Aquash, 2013

Aquash, M. (2013). First Nations Ways of Knowing: The Circle of Knowledge. First Nations Perspectives, 5(1), 25–36. Retrieved from


The Circle of Knowledge (T-C-K) is a unique research project focused on documenting successful and effective pedagogical strategies that addresses fluency in Anishinaabe language through community initiatives, activities and an immersion school. Group teaching and learning, specifically, the precursor to cooperative learning called social interdependence theory is the theoretical framework. Action research was selected as the methodology as it was considered to be the least intrusive and provides a process for continuous improvement of the program. The challenges and successes to addressing fluency in the Anishinaabe language is a unique portrayal of life in this First Nation community. Currently, the pedagogical strategies utilised have dramatically increased the level of fluency for this First Nation community. Documentation of these teaching strategies have proven useful for the Walpole Island First Nation and it is anticipated that many Indigenous communities around the world may benefit from adapting these strategies as appropriate for their circumstances.


Indigenous education; Aboriginal education; online education; cooperative learning; social interdependence

Key Ideas

Walpole Island is North American un-ceded territory and has been continuously inhabited by Anishinaabe people since time immemorial. This First Nation is in the Great Lakes region at the northern end of Lake St. Clair, in the St. Clair river delta. Situated between the State of Michigan (USA) to the west and the southern region of Ontario (Canada) to the east. The territory consists of six islands and five unique ecosystems: Deciduous forest, River Prairie; Oak Savannah; Tall Grass Prairie; and the largest Wetlands in the Great Lakes region. The territory has twelve per cent of Canada’s rare sepcies at risk. The First Nation community has approximately five thousand citizens, of which, approximately half live outside of the community. There have been approximately seventy-five fluent speakers of the Anishinaabe language or three per cent of Walpole Island residents (WIFN Language Survey, 2008). (p. 25-26)

  • community leaders approached the researcher, indicating a true partnership
  • treaties provided legitimacy for British nation-building, but First Nations were excluded from opportunities and self-determination
  • FN exchanged land for fiduciary obligations from Govt, including education
    • residential schools were vehicle through which government and Church enacted cultural genocide and forced assimilation focused on FN children
    • family and community separation
    • verbal, physical, sexual abuse
    • 'English only' policies brutally enforced
    • FN children returned to community without knowledge of traditional language leading to identity crises

Theoretical Framework

documenting collective, group-reflexive and community relevant learning and teaching process that utilizes a pedagogical method termed by Johnson and Johnson as ... "Cooperative learning". This method is grounded on the premise that through social interdependence - where each member of the learning groups feels they have a responsibility to and commitment from the group and thus the learning process - progressive learning can take place. (p. 29)

  • per Johnson, Johnson and Smith (2007) cooperative learning (CL) requires positive interdependence and sense of belonging to a learning community
  • also requires group processing
  • 2 kinds of training for CL
    • methods of CL (exercises and techniques)
    • conceptual framework of CL (can be adapted)


  • action research


There have been clear indications regarding the processes of ethical review requirements that effect research with First Nations. The T-C-K project imposed stringent ethical standards on itself based on the United Nations guidelines outlined in the report on protecting Indigenous heritage (Castellano, 2004). (p. 33)

One of the unique findings has been the use of drama and music in the immersion school classroom. Production of skits; songs; exercises; and food preparation. All activities utilize communication in the Anishinaabe language without any use of the English language. Other student led activities in the language immersion school makes use of images such as digital videos, pictures and multimedia as part of their presentation. (p. 34)


  • language immersion may not address all problems, but it provides opportunity to instill pride and knowledge
  • further study
    • use of drama education (body language and movement by fluent speakers)
    • cooking, music and exercise
  • focus on contributing to knowledge of fluency issues in FN community
  • continued research and co-creation of knowledge
  • opens door to understanding WIFN through the people of WIFN


Castellano, M. B. (2004). Ethics of Aboriginal research. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 1(1), 98-114.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. (2007). The state of cooperative learning in postsecondary and professional settings. Educational Psychology Review, 19(1), 15-29.

Walpole Island First Nation (2008) WIFN Language Survey, ALAG Information Session.