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date: 08 March 2021

Indigenous Teacher Education in Canada and Aotearoa New Zealandfree

  • Celia Haig-BrownCelia Haig-BrownYork University
  •  and Te Kawehau HoskinsTe Kawehau HoskinsThe University of Auckland


Indigenous teacher education has proven to be a powerful influence in the resurgence of Indigenous cultures and languages globally. In Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand, while there are numerous distinctions between the countries in size, linguistic and cultural diversity, and the histories of Indigenous peoples and colonization, an Indigenous commitment to schooling has shaped long-term and recent aspirations in both contexts.

Within Canada, the proliferation of Indigenous teacher education programs is a direct result of a 1972 landmark national policy document Indian Control of Indian Education. This document written by Indigenous leaders in response to the Canadian government was the culmination of a decades-long, relentless commitment to creating the best possible schooling systems for Indigenous students within the provinces and territories. In 2015, despite some significant gains, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada completed its work articulating Calls to Action that reinforce the original recommendations, particularly the focus on Indigenous control of education. In the Aotearoa New Zealand context, the establishment of Māori language schooling pathways and Māori medium teacher education programs has been made possible by activism focused on the recognition of Indigenous-Māori rights to language and culture guaranteed by the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. Forms of constitutional recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi mean that New Zealand endorses a social policy of biculturalism.

From the 1970s and 1980s, responses to exclusionary and racist colonial policies and practices have led to the creation of teacher education programs in both Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand transforming universities and schools and establishing spaces of Indigenous authority, activism and expertise. While the pace of change varies radically from place to place and from institution to institution, and the specific contexts of the two countries differ in important ways, the innumerable Indigenous graduates of the programs make ongoing contributions to Indigenizing, decolonizing, and educating Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike. The growth and strengthening of an Indigenous education sector have led to significant policy and curriculum reforms across the education systems and to ongoing engagement in critique, advocacy, research, and practice. Throughout their development, Indigenous leadership and control of the programs remain the immediate and long-range goals.

Starting with Terminology

A comment on terminology used in this entry is a necessary starting point. The text includes a number of terms referring to Indigenous peoples: First there is the term “Indigenous” itself. In the second decade of the 21st century, this English term is applied globally to indicate peoples who are the original inhabitants of a given territory and who see themselves living in special relationship with that land. Most often their origin stories tie them to that place through a journey or creation narrative. Indigenous peoples exist within and across the boundaries of almost every nation-state throughout the world. In some places, they are recognized; in others, they still fight to be acknowledged at all. While there are Indigenous teacher education programs in many of these nations from China to Argentina, this article will focus specifically on Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand. Alternating between the two contexts allows the reader to fully appreciate their significant differences even as responses to colonization and racist attitudes (focused primarily on Indigenous control) resonate across the oceans between them. The specific names of Indigenous nations, including Māori, along with the words “Indian,” “Native”—with and without a capital N—Native American, Aboriginal, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit have been used at various times. It is most important to recognize that the terminology is context related, politically charged, and frequently used strategically. Sometimes it is based in ignorance; sometimes it is a reclamation. It can erase, and it can inform difference, histories, cultures, and identities. It is rarely static.

“Indian” is a misnomer applied to incredibly diverse nations of people living in the Americas when they discovered the first Europeans landing on their shores. These same Europeans subsequently applied various translations of the homogenizing moniker to the people who became their guides to survival in an unknown land. “Native American” has come to be an accepted term used to designate the diverse Indigenous nations and peoples within the United States of America. In recognition of the shortcomings of the term “Indian,” “native,” sometimes capitalized, replaced it in common parlance in Canada for a time. Indicating people born in a particular place, “native” soon became confusing because by this time there were several generations of immigrant families born and living in Canada. And again, the problem of homogenizing and therefore erasing difference across Indigenous nations was inherent in the term’s all-encompassing capacity. “First Nations” came into favor as it was seen to indicate primacy of place, as in the first peoples of the land, and it also gestured to a multiplicity of nations living with in Canada’s borders. With the renaming of the National Indian Brotherhood to the Assembly of First Nations, its came to focus specifically on federally recognized Indigenous nations. In the 1980s, with the patriation of the Canadian Constitution, the term “Aboriginal” took on meaning. Within the Constitution, it encompasses three distinct groups: the Indian, Inuit, and Métis peoples. “Indian” persists as the term used in existing federal legislation, the Indian Act, a body of laws pertaining to the people so defined. “Inuit,” a word meaning “the people,” encompasses those living historically and continuously in the circumpolar North. And “Métis,” also a debated term, refers to mixed ancestry peoples who identify as being Métis with traceable ties to intermarriages between Indigenous women and non-Indigenous men during the fur trade and the early history of settlement, particularly in what has come to be called the province of Manitoba. Increasingly, Indigenous peoples are identifying with their specific nations such as Mi’kmaq, Haudenosaunee, Secwepemc, and Cree with refinements to the terms bringing them ever closer to their original form prior to Anglicization.

Māori, meaning “local” and “normal,” is the term used in Aotearoa New Zealand to refer to the Indigenous population as a whole. Though a homogenizing term, “Māori” is also a unifying identity with significant social, cultural, and political utility. It is evoked contextually and interchangeably with iwi (tribal), hapū (sub-tribal), and whānau (extended family) identities. Though iwi and hapū identities have remained important to Māori, the treaty settlement processes occurring between the Crown and tribes are serving in different ways to redraw and reinvigorate tribal structures and identities. Although dialectical distinctions exist within Aotearoa New Zealand, the Māori language, te reo Māori, serves to further unify the people. There is no finality in the terms for groups of people or even the individuals within a specific group. Context and circumstances matter, and language and group designations shift over time. Most important is to respect the names that people have for themselves, and never assume that one name fits all circumstances or that a name that is acceptable in one moment or context will necessarily be appropriate in the next.

Indigenous Teacher Education in Canada


In December 1972, the General Assembly of the National Indian Brotherhood (renamed the Assembly of First Nations in the early 1980s) presented to the Government of Canada a landmark document entitled Indian Control of Indian Education (hereafter Indian Control). This title and its embedded directive are both prescient and persistent as Indigenous control remains the focus of so much reform in education as the 21st century unfolds. Introduced as “a statement of philosophy, goals, principles and directions” (National Indian Brotherhood, 1973, p. iii), it sought to establish strong foundations for school programs for Indian children. A major tenet of the document called for local control of education emphasizing parental responsibility for all aspects of education-related programming and policies. Focused on the children, the authors wrote the following:

Our aim is to make education relevant to the philosophy and needs of the Indian people. We want education to give our children a strong sense of identity, with confidence in their personal worth and ability. We believe in education:


as a preparation for total living,


as a means of free choice of where to live and work,


as a means of enabling us to participate fully in our own social, economic, political and educational advancement.

(National Indian Brotherhood, 1973, p. 3)

The document made clear the need for “a radical change in Indian education” (National Indian Brotherhood, 1973, p. 3). It also makes clear the goals that remain relevant in the early decades of the 21st century.

The authors recognized that if this radical change and relevant education were ever to be realized, teachers needed some knowledge of the philosophies and ways of Indigenous peoples and their children. Only with experience and/or education can such knowledge be respectfully engaged in classrooms. Consequently, an entire section of the document is devoted to training programs for teachers. “The need for native teachers and counsellors is critical and urgent; the need for specially trained non-Indian teachers and counsellors is also very great” (National Indian Brotherhood, 1973, p. 18). The authors acknowledge the need for flexibility and experimentation in the creation of training programs for prospective students who have ability but who may lack formal education arising from the culturally hostile systems many encountered. The authors’ call for enhanced training of non-Indigenous teachers and counselors is a recognition that many are “simply not prepared to understand or cope with cultural differences” (National Indian Brotherhood, 1973, p. 19). If sound relationships are to be established, a reciprocal commitment to learning from each other is essential. The initiative in preparing this document on the part of First Nations across Canada marked the beginning of the development of a multitude of Indigenous teacher education programs over the following years. In 1973, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development officially recognized the proposals therein taking on the responsibility for implementation incorporating local control. Based primarily on this call—a culmination of persistent Indigenous interventions with government in seeking respectful and meaningful schooling for their children—across the country, Indigenous teacher education programs were created.

The language of the document quoted above makes explicit the need for a rationale for teacher education specific to Indigenous peoples. A brief examination of the history of schooling for Indigenous peoples within the nation of Canada provides some clarity with regard to this need. Beginning in the 1600s with the appearance in their territories of the first European missionaries, Indigenous peoples saw the benefits of “white man’s” education as an enhancement to their existing forms of education. They actively sought to have their children participate. It can safely be said, however, that the people never anticipated the Europeans’ accompanying attitudes of superiority and their increasing demands for the replacement of Indigenous ways, including their languages and cultures, with Christian dogma and notions of Western civilization. This proselytizing agenda, accompanying resource extraction dominated initially by the fur trade, gradually changed to the exploitation of forest and mineral resources and ultimately the drive for exclusive, and exclusionary, land possession on the part of the European immigrants. Following Confederation and the formation of Canada as a nation, these ambitions were enacted through numerous government initiatives including, most significantly, the creation of residential schools. Funded by the federal government and run primarily by various Christian orders, the schools had the express purposes of “weaning [Indigenous children] from the habits and feelings of their ancestors, and the acquirements of the language, arts and customs of civilized life” (Prentice & Houston, 1975, p. 220). Severing children’s relationships with their families by removing them, often forcibly, and placing them in boarding schools where English or French were the only languages allowed, these schools worked to obliterate Indigenous languages and cultures. Based on a study conducted by Nicholas Davin for the federal government in the 1860s (Haig-Brown, 2016, p. 246), the schools soon expanded across the country to affect the lives of thousands of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children over the decades that followed. By the 1920s, compulsory school attendance was imposed. In the schools, students spent as much or more of their time cleaning, cooking, caring for farm animals and gardens, and praying to a Christian God as they did with academics. Most significantly, they were removed from the influence of their communities, forbidden to speak their languages (in favor of French or English), and generally taught that their ways of life were primitive and undesirable. Deaths within the schools from disease, severe corporal punishment, and loneliness were rampant. Relationships between schooling and Indigenous peoples became fraught with distrust, pain, and withdrawal.

While revisions to the Indian Act in the 1950s began the process of closing these boarding and manual labor schools, the effects have resonated down the generations of Indigenous people who had been enrolled there, whose relatives had suffered there, and whose cultures and languages were derided there. That being said, the integration of Indigenous children into public, provincially funded schools was not an easy nor ultimately a satisfactory process. Teachers often lacked any understanding of their students’ cultures, histories, and contemporary circumstances. Efforts to assimilate them into what had become a Eurocentric mainstream Canada prevailed. As the Indian Control of Indian Education states in response to efforts to bring Indigenous students into public schools:

It has been the Indian student who was asked to integrate: to give up his (sic) identity, to adopt new values and a new way of life. This restricted interpretation of integration must be radically altered if future education programs are to benefit Indian children.

(National Indian Brotherhood, 1973, p. 25)

While there have been advances since the federal government’s endorsement of Indian Control in 1973, the pace of change has been slow particularly related to the desired results of Indigenous student success comparable to the rest of the population (Goulet & Goulet, 2014). More than twenty years after the Canadian government adopted the tenets of Indian Control, a 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples repeated a number of the earlier recommendations related to education. The commission, made up of four Aboriginal and three non-Aboriginal members, held nationwide public hearings, accepted briefs from organizations and individuals, and conducted archival and documentary research as the basis for the final report. Acknowledging that there had been some progress made in Indigenous student achievement in schooling, including increased numbers progressing to postsecondary education, the report highlights persisting educational gaps between the Aboriginal population and others. In terms of positive progress, the noted gains demonstrate movement in the direction of the recommendations of the earlier document and are predictably attributed to: increasing Indigenous control, shifts in curriculum to include Indigenous history and language and (significant to this article) increasing numbers of Aboriginal teachers. That being said, Recommendation 3.5.16 articulates steps to ameliorate the persisting gaps as follows:

Federal, provincial and territorial governments provide support to increase the number of Aboriginal people trained as teachers by


expanding the number of teacher education programs delivered directly in [Indigenous] communities; and


ensuring that students in each province and territory have access to such programs.

(Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996, p. 212)

Furthermore, Recommendation 3.5.18 calls for all teacher education programs to “include at least one component on teaching Aboriginal subject matter to all students, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal” (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996, p. 213). Clearly the words of Indian Control were prescient and had continuing relevance.

Fast forward to 2015 as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded their work in a final document that posits 94 Calls to Action (Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), 2015). Arising from the Indian Residential Schools Agreement, itself a nationwide interrogation of the impacts of residential schools, the TRC solicited narratives from the survivors of the schools. This gave some solace to the tellers and created awareness (moving to horror) in the minds of those people who had managed to remain oblivious to this aspect of Canada’s colonial mandate. While the report no longer includes specific reference to teacher education designed specifically for Indigenous people, several related points are included in the section entitled “Education for Reconciliation.” Beyond a focus on Indigenous students and teachers, and resonating strongly with the recommendations from the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Report, the plea is to educate all teachers to ensure they are able to incorporate “Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015, p. 11). The TRC further emphasized the need for all teachers to experience courses and professional learning related to Indigeneity. Specific actions to be taken include:


Developing and implementing K-12 curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.


Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.


Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.


Identifying teacher-training needs relating to the above. 
(our emphasis)

Overall, the Calls to Action continue the emphasis on the need for ever-increasing Indigenous control of and input into the work of all Canadian institutions that exist in relationships with Indigenous peoples. The calls focus on teacher education needs for both initial and in-service teacher education. In 2010, the Association of Canadian Deans of Education had endorsed an Accord on Indigenous Education. In 2015, a panel was convened to address the accord “five years on: What progress have we made? What challenges lie ahead?” (see Panel members addressed the work their institutions were doing in preparing teachers for educating Indigenous students and working with Indigenous knowledges. Most of them continue to offer programs specific to Indigenous teachers, although one member did mention his disappointment that despite the need, his institution has never offered such a program. Some universities, without specific Indigenous teacher education programs, create cohorts with a focus on Indigenous histories and cultures that often do attract at least some Indigenous students. Many see antiracist and decolonizing courses as necessary precursors to any serious work related to Indigenous knowledges and Indigenizing curriculum.

Program Models

Prior to the 1970s and Indian Control, Indigenous people had, of course, realized the need for teachers qualified to work respectfully and rigorously with Indigenous students if the latter were to achieve success in public education. They saw teachers of Indigenous ancestry as the main answer to needed changes in the education system. As a start, training teaching assistants was the most expedient way to bring Indigenous adults into the classrooms. A relatively small number also enrolled in teacher education programs both mainstream and locally based. Often these programs provided minimal training for mature students and moved them quickly into local schools. One example of these programs began in 1968 (More, 1981) in the Northwest Territories of Canada. A one-year program for assistants and language specialists, this was soon expanded and affiliated with the University of Alberta and became the North West Territories Teacher Education Program (NWT-TEP). Once expanded, this program graduated students who became “certified teachers managing their own classrooms” (McGregor, 2010, p. 86). Two surveys were conducted between 1970 and 1972 to assess the effectiveness of the existing education system in the territories including this program. Decrying southern models as inappropriate to the northern context, the reviews called for a shift from an assimilative agenda to one that was built on respect for the importance and continuing evolution of the Indigenous languages and cultures. With Indigenous community input, compulsory attendance was adjusted to accommodate seasonal harvesting. The need for more Inuit teachers and teaching assistants, a recurring refrain in Indigenous teacher education, appears in the report. By 1980, 83 Inuit teachers had graduated from the program (McGregor, 2010, p. 97).

Simultaneous with and in direct response to Indian Control, Indigenous teacher education programs proliferated across the country throughout the 1970s: SUNTEP, MUNTEP, BUNTEP, NORTEP, ITEP, NONTEP (More, 1981), and the list goes on. All are acronyms for Indigenous—at that time Indian—teacher education programs. By 1981 there were 17 programs specifically designed to attract Indigenous students into teaching (More, 1981). Although talented Indigenous people had been working in a number of capacities in schools for decades, few had had the opportunity to become provincially qualified teachers. Many had family and community responsibilities that kept them close to home with little or no access to postsecondary education; some, as children, had found schools hostile places, had not been successful in school themselves, and were resistant to going back. As noted, too many children had become alienated from schools that had asked them to make all the changes from their cultural and language experiences and move into Canada’s two foundational Anglo and Franco cultures. At the same time, some had been successful and loved “book” learning: they, and most of those who had been alienated, wanted a better educational future for their children and grandchildren. A number of the authors of the Indian Control document were educators; some were seasoned politicians working to affect policy change; others taught in schools across the country. A significant number of them played a prominent role in the development of the emerging ITEPs.

Indigenous control was the goal and remains a central tenet for effective program development in teacher education. To begin with, Indigenous leaders with a commitment to schooling formed groups that first pushed the universities to create the programs and then stayed to shape them in terms of location, curriculum, uncompromising quality and (with some exceptions) provincially mandated ministries of education approved credentials. A few programs, in the name of efficiency and in response to dire need, lead to limited qualifications that allow teaching in selected community-based schools. Over all, the transformation of teacher education curriculum to include a number of courses focused specifically on Indigenous culture, language, history, and contemporary educational issues, and then to slowly transform all courses to ensure appropriate and responsible representation of Indigenous thought are ongoing goals, part of what has come to be called the Indigenization of the curricula of teacher education programs. In terms of practice teaching, most programs offer earlier time in school classrooms for the student teachers as an incentive for immediate involvement in experiential learning and as a way to provide a strong basis to shape responses to and engagement with the more theoretical and methodological coursework. The involvement of institutional leaders in advisory and management committees such as vice presidents and deans, who have the power to ensure that Indigenous control remains paramount, provides necessary backing. Never an easy process, this working together has become a significant undertaking in listening respectfully and learning from each other: reciprocity writ large; that is, two worlds coming together to address colonial legacies and foster educational success for Indigenous students.

In the West

Starting on the western side of Canada, two universities in southern British Columbia developed distinct yet related models. The Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP) based at the University of British Columbia admitted its first students in the fall of 1974. This program arose from the work of a group of committed Indigenous educators both teachers and teaching assistants, the latter being members of the British Columbia Native Indian Teaching Assistants (BCNITA). Supported by Professor Art More from the Faculty of Education, NITEP became one of the first and most successful programs specifically designed to educate Indigenous people who want to become qualified elementary teachers. At that time in the province, there were 26 Indigenous teachers in all the public schools. If they had been employed in a ratio representative of the population, there should have been 1,300 Indigenous teachers (More, 1981, p. 63). This rationale persuaded the University of British Columbia to fund and start the program in four off-campus field centers. Most important, the development and continuing operation of NITEP was guided by an Advisory Committee made up of powerful educational leaders from Indigenous communities and from the university, including the vice-president academic. The NITEP Advisory Committee was renamed the First Nations Education Council in 1995.

Designed to appeal primarily to mature students with some experience in schools, the NITEP field centers also attracted younger people seeking access to a university degree that would allow them to spend minimal time away from the support of, and for, family and community. Integral to the planning and implementation was ensuring that the degree made precisely the same demands on students as the so-called mainstream program. Furthermore, their credentials would qualify them to teach in any provincial school as well as in federal and private schools. Since the degree included this professional qualification, the idea was that by switching the emphases of the first two years of the program to extensive practicum and teaching methods, it would appeal to students who had already indicated an interest in teaching; it would allow those with less positive experience with formal schooling to recognize their strengths more gradually. In the first two years, students worked in cohorts supported by a center coordinator, an accomplished local teacher who acted as counselor, advisor, practicum supervisor, and program administrator in addition to teaching Native studies in each year. For the other courses, faculty members from the main campus traveled to the sites to deliver courses from child and adolescent psychology to language arts and music methods in intensive day-long sessions. Practicum itself involved placements within the local provincially funded and operated elementary schools. One-on-one instruction and follow-up supervision by a sponsor teacher contributed immeasurably to the student teacher’s professional learning. This was something of a trial by fire and a definite opportunity for the students to make informed decisions about their desires to work so closely with groups of children in schools.

These first two years are followed by two years on the university campus in Vancouver where students undertake their major “teachables” and disciplinary study. In 2004, an option for those who want to teach in secondary schools (grades 8 to 12 in British Columbia) was added. Since its inception, NITEP has graduated more than 375 individuals. Many of the graduates moved into positions in schools, boards, community organizations, and provincial ministry administration. A significant number have gone on to graduate work in education and other areas including law.

While this model worked to compromise delivery of courses on the city campus with field site offerings closer to students’ home communities, beginning in 1973 nearby Simon Fraser University offered a program leading to an initial teaching qualification completely within an Indigenous community. Students attended classes close to their homes and had their practice teaching in local schools. A distinguishing feature was that all courses were offered on site. In addition, the programs were planned with significant input from the local Indigenous communities while maintaining required provincial standards for qualification. To begin with, because of the continuous offering of courses—in three consecutive terms with no break—students were eligible for initial credentials after a minimum of two years. Those who chose to complete the bachelor of education degree did so on campus near Vancouver. Courses offered ranged from disciplinary specific foundation courses to teaching methods, as well as curriculum basics. Similar to Simon Fraser’s on-campus programs, students engaged in extensive periods of practice teaching. Indigenous focused content was woven throughout all the courses with the development of local content a particularly strong commitment. Students completed programs in the following locations: Mt. Currie, an Indigenous community (1973–1978); in Spallumcheen (1977–1981) close to a number of First Nation communities in the north Okanagan and thus its name NONTEP, and then several offerings in Prince Rupert (1981–1995), which is located in Ts’msyen territory but drew students from nearby Nisga’a, Haida, and other territories as well (Beynon, 2008). More than 150 individuals have graduated from these programs. Again, many of them have gone on to graduate work and/or are employed as professors, teachers, and administrators in educational settings and a range of other contexts.

Across the Country

Moving to the center of the country, the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program was designed particularly for Métis and non-status Indians (i.e., people of Indigenous ancestry who, because of the vagaries of legislative exclusion, are not considered to be Indians under the Federal Indian Act). Starting in 1980, the program was offered under the auspices of the Métis-controlled Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research. This institute is the only Métis postsecondary institution in Canada (Huntley, 2001). Similar to other TEPs, this one is fully accredited and is guided by a committee made up of Métis and university leaders. Interestingly, the governing body also ensures that the courses include components of Indigenous studies and cross-cultural work (More, 1981, pp. 36–37). In the two cities where the program was first offered, Regina and Saskatoon, the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan, respectively, delivered the courses. It has since been offered in an additional site in Prince Albert with the University of Saskatchewan delivering the courses. A primary goal of this program was to ensure an adequate number of Indigenous teachers in the city schools. The other main goal was to create the opportunity for the graduates to serve as examples and positive role models for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and, one might add, non-Indigenous teachers and parents who may still be subject to negative stereotypes as part of the legacy of colonialism. As of 2018, there are 1,064 graduates of SUNTEP.

The stories above are repeated across the country with many local adaptations. With teacher education under provincial jurisdiction and Indigenous/Indian education under federal jurisdiction, the responses to the need for Indigenous teacher education have varied. Some programs have sought a way to balance the students’ work lives and teacher education lives so that they can maintain a source of income even as they qualify to teach. Some saw the participation in the programs as work itself paying the students as teaching assistants during their training. Some qualified the graduates for work only in federally funded schools. Some find it necessary to upgrade math and writing skills in conjunction with regular coursework. In some communities, language teachers are in demand and the programs are strongly focused there. For example, in Kawawachikamach in northern Quebec where the population is more than 90% fluent, McGill University has offered a program for Naskapi teachers equipping them to teach in the Naskapi-medium classes offered from kindergarten to third grade. Increasingly, communities are working to regenerate language and culture in places where it has suffered from the impacts of residential schools and their efforts at cultural genocide, including banning the use of the languages. Some courses where the student teachers are fluent are offered in an Indigenous language. Literacy is another aspect being addressed in Indigenous language courses, made particularly complex when there may be limited or competing orthographies. And, of course, the sheer number of distinct languages across Canada—more than 60—and the often-limited number of available fluent speakers create some tensions regarding which languages can and should be offered. The First Nations University of Canada is exemplary in that it offers teacher candidates a choice of Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, and Dakota/Lakota/Nakota. The programs are working to be responsive to these needs as well as their changing context as more and more Indigenous individuals enroll in a range of programs within the university. Frequently the TEPs serve as examples and guides for related programs in other fields of study. And in most cases, the creation of a physical space for students to gather together and work through the complexities of their lives as they move into becoming teachers has proven to be integral to success. In some places, the ITEP has been the starting place and the incentive, not only for program generation but in the creation of stunning facilities reflective of local Indigenous cultures.

Māori Teacher Education in Aotearoa New Zealand

The Context

The marked disparity in outcomes between Indigenous Māori students and Pākehā (New Zealand Europeans) has its genesis in the colonial provision of education for Māori driven by a social policy of cultural assimilation and social stratification for over 100 years. From the 1970s, Māori activism across the social field has led to some recognition of the 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) as the country’s founding constitutional document, a formal social policy of biculturalism, with iwi (tribes) positioned as treaty partners with the state. In a 50-year period, the educational landscape has transformed from one focused on Māori assimilation to a set of national policy goals emphasizing the importance of “Māori enjoying education success as Māori.” Succeeding “as Māori” means Māori students leaving any pathway in compulsory schooling with qualification levels on par with their non-Māori counterparts and with their cultural identities intact or enhanced. Despite such a remarkable and progressive shift, inequalities are not easily undone. The state admits “system failure” in Māori achievement (Ministry of Education, 2012) and is being challenged to develop and implement integrated and multilevel approaches to address Māori educational and cultural outcomes.

New Zealand differs from Canada in that it is a small nation of approximately four million people (approximately 15% Māori) with a unitary government. This means that despite a relatively diverse education sector, centralized goals, policies and legislation govern the entire sector via a small number of government and sector institutions (Hoskins & McKinley, 2015).

In the first decades of the 21st century, national government Māori education policy and guidelines have derived from, and largely align with Māori educational goals developed by Māori in the early 2000s. These goals, which bear a remarkable resemblance to the 1973 Indian Control document, are that education should prepare Māori to (1) live as Māori, (2) be active citizens of the world, and (3) enjoy good health and a high standard of living (Durie, 2001). National Education Guidelines (deriving from the 1989 Education Act) promise increased Māori participation and success in education through the advancement of Māori educational initiatives, including education in te reo Māori (the Māori language), consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi (Ministry of Education, n.d.). The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007) also recognizes the Treaty of Waitangi and commits to all learners in New Zealand having the opportunity to acquire knowledge of Māori language and culture. In 2008 the first national Māori education strategy, Ka Hikitia, was launched and in 2019 the New Zealand Ministry of Education will release its third iteration of the strategy (Ministry of Education, 2008a). The strategy focuses on improving the performance of the education system so that all Māori students, wherever they are located, enjoy and achieve education success as Māori. Recognition of Te Tiriti and the importance of revitalizing the Māori language has resulted in the compulsory schooling sector being described by the state, as a “dual medium system.” Māori medium and English medium pathways are guided by a National Curriculum but one in two distinct parts: The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (The Māori medium curriculum) (Ministry of Education, 2008b).

Māori medium pathways were not however established by the state but by Māori communities themselves in response to long-standing frustration with the performance of mainstream schools for Māori learners and the awareness that te reo Māori (the Māori language) was facing language death. Māori communities started Kohanga Reo (pre-school Māori language nests) in the early 1980s, and these were quickly followed by Kura Kaupapa Māori (primary schools for kids ages 5–12), Wharekura (for kids 13 to 18 years old, secondary schools) and Whare Wānanga (tertiary or post-secondary education). Māori medium pathways also formally include total immersion and bilingual Māori programs situated in predominantly English medium schools: Kura-a-iwi (tribal schools), and Kura Māori (standalone schools not affiliated to Kaupapa Māori or Iwi schools).

English medium pathways, also commonly termed “mainstream” schools, are attended by the majority of New Zealand’s school-age population. These schools include the majority of Māori students (approximately 90%), with only 10% of Māori students enrolled in Māori medium options. English medium pathways can and do also provide Māori language education and approximately 41% of Māori students are accessing Māori language education here, the majority at lower levels. It is here, where most Māori learners are located and where teachers are predominantly Pākehā (European), that the system is failing many Māori students. Despite a raft of professional development programs aimed at challenging teacher deficit assumptions and encouraging culturally responsive practice, the long-standing monoculturalism of New Zealand’s education system is proving difficult to shift (Bishop, Berryman, & O’Sullivan, 2010).

Initial Teacher Education in Aotearoa New Zealand

Teacher education (English and Māori medium) in Aotearoa New Zealand is, in the second decade of the 21st century, being redefined by the profession’s body: the Education Council in conjunction with central Government. One of the roles of the Education Council is to set expectations for quality teaching by establishing and maintaining the Standards for the Teaching Profession (The Standards) and the Code of Professional Responsibility (The Code). These have been updated with the Code having come into effect in mid-2017 and the new Standards to come into effect when changes are made to initial teacher education to reflect the standards in practice (see Education Council, 2017).

The Code is underpinned both by Māori ethical values and a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the founding document of the New Zealand nation. The Code comprises four additional commitments—(1) to society, (2) to the teaching profession, (3) to families and whānau (extended Māori family groups), and (4) to learners. Within each of these “commitments,” teachers are to demonstrate responsibilities to Māori learners as “tangata whenua” (Indigenous-Māori peoples/tribes), to supporting their educational aspirations, to Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership in the learning environment, and as the basis of New Zealand society.

The related New Zealand Standards for the Teaching Profession provide holistic descriptions of high-quality teaching practice in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand. The six broad standards include: (1) Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, (2) professional learning, (3) professional relationships, (4) learning-focused culture, (5) teaching, and (6) design for learning. Te Tiriti o Waitangi standards require teachers to understand and recognize the unique status of tangata whenua (Indigenous-Māori peoples/tribes) in Aotearoa New Zealand; to understand and acknowledge the histories, heritages, language, and cultures of partners to Te Tiriti o Waitangi; and to practice and develop the use of te reo (the Māori language) and tikanga Māori (cultural practices). The elaboration of other Standards includes culturally responsive designing and planning that reflects local communities and Tiriti o Waitangi partnerships in New Zealand: these specifically support the educational aspirations of Māori learners and taking (shared) responsibility for these learners to achieve educational success as Māori (Education Council, 2017).

In its vision paper Initial Teacher Education 2021, the Education Council confirms existing sector commitments to Māori education and states:

Our future teacher education and preparation system will be strengthened so that all new teachers are committed to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to Māori learners achieving as Māori, and can give effect to realising and supporting Māori educational goals.

(Education Council, n.d., p. 1)
Māori Medium Initial Teacher Education

Māori providers of ITE range from Wānanga (Māori/Iwi tertiary institutions) and universities to polytechnics and private training establishments. All programs are Māori centered, privileging Māori (and tribal) principles, knowledges, cultural practices, pedagogies, and environments. All teachers graduating from these programs are recognized and qualified teachers, but programs range in language levels from low (appropriate for English medium settings) to high (appropriate for total immersion pathways) levels. Only three programs of the approximately eight Māori ITE providers are taught fully in the medium of the Māori language. This means small numbers of students are graduating with the capability to successfully teach in full immersion programs and contribute to increasing levels of fluency in the Māori community (Kane et al., 2005).

Education Council goals to strengthen Māori medium ITE programs from 2021 have been developed with the sector. The Education Council will work with Māori medium stakeholders to ensure that students enrolled in Māori medium programs have appropriate levels of te reo Māori literacy and numeracy capability. The Education Council also intends to work with Māori medium providers (there are only a handful of these) to identify how to improve the consistency of te reo Māori competency assessments. Māori medium providers and stakeholders themselves are concerned about ensuring their students have good Māori language skills, have a thorough understanding of the Māori medium curriculum (Te Marautanga) and of second language acquisition theory, and can apply this knowledge in practical teaching situations (Hohepa, Hawera, Tamatea, & Heaton, 2014).

Māori in English Medium Initial Teacher Education.

For the English medium sector (where most Māori students are), the Education Council intends to develop guidance on the levels of te reo Māori and cultural competence English medium ITE students would be expected to demonstrate before they graduate. The ability of English medium ITE providers to prepare students to meet these aspects of the Code and Standards depends on a range of factors, including a provider’s commitment, capacity, and capability. There is general awareness among providers, teacher educators, and leaders about the issues facing Māori learners in schooling and recognition of the need for their programs to prepare student teachers to make a meaningful contribution to improving Māori outcomes. Yet if the main institutional providers fail to prioritize leadership and resourcing (including Māori staff) and to create appropriate program space, little will change. Te Tiriti and Māori content is generally condensed into a single compulsory course in a three-year degree program tasked with providing students with the basic skills, knowledge, and dispositions to support Māori learners and to provide all students with access to Māori language and culture in their programs.

Because there is little New Zealand history taught in New Zealand schools (Hanly, 2007), students often present in ITE programs with inadequate knowledge of Te Tiriti, the history of Māori-settler relations, and Māori schooling. This lack of knowledge contributes to expressions of racism, resistance to content, and deficit thinking about Māori learners and their communities. In a study conducted by the office of the Children’s Commissioner, Māori students reported ongoing experiences of racism from both teachers and fellow students in New Zealand schools (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2018). While much of the focus of educational research and policy is on responsivity to Māori students’ identity, language, and culture, the sector is relatively quiet on the impact of teacher and societal racism on Māori students and the pressing need to address this problem directly in initial and in-service teacher education programs. Alongside antiracism education, a focus on developing student teachers’ awareness of their own social and cultural identities and relationships of power with others is crucial to understanding Māori students not as problems but as cultural beings who continue to articulate their need for trusting relationships with their teachers as a prerequisite for learning (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2018; Ministry of Education, 2008a).

Early 21st-Century Context and Potential

As Indigenous peoples have continued to insist on and (most importantly) to contribute to the transformation of Indigenous teacher education, advances and improvements have been achieved. However, despite this level of commitment and despite the proliferation of Indigenous teacher education programs within Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand, change is incremental and at times frustratingly slow. Much work remains to be done.

Indigenous teacher education is a wide-ranging and ever-evolving process. It arises from disparate and yet strongly related histories across many countries that have experienced the impacts of colonization on Indigenous peoples, lands, knowledges, and languages. Teacher education in Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand has been nurtured by Indigenous elders, educators, and communities. Models of practice have particular local and institutional flavors. But Indigenous teacher education movements everywhere have recognized the central role schooling can play in the decolonization and cultural revitalization aspirations of Indigenous communities everywhere. Schooling can assimilate, but schooling can also be a productive site for positive educational and cultural outcomes. Indigenous teacher education movements have focused on programs designed specifically for Indigenous student teachers. These teachers serve multiple roles in diverse schooling contexts from mainstream settings to indigenous language tribal schools. Indigenous teacher education also plays a significant role in decolonizing teacher education more broadly. The sector is increasingly engaging in efforts to ensure that all teachers have some awareness of colonial histories, the continuing impacts of colonization, and the persisting power of Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous teacher education, originally part of early responses to the overwhelming failure of schools to educate Indigenous students, has become the locus of continued efforts to address the discrepancies between Indigenous student success and the success of other groups. Indigenous teacher education in 2018 seeks to provide opportunities for all teachers to deepen understandings of their Indigenous students and their varied realities. Indigenous teacher education has expanded to focus on the necessity of creating opportunities for beginning and established teachers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to be exposed to histories and contemporary circumstances of relationships between nation-states and Indigenous peoples, lands, and knowledges. Again, starting from deepening decolonial and anti-racist understandings is essential for any serious progress in changing attitudes and approaches to the work.

Moving to Indigenize institutions, to place Indigenous knowledges, particularly as they relate to the disciplines involved, in their rightful positions within schooling systems, is a process that requires political will and systemic transformation. It requires educational policy that aligns with Indigenous aspirations and requires the entire system to be responsive to Indigenous students, their histories and cultures, and ongoing Indigenous-settler relations. It requires related implementation strategies that are appropriately resourced. Transformation requires universities and other providers to ensure Indigenous teacher education programs grow and flourish and that to do so they need high levels of autonomy and resourcing. These institutions must also prioritize the education of all students. Ongoing patterns of Indigenous educational inequity will not change without a teaching force that is actively and positively responsive to Indigenous histories, contemporary realities, and aspirations.


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