Research Summary

Eco-Literacy Development through a Framework for Indigenous and Environmental Educational Leadership

Integrating Indigenous Knowledge in Eco-Mentoring

Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (CJEE)

Indigenous environmental knowledge (IEK) has increasingly been used in environmental education to create more meaningful learning experiences that draw on diverse sources of knowledge. IEK is usually attached to particular places, people, and cultural traditions, and taught through spoken word, imitation, and demonstration. Often this knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation by elder community members. The authors point out that IEK is reflective of everyday life and therefore tends to be integrative, holistic, and practical. In this paper, the authors describe an eco-mentorship program that integrates both IEK and Western scientific inquiry into the curriculum to increase sense of place and ecological understanding.

The focal program in this article was a recently developed Eco-Mentorship Certificate Program and Learning Garden at Trent University, Canada. This program was designed to train preservice pre-K to 12th-grade teachers to integrate IEK into their teaching through lessons on food and gardening. The authors explained the program’s conceptual framework and philosophy and provided insight into the program’s implementation.

The program’s framework includes two major areas of knowledge: IEK and mainstream Western science. The program, which includes four half-day workshops, is taught by instructors with diverse backgrounds in biology, eco-justice, indigenous knowledge, gardening, and teacher education.

Among the key features of the program the authors highlighted was a communal garden called the Learning Garden. Many of the program’s lessons take place in the Learning Garden, highlighting inquiry, culinary arts, and our relationship with food.

IEK is integrated with scientific knowledge throughout the program. For example, as part of the indigenous food systems topic, the course covers human connection to specific foods and medicines, revisiting indigenous stories as well as chemical compositions and roles of different plants in the ecosystem, all framed within human and ecosystem health.

Lastly, the program uses the integration of IEK and Western science to encourage participants to develop a sense of place. By sharing stories about different plants and their uses, program participants begin to learn the connections that exist within an ecosystem. These stories also highlight the unique qualities of the local area and how these qualities, like seasonal cycles, relate to food production.

The Bottom Line

Successful eco-mentoring programs can be designed to incorporate both indigenous environmental knowledge and Western scientific knowledge. Particularly rich topics for this focus include food and gardening, with appropriate approaches including educational efforts that are interdisciplinary, inclusive, and experiential. When designed using these principles, such programs can effectively connect environmental education to local ecosystems and increase sense of place among participants.