Conditions for Success: Indigenous Youth Reflections on Their Experiences with Canadian Education Systems


  • Sarah Reddington Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Shane Theunissen Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Jonathon MeDrano Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada



Indigenous, Youth, Education, Systematic Racism, Call to action


This paper brings forward the reflections of 30 Indigenous youth from across Canada and their first voice perspectives with Canadian education systems. A central component of the project was to obtain youths’ understandings of education in Canada and to seek their recommendations on ways to improve education for Indigenous youth. Accessing Indigenous youths’ experiences is important as their capacities to have successful and equitable educational experiences are strongly hindered by colonial settler policy and systemic institutional racism. Indigenous scholars have appealed for changes to education systems with a focus on challenging colonial relations of power and the multiple oppressions Indigenous youth experience when educated under Eurocentric practices. Our methodological framework is located within a relational paradigm as a mechanism to ignite dialogue and prioritize Indigenous voices in education. Our building of relations began with a sharing circle held at our Mount Saint Vincent University’s Wigwaum. Our Indigenous colleague and co-author, Jonathon MeDrano, explains how sharing circles provide equitable opportunities for people to share their ideas and respective worldviews. We then facilitated reflective journaling workshops with the youth. The young people’s reflections in this paper identify the compelling need to address systemic racism, stereotypes, and to challenge normative and colonizing structures that generate discrimination. Moreover, the young people soundly indicated that education systems in Canada require much larger integrations of Indigenous ways of knowing and being in all aspects of delivery (i.e. language, culture, Indigenous teachings), including more Indigenous counsellors to support their mental well-being.


Absolon, K., & Willett, C. (2005). Putting ourselves forward: Location in Aboriginal research. In L. Brown & S. Strega (Eds.), Research as resistance: Critical, Indigenous, and anti- oppressive approaches (pp. 97–126). Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Bailey, K. (2016) Racism within the Canadian university: Indigenous students’ experiences, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39(7), 1261-1279,

DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2015.1081961 DOI:

Ball, J. (2012). Identity and knowledge in Indigenous young children’s experiences in Canada. Childhood Education, 88(5), 287-291. DOI:

Battiste, M. (2011). Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision. UBC press.

Battiste, M. (2005). Indigenous knowledge: Foundations for first nations. WINHEC: International Journal of Indigenous Education Scholarship, (1), 1-17.

Brandt, C. (2007). Epistemology and temporal/spatial orders in science education: A response to Aikenhead & Ogawa’s: Indigenous knowledge and science revisited. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 2(3), 539-620. DOI:

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (MB Ramos, Trans). Continuum.

Hart, D., & Kempf, A. (2018). Public attitudes towards education in Ontario 2018: The 20th OISE Survey of Educational Issues Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. Retrieved from:

Kim, E. (2015). Neo-colonialism in our schools: Representations of Indigenous perspectivesin Ontario science curriculum. McGill Journal of Education, 50(1), 119–125. DOI:

Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. University of Toronto Press.

Joseph, R. P. (2018). 21 Things you may not know about the Indian act. Page Two Books. DOI:

Louis, R. P. (2007). Can you hear us now? Voices from the margin: Using indigenous methodologies in geographic research. Geographical Research, 45(2), 130–139. DOI:

McGregor, H. E., & Marker, M. (2018). Reciprocity in Indigenous educational research: Beyond DOI:

compensation, towards decolonizing. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 49(3), 318 –328.

MacKinley, E. (2012). Yi Lull. Australian Kodaly Journal, 1, 31-36.

Madden, B. (2015). Pedagogical pathways for Indigenous education with/in teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 51, 1–15. DOI:

Moreton-Robinson, A. (2000). Talkin’up to the white woman: Aboriginal women and feminism. University of Queensland Press.

Mullen, C. A. (2020, July). What does Canadian Indigenous literature impart about colonization and the future?. In The Educational Forum (pp. 1-18). Routledge. DOI:

Neeganagwedgin, E. (2013). A critical review of Aboriginal education in Canada: Eurocentric dominance impact and everyday denial. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17(1), 15-31. DOI:

O'Dowd, M. (2010). 'Ethical positioning's strategy in overcoming student resistance and fostering engagement in teaching aboriginal history as a compulsory subject to pre-service primary education students. Education in Rural Australia, 20(1), 29.

Reddington, S. & Theunissen, S. (Eds.). (2021). The Collected Stories of the Warriors of the Red Road at Sea. Eastern Woodland Publishers.

Ryerson (2017). Four Directions of Teaching: Journal Writing. Ryerson University Library and Archives. Retrieved from:

Satzewich, V. (2011). Racism in Canada. Oxford University Press.

Shotton, H. J. (2017). “I Thought You’d Call Her White Feather”: Native Women and racial microaggressions in doctoral education. Journal of American Indian Education,56(1),32-54. doi:10.5749/jamerindieduc.56.1.0032 DOI:

Steinhauer, E. (2001). “Kihkapiw: Sitting within the sacred circle of the Cree Way”. Unpublished doctoral theses. University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB.

Tachine, A. R., Bird, E. Y., & Cabrera, N. L. (2016). Sharing circles: An Indigenous methodological approach for researching with groups of Indigenous peoples. International Review of Qualitative Research, 9(3), 277-295. DOI:

Tomkins, J. (2002). Learning to see what they can't: Decolonizing perspectives on Indigenous education in the racial context of rural Nova Scotia. McGill Journal of Education, 37(003).

Truth and Reconciliation Report (2015). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. Winnipeg, MB: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

UN General Assembly. (2007). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

resolution / adopted by the General Assembly. New York, NY: United Nations. Retrieved


Weber-Pillwax, C. (2004). Indigenous researchers and Indigenous research methods: Cultural influences or cultural determinants of research methods. Pimatisiwin: Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 2(1), 77–90.

Wilson, S. (2001). What is an Indigenous research methodology? Canadian Journal of Native Education, 25(2), 175–179.

Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Fernwood Publishing.




How to Cite

Reddington, S., Theunissen, S., & MeDrano, J. (2021). Conditions for Success: Indigenous Youth Reflections on Their Experiences with Canadian Education Systems. INYI Journal, 11(1).