Dr. Rosemary Papa*

Honoring Our Children: Culturally Appropriate Approaches for Teaching Indigenous Students published in 2013 by four editors, Dr. Jon Reyhner, Dr. Joseph Martin, Dr. Louise Lockard, and Dr. Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert, is comprised of eleven chapters from nineteen contributors. It is dedicated to the memory of Alaskan Yupiaq educator and author Dr. Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley, 1934-2011.

In honor of Oscar’s life work the book notes the crossroads for Indigenous and Western epistemologies giving voice to Indigenous worldviews on integration of the spiritual, natural, and human domains of existence began with his construction of “Native Ways of Knowing.” Oscar believed that, “as we lose our Native languages, more and more of us begin to take part in the misuse and abuse of nature” (Kawagley, 2003, p. vii).

This edition of essays provides marvelous insights into Indigenous people’s educational needs and desires.  It calls for a culturally constructed education process to include history, language, nature and art of those being taught.  While focused on Indigenous students, the lessons provided are applicable to all students, as are the professional skills required of teachers. The chapters are written in a clear and concise manner and run the gamut from personal experiences, description of successful projects, principles of Indigenous education to practical, hands-on exercises. Any teacher preparation program, classroom teacher or education leader who works with Indigenous children needs this book as a basis for Indigenous knowledge and professional skill development.

This book is a follow-up to Northern Arizona University College of Education’s monograph Honoring Our Heritage: Culturally Appropriate Approaches for Teaching Indigenous Students published in 2011. This new book seeks to accomplish the melding of Indigenous and Western knowledge and pedagogy for the improvement of schooling practices for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and their teachers.  The first two chapters are adapted from keynote speeches given at the Honoring Our Heritage: American Indian Teacher Education Conference, July 2012. In chapter one, University of Utah Professor Dr. Donna Deyhle describes the negative framework teachers work from as a lack of knowledge shrouded in shallow expectations laden with racism in its harm of Diné (aka Navajo) students. The next chapter, adapted from a speech by University of Alaska Professor Emeritus Dr. Ray Barnhardt, is focused on the reconciliation of this conflict of worldviews from the past and how in the present Native peoples are leading in the redefinition of formal education in rural Alaska.

Chapter three by George Ann Gregory blends personal teaching experiences with historical artifacts that encourage teachers to use as mainstream pedagogical practices. Co-authors Navin Kumar Singh and Jon Reyhner in chapter four provide examples on the Indigenous of India and the U.S. that support and validate the importance of culture-based education. Chapter five stems from a recent doctoral dissertation by Dr. Vincent Werito that explored how schools have historically addressed the cultural and linguistic difference Diné students bring to school that impacts their academic successes and failures.

Chapters six and seven, respectively by Larry Steeves, Sheila Carr-Steward, and Don Pinay, and by Jonathan Anuik are descriptive of Canadian efforts to improve First Nations education. Steeves, Carr-Steward and Pinay describe the Cree Kokum-Grandmother connection that gives strong support to family and community involvement to ensure culturally appropriate teaching and learning methods and ensure that these practices meet the Canadian treaties. In chapter seven, Anuik describes the 2007 Banff Dialogue, which brought together First Nations educators to discuss learner and learning goals that had been driven from the 1972 Canada’s National Indian Brotherhood’s policy statement, Indian Control of Indian Education (NIB, 1972).

David Sanders in chapter 8 describes his doctoral findings on the use of mathematics terminology in his Lakota language and how these might be subsequently integrated into mathematics curriculum for Lakota students. Chapter nine, Louise Lockard and Velma Hale describe the Diné dual language project for improving teaching practices for Navajo students.

In chapter ten, Christine Lemley, Loren Hudson, and Mikaela Terry describe the oral history research that focused on a high school-university partnership that fostered community engagement. In the final chapter, Evangeline Parsons Yazzie gives examples of historical photographs that can be used to stimulate student learning about Diné history and culture. 

As a professor of education policy, I see numerous policy implications for improving teacher preparation programs, school professional development programs focused on Indigenous student needs, and for policy makers to understand the critical responsibility to integrate Indigenous language and culture into the classroom in order to create more effective schools.


Kawagley, A. O. (2003). Nurturing Native languages. In J. Reyhner, O. Trujillo, R. L. Carrasco & L. Lockard (eds.), Nurturing Native languages (pp. vii-x). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University College of Education. Retrieved Dec. 10, 2013 at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/NNL/NNL_Kawagley.pdf

NIB–National Indian Brotherhood. (1972 ). Indian control of Indian education. Policy paper presented to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Reyhner, J., Martin, J., Lockard, L., & Gilbert, W.S. (eds.). (2013). Honoring our children: Culturally appropriate approaches for teaching Indigenous students. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Retrieved Dec. 10, 2013 at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/HOC/

Reyhner, J., Gilbert, W.S., & Lockard, L. (eds.). (2011). Honoring our heritage: Culturally appropriate approaches for teaching Indigenous students. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Retrieved Dec. 10, 2013 at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/HOC/

*Dr. Rosemary Papa is Professor and The Del and Jewell Lewis Endowed Chair Learning Centered Leadership, Northern Arizona University.