Indigenous Ways of Knowing

Program Support, Community Learning Network

1 1 20 June 2017

This week we are marking National Aboriginal Day on June 21st, and we are honoured to feature Donna Webster as a guest blogger. Donna is the Executive Director of the Lac La Biche Canadian Native Friendship Centre Association.

Indigenous people’s belief is that the world is made up of a constant flow of repetitive energy patterns, with all living things being interconnected and with spirit (Little Bear, 2000). This perspective emphasizes the importance of one’s individual relationship with that of the whole and the whole’s connection to each individual. Indigenous people view themselves as being individually responsible for the care of all living things including the earth upon which they live (Little Bear, 2000). It is with this collective mentality, Indigenous people also believe one’s own personal growth needs to be developed in four areas that make one a whole human being, the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects (Lane, 1984). This is represented with the use of the Medicine Wheel Teaching as a conceptual tool, encompassing the four growing cycles of humankind from child to youth to adult to elder, in a circle which is never ending (Lane, 1984). One then strives for this holistic development in order to be in balance with the world around them. 

Indigenous people view this as an ongoing process of both education and development that does not stop at any specific age or period in time, but as lifelong recurring patterns, holistic in nature. When a child is born, it is the young children, adults and Elders roles to help them explore and learn about their world in all areas of experience before moving on to the next stages as a young child (Little Bear, 2000). A young adult learns from their children how to be good parents as well as how to be nurturing care providers for their aging Elders. An Elder learns to be an effective storyteller to young children so that they learn to stay out of harm’s way or from the mistakes of others, while also preparing the adults to carry on the rituals long after they are gone (Lane, 1984).

Along with the teaching experiences for each stage in life, the individual’s holistic development is also supported and represented in the practice of the Medicine Wheel. As a child develops a particular physical skill such as hunting, they are also taught the intellectual skills of knowing how to track and find the animal (Little Bear, 2000). This is followed by learning to give thanks to the animal for its life and how to honor it in a sacred way, enriching the child’s spiritual growth. After all is achieved, the child’ accomplishments are celebrated by the people, through ceremony and song, enhancing the child’s emotional development so they integrate the feeling of pride with the work being completed (Little Bear, 2000). Full development is required to be completed at each stage of life and each of the four areas in order for the person to be able to move on to the next.

Indigenous people’s view of the world is all-inclusive and encompassing, allows for greater understanding of one another and harmony with nature (Royal, Vol. 1, 1996). Within the world is everything one needs to embark on their own journey around the circle of life while being connected and related to all living things. Each being can teach the other about each stage of growth and aid in their learning. If one sees the world as interconnected like Indigenous people do there is a greater chance for enhanced knowledge and greater holistic personal development. If one achieves to the best of their being within themselves, then the group and the world as a whole benefits by all working together (Royal, Vol. 1, 1996). 

Donna Webster
Executive Director
Lac La Biche Canadian Native Friendship Centre Association


Lane Jr. P., Bopp, J., Bopp, M., Brown, L., and Elders. (1984). The sacred tree (pp. 7-41). Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press. Excerpt.

Little Bear, L. (2000). Jagged world views colliding. In M. Battiste (Ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision (pp. 77-85). Vancouver: UBC Press.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996). A Thanksgiving address. In Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Volume 1. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.


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