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Culturally Appropriate Ways to Incorporate Indigenous Knowledge and Perspectives Through the Arts

One of the greatest fears that non-Indigenous teachers have when incorporating Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into the curriculum is that they are appropriating the culture. Some educators fear that by talking about cultures that are not their own, they will be misrepresenting important issues. While this may be true in some cases, it is important NOT to avoid teaching these topics as that too can create harm. By not including Indigenous perspectives into the curriculum, some students may feel isolated and underrepresented.

What is Cultural Appropriation and Why Is It Important to Address?

Cultural appropriation is complex and deeply rooted. For Indigenous peoples in Canada, “cultural appropriation is rooted in colonization and ongoing oppression” (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017). It involves “taking” without permission, which can refer to physical items such as regalia, or traditional knowledge and ceremonies. Cultural appropriation often perpetuates harmful stereotypes about Indigenous people, and diminishes knowledge when used inappropriately (e.g., knowledge surrounding sacred objects or medicines).

Cultural appropriation in the classroom can severely impact the way that students feel about themselves and their cultures, as well as the way that they think about cultures that are not their own. What can also be very hurtful is when a student does not see themselves represented within the curriculum. When this happens, they may not connect with the material or feel as though their culture is unworthy of being included in their education. From personal experience, the absence of Indigenous culture in the curriculum left me feeling confused about how my identity fit within the education system.  For these reasons, it is important to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. However, it must be done in a way that values and amplifies Indigenous voices and lived experiences. It is important to remember that it may take time to learn how to do these things properly, but is crucial for creating a space where students feel safe and represented.

Tips for Knowledge Integration

Art Integration

Art is a beautiful tool that can help students understand complex topics while having creative experiences. Introducing students to new concepts and cultures through the arts (dance, drama, music, and visual arts) can act as a springboard for deeper dialogue and to investigate issues that are meaningful to Indigenous peoples.

For example, you could show your students the painting “The Scream'' by Kent Monkman, which depicts the horror that Indigenous people faced, as children were taken off to residential schools. Students could analyse and interpret the painting, express their point of view of the artwork, and describe how it makes them feel. Next steps could include having students work in small groups to create a tableau sequence or dance to depict an emotion, idea, or narrative based on the painting. They could also search for music by Indigenous artists to represent the emotions they feel when looking at the painting.

Another example is having students learn about creation stories by interpreting a three-storey mural painting at Algonquin College. They could then research creation stories told by Indigenous nations across Canada and choreograph dances to demonstrate key pieces in the stories. This can also become a springboard for storytelling through the arts and having students tell their own “creation story” as a means to share who they are. 

Lastly, the arts can also be used to teach students about the different Indigenous nations across Canada. Students can explore how artistic expressions are similar or different from nation to nation as a means to learn about ceremonies, practices, and stories/teachings.

Inviting guests to share their knowledge

Inviting Indigenous guest speakers into the classroom to share their knowledge, experiences, or their artistic work is a really great way to incorporate authentic knowledge. It can be really beneficial for students to hear directly from guests about their lived experiences because it makes the learning more relatable. Through this kind of experience students can also learn about the benefits of inviting other people into their learning space, and how their learning can be expanded when they hear from multiple perspectives. Guests that are invited into the classroom to share their artistic work can also help to guide the students (and educators) through the art process in a way that is respectful to the culture and nation.

Ask questions when you do not know

If you are unsure of how to introduce a topic or feel like you don’t have enough knowledge to teach your class, ask questions! It is always better to reach out for support than to share information with your students that is wrong or misleading. Not only does this ensure that students are well-informed, but it also shows your students that you are learning alongside them. The Internet has lots of amazing resources for teaching Indigenous education, and most school boards in Canada have Indigenous Leads that can be contacted for extra support. 

Guest Writer: Samantha Murdoch-Rock, B.A., Embodied Learnings Director and Indigenous Education Lead. Want to know more about her work? Read here! 



The Canadian Encyclopedia (2017, September 26). Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from 

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