Indigenous Cultures and EAP Classes

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Should we teach Indigenous cultures and other matters concerning Indigenous peoples in our EAP classes? I’ve been reading about this lately.  Here are some things I’ve learned.  

First, I learned that the University of Guelph is located on the ancestral lands of the Attawandaron people and the treaty lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. Although I was educated in this area, this was new information for me.

I also learned that our universities are designed to maintain the dominance of Western-European norms and cultures. For example, while the written word is central to these institutions, many Indigenous cultures use story-telling and oral communication for teaching purposes.

I believe Indigenous matters do belong in Canadian EAP classrooms for the following reasons:

  • Indigenous people have rich cultures that have influenced and continue to shape Canadian culture.  Why would we deny our students the opportunity to learn about them?
  • Our students come here not only to learn English, but also to learn about Canada.  What is Canada without Indigenous people? Long before settlers came, and ever since, Indigenous people have helped to shape the society of Canada, so their influence should be recognized in our classes.
  • According to Judge Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, education will provide the best solutions to healing the schism that exists between Indigenous and Settler people.  By acknowledging Indigenous cultures in our classes, we are honouring a group that has been marginalized in our schools and communities for too long.  Afterall, we teach values as much by that which we choose to focus on as by that which we choose to ignore.
  • Finally, since Settler and Indigenous communities live side-by-each throughout the world, the question of how we treat each other and learn from one another might be common ground between us and our students.

What’s stopping us from teaching about Indigenous peoples in our EAP classes?

There is very little Indigenous content in my EAP courses for reasons similar to those stated in the TESL literature referenced at the end of this article.

  • I lack knowledge about Indigenous cultures and history, and I fear that I would misrepresent the culture or over-simplify the struggle of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
    • Generally, I depend on class texts for support, especially in areas I’m not well-informed on.  However, there seem few readily available curricula materials and resources on this topic. 

What things have others done in their classes to teach students about Indigenous matters?

  • After reading and listening to lectures on the lived experiences of Indigenous people in Canada, students in Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. were encouraged to reflect on Indigenous histories in the places they call home. (Reid, 2019)
  • At Vantage College of the University of British Columbia, Jennifer Walsh Marr asks students to focus on the language and content used to recount historic and present-day struggles between Indigenous people and Settler Canadians.  She encourages international students to think critically about the use of active and passive language in assigning blame or avoiding it. (Walsh Marr, 2019).
  • Wishing to educate the educators, Mount Royal University in Southern Alberta created a faculty learning group that read relevant texts, participated in Indigenous-led workshops and experienced aspects of Indigenous cultures, such as a sweat lodge, a night in a tipi and a Holy Hand Game Ceremony. (Yeo et al, 2019)

In conclusion, what can we do to bring Indigenous content into the EAP Programs?

  • We can begin with small steps, such as acknowledging the ancestral lands on which our institutions reside at our opening or closing ceremonies.
  • We should encourage publishers to find qualified Indigenous educators who can assist in producing resources and materials for our teachers and students.
  • We can search out and invite Indigenous educators to speak at our TESL Ontario Convention, our staff meetings, and professional development events.

Have you ever discussed matters relating to Indigenous people in the classroom?


Reid, R.E. (2019), Intercultural Learning and Place‐Based Pedagogy: Is There a Connection?. Teaching and Learning, 2019: 77-90. doi:10.1002/tl.20331

Walsh Marr, J. (2019), An English Language Teacher’s Pedagogical Response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Teaching and Learning, 2019: 91-103. doi:10.1002/tl.20332

Yeo, M., Haggarty, L., Wida, W., (Thomas Snow), Ayoungman, K., Pearl, C.M.L., Stogre, T. and Waldie, A. (2019), Unsettling Faculty Minds: A Faculty Learning Community on Indigenization. Teaching and Learning, 2019: 27-41. doi:10.1002/tl.20328

If you are reading this blog, then you’re probably familiar with my world, a world that spins around teaching, grammar, pronunciation, sentence structure, Canadian culture, and all things English. I’m fascinated by the places where cultures intersect: when Asia meets America, South touches North, and desert dwellers converse with snow shovellers. I see these things every day in my class, and they are the things I want to post about. After teaching EFL in China, and computer skills in LINC, I started teaching EAP at the University of Guelph, and sixteen years later, I’m still at it. I earned a BA in English literature from the University of Waterloo, and a B.Ed from Western Ontario University. I also have my ESL Part 2 and TESL Certification.


4 thoughts on “Indigenous Cultures and EAP Classes”

  1. Thank you for this blog post. I recently attended a TESL Niagara conference and this very topic was address. I am Haudenosaunee-Anishnaabe Kwe who is OCELT who truly believes that Indigenous peoples should be included into the EAP curriculum. I am more than willing to become a participant should this move forward. My Western knowledge and traditional background in Indigenous peoples would be an asset to assist with this.

  2. Thank you Eva for starting this discussion, I am an ESL support teacher working in a public school in the Greater Toronto Area. I completely agree with you that when students are learning English, they are also learning about Canada and Indigenous people are integral to Canadian identity. Many of my ELL students have questions pertaining to Indigenous people and I try my best to integrate content within my program. As an aspiring school leader, I am interested to know Eva and Victoria, how your individual schools are promoting indigenous content? How is it interwoven into the Curriculum Map? and what role is your Principal taking in order to ensure that the indigenous content is properly addressed?

    At the system level, does your Board and/or organization have any resources in place to support teachers?

    I believe in the importance of building strong community partners. What suggestions do you have that would help me to establish partnerships with Indigenous groups? What have you tried in the past?
    I looking forward to hearing back from you,
    Thank you,

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful response and questions, Ian. At the University of Guelph, we don’t have Indigenous content in our curriculum yet, but we are beginning the conversation about how we could do so. I have spoken with the Indigenous Centre on campus, and they lent me some books, but to date nothing further has come of that. Through this article, I have heard from several instructors who have some experience incorporating indigenous materials, such as Victoria, above, and an instructor from Mohawk College. I believe we may be able to draw on their experiences as we move forward in this endeavour.

  4. Hello Eve,

    Thank you very much for your response. It is great to hear that the University of Guelph is beginning the conversation regarding integrating Indigenous content into the Curriculum.
    As an aspiring school leader, I am planning on preparing a professional development workshop that discusses the importance of integrating Indigenous content into our school and classroom. In 2016, my school Board rolled out the Empowering Modern Learners framework that discusses 21st Century competencies such as inquiry based learning and the integration of technology in classroom instruction to support student learning. As an educator, I believe that it is imperative to focus student inquiry projects on Indigenous content such as land treaties and truth and reconciliation, residential schools etc.

    However, before we get students to research some of these topics as part of their Inquiry project which is integrated with Social Studies, I firmly believe that the classroom teacher should have a fairly good grasp on integrating Indigenous content within their program so that students have prior knowledge that they can draw upon when engaged in the inquiry process.

    You stated that the Indigenous Centre on campus lent you some books, I would really appreciate it if you could please share some of these book titles with me. As I have stated, I am planning on preparing a staff PD that will discuss strategies to implement Indigenous content, since it is aligned with our Empowering Modern Learners framework.

    This is such a fascinating topic, as Canadian educators we must ensure that we are working with staff and students to successfully integrate Indigenous content within our place of work and study.

    It would also be great to hear some of the strategies that Victoria has used.

    Looking forward to hearing from you Eve,
    Thank you,

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