Our World, Our Place, Our Home, Our Responsibility

Our World, Our Place, Our Home, Our Responsibility

Carlos LópezLeiva, Silvia Llamas-Flores, Dee Crescitelli, and Kyndall Brown

Our life experiences can talk to our bodies about how the world is all interconnected. The basic elements of our world speak to us through their embodied constant collaboration or interconnectedness. Take the fire; it grows and moves, dancing with the wind. Feel the water in the rain in synchronous rhythmic movements coordinated by the wind. Admire a little cascade of water that is animated by the capricious shape of the earth and rocks under the water. Their collaboration makes the beauty of the cascades that are decorated by plants that thrive in the context where earth and water collaborate. Take the power of the fire and the earth combined to generate the most beautiful and precious colorful stones. As these collaborations take place to create beauty that we admire and use, they can also work together to change landscapes and keep the earth transforming and evolving. Earth moves, and it is alive! It works as an integrated system. This integrated system is coordinated and developed in many ways, and many of these ways are inherently mathematical.

As previously alluded to (discussed), we are all interconnected. This includes the air, water, fire, earth [and all life therein]. If we truly value all life and act according to this ethos, not only would “[earth] take care of us,” but we would do our part to “take care” of the Earth. Interconnectedness, value, and care toward the Earth and all life on Earth are Indigenous core values. Recently, these values have been referred to as either the 4 Rs (Harris & Wasileski, 2004; Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001) or 5 Rs (Das & Strong, 2018, November 27; Dow, 2019, Summer; Tessaro et al., 2018). For example, in discussing Indigeneity and its contribution to and challenging of globalization (Harris & Wasileski, 2004), four values were identified from the many conversations by representatives of various Indigenous tribes during meetings facilitated by the Americans for Indian Opportunity, an advocacy organization that promotes self-determination of Indigenous people in the United States. The common values were Relationships, Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Redistribution. Relationships refers to our “kinship… to all living things, animals, plants, and rocks… [and] to the very stuff that stars are made of” (Harris & Wasileski, 2004, p. 4). Similarly, responsibility describes the “obligation… to take care of our relatives” (Harris & Wasileski, 2004, p. 4). Reciprocity describes kinship and obligation as “cyclical” or mutual and not one of “uneven… exchange obligations” (Harris & Wasileski, 2004, p. 5). Lastly, redistribution refers to a sharing obligation or “generosity [as] the most highly valued human quality” (Harris & Wasileski, 2004, p. 5). These 4 Rs broadly describe an ethos or a way of life that is in opposition to individualism, selfishness, the profit-motive, and exploitation of the Earth and its resources. In education settings, how have the 4 or 5 Rs been applied?

In an often-cited study, the 4 Rs were used to critique the lack of responsiveness and cultural sensitivity of indigenous students by the University of Alaska (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001). In this context, the 4Rs were Respect, Relevance, Reciprocal Relationships, and Responsibility. In this schooling context, these values referred to the need for faculty and staff of universities and colleges to respect the “cultural integrity” of First nations (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001, p. 6) to provide university experiences (content and practices) that are relevant to indigenous students and considerate of indigenous worldview; for faculty to engage in the “give-and-take” (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001, p. 13) exchange of knowledge (reciprocity) and learn alongside and even from First nation students; lastly, for faculty and staff to take on the responsibility for supporting Indigenous students to participate in traditional activities and for faculty and staff to attend Indigenous community events, discuss Indigenous worldviews in courses, and/or engage in outreach to Indigenous (tribes) and leaders. In this context, the expectation was for the faculty and staff of the university system to engage in practices that value and “care” for indigenous students.

Similarly, in the context of online professional development for principals of Indigenous schools across Canada (Tessaro et al., 2018), the previously discussed 4 Rs (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001) was expanded to 5 Rs. They decided to include Relationships because it “underlies” (Tessaro et al., 2018, p. 139) the 4 Rs. Because these researchers worked with principals, they wanted to make sure they made conscious efforts to “fortify relationships with teachers, students, family members, the local community, and the land.” (Tessaro et al., 2018, p. 139). Another example from education is how the 5 Rs were applied during K-12 science lessons (e.g., climate change, sustainability, flooding) By Judy Dow, an Abenaki basket-weaver and veteran educator (Das & Strong, 2018). In this classroom context, the 5Rs were respect, responsibility, reverence, reciprocity, and relationships. These are moral and ethical values that were passed along to her by family, and her belief was that if students “learn and remember… [these values could help the students] survive the changing world” (Dow, 2019 Summer) as a result of climate change, pollution, and disregard for all life.

So, from these various 4 and 5Rs that are reflective of indigenous core values (Das & Strong, 2018, November 27; Dow, 2019, Summer; Harris & Wasileski, 2004; Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001), we decided to focus on 4 of these Rs to help us analyze and describe the following mathematics and [science] lessons. The 4 Rs that we will be applying in this blog are relationship, reciprocity, responsibility, and respect. Similarly, we felt it was important to emphasize that we are in “kinship” (Harris & Wasileski, 2004, p. 4) or relationships with all life on Earth to remind us not to engage in “uneven… exchange obligations” (Harris & Wasileski, 2004, p. 5) but ones that are cyclical and examples of a “give-and-take” (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001, p. 13) dynamic or reciprocity. Closely related is responsibility. So, not only in relation to life that is mutually positive but also mindful that “we are responsible for our actions” (Dow, 2019 Summer, p. 16) that impacts all life. And in a similar vein, we must respect all life, our “kin” (i.e., human, and non-human). So, guided by these 4 Rs, we will discuss environmental issues and lesson plans that integrate these ideas for teachers and students.

In the months to come, Alerta! will share information and lessons about environmental issues that reference back to the common values (the 4 Rs): Relationships, Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Redistribution. Topics include but are not limited to, air quality, extreme weather events, littering, mining and mountain-top removal, and wildfires.


Das, A. & Strong, L (2018, November 27). Abolition Science Praxis Pt. 2 (Judy Dow). Abolition Science Radiohttps://www.abolitionscience.org/home/2018/11/13/abolition-science-praxis-pt-1-judy-dow.

Dow, J (2019, Summer). Going Through the Narrows. Potash Hill, 14-17. https://potash.emerson.edu/sites/default/files/2019/Spring/PotashHill-Spring-2019.pdf.

Kirkness, V. J., & R., B. (2001). First nations and higher education: The Four R's -respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility. In R. Hayoe & J. Pan (Eds.), Knowledge Across Cultures: A contribution to dialogue among civilizations. Comparative Education Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong.

Harris, L. D., & Wasilewski, J. (2004). Indigeneity, an alternative worldview: Four R’s (relationships, responsibility, reciprocity, redistribution) vs. two P’s (power and profit). Sharing the journey towards conscious evolution. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 21, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1002/sres.631.

Tessaro, D., Restoule, J.-P., Gaviria, P., Flessa, J., Lindeman, C., & Scully-Stewart, C. (2018). The Five R’s for indigenizing online learning: A case study of the First Nations schools' principals course. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 40(1), 125-143. https://hdl.handle.net/1807/91087.

Share this post:

Comments on "Our World, Our Place, Our Home, Our Responsibility"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment