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First Nations ways of knowing: Developing experiential knowledge in nursing through an Elder in Residence Program

by © 2012 ~ June Kaminski, MSN PhD(c)

Presented at Xi Eta Chapter, Sigma Theta Tau International 17th Annual Ethel Johns Forum - Feb 4th, 2012, St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, BC.

Elder in Residence Powerpoint
View PPT as PDF
29 slides, 1.8 MB


The establishment of a pilot Elder in Residence program was done to facilitate integrated curriculum in the three nursing degree programs at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and to serve as a culturally appropriate leader and experiential resource for faculty and students.

In addition, we included our Elder in the planning and delivery of:

A faculty workshop (for all nursing programs) to orient to aboriginal ways of knowing, teaching and learning

The exploration for establishment of community based Practice Placements on local reserves and urban organizations

The development and delivery of culturally sensitive Recruitment materials and workshop strategies to attract aboriginal students into the nursing programs

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning can be described as essential First Nations traditional teaching and learning since this process entails the making of meaning from direct experiences - through reflection on doing or action. "Experiential learning, including learning from the land, Elders, traditions and ceremonies, community, parental and family supports, as well as the workplace, is a widespread and vital—but often unrecognized—form of Aboriginal learning." (Canadian Council on Learning)

Experiential learning:

  • Is connected to the experiences of life
  • The “classroom” is the community and the natural environment
  • Is learning by doing
  • Is a community based way to teach skills, attitudes, language, literacy, and knowledge
“The first principle of Aboriginal learning is a preference for experiential knowledge. Indigenous pedagogy values a person's ability to learn independently by observing, listening, and participating with a minimum of intervention or instruction.”

Experiential Learning Cycle

This model includes the elements of Experiencing, Reflecting, Meaning Making, and Acting, that reveal an engaged, deliberate, open and aware process - one that is reflected in the traditional knowledge and learning processes, and has profound meaning in the 21st Century for students preparing to participate in Self Governance initiatives, and leadership positions within their communities.

Experiencing - Engagement in "Real life" learning experience

Reflecting - Internalization of the Experience

Meaning Making - Analysis of the Experience

Acting - Application of Experience to other Real Life Situations

Context of Sessions

The essence of experiential learning is that what is learned has meaning - to the individual learner's own needs and goals, and to the community in which the learner lives his or her life. Both nursing faculty and nursing students participated experientially as peers in the Elder In Residence sessions.

Providing a learning climate where learners can design their OWN experiential learning experiences is empowering and provides a multi-layered educational experience, since the student engages in the incubation, planning, implementation, and evaluation of their own learning. Our Elder encouraged each person to glean their own personal ‘lessons’ from each experience.

This approach can have far-reaching effects in helping learners to develop a holistic and well-developed self-directed and self-initiated lifelong learning approach to their own education. The learner grasps the basics of taking control of their own learning, and choosing how they will enact their learning within their own community.

Embedded in Culture

To facilitate the experiential learning of the faculty and students who participated, the Elder organized rich experiential events that taught them about his culture first-hand. He often explained an event through story telling and grounding the event in traditional practices carried out by the Kwantlen people for millennia.


The experiential learning offered in this Elder In Residence Program was very rich and vivid in culture and in traditional knowledge and practice.

This learning will not be forgotten quickly and helped each participant to develop an awareness of First Nations philosophy, world view, traditional ways of knowing and doing, and to appreciate the wisdom and reasons behind each cultural practice.

It is not enough to read about these experiences or even to hear about them second hand. Direct personal experience is critical for true understanding.

First Nations Healing Site

A website entitled First Nations Healing was established to showcase materials for our Nursing Faculty. Half of this site is open to the general public on the Internet, available to anyone interested in examining the current situated health of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people with a particular focus on Canadian aboriginal peoples. However the content of this site is transferable to most indigenous peoples across this beautiful planet. The concern is the need for support, advocacy, and knowledge related to the existing experience of aboriginal people with the modern health care system and their need for culturally sensitive, supportive endeavors that help them move forward towards Self governed health care.

This open area provides insights into the current situation of aboriginal health and well-being including resources and commentaries on the most critical forces that have impacted on First Nations health over the past two to four centuries. It also leads to resources and information on traditional First Nations healing practices including nutrition, fitness, physical wellbeing practices, holistic balance including emotional and spiritual well-being, and healing from the effects of colonization.

Half of this site is protected, intended for orientation purposes to familarize the BSN and BPN program faculty at Kwantlen Polytechnic University with the Aboriginal content that has been developed for their programs. This work has been funded by AHHRI grants from Health Canada, and serves as a guide to help faculty incorporate Aboriginal ways of being, doing, knowing, learning and teaching into the existing two degree programs.

First Nations Healing
Visit First Nations Healing Site

© - June Kaminski Published: 2012.

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