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4.1 Indigenous Knowledges in Harmony with 21st Century Skills

This blog series has centered on Core Competencies, which in my last post I equated with 21st Century Skills, as I use these terms somewhat interchangeably. I maintain that these are the skills that schools need to address to move students toward success in a rapidly changing society.

What are the 21st Century Skills? 21st Century Competencies (21CC)

  • Communication

  • Critical Thinking

  • Creativity

  • Collaboration

  • Citizenship is my addition to this list, according to my evolving definition

This week, I read an article about decolonizing the curriculum that focused and reshaped my understanding of how Indigenous Knowledges (IK) correspond with 21st century skills. This convergence gets me closer to being able to express my philosophy of practice by accounting for my understanding of the purpose of education, my sincere desire to foster equity and inclusion, my character and life experiences, my perceptions about the future, my willingness to embrace risk to learn something new and wonderful.

I live and work on the traditional and unceded territory of the Secwepemc, Tsilqhot'in and Dakelh people. We acknowledge that fact every day at school and enjoy numerous partnerships with community groups that support success for our Indigenous learners. I am proud to display a First Peoples’ Principles of Learning poster in my classroom and I try to get to know each student who comes in for help with their coursework or just needs a safe space to sit with their thoughts. I selected what I thought were culturally relevant learning resources and invited the First Nations Education Coordinator to collaborate with me on modifying curricular materials for my class. I was trying to do the right things to incorporate other ways of knowing.

I see now that it was the “otherness” that was the reason it never felt authentic despite my sincerity. It wasn’t that I am a white, middle-aged, Christian woman from another province, and afraid to misstep and offend someone. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to deliver an amazing, engaging, and worthwhile unit. It was that I didn’t recognize that in truly culturally responsive pedagogy, there is no “other” (Munroe et al., 2013, p. 320). If we see decolonizing curriculum as something we must add to our classrooms, we will miss the opportunity to co-construct learning out of Indigenous knowledges.

Indigenous knowledges are congruent with 21st century skills

To the learner-centered teachers who value inquiry-based and problem-based learning—Indigenous values are respectful of multiple perspectives and can integrate “two-eyed seeing” into learning.

To the tech-savvy teachers who aren’t afraid to try something new—Indigenous thinking embraces collaborative effort and is a starting point for curriculum-making.

To the equity-minded teachers who feel passionately about valuing everyone’s unique contribution and challenging hegemony—Indigenous practices honour the roles of the individual and the collective community of citizens.

What is required for decolonizing the curriculum is not intellectual understanding or sentiment. We need to take action to overcome “settler inertia.” Learning takes patience and time, and I look forward to learning from those of you who’ve been on this journey for some time now. Here is an excellent resource available from Queens’ University that helps me build my understanding of what it means to be an ally and what kinds of actions are appropriate to support Indigenous learners. This resource was developed by Lynn Gehl, recipient of the 2022 Governor General's Award and acclaimed author.


Buckle, J. (2022, August 23). A Comprehensive Guide to 21st Century Skills. panorama education.

First peoples' principles of learning. (n.d.).

Munroe, E. A., Borden, L. L., Murray Orr, A., Toney, D., & Meader, J. (2013). Decolonizing Aboriginal Education in the 21st Century. McGill Journal of Education, 48(2), 317–337.

My ally bill of responsibilities. (n.d.). Home Page.

photo credits for book covers from Amazon


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