Integration of Indigenous Content Through Experiential Learning into Existing Curriculum

Area(s) of Focus: revised curriculum
Division(s): Primary, Intermediate, Senior
Level(s): Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 7, Grade 8, Grade 9, Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 12

A collaborative approach to integrating indigenous Ways of Knowing, issues and perspectives for students and staff. Initiatives included group storytelling, creative lessons to explore our history, and connection with Elders in their community.

Our intent was to increase student engagement as well as awareness of indigenous issues, perspectives and knowledge through the integration of indigenous content and Ways of Knowing into the current curriculum. In order to do this, we realized that our teachers must be engaged and comfortable when facilitating this learning in their classrooms.

We ran a pilot project in one of our communities with schools that service a First Nations community to see if we could help teachers feel more confident including indigenous issues, perspectives and knowledge into their lessons. The project was two-fold. The first part was to provide a 10-week long opportunity for classes in the elementary panel to collaborate with a class from the secondary panel and create legends inspired by Algonquin teachings about Turtle Island and animal characteristics. The culmination of this collaboration was an indigenous film festival held at the secondary school. Students from five different area schools (some more than a two-hour drive away) attended the day. Shirley Cheechoo was in attendance to talk with students and the staff about her experience in residential schools and her healing journey. The second part was to provide an opportunity for teachers from both panels to go out to the First Nations community for a professional development day hosted and facilitated by First Nations members.

Before the project began, we sent out a Google survey to staff at two schools to determine teachers’ initial level of comfort with indigenous issues, perspectives and knowledge, and to determine current teaching practices. After both parts of our project, we sent out a Google survey to participants to solicit their feedback.

Team Members

  • Kory-Lynn King

    District School Board Ontario North East

  • Erin Buchmann

    District School Board Ontario North East

  • Nadine Gaudaur

    District School Board Ontario North East

Professional Learning Goals

  • Developed awareness among teachers of the learning styles of indigenous students
  • Employed instructional methods designed to enhance the learning of all indigenous students
  • Incorporated meaningful indigenous cultural perspectives and activities when planning instruction
  • Provided a supportive and safe environment for all indigenous students
  • Increased knowledge of indigenous cultures among all school staff
  • Developed relationships with local indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers
  • Fostered school-community projects with appropriate cultural components

Activities and Resources


  • Met face-to-face with Elders and community members to gain perspective and discuss culture and history
  • Increased teacher confidence with incorporating indigenous content into lesson plans by co-teaching
  • Made connections with community and board resources for teachers at the secondary and elementary levels
  • Provided opportunities for leadership and mentorship between secondary and elementary students
  • Reflected on and revised lessons
  • Created an indigenous film festival to raise awareness of indigenous issues
  • Increased awareness through first-person storytelling of experience in residential schools

Resources that were used:

  • Creation story
  • Elders and community members
  • Aboriginal Youth Liaison Officer
  • iPads and Book Creator app
  • Art
  • Indigenous drumming as a relationship builder
  • Medicine Wheel teachings

Unexpected Challenges

With our team all being from different areas in our board and having different positions, it was challenging to collaborate effectively and on a consistent basis.

The schedule between elementary and secondary is different making collaboration a challenge.

Weather was a factor with several snowdays this year.

Working with community members made scheduling difficult for a variety of reasons: time concepts (mainstream versus indigenous), geography, availability, justification of honouraria, using and accessing medicines, and being able to offer tobacco prior to meetings.

Challenging the idea that this was “extra work” or an “add-on” for teachers.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

This project had a very positive effect on students. First and foremost, it fostered empathy as students learned more about our shared history and the realities of residential schools. As all students learned about indigenous cultures, our indigenous students seemed to outwardly show more pride in their identity, and non-indigenous students became excited to learn more. As students worked collaboratively, with senior students having opportunities for leadership and junior students being mentees, there was an increased pride and ownership for their work.

The many facets of this project also allowed for student voice and inquiry to be used to direct lessons, and fostered positive relationships between students, students and teachers, and students and community members. These meaningful relationships and experiences in turn increased student ownership, engagement and attendance.


The results of this project have already been shared within the schools involved through student presentations during staff meetings, teachers sharing with their colleagues and principals, and students sharing their learning and books with their parents. The students involved have also been interviewed for the radio and have been working regularly within the community.

We plan to share this information more broadly with our board through our Indigenous Lead, and with our greater community through presentations to our First Nations Advisory Council and our Indigenous Education Advisory Council. We also plan to use the sharing of this project as a platform to access time during professional development days to share best practices with staff in the rest of the board.

Finally, we are creating a document that provides teachers with a “catalogue” of sorts which outlines the curricular connections and a suggested activity/assessment that can be done based on culturally based presentations delivered by our Aboriginal Youth Liaisons or community members.

Project Evaluation

We found this project to be very successful, although finding numerical data to demonstrate the success we see and feel is difficult. Being in the room and hearing senior students as they worked on storytelling, or pouch making, or medicine wheel teachings, was inspiring. Over a 10-week period, we saw students, teachers and other staff members develop strong and meaningful relationships

Our visit from Shirley Cheechoo gave students, staff and community members a first-hand experience with a residential school survivor. Those who attended were so moved by her stories that it launched art projects in schools, letter writing and an increased interest in one of our board’s annual powwows, where this year we are bringing four buses as opposed to our usual one bus.

The professional development in the community with an Elder gave staff an opportunity to hear a “new to them” version of history. Staff were able to discuss their curriculum and make meaningful links across the grades and discuss ways that learning can be supported at each level, particularly for our indigenous students. Staff members were also able to discuss some of the barriers that our indigenous students face that they may not have been aware of.  Teachers and community members alike were pleased with the professional development session and would like to continue having these opportunities.

On a smaller but equally as meaningful level, we had some secondary students who went from being non-attenders to achieving credits for the first time.

As we move forward, we would like to continue the model of bringing staff to the First Nations communities that we serve to strengthen those relationships through participation not only in professional development sessions, but community events. We have found that this experiential type of learning is paramount, not only for students, but also for staff.



Resources Created

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