From the First Nations Principles of Learning: How Learning Is

From the First Nations Principles of Learning: How Learning Is


How we go about learning depends on our culture and our context. Piano learned in a Jazz Band simply sounds different than Piano playing learned alone. So it is with all learning. This is the learning context. We think of learning as developing skills or acquiring content. We are thinking of the “what” of learning. But learning has a “how”, a “who”, a “why”, and a “where”. All of these are the context of learning. I think we feel confident that learning to bake cookies with your mother is different from learning to bake cookies at the Vancouver School of Culinary Arts. Our physical surroundings, social and emotional context, and the particular learning task we engage in, condition the knowledge, skills, and attitudes so gained.

“No man”, wrote the poet, priest, and lawyer John Donne, “is an island unto himself”. Our children grow and learn as parts of a larger community, a community which here on the west coast of British Columbia, is particularly broken by a historical rift between First Nations peoples and those whose ancestors settled here from other places. The history of this rift in British Columbia is particularly interesting. Once, a mere 150 years ago, there was a respectful and collaborative relationship among the various people-groups. Goldrush, smallpox, colonialism, joining confederation, residential schools, and land use conflict have all taken an incalculable toll. And as our nation's highest authorities have stated, the time has come for healing and reconciliation; and education must be a part of that. Furthermore, people of faith such as ourselves, ought rightly to have a particular interest in healing and reconciliation, for we all benefit from mutual understanding.

In recent years educators have gathered to consider how educators such as myself and yourself can contribute to healing and reconciliation. They set for themselves the task of describing the principles that guide learning in the First Nations context so that we can all learn those principles and be the richer for it. Learning is part of our common inheritance as human beings. Looking into First Nations principles of learning will also elucidate our own; and, afford us a path toward growing appreciation.

Among the First People’s Principles of Learning, there is this statement. Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential and relational (focussed on connectedness, reciprocal relationships and a sense of place). In the words that follow, I consider these attributes of learning as a guide to new ways of learning by which we are all enriched, and by which appreciation can grow.