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date: 18 February 2020


Abstract and Keywords

A paradigm shift in Indigenous social work education centers on Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous educators are asserting the place of Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture in Indigenous social work education and have been leaders in generating significant changes over the last 40 years.

Shifts have occurred over a continuum time spanning pre-contact and contact through colonization, education as a mechanism of the colonial project, movements of Indian control over Indigenous education, decolonizing education, and into the paradigm of Indigegogy. The article focuses on Indigegogy illustrating a deeper look of Indigegogy as an Indigenist paradigm. The intention of this article is to contribute to the understanding and knowledge of Indigegogy within an Indigenist paradigm with the intention of continuing the return of Indigenous social work education back to Indigenous peoples interested in learning the ways of the people, in the ways of the people.

Keywords: Indigegogy, Indigenist paradigm, Indigenous education, decolonizing education, Indigenous social work education


A body of literature supports Indigenous education, its historical context, Indigenous educational movements, and Indigenous social work programs. This article will deepen readers’ understanding of the ideologies and paradigms of Indigenous-driven movements in social work education, movements that seek to generate authentic and responsive social workers through creating Indigenized social work education in relation to Indigenous peoples and by Indigenous peoples. It joins existing scholarship that acknowledges the existence of Indigenous education and socialization of community members through oral storytelling, language, artistry, sacred knowledge, and survival skills. Traditionally, Indigenous knowledge was transferred, reproduced, and preserved between generations in learning relationships through stories, experiences, mentoring, and ceremony. The practice of oral traditions manifested in community, ceremony, and environment and in families (Hulan & Eigenbrod, 2008). Indigenous kinship systems, social networks, and support systems played critical roles in knowledge transmission and family and community well-being. Acknowledging the existence of traditional forms of Indigenous education is foundational to the value and significance of the resurgence of Indigenous peoples’ control of education in anticolonial resistance movements. While a majority of the literature on the history of Indigenous education has come out of the field of education, critical social work educators have built upon this relevant scholarship that problematized mainstream education as mechanisms of colonization (Battiste & Barrman, 1995; Brant Castellano, Davis, & Lahache, 2000) and as a means of pedagogical violence (Graveline, 1998). Through the movements of Indigenous peoples seeking to regain control of Indigenous education, there has been a re-emergence of Indigenous wholistic ways of seeing, knowing, doing, and being that informs contemporary methods of teaching and learning in social work education. This article specifically speaks to the ideology and paradigms that inform three social work programs that embody Indigegogy.


The term “Indigenous” is used throughout this article to refer to Aboriginal peoples in Canada: First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples (FNMI). The authors of this article are Anishinaabe and Metis and will use “Indigenous” to imply localized peoples of Turtle Island (Canada). Although the authors would prefer to use our specific nations, in consideration of the reader, we opted to use “Indigenous” as it has broader implications. However, a cautionary note is warranted to explain that Indigenous nations are diverse—linguistically, culturally, and regionally—and carry out their traditions differently. Indigenous peoples are not all the same. FNMI are distinctly defined by language, nation, territory, and geography. Indigenous is capitalized to denote the significant cultural location and nationhood that Indigenous (FNMI) peoples occupy in Canada.

Kina Anishinaabe Kaandossiwin (Learning the Ways of the People)

Before the arrival of Europeans settlers, Indigenous peoples’ traditional cultures and teachings guided educational processes (and they still do in some cases). This involved the passing on of knowledge from one generation to the next, which ensured the spiritual, social, mental, and physical well-being of a family and a community (Cajete, 1994, 2015; Hulan & Eigenbrod, 2008; Simpson, 2017). The passing of knowledge often happened through storywork, where learning relationships unfolded earnestly with stories and storytelling. Jo-anne Archibald (2008) characterized that, through both telling and listening, storywork is serious pedagogy:

Patience and trust are essential for preparing to listen to stories. Listening involves more than just using the auditory sense. We must visualize the characters and their actions. We must let our emotions surface. As the Elders say, it is important to listen with “three ears: two on the sides of our head and the one that is in our heart.” (p. 8)

The Elders, women, craftsmen, or grandmothers shared stories and mentored learners in particular trades, skills, or knowledge. “[L]earning is an intimate process. Traditionally, teachers loved their students dearly. Teachers were moms, dads, grandparents, and other loved ones. Student motivation was most often not individually oriented but, rather, family- and community-oriented” (Hodgson-Smith, 2000, p. 163). The knowledge could be about how to hunt, skin a rabbit, fish, harvest medicines and berries, or turn a moose hide into moccasins or mukluks. Learning in the ways of the people (education) started young and was guided by kinships systems, clan systems, and community members. The idea of sending children or adults off to strangers for “education” was absurd to community members. How could foreigners teach people “the way of our people” if they are not connected to our people? Rites of passage from one life cycle to the next guided youth into adulthood, and young people were mentored into the skills and knowledge and role they would occupy in their community (Peacock & Wisuri, 2006). Originally, Indigenous communities had o’skaabewis (helpers) who occupied a wide variety of helping roles to community members (Simpson, 2008).

In traditional Indigenous societies, people’s gifts and powers were identified when they were young, and people were then socialized to become healers; helpers; leaders; craftspeople; and keepers of songs, stories, and ceremonies. Everyone’s knowledge had value, and everyone contributed to the social, health, and social well-being of the community (Deloria, Foehner, & Scinta, 1999). Community ceremonies, rituals, and gatherings contained within them mechanisms that nurtured the balance and social fabric of individuals, communities, and families (Simpson, 2017). This was very different compared to colonial and violent education, where Indigenous children were and still are sent outside their families and kinship systems to learn Euro-Western–dominant values and knowledge that have little relevance to Indigenous languages, knowledge, and responsibilities of their communities.

As Indigenous children went through their life cycles, within their communities, they learned life stage teachings and skills that were dependent on their ability and capacity (Peacock & Wisuri, 2006). Different people in the community had varying roles in educating a child through their rites of passage, including times when a young boy became a man or a young girl became a woman. Life stages embedded rites of passage, each offering life knowledge and preparing them for their next level of life responsibilities. Little boys, for example, were not expected to go on a hunt for moose until they were ready as determined by their elders. Both girls and boys underwent rites of passage providing an entryway into being a young man or woman where another layer of skill and community responsibility was bestowed upon them. This layering of learning and knowing happened through their families, elders, and community, who all transferred their knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. There were also the young people who lived in the in-between place, having both male and female spirits, and there were people who gave them teachings. They were considered sacred and “were looked upon with the utmost respect, and viewed as teachers and role models, in two spirit communities” (Lang, 2016, p. 302). Before contact, no Indigenous person was considered to be marginal. People who would be considered to have mental health issues were understood to live in closer relationship with the spirit world, even though they were having a human existence (Linklater, 2014; Menzies & Lavallée, 2014). Everyone had a place in community and everyone was understood to be a teacher and learner.

Life education was land-based in relationship to our original family: Mother Earth, Father Sky, Grandmother Moon, and all our relatives in creation: plants, animals, birds, fish, crawlers, snakes (Benton-Banai, 2010). Respect was embedded in the ethics of harvesting from the land, berry picking, hunting, fishing, and trapping. Respect for life was embedded in learning the ways of the people from the people: kina Anishinaabe kaandossiwin. Indigenous teachings revolve around the sacredness of life and the understanding that people are interdependent on everything in creation for life. Mentoring relationships were part of learning the way of the people, so as people grew, they carried knowledge of how they conducted themselves as members of the community that fostered harmony with Creation and within the village or community.

Learning relationships were rooted within Elders’ teachings and through ceremony. Ceremonies for Indigenous peoples are ways we tend to spirit and the sacredness of life. Tending to sacred relationships between humans, spirit realms, and Creation are a part of life. Learning in ceremony is considered natural and a part of community life. Learning in and through ceremony is an extension of how we honor the spirit of life and Creation (Benton-Benaii, 2010). Life is a ceremony.

Colonization and Decolonizing Education in Canada

Prior to explaining the relationship between social work education and Indigenous people, two significant factors must be addressed: the history and impact of colonization and the Indian control of Indian education movements in the field of education. It is beyond the scope of this article to review both issues in depth; readers are encouraged to read about the broader and deeper history of colonization in Canada and the United States to understand the context of the movement of Indigenous control over Indigenous education, as both fuel the ideology of Indigegogy in social work education (Adams, 1989; Alfred, 1999; Cardinal, 1969; Fanon, 1963; RCAP, 1996; TRC, 2015). Treaties, disease warfare, fur trade, alcohol, reservation systems, federal policies, the Indian act, Indian agents, and the aggressive social policies of assimilation were all tools of colonial and racial oppression (RCAP, 1996). Feasts, gatherings, potlatches, and ceremonies were outlawed under federal policy. These aggressive mechanisms of colonial violence disrupted the places, spaces, and people where knowledge was passed on. The forced removal of Indigenous children from their families being placed into Indian residential schools was a mechanism to ensure that the transmission of culture was eradicated. Residential schools were created to colonize Indigenous children’s minds and rid them of any trace of Indigenous identity (Chrisjohn & Young, 1997; Miller, 1996; Milloy, 1999; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), 1996; Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), 2015). Sacred bundles were banned, stolen, confiscated, and destroyed (Adams, 1989; Cardinal, 1969). Colonization displaced FNMI women through Euro-centric systems of patriarchy and sexism that infiltrated into every facet of life. This displacement and violence against Indigenous women, who had been the center of a family or a community, has contributed to family chaos and the erosion of knowledge transmission to children and youth. The severing of Indigenous peoples from earth-based philosophies, knowledge, and beliefs was the precursor to disconnecting Indigenous nations from their land (where life and the resources of the land reside) for colonial and capitalist consumption, control, and greed. Colonization has and always will be about the land (Alfred, 1999; Manual & Derrickson, 2017).

Many Indigenous scholars have documented the movement of Indigenous peoples gaining control over Indigenous education to protect Indigenous knowledge and wisdom, while reclaiming Indigenous peoples’ voices in education and in healing toward culturally relevant pedagogies (Battiste,1998; Battiste & Barrman, 1995; Battiste & Henderson, 2000; Brant Castellano, Davis, & Lahache, 2000; Hampton, 1995; Maina, 1997). Formally redefining Indigenous education with a goal of self-determination in education was politically essential to Indigenous people (Hampton, 1995). Indigenous control of Indigenous education has created major shifts in Indigenous teacher education programs, Indigenous approaches to education, non-Indigenous teacher education, Indigenous student retention, language and cultural content such as redefinitions of Indigenous science (Cajete, 2000), research (Absolon, 2011; Smith, 2012; Wilson, 2004), and pedagogies (Cote-Meek, 2014; Thompson Cooper & Moore, 2009), which ultimately redefined Indigenous education (Battiste & Barrman, 1995; Cajete, 1994). The goals of Indigenous peoples in resuming control of education are layered and seek to restore pride in one’s cultural identity; generate cultural mirrors in education; provide culturally meaningful curriculum; decolonize education; Indigenize curriculum, content, and processes; and regenerate Indigenous knowledge in all its manifestations toward the restoration of Indigenous knowledge and pride in Indigenous peoples. Indigenous education is on a pathway of decolonizing education (Battiste, 2013; Dion, 2009) and restoring the place of Indigenous knowledge in the academy (Dei, 2000; Gray & Coates, 2000; Gray, Coates, Yellow Bird, & Hetherington, 2013; Gray & Hetherington, 2013).

In Canada there is a long history of Indigenous peoples resisting and combating colonization and colonial forms of education such as the Indian Residential School projects (RCAP, 1996; TRC, 2015). Colonial education is a mechanism of resocialization within the colonial project and therefore problematic in the education of Indigenous children, youth, and adults and in the education of non-Indigenous peoples who work with Indigenous peoples (Cote-Meek, 2014). Indigenous scholars in education are asserting that education reinforce positive cultural identities, Indigenous culture and knowledge, and languages. The absence or omission of such practices is institutional racism. In her research, Cote-Meek (2014) examined postsecondary education as a site of colonialism and colonial violence and trauma. She offers a critical examination of negotiating race, trauma, violence, and healing in postsecondary classrooms. Pedagogical approaches that include the recognition of the impacts of colonial violence, trauma, and racism on a student’s spirit, heart, mind, and body offer a transformative response to shifting teaching and learning approaches to foster healing, reconnection, and respect. Cote-Meek presents a circle metaphor that framed her research. She establishes a colonial context and history, then conceptualizes the impact of colonial violence in perpetuating racial violence and trauma in the classroom, as well as the pedagogies that foster healing. In much of the contemporary scholarship, Indigenous scholars and non-Indigenous allies are theorizing and conceptualizing the impacts of colonial education. At the same time, they are establishing critical frameworks within which to situate critiques and generate methods to shift power and control to Indigenous educators that will inform community transformation and healing (Cote-Meek, 2014; Graveline, 1998; Mihesuah & Wilson, 2004; Regan, 2010). In Canada, the reality is that colonized classrooms are sites of ongoing colonial violence and trauma for Indigenous students. The literature pointedly asserts that all educators must learn about the history of colonization and its impacts on Indigenous peoples to build the capacity to teach within a process of decolonization of colonial social work education and practice. The absence of this knowledge perpetuates intolerance, racism, and violence, and learning spaces then remain unsafe for Indigenous peoples.

Social Work and Indigenous Peoples in Canada

European values upheld in Canadian social work contexts are documented in the literature analyzing systemic racism and structural biases within social work education in Canada (Thompson Cooper & Moore, 2009). Social work in Indigenous communities did not exist until the imposition of Jesuit missionaries and European systems of social welfare. Social federal and provincial policy in Canada generated extensive and intensive means of disconnecting Indigenous peoples from their cultural values, the land, and their families.

“In Canada, federal and provincial policies and legislation evolved to deal with the “Indian Problem” through assimilation as a necessary precursor to land and resource acquisition. Programs and policies that furthered the ongoing assimilation project included the reserve system, the residential school system, and the child welfare system” (Sinclair, 2016, p. 9).

Colonial violence associated with family disruption, child removal, land dispossession, racism (and the list goes on) left generations of Indigenous peoples in states of grief and trauma, intergenerational trauma, and unresolved intergenerational grief (Baskin & Sinclair, 2015; Menzies, 2014b; Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). Christian missionaries, residential schools, and child welfare are at the roots of social work and social work systems. All of these institutions were a central force in disconnecting and separating Indigenous children and families from one another and from their cultural identity. These institutions, which have structural and systemic power, ensured that the education and socialization of Indigenous children, youth, and adults was placed in the hands of the colonizers (TRC, 2015). As a result, the residential schools are recognized in Canada as sites of cultural genocide (TRC, 2015) that have enforced Indigenous peoples’ disconnection from their territories, identity, language, relatives, ancestors, ceremonies, and spirituality. This has led to generations of people who have experienced colonial violence through colonial education and who carry symptoms of colonial trauma. Indigenous peoples caught in an unsympathetic and oppressive system are heavily marginalized in social systems that are not set up to help them thrive but instead are constructed to continue their marginalization and oppression (Baskin & Sinclair, 2015). Families in child welfare systems, for example, continue to experience ongoing racial bias with an alarming, increased number of Indigenous children in care (Sinclair, 2016).

Ironically, in the era of the truth and reconciliation in Canada, social workers continue to be modern-day social missionaries by upholding colonial policies especially within child welfare. The legacies of decades and centuries of political and legal policies as mechanisms of colonization continue. Current conditions such as the disproportionate apprehension of Aboriginal children by child welfare agencies and the disproportionate imprisonment and victimization of Aboriginal people can be explained in part as a result or legacy of the way that Aboriginal children were treated in residential schools and were denied an environment of positive parenting, worthy community leaders, and a positive sense of identity and self-worth (TRC, 2015, p. 183).

The residential school system and child welfare system were intertwined where “residential schools increasingly served as orphanages and child welfare facilities. By 1960, the federal government estimated that 50% of the children in residential schools were for child-welfare reasons” (TRC, 2015, pp. 185–186). The data are disturbing and reveal that Indigenous children “are significantly overrepresented as subjects of child maltreatment investigations” (p. 186). Cases leading to apprehension reveal that poverty and social stressors are major factors placing Indigenous children into the hands of child welfare authorities who are not accurately equipped with a knowledge system to operationalize the TRC recommendations or understand the UNDRIP. Therefore “child-welfare workers must bring to their work an understanding of Aboriginal culture as well as an understanding of the lasting harms caused by residential schools” (TRC, 2015, p. 187). This responsibility lay within social work education. Anything contrary to adopting the TRC Calls to Action will continue to disconnect Indigenous children, families, and peoples from their identity and ultimately relationship with the land (Absolon, 2009; Kennedy-Kish (Bell), Sinclair, Carniol, & Baines, 2017; Sinclair et al., 2009; TRC, 2015). Structurally, schools of social work, in Canada, are governed and accredited within the Canadian Association of Social Work Education (CASWE) and the commission on accreditation.

Colonial Accreditation Standards in Social Work

Colonial education continues to be the culprit of colonial violence and racial oppression of Indigenous peoples (RCAP, 1996; TRC, 2015). While changes are happening, changes within colonial accreditation systems are also required to support and institute the TRC Calls to Action in Canada in social work education (TRC, 2015). The CASWE Commission for Accreditation Standards undertakes the responsibility to review schools’ curriculum every five to seven years. These standards, while shifting to respond to an ever-changing society, continue to reflect dominant colonial values, principles, and beliefs (Mastronardi, 2009). Across Canada, all bachelor and masters schools of social work education are held accountable against the accreditation standards of the Canadian Association of Social Work Education (CASWE), which are intended to ensure the profession is being responsive to societal needs. These standards reflect Euro-Canadian values as the norm and continue to replicate curriculum steeped in Euro-Western hegemony. Indigenous critics of accreditation standards have been expressing concern and problematizing the standards for years.

In response to colonial accreditation standards, Indigenous social work educators advocate for Indigenous scholars to hold seats on review teams and within the CASWE. Consequently, shifts in social work education are occurring with more support for Indigenous programs and anticolonial, anti-oppressive, and decolonizing approaches in schools of social work (Baskin & Sinclair, 2015). Within the CASWE, a national body called the Thunderbird Circle exists where all Indigenous social work educators gather, at least annually, to share experiences and perspectives, collaborate, brainstorm, and unite on important issues. Members of the Thunderbird Circle share representation on accreditation teams and review boards. Indigenous social work educators are working diligently to shift the landscape of social work education in Canada toward more inclusion of Indigenous peoples in Canada (Absolon, 2016). There is a doorway for the inclusion of colonial history and Indigenous cultural knowledge in the CASWE Accreditation Standards where it states that “[s]ocial work programs acknowledge and challenge the injustices of Canada’s colonial history and continuing colonization efforts as they relate to the role of social work education in Canada and the self-determination of the Indigenous peoples” (Canadian Association of Social Work Education, 2014, p. 3). This is the only reference to Indigenous peoples that holds schools accountable for more inclusion of Canadian history of colonization and the subsequent complicity and ongoing responsibility of social work and Indigenous peoples.

Social work education, via omission of the above, breeds social workers’ complicity in the historic and ongoing marginalization, oppression, and cultural genocide of Indigenous people (Menzies, 2014a; Menzies & Lavallée, 2014). Colonial mainstream social work education is characterized as being a part of the problem in perpetuating the colonial project in Canada (Cote-Meek, 2014). For example, all social workers in Canada trained under the rules of the CASWE are eligible to be registered with the College of Social Workers. However, a central critique of mainstream social work education is that it continues to graduate social workers without grounding them in the context of colonization and colonial violence, therefore continually perpetuating classist and racist social work practices within Indigenous communities. This is a gross oversight steeped in either ignorance or conscious choice. Indigenous educators and practitioners are well aware of the omissions of Indigenous contexts, histories, and knowledge and continue to advocate for change and resist colonial discourse in social work education and practice.

Resisting Ongoing Colonial Social Work Practices

Social work education has a professional responsibility to problematize and critically engage in colonial practices where social work is implicated. Decolonizing knowledge is one pathway of generating social workers’ consciousness and capacity to respond to Indigenous children and family issues in anticolonial ways. As explained, there is a symbiotic relationship between aggressive policies of assimilation, those that uphold them, and those who educate and train social workers. Social work educators have a moral and social responsibility to critically engage and educate social work students about the ways in which the social work profession upholds and can resist replicating oppressive colonial violence (Thompson Cooper & Moore, 2009).

Indigenous scholars have been and are leaders and activists in decolonizing programs while building Indigenous social work curricula and approaches that are congruent with the diverse practice contexts of both Indigenous peoples and the role of Indigenous knowledge in the academy (Dumbrill & Green, 2008; Gray & Coates, 2008; Morrisette, McKenzie, & Morrissette, 1993; Mussell, 2006; Poonwassie & Charter, 2005; Rains, 1999). Baskin and Sinclair (2015) assert self-determination among Indigenous educators in leading their own programs and informing social work education and practice by affirming that

Indigenous perspectives, with an anti-colonial/post-colonial theoretical underpinning, expose the hidden history of colonization and its current impacts. More importantly, these worldviews contain the teachings and practices that guide how Indigenous Peoples create their own helping processes, decolonizing and healing. Although only in the beginning stages, Indigenous knowledge within social work has much to offer this profession by way of the (w)holistic approaches that apply to all people who access social work education and practice. (p. 16)

In Canada, the models of Indigenous social work educational programs vary. There are autonomous programs, community-based models, partnerships and affiliated programs, and conventional programs (Thompson Cooper & Moore, 2009). Each program engages with Indigenous communities differently to shift power and situate Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous programs are working to center Indigenous knowledge, history, and practice contexts in curricula and integrate healing practices in their training (Thompson Cooper et al., 2009). Mainstream social work programs may not know or understand the importance of Indigenous healing and learning practices within Indigenous social work programs, but mainstream social workers are being called to learn what Indigenous people are healing from in terms of the TRC Calls to Action (TRC, 2015). In Canada, the TRC Calls to Action begin with addressing calls to action in child welfare, education, language and culture, and youth programs; a majority of the calls to action implicate and call for changes in social work education and practice (TRC, 2015). This is essential to understanding the importance of Indigenous knowledge in Indigenous social work programs and conventional mainstream programs (Garwood & Stevenson, 2009).

The shifts in education have been a result of Indigenous social justice movements, activism, and collective calls to action by Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators and communities for social work to factor in the history of colonization and the impacts of colonial policies (Mastronardi, 2009; Thompson Cooper & Moore, 2009). Thompson Cooper and Moore (2009) and Sinclair et al. (2009) present a collection of chapters by Indigenous educators and non-Indigenous allies who are problematizing colonial mainstream social work education calling for more inclusion of Indigenous knowledges and decolonizing scholarship in curricula. Both of these important Canadian Indigenous social work collections offer rich Indigenous perspectives on what Indigenous practice reveals and the types of education required to equip Indigenous and non-Indigenous social workers with relevant knowledge and skills. Critical Indigenous social work educators have a unified voice on the need to include critical Indigenous knowledge and scholarship in social work education to better equip social workers with relevant knowledge to work in alliance with Indigenous peoples (Absolon, 2010; Cote-Meek, 2014; Hart, 2002; Kennedy-Kish (Bell) et al., 2017; Morrissette et al., 1993). Thus, Indigenous social work education needs to be multi-faceted. Education moves beyond the classroom to healing contexts in practice where Indigenous education and healing happen simultaneously and includes embodied relationship building, the transmission of knowledge, sharing stories, resiliency, and recovery, as evidenced by Haring, Freeman, Guidffrida, and Dennis (2012) in their work with youth.

Additionally, Indigenous social workers and educators are deepening their critical knowledge of understanding of their own Indigenous cultural history. This is then coupled with understanding colonial history as a means toward redefining Indigenous social work practice so it is relevant in the diverse Indigenous contexts in Canada. The collection of works offers readers insight into Indigenous practices in diverse landscapes across Canada that are decolonizing, anti-colonial, and Indigenizing (Sinclair, Hart, & Bruyere, 2009). These acts of consciousness-raising related to Indigenous knowledge and colonial violence (and its impacts) are pivotal to understanding how to teach differently in schools of social work and social work education. Social work education that engages in critical thinking to combat colonizing mechanisms in child welfare, mental health, housing, social welfare, justice, women’s health, and many other practice contexts offers promise when education facilitates consciousness that generates transformative practices. Indigenous educators who are decolonizing and Indigenizing are leading the way for change in Indigenous-centered social work programs in Canada.

For further reading, Baskin and Sinclair (2015) presented an excellent overview of the history of social work and contemporary issues and practices in relation to Indigenous peoples while addressing responsibility and culpability of social work and Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Indigegogy: What It Means

Dr. Stan Wilson, a Cree Elder and scholar, coined the term “Indigegogy” during an accreditation visit to the Indigenous Field of Study at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2006. Dr. Wilson, in describing Indigenous-centered educational programs, stated that Indigegogy is the application of an Indigenist paradigm that restores the presence of Indigenous knowledge in teaching and learning practices and processes. Indigegogy, a wholistic Indigenous approach to teaching Indigenous knowledge in Indigenous ways, has been around since time immemorial. Although Indigegogy sounds like an Indigenized version of the word “pedagogy,” Indigegogy refers to an Indigenous knowledge system that is lived, spirited, and embedded in Indigenous cultural traditions. Indigegogy is not an Indigenous word, and the authors encourage readers to seek out fluent language speakers who may be able to translate the description of Indigegogy into their language. For example, one Anishianaabe Elder, Roberta Oshkawbewisens, translated the description of Indigegogy into the Anishinaabe language. She said that kina Anishinaabe kaandossiwin loosely translates to mean learning in the ways of the people. Indigegogy embodies kina Anishinaabe kaandossiwin. Indigegogy describes teaching and learning that is lived and experienced and learning that promotes decolonizing, anticolonial, Indigenizing, compassion, healing, transformation, relationship building, life, and balance. The following section offers a more in-depth discussion of Indigegogy as an Indigenist paradigm.

The next logical question is: What then is an Indigenist paradigm? An Indigenist paradigm is described in the work of Shawn Wilson (2008), a Cree scholar and Indigenist researcher. He articulated that an Indigenist paradigm is comprised wholistically of Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, axiology, and methodologies, all of which are rooted in Indigenous knowledge systems. There are different paradigms or worldviews that convey how one understands the world or how one understands their reality. Like other paradigms, such as in a feminist paradigm, a continuum exists. In Indigenist research, for instance, Indigenous paradigms are gaining more attention and reflect more movement toward a place where Indigenous knowledge and Indigenist paradigms are sound options in the buffet of knowledges one can apply in their research (Absolon, 2011). What an Indigenist paradigm looks like is relative to the philosophy or worldview of the one who is generating the Indigenous knowledge and is therefore changing and in flux. Wilson (2007) stated:

It is the use of an Indigenist paradigm that creates Indigenous knowledge. . . . It is the philosophy behind our search for knowledge that makes this new knowledge a part of us, part of who and what we are. And it is then the choice to follow this paradigm, philosophy, or worldview that makes research Indigenist, not the ethnic or racial identity of the researcher. (p. 194)

Wilson further articulates that Indigenist paradigms are articulated differently depending on what nation, territory, language, land, and environment informs them. This is similar to an Indigenous pedagogy, which requires one to “speak to the philosophical and epistemological beliefs that inform and guide cultural practice” (Hodgson-Smith, 2000, p. 158). An Indigenous pedagogy, as described by Swapna Padmanabha (2018), illuminates relationships and reciprocity in

tribal nations’ way of imparting knowledge . . . using an Indigenous methodology of having students begin to develop relationships with the people, the place, and the culture of the community. Within Indigenous pedagogy, transferring knowledge is often dependent upon service, and service is understood as a form of reciprocity. For example, you may spend time with your grandmother peeling potatoes while she prepares the rest of the evening meal. During that time, she might tell you stories. In that setting, the stories your grandmother is telling you constitute knowledge being transferred. Your spending time with her and peeling the potatoes is a derive and form of reciprocity. (p. 150)

Culturally responsive pedagogy recognizes students from diverse cultural backgrounds and is positioned in a “framework that recognizes the rich and varied cultural wealth, knowledge, and skills of diverse learners. This approach seeks to develop a philosophical view of teaching that is dedicated to nurturing students’ academic, social, emotional, cultural, psychological, and physiological well-being” (Ragoonanden & Mueller, 2017, p. 24). While the pedagogical language varies, they share common goals of generating culturally congruent learning environments steeped in Indigenist paradigms that honor Indigenous knowledge and value Indigenous ways of knowing for the cultural diversity for Indigenous learners (Overmars, 2010).

In generating anticolonial paradigm shifts, the pioneering works of Paulo Freire (2008), Albert Memmi (1991), Franz Fanon (1963, 1967), Ngugi wa Thiong’O (1986), George Dei (2000), George Dei and Gurpreet Johal, (2005), and bell hooks (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994) have been foundational scholars in carving pathways for Indigenist paradigms to have space in the academy.

Indigegogy: An Indigenist Paradigm

In this section the authors build on Wilson’s (2008) work to deepen readers’ understanding of the elements of an Indigenist paradigm for Indigegogy by further exploring Indigenous epistemology, ontology, axiology, and methodology.


Epistemology is the study of the nature of thinking or knowing and explains your way of thinking or knowing (Wilson, 2008). For example, in an Anishinaabe knowledge system one’s way of knowing would likely be wholistic and relational, based on teachings of the medicine wheel (Absolon, 2010; Nabigon, 2006). The teachings of the wheel are central to understanding relationality within life. Additionally, how one comes to know is often from being in relationship with the web of life and is therefore an important factor and contributor in one’s genealogy of knowing (Absolon, 2011; Wilson, 2008). The study of epistemology itself is an ever-moving and fluid process of coming to know that requires an open mind, spirit, heart, and process (Laurila, 2016). Indigenous knowledge builds on relationships including relationships with ideas, concepts, the natural and human world, and the cosmos. Indigenous ways of knowing are shared rather than owned. Knowledge is praxis and comes from the way things are done and the way people live in relationship to each other, the earth, and the universe. Indigenous knowledge is wholistic and honors one’s relationship to spirit, heart, mind, and body (Ermine, 1995; Wilson, 2008). Indigenous epistemology is derived from visions and vision quests, dreams, rituals, ceremony, prayer, stories and teachings, nature and creation, and universal and natural law (Deloria et al., 1999). Wholism is central to an Indigenous epistemology and is often spelled with a W to denote whole, in terms of completeness, as opposed to hole (Absolon, 2010). Wholism is inclusive of: the spirit, heart, mind, and body; the earth, fire, water, and air; east, south, west, and north; above, middle, and below; the past, present, and future into the next seven generations; and the inner and outer space and knowing (Absolon, 2010). Indigenous epistemology is the root of knowing and grounds that knowing in one’s worldview and philosophy of existence (Absolon, 2011).


Ontology is “the theory of the nature of existence, or the nature of reality” (Wilson, 2008, p. 33). Ontology poses the question: What is real? It describes your way of being and what you believe to be real in the world. For example, how Anishinabek come to know is connected to how we are in the world and what we see as real in relation to the aftermath of colonial violence and its impact on our spirits, hearts, minds, and bodies. In a colonized culture, one’s way of being and reality is impacted by the domination of Euro-centric ideas. Transformation out of this reality requires an acceptance of the nature of colonial power and violence and an active effort to decolonize. Therefore an “anti-colonial lens is also about seeing decolonization as both processes and practices aligned with body, mind, soul/spirit interface, and a politics of healing ourselves from the psychological scars, cultural dislocation, and wounds of colonial mimicry” (Dei, 2014, p. 11). Indigenous beliefs in spirit, cosmos, relationships, and interdependency in the web of life and human dependence on Creation for life are a few examples of ontological views of what is real.


Axiology is comprised of a set of morals or ethics. For example, one’s axiology in an Indigenist paradigm might be that whatever is created has to be beneficial to Indigenous peoples, communities, and creation, and that it cannot bring harm to the earth. Principles of justice and democracy are another set of values that make up an Indigenist paradigm (Dei, 2014). Ethical accountability exists beyond the human realm. Ethical accountability in Indigenous knowledge extends to the spirit realm and is reflected when an offering of sacred tobacco is given to show respect for the spirit of knowledge and learning and from the spirit of one person to another (Danard-Wilson & Restoule, 2010). The offering and acceptance of sacred tobacco denotes an understanding of a moral and spiritual obligation. Another example in Anishinaabe philosophies are the seven Grandfather teachings of love, humility, kindness, courage, bravery, honesty, and wisdom (Benton-Benai, 2010; Simpson, 2011). Indigenous worldviews around learning and coming to know call upon protocols to establish a goodness of spirit, heart, mind, and body for the teaching and learning space. Establishing guidelines and parameters for circle work to be both safe and courageous learning spaces requires ethical facilitators who are knowledgeable and conscientious (Graveline, 1998; Hart, 2002).


Finally, methodology is the “doing” and how you are going to use your thoughts and ways of knowing to transmit knowledge, gain knowledge, or receive knowledge. The methodology is the “how.” How will you teach and engage with learners critically and culturally? How will you engage with people on their learning journey? Indigenous knowledge is earth based, land based, spiritual, relational, wholistic, practical, and considers the past, present, and future. Indigenous methods of teaching and learning take into consideration issues such as territory, environment, local contexts, knowledges, cultures, traditions, and protocols. Indigenous research methodologies, for example, are grounded in Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, axiologies, and methods (Absolon, 2011). Kina Anishinaabe kaandossiwin, learning the ways of the people in the ways of the people, are the methods of Indigegogy. Centering Indigenous ways of knowing, seeing, being, and doing in Indigenous education is a movement of taking back learning into the ways of the people: it is a full circle movement and a return to our sacred knowledge bundles.

Indigegogy: A Wholistic Learning Experience

Applying Indigenous knowledge and Indigenist paradigms wholistically in social work education supports learning relationships, interdisciplinary relationships, transdisciplinary thinking, and wholistic conceptual frameworks in both education and social work practice, which contributes to helping understand the complex and dynamic world (Archibald, 2008; Locklear Hertel, 2017). Some Indigenous projects explicitly use an Indigenist approach and anticolonial approach and both are appropriately applied because “anti-colonialism is about confronting colonialism and pushing back against colonizer-imposed boundaries [and] Indigenism is about honouring and supporting Indigenous aspirations” (Hart, Straka, & Rowe, 2017, p. 341). Expressions of an Indigenist paradigm support an open-ended and lived educational experience where answers and solutions are more a matter of process than finite outcomes. Indigenous worldviews, realities, ethics, and methods are what wholistically constitute Indigegogy. They are pluralized in consideration that there are many different Indigenous nations to inform Indigenist paradigms.

In the following section the authors offer expressions of Indigegogy that wholistically comprise Indigenous paradigms of knowing. Each expression represents the nature of knowing, what one sees as reality, and the ethics of enacting this reality into methods of teaching and learning or researching. The ideology of Indigegogy is fluid, wholistic, and rooted in Indigenous ways of seeing, knowing, being, and doing. Therefore an Indigenist paradigm in Indigenous teaching and learning is Indigegogy. Indigegogy is wholistic; relational; shared with Creation; interpersonal; and interdependent with people, the cosmos, animals, plants, and the earth. This article moves deeper into articulating expressions of Indigegogy using a wholistic framework of spirit, heart, intelligence, and physicality. They are interdependent and interrelational, thus cannot be separate from one another. We articulate them in sections to aid the reader in comprehending wholism in practice. The spirit section offers examples of what Indigegogy looks like in the Indigenous-centered social work program and at the Centre for Indigegogy.

The Spirit of Indigegogy

Learning as ceremony fosters restoring a learner’s relationship to spirit and the cosmos of Creation. Elders and traditional knowledge carriers are central to sharing Creation stories and teachings that help deepen one’s understanding of Creator and spirit. Integrating medicines, smudging practices, and protocols of engaging in relationship with the spirit world are all expressions of enacting the spirit of Indigegogy. Relationships are central.

The spirit of the earth and land are foundational Indigenous epistemological ideas. Core philosophical values and beliefs include understandings that “we are all related,” that our life comes from the land, and that life is enacted by honoring the spirit of the land and life. In Indigegogy the land then becomes central to an educational program’s ability to restore one’s connection to the land and source of life. Taking learners on the land includes activities such as lodge building, fire teachings, medicine walks and teachings, water teachings, and sitting on Creation to reflect and connect. Land-based education restores one’s connection to the natural world and natural law. Some territories might take learners canoeing, camping, berry picking, foraging for food, goose hunting, moose hunting, or duck hunting. The possibilities of restoring learners’ connections to the Indigenous teachings of the region are dependent on the Elders and knowledge carriers and helpers in the area. Relationships are central.

The Heart of Indigegogy

The heart of Indigegogy involves attending to the relational aspects of teaching and learning. Antone, Miller, and Myers (1986) wrote a powerful book that acknowledges the power, gifts, and knowledge within people and offers strategies from which to build on people’s power and strengths out of internalized oppression. Bringing learners together from a strength place where learners have valid knowledge is consistent with the ideas of Brazilian liberation educator Paulo Friere (1970). Building knowledge from the people relies on relational frameworks of teaching and learning. There are a few central ideas to attending to the heart of Indigegogy, including learning happens in relationship, all experiences carry value and carry knowledge, and learning is healing. There are varying ways that the heart of Indigegogy is expressed, but storytelling (Archibald, 2008; Hare, 2011) and circle work (Graveline, 1998; Hart, 2002) are common. Contained within stories are expressions of cultural knowledge, history, values, arts, songs, and more. In circle work, teaching and learning occurs with everyone sitting in a circle. The instructor is the circle facilitator and works to create equality of voice and sharing in circle. Enacting circle work requires knowledge and skill (Absolon, 2010). Circle work has been a central component in embodying the heart of Indigegogy. Through circle work sharing and emotional healing occurs, and learning occurs with the sharing of stories and experiences. All knowledge and experiences have value. Circle work is effective to restore and heal wounded relationships within oneself and others. When sitting in a circle with medicines and ceremony, the circle becomes transformed in learning through ceremony. Relationships are central to circle work and the heart of Indigegogy.

The Intelligence of Indigegogy

The intelligence of Indigegogy has been embedded in the ancestral knowledge systems of Indigenous peoples and cultures since time immemorial. Indigenous research paradigms stand alone as a valid option for knowledge production and coming to know (Absolon, 2011; Smith, 2012). Indigenous intelligence is embedded in knowing the land, environment, animals, plants, and trees (Battiste & Henderson, 2000; Cajete, 2000; Leduc, 2016; Simpson, 2017). It includes problematizing colonial education and mechanisms of colonization through the development of a critical analysis of the impacts of colonization (Hart et al., 2017). The intellect of Indigegogy fosters decolonization as well as Indigenization. Gray et al. (2013) eloquently and assertively stated that decolonizing social work requires that the profession—and, the authors add, that Western education—acknowledge:

its complicity and cease its participation in colonizing projects, openly condemns the past and continued effects of colonialism, collaborates with Indigenous Peoples to engage in decolonizing activities against public and private colonizing projects, and seeks to remove the often subtle vestiges of colonization from theory and practice. (p. 7)

Further, these authors affirm “Indigenous Peoples’ cultural survival and Indigenous rights . . . and the cultural knowledges and practices of Indigenous Peoples serve as an important counterweight to Western ways of thinking and behaving” (Gray et al., 2013, p. 7). Decolonizing and Indigenizing is achieved by privileging Indigenous knowledge and scholarship in coursework and in class circle work. Discourses of decolonization and indigenization vary globally and locally with tensions around the usage of various terms to Indigenization. “These issues arise mainly in contexts where local cultures feel threatened—and where due to their history, concerted attempts are being made to recover, reclaim, or maintain traditional cultural practices and languages—they are considered problematic” (Gray & Hetherington, 2013, p. 25). Gray and Hetherington (2013) posited that terms like Indigenization ought to “arise from the culture, reflect local behaviours and practices, be interpreted within a local frame of reference, and thus be locally relevant, that is it should address culturally relevant and context specific problems” (p. 27). Further, this all implies that the intelligence of Indigegogy has two prongs: first, it is global in establishing a critical anticolonial and decolonizing lens that connects common experiences of colonization throughout the globe; second, it is also embodied in relation to space and place that is specific to the local territories, languages, cultural traditions, foods, and nations.

The Doing of Indigegogy

Thinking alone is not enough. Feeling is not enough. Spirit cannot exist without a culmination of the whole into a manifestation of action. Doing Indigegogy involves restoring relationships in a land-based practice (Dobson & Brazzoni, 2016). Many Indigenous land-based practices involve a lot of preparing and being actively engaged in land-based activities with animals and Creation (Green, 2009; Snowshoe & Starblanket, 2016). Doing Indigegogy is restoring the place of traditional helping bundles by engaging in the art of creating such as drum making, moccasin making, shaker making, learning songs, building lodges and teepees, skirt making, working with medicines, and feasting with traditional foods (Goudreau, Cote-Meek, Madill, & Wilson, 2008). Doing involves the experiential aspects of learning while acknowledging the lived experiences learners bring. Doing represents the work learners have already done while stepping into another cycle of learning, practice, and life. Doing includes the actions one takes to put teachings into practice. It holds Indigenous educators accountable to Indigenous knowledge and teachings. Indigegogy is therefore a way of life and practice: the two are interdependent. One cannot practice teaching and learning in ceremony if one does not live and wear their teachings (Simpson, 2011). Within the medicine wheel, place, space, territory, geography, environment, and natural law are components of the physical aspect of Indigegogy. Indigenous territories and sacred sites are places where enacting Indigogy in Indigenous spaces promotes healing and learning simultaneously. Ethical inclusion with Indigenous peoples implies applying teaching and learning in spaces that are localized to Indigenous peoples’ territories and according to the treaties, traditions, and protocol (Absolon, 2016). Doing Indigogy means physically bringing learning onto the land, into communities and territories.

Indigegogy in Social Work Education

Two pertinent and unique examples of Canadian social work programs that embody Indigegogy are in Saskatchewan and Ontario. More research and literature is needed to continue to articulate Indigenous ways of teaching, learning, and retelling Indigenous perspectives and stories in the Canadian colonial project (Dion, 2004).

First Nations University of Canada, Saskatchewan, Canada

One of the first programs in Canada to challenge the mainstream colonial social work curricula and build an Indigenous program was in Saskatchewan. The Indian Social Work program was created in a partnership between the Saskatchewan Federated Indian College (now First Nations University of Canada) and the University of Regina (UR) in the late 1970s (Sanderson, 2012). This program was guided by an Elder, connected to Indigenous communities, and embedded in Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices. In 2001 the partnership between SIFC and UR launched a Masters of Aboriginal Social Work program where an intensive culture camp and Elder teachings formed the foundation of its curricula (Sanderson, 2012). In alignment with many other Indigenous scholars, Sanderson stated:

The SISW, along with other Indigenous social work programs, has challenged and changed social work education, the profession and social services in Canada. We know of the colonial induced trauma that most of our students carry. We talk “it”; we feel “it”; we release “it.” SISW has been part of a social justice movement to address the discriminatory way that First Nations people have been treated. The elements that make this program unique and life-changing are many; some highlights, in particular the Elder roles, are shared in this paper. (p. 93)

In Saskatchewan, culturally based courses are also accredited (Sanderson, 2012). The SISW program is now a part of First Nations University of Canada and played a significant role in informing the development of the Indigenous Field of Study, an MSW program at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Wilfrid Laurier University, Faculty of Social Work, Kitchener, Ontario

In 2006, Wilfrid Laurier University launched the Aboriginal Field of Study (AFS) stream within the Master of Social Work (MSW) program. In 2017 the name was change to the Indigenous Field of Study (IFS MSW). The then, Program Coordinator of the AFS Malcolm Saulis, a Maliseet scholar, brought his knowledge from his previous work at SIFC to guide this development at Laurier. Like other newly formed social work programs, the AFS underwent accreditation review by the Canadian Association of Social Work education accreditation review board. Generally, Indigenous-centered programs request Indigenous scholars to be a part of the review team to ensure that the team has, in part, Indigenous representation. The underlying assumption is that there will be a level of understanding represented on the review team when the review focuses on the visions, goals, objectives, curriculum, and teaching methodologies of the Indigenous programs. Dr. Stan Wilson stated that the IFS MSW embodied Indigegogy in the most authentic ways he had witnessed Indigegogy in the academy. Dr. Wilson’s reflections were so significant that his comments inspired the IFS MSW adoption of the term “Indigegogy” to best describe its pedagogical approach.

It was important that the IFS be grounded in Indigenous knowledge and delivered in an Indigenous way. The IFS MSW program recognized that Indigenous social work education should be steeped in a critical decolonizing lens and wholistic Indigenous ways of seeing, being, knowing, and doing. To operationalize an authentic Indigenous way of learning, the program engages in Indigegogy to embark upon critically engaging decolonizing scholarship while seeking to restore Indigenous knowledge. This graduate program exemplifies Indigenous knowledge as central, land-based education, learning in ceremonies, critical Indigenous scholarship and literature, and Indigenous scholars and Elders, while using an Indigenizing, decolonizing, anticolonial lens in all courses. The IFS MSW is a program where the knowledge, scholarship, and Indigenist paradigms of Indigegogy are the foundation of the program.

Indigegogy is manifested in a number of ways, as can be seen in the wholistic nature grounded in Indigenist paradigms. Some concrete ways the IFS MSW embodies Indigegogy are through integrating land-based learning, relationality, circle work, storytelling, ceremony, drum making, singing, fasting, smudging, moccasin making, sewing regalia and skirts, and working with medicines into course outlines and curriculum. There is value attributed to Indigegogy where courses such as culture camp, reflection camp, and Elders’ teachings are graduate-level accredited courses. Additionally, Indigegogy promotes critical Indigenous analysis and scholarship by drawing on Indigenous scholarship from within Canada and globally around the world. Indigegogy is an experience of learning through a number of interdependent dynamic lived elements. Each of the elements are ways in which the ideology of Indigegogy is embedded in social work education, thereby offering students an educational experience that leads to personal transformation and a knowledge set for wholistic practice. A more in-depth program description is illustrated in Hill and Wilkinson (2014). This article differs in its contribution by deepening the well of understanding of Indigegogy as an Indigenist paradigm. The IFS MSW “has a goal to develop social work practitioners who demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the history, traditions and culture of Indigenous peoples in Canada” (MSW Indigenous Field of Study, 2018). To learn more about this unique program, its culture camp, and the application of its wholistic evaluation as an assessment of how students embody Indigegogy, read Hill and Wilkinson (2014) or visit the program’s website (MSW Indigenous Field of Study, 2018). How Elders play an integral role in transmitting Indigenous knowledge in an Indigenous way is explained as follows:

The primary purpose in incorporating Elders-in-Residence into the AFS pedagogy is to expose students to different ways of knowing, learning and engaging and to validate and guide learning journeys which bridge formal and informal realms of knowing: for this reason, their presence is regarded as integral to the delivery of a wholistically-based graduate social work program.

(Hill & Wilkinson, 2014, p. 183)

Both in Saskatchewan and in Ontario, Indigenous-centered social work programs are guided by Elders’ knowledge and by Indigenous knowledge keepers. Both programs have in common a desire to implement a program that is specific to Indigenous social work contexts, particularly Indigenous social workers who want to have a graduate experience that is steeped in Indigenous knowing, traditions, and worldviews. For many Indigenous students, it is the first time they have ever engaged in circle processes, smudging, drumming, being on the land, making moccasins, and being on a fast. In Canada Indigenous social work educators in collaboration with Elders and communities are striving to instill relevant Indigenous knowledge into social work programs.

Literature related to Indigegogy and Indigenous-centered social work education is emerging. What is articulated is that Indigegogy leads to transformation through experiential transformative learning experiences of land-based education, use of ceremonies, Indigenous scholarship and literature, integrating a curriculum that utilizes Indigenous scholars, while using a decolonizing, anticolonial lens in the courses (Mihesuah & Wilson, 2004). In articulating Indigenous-centered social work education, Sanderson’s (2012) and Hill and Wilkinson’s (2014) contributions to Indigegogy are drawn from Indigenous scholarship related to working with Elders (Ellerby, 2005; Kennedy-Kish et al., 2017) and circle work (Absolon, 2010; Kennedy-Kish et al., 2017; Graveline, 1998; Hart, 2002), which includes the collective acts of learning from Indigenous knowledge keepers, Indigenous scholars, and Elders. Indigegogy is further embodied specifically with the enactment of land-based education away from university settings in outdoor elements to reconnect students to the water, air, wind, and earth’s medicinal and life resources (Leduc, 2016).

In addition to social work education is the application of Indigegogy for ongoing training and professional development. The following section provides examples from a different program emerging for professional development and training steeped in Indigegogy: the Centre for Indigegogy.

The Centre for Indigegogy: Indigenous-Centered Wholistic Development

This section shares another level of social work development and training that is emerging out of a newly formed Centre for Indigegogy. Both authors of this article are intimately connected to the Centre. Dr. Kathy Absolon King is the director of the Centre and an Associate Profession in the IFS MSW program, and Giselle Dias, MSW, is the Program Coordinator.

The Centre’s vision is to provide wholistic Indigenous-centered professional development training to Indigenous educators, social workers, and settler allies who are interested in engaging in learning through Indigegogy. Through Indigenous-centered wholistic development, helpers, educators, and allies can access continued learning in Indigenous ways of being, knowing, seeing, and doing through a decolonizing and anticolonial framework. What follows are brief descriptions of three mains offerings at the Centre for Indigegogy.

Indigenous Educators Certificate in Indigegogy

The Indigenous Field of Study at Laurier University has become an innovator in Indigenous wholistic education to support Indigenous educators, social workers, and helpers who aspire to strengthen their Indigeneity and who want to learn to teach from their Indigenous center. The inception of the Centre for Indigegogy first emerged with the Indigenous Educators Certificate in Indigegogy. Each module in the certificate is created and delivered with the guidance of program Elders. Each module supports Indigenous people to build their wholistic knowledge bundles that are comprised of decolonizing critical Indigenous lands and Indigenizing cultural identity. It is essential to transfer these knowledge bundles to Indigenous educators to help build ongoing confidence, capacity, and knowledge that is culturally based. Courses including strengthening Indigenous educators’ abilities to facilitate circle processes, putting Indigegogy into practice, learning how to engage in wholistic evaluations, and honoring the land in education.

Decolonizing Educators Certificate in Indigegogy

The second case example within the Centre is a series of eight modules in a Decolonizing Education Certificate. The first five modules are developed and delivered by Indigenous scholars and knowledge keepers. All eight modules move participants through the truth of colonial and cultural history toward decolonizing and building an anticolonial lens. It helps people better comprehend the history of treaties, social control policies of aggressive assimilation, and Indigenous resistance movements and activism. The modules guide people through a process of decolonizing with the help of instructors who themselves have been working on decolonizing in their personal and professional journeys. In the last modules the instructors are non-Indigenous settlers who work with participants to engage in sharing their knowledge and fears in stepping forward and to generate ideas and plans to operationalize what they are learning. One of our goals is to help educators take up their place in the struggle for creating decolonized, anticolonial teaching and learning spaces for critical thinking and dialogue to emerge.

During our first decolonizing certificate we had a number of Indigenous people who wanted to participate in our modules. We wanted to empower Indigenous participants and provide skills to decolonize and Indigenize spaces where they worked. The success of our work with other Indigenous educators led to a partnership with an Indigenous school to provide the Decolonizing Educators Certificate program within a teaching lodge in Northern Ontario. The certificate modules were adapted to fit the Northern community, language, and context but with the same goal of decolonizing education through Indigegogy: kina Anishinaabe kaandossiwin.

As a result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Report in 2015, decolonizing education has become a catchphrase for many institutions while looking to Indigenous academics to lead the way without engaging in building knowledge based on truth telling and sharing as in the RCAP (1996) and TRC (2015) final reports. Many Indigenous peoples are asserting there can be no reconciliation without truth, and settlers are called upon to understand the truth of colonization on the backs of Indigenous peoples and the land (Regan, 2010). The Decolonizing Educators Certificate is our effort at presenting the truth of colonization from Indigenous perspectives and calls upon learners to accept that colonization exists. In the article “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang (2012) pointedly argued that “decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools” (p. 1). Land has been central to our conversations in our Decolonizing Educators Certificate, and it has sought to help settlers understand their relationship to Indigenous land and to shake the foundational belief that ownership of land is their right. This is not meant to awaken or foster settler guilt but to create discomfort in coming to understand what decolonization actually means—the return of Indigenous land to Indigenous people.

Wholistic Professional Development

Our Wholistic Professional Development series engages Indigenous helpers in restoring their knowledge bundles. Much of mainstream social work education relies on quick therapeutic solutions such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and solution-focused therapies. Indigenous social workers working with Indigenous clients who have experienced long-term colonial and intergenerational violence have a responsibility in practice to restore Indigenous ways of wholistic healing. This cannot be achieved through short-term solutions. Healing of Indigenous people, families, and communities involves a long-term investment in understanding how colonial violence has impacted generations of Indigenous people as well as restoring Indigenous identities, traditions, and ceremonies.

Moving Indigegogy Forward: Building Courage

It takes a lot of bravery for Indigenous people to go into academic spaces that are hegemonic, hostile, and colonial; many people in academic spaces do not understand who Indigenous peoples are, why we are doing what we are doing, and what we stand for. The Centre for Indigegogy helps grow courage to stand up for Indigegogy within the academy and many other spaces where Indigenous knowledges can have a positive impact. It is the Centre’s goal to continue to contribute to the movement for Indigenous control of Indigenous education by Indigenous people guided by Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing.

Engaging in Indigegogy means acknowledging that colonization exists and understanding the impact that colonization has had our spirits, our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. The scholarship by Indigenous people that honors Indigenous knowledge has bolstered our understanding of Indigenist paradigms and led to the scholarship and practice of Indigegogy. We must also have the will and desire to unlearn colonial practices and to create spaces to relearn our own ways. It takes bravery and courage to do simple things like initiate and conduct a smudging ceremony because mainstream institutions do not understand them and they evoke questions and intolerance from other people. In truth and reality smudging (ceremonially burning sage) is an Indigenous people’s cultural right according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (United Nations General Assembly, 2007) and the TRC “believes that the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the appropriate framework for reconciliation in twenty-first-century Canada” (TRC, 2015, p. 243). This means that Indigenous peoples have the “right to access and revitalize their own laws and governance systems within their own communities and in their dealings with governments. They have a right to protect and revitalize their cultures, languages and ways of life” (TRC, 2015, p. 244). Indigegogy plays a substantial role in education for and by Indigenous peoples. Ultimately, learning to practice and enact Indigenous cultural rights requires knowledge and understanding of what those are and belief in Indigenous ways of knowing, which is how Indigegogy becomes transformative. It offers opportunities to learn in culturally based and relevant ways Indigenous teachings, Creation stories, medicines, and circle work. Over time, with support and practice, the student builds confidence in Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices. Indigegogy is learning by experience, by practice, and in relationship—all leading to transformation, healing, and recovery of identity.

When Indigenous people start to connect to their consciousness and begin to wake up out of a colonial coma, they will have a desire to create change, and with this comes responsibility. It comes with the burden of being the one that speaks up, the one that might be the first to go down this trail in their educational settings or agencies. A person has to have strength, courage, and ingenuity. There are risks of failing, and people have to give themselves permission to fail, because when Indigenous people go into colonial spaces, Indigegogy will not be there for us. Indigenous people will have to create the space where the growth of Indigegogy is possible. This will have a ripple effect because once Indigenous people wake up its hard to go back to sleep. There is still a long way to go, and there is a lot of work to be done. There is no time for complacency.


Canada’s ongoing colonization of Indigenous people remains a dangerous and violent obstacle to Indigenous peoples’ wholistic health and well-being. Social work’s historic and contemporary role in the disruption of Indigenous communities remains an ongoing problem. Therefore, there is a responsibility that exists in social work programs to ensure that Indigenous knowledges and decolonizing scholarship are included in curricula to better equip graduating students with knowledge that will not deepen the harm already caused. Indigenous control over Indigenous education has been one of the biggest turning points for the resurgence of Indigenous people. Indigegogy as an Indigenist paradigm in social work education is transformative education that leads to transformative social work practice. Indigegogy is learning the ways of the people in the ways of the people: kina Anishinaabe kaandossiwin.

Further Reading

Baskin, C. (2006). Aboriginal world views as challenges and possibilities in social work education. Critical Social Work, 7(2).Find this resource:

Baskin, C. (2011). Strong helpers’ teachings: The value of Indigenous knowledges in the helping professions. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press.Find this resource:

Battiste, M. (2017). Visioning a Mi’kmaw humanities: Indigenizing the academy. Sydney, NSW: Cape Breton University Press.Find this resource:

Burgess, H. F. (2000). Processes of decolonization. In M. Battiste (Ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision (pp. 150–160). Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.Find this resource:

Calliou, S. (1995). Peacekeeping actions at home: A medicine wheel model for a peacekeeping pedagogy. In M. Battiste & J. Barman (Eds.), First Nations education in Canada: The circle unfolds (pp. 47–72). Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.Find this resource:

Carriere J., & Richardson, C. (2013). Relationship is everything: Holistic approaches to Aboriginal child and youth mental health. First Peoples Child and Family Review, 7(2), 8–26.Find this resource:

Dobson, C., & Brazzoni, R. (2016). Land based healing: Carrier First Nations’ addiction recovery program. Journal of Indigenous Wellbeing Te Mauri—Pimatisiwin, 1(2), 9–17.Find this resource:

Doerfler, J., Sinclair, N. J., & Stark, H. K. (2013). Centering Anishinaabeg studies: Understanding the world through stories. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.Find this resource:

Dion, S. (2009). Braiding histories: Learning from the experiences and perspectives of Aboriginal people. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.Find this resource:

Gehl, L. (2017). Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the human spirit. Regina, SK: University of Regina Press.Find this resource:

Grande, S. (2004). Red pedagogy: Native American social and political thought. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Find this resource:

Goudreau, G., Cote-Meek, S., Madill, H., & Wilson, S. (2008). Hand drumming: Health-promoting experiences of Aboriginal women from a northern Ontario urban community. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 4(1).Find this resource:

Manitowabi, D., & Maar, M. (2018). “We stopped sharing when we became civilized”: A model of colonialism as a determinant of Indigenous health in Canada. Journal of Indigenous Health in Canada, 7(1), 1–19.Find this resource:

Manitowabi, S., & Gauthier-Frohlick, D. (2012). Relationship building: A best practice model for Aboriginal women’s health research. Native Social Work Journal, 8, 57–74.Find this resource:

Marsh, T. N., Coholic, D., Cote-Meek, S., & Najavits, L.N. (2015). Blending Aboriginal women and Western healing methods of treat intergenerational trauma with substance use disorder in Aboriginal peoples who live in Northeastern Ontario. Harm Reduction Journal, 12(14).Find this resource:

McGregor, D., Bayha, W., & Simmons, D. (2010). “Our responsibility is to keep the land alive”: Voices of northern Indigenous researchers. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 8(1), 101–123.Find this resource:

McGuire-Adams, T. (2017). Anishinaabeg women’s stories of wellbeing: Physical activity, restoring wellbeing, and confronting the settler colonial deficit analysis. Journal of Indigenous Wellbeing: Te Mauri-Pimatisiwin, 2(3), 90–104.Find this resource:

McNally, M. D. (2009). Aging, authority, and Ojibwe religion: Honouring elders. New York: Columbia University Press.Find this resource:

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