledge has been exploited, appropriated, used out of context and without the permission of Indigenous peoples which has been part of Indigenous peoples’ experiences with colonial violence and subjugation. Critically reflecting on how the principle of validation can form the basis for acknowledging these experiences with colonial violence is deeply interconnected to accountability and reciprocity. Validation processes help us to see how extractive and exploitive approaches shape Indigenous peoples’ relationship to Western knowledge and offer an opportunity for redressing epistemic aspects of colonial violence and restoring balance in relationships.

    • What are the processes for validating your own knowledge, for validating disciplinary knowledge?
    • How is knowledge validated via a Western paradigm?
    • How do you envision validation processes for Indigenous-centered curriculum projects?
    1. Scenario 1

      Your curriculum team has just reached a major milestone for a program redesign/curriculum project. Part of the process involved engaging with Elders and incorporating concepts derived from Indigenous knowledges as shared by the Elders.

      Checking back with the community: Each curriculum project milestone should involve checking back with Indigenous contributors. The questions above will help individuals and groups to understand the principle of validation which also ensures the integrity of Indigenous knowledges is kept intact and protected by appropriation and misrepresentation.

      • Start by brainstorming the ways that knowledge is validated in the Western system – this can be done individually or as a collective.
      • How do you know that you’ve incorporated and represented Indigenous knowledges accurately and respectfully?
      • Reach out to the Elders who you consulted with and invite them to a presentation or have an informal conversation.
      • Clearly explain how you or your team incorporated Indigenous knowledges and respectfully ask for feedback. Keep in mind Elders feedback may not be the type we are typically used to in peer review process. The feedback may be more indirect, or they may simply nod their approval.
      • Incorporate any feedback or suggestions Elders have.
    2. Scenario 2

      Your curriculum project involves incorporating Indigenous knowledges gathered from web-based, peer-reviewed literature and print sources.

      Checking back with the community: Assessing the quality of Indigenous print and web-based sources and ensuring that these knowledges are represented accurately and respectfully should be considered standard practices in curriculum development.

      • Validating curriculum in this particular scenario enables your team to leverage current relationships with Indigenous peoples or utilize some of the previous steps to build new relationships.
      • Your team could consider creating a feedback loop to ensure Indigenous community and academic collectives are kept up to date on the progress of curriculum projects. Sometimes this may be as simple as sending an email or making a phone call but other times it may require invitation to a meeting. Either way, feedback loops demonstrate a commitment to validation and transforming relationships throughout the curriculum development process.
      • As with scenario 1, explain how you or your team incorporated Indigenous knowledges and respectfully ask for any feedback.


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