In Their Moccasins is an online game environment based on the “choose your own adventure” storybook format. The game supports the education of allies about Indigenous ways of knowing, learning, and being and fosters empathy toward the experiences of Indigenous peoples with the goal of building solidarity with an Indigenous resurgence in higher education and beyond.

The idea for In Their Moccasins came out of a desire to educate student affairs professionals on working with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis (FNIM) students. By telling the stories of FNIM learners in an immersive, interactive and accessible serious game simulation, the OER is designed to increase empathy and understanding in postsecondary student affairs professionals working with Indigenous students. However, we know this game is also useful and accessible for faculty and staff working in post-secondary education as well as settler students. It is of value to anyone wishing to deepen their understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing and being and prompts participants to recognize the ways that colonialism has and continues to influence the structures of education.

This project has generated a learning resource that is informed by and rooted in the reality of the lived experiences of Indigenous students navigating postsecondary education and is a valuable teaching tool. Indigenous students report feeling isolated, misunderstood and marginalized in postsecondary education, in part due to the systemic underrepresentation of Indigenous staff and instructors in the academy (Assembly of First Nations, 2018). By enhancing participants’ cognitive understanding of Indigenous students’ lived, day-to-day experiences and personal histories, this innovative and interactive OER will help to improve the postsecondary learning and training experiences of the 309,845 First Nations, Inuit and Métis people who live in Ontario, a population that represents the single largest Indigenous community of any Canadian province (Canadian Federation of Students, 2017).

The project educates and empowers allies through an interactive modality that personalizes and humanizes information and statistics about Indigenous histories and current social realities. The game facilitates self-reflection to create a learning community beyond institutional and identity-related boundaries. The game-based open educational resource (OER) provides a platform for thinking and feeling through how we can better support Indigenous student success and facilitate Indigenous resurgence on our campuses.

The use of serious games have been correlated to improved learning outcomes (Gee, 2005; Keogh, 2018; Squire, 2011; Abt, 1970; Flanagan, 2009, 2014). Empathy training using the modality of interactive storytelling and roleplay has been correlated with improved cognitive and affective empathy among adult professional and young adult learners (Teding Van Berkhout & Malouff, 2015). This OER is designed to educate and create allies within instructional staff and student support communities for FNIM students.

The project fosters empathy and understanding in an intentional, evidence-based and foundational way, reflecting Indigenous ways of knowing, learning, and being. The OER helps instructors expand their understanding of the whole student using Indigenous teaching methodologies such as the Medicine Wheel framework as articulated by LaFever, M. (2016). Allowing post-secondary instructors and staff to understand the spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual needs and realities of students will help to create postsecondary environments that are welcoming to both FNIM and settler students.

Key to the creation of the game were Indigenous pedagogical methodologies including that of LaFever (2016). LaFever (2016) provided a framework for this work in her foundational work, “Switching from Bloom to the Medicine Wheel”[1]

A medicine wheel image showing sections: body, mind, spirit, emotion
johnhain ( Retrieved from

LaFever (2016) framework helps direct instructors, instructional designers and student staff away from the often-used pedagogical tool Bloom’s Taxonomy. Instead, the authors looked at things in an Indigenously-informed, holistic way, and integrates the mental, physical and emotional into consideration.

“What good is education without love?” ~ Catherine Adams, Kwakiutl, born 1903 Smith’s Inlet, B.C

In our discussions, we acknowledged as LaFever (2016) does that this fourth aspect is completely ignored in traditional Western/North American pedagogy. We asked ourselves: “How might the spiritual be integrated into the classroom?”  LaFever (2016) proposes that the spiritual can be woven into a learning environment in the following ways:

  • Honouring – a recognition that we are all connected to the earth and that things exist outside of materiality and our own self-interest
  • Attention to Relationships – an understanding that relationships and community is key to learning and living; supportive relationships inside and outside the classroom are key to thriving
  • Developing a Sense of Belonging – Helping learners find and understand their place in the world
  • Feeling Empowered to Pursue a Unique Path – Guiding learners to find their unique place in the world and guiding them along their journey
  • Developing Self-Knowledge of Purpose – Helping a learner become self-actualized as a “unique entity in the group.” [2]

We determined these guidelines for bringing spirituality into the learning can be accomplished in the following ways:

  • Allowing students to reflect on ideas, emotions and physical experiences via discussion, self-reflection via journaling and creative activities
  • Relating feelings through presentations (oral or creative) or written stories
  • Demonstrating communication, community building and honouring (mindfulness) skills
  • Role playing, videotaping and self-assessment

We were intrigued by the ideas of Indigenous teaching including long-term mentoring, and student as teacher and instructor as a learner as a basis for some activities to enhance the learning delivery.

This is an image of the Medicine Wheel with subdivided layers explained in the text of this piece.
Original graphic based on LaFever (2016) [footnote]LaFever, M. (2016). Switching from Bloom to the Medicine Wheel: creating learning outcomes that support Indigenous ways of knowing in post-secondary education, Intercultural Education, 27:5, 409-424, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2016.1240496[/footnote]

From the framework of the Medicine Wheel, Michael Mihalicz, Indigenous XU Faculty, further recommended embarking upon a Design Thinking process to determine what was needed for both students and a. Design Thinking is a process whereby designers, product developers, and instructional designers engage in a structured and stepwise process to create innovations that are grounded in human experiences and empathy.

This project was also informed by wise practices informed by the Seven Grandfather’s Teachings. The wisdom of these teachings require that all activities, including the creation of this Pressbook and interactive modules, were done with mindfulness and adherence of these teachings.

The Seven grandfathers were sent by the Creator to guide, and protect the people.

Seven Grandfather Teachings:

These teachings include:

Humility, Bravery, Honesty, Wisdom, Truth, Respect, Love*

Humility – the Wolf

Much like Wolves, we must live life selflessly. We must not become arrogant and self-important. We must find balance within ourselves and all of creation. Humility is to know that we are all a sacred part of creation.

Bravery – the Bear

Mother Bears have the strength and courage to face their fears and challenges to protect their young. To face life with courage is to know bravery. We must find our inner strength to face challenges and have the courage to be ourselves. The bear teaches us to defend what we believe in and what is right for our communities.

Honesty – the Raven and Sabe

Much like the Raven and Sabe, we must learn to be honest and accept who we are. We are reminded not to seek the power, speed or beauty of others; rather use what we have been given to survive. To walk through life with integrity is to know honesty.

Wisdom – the Beaver

Much like beavers, we must use our gifts wisely, and use them to benefit our communities. We must recognize our differences and those of others.  The beaver reminds us to to learn and live by our wisdoms.

Truth – the Turtle

The Turtle teaches us to apply faith and trust in our teachings and show honour and sincerity in all things we do. Much like the turtle, we must understand our place in this life and be true to ourselves and all of creation.

Respect – the Buffalo

The buffalo teaches us that to honour all creation we must first have respect. We must live honourably in our teachings and share all things. We must treat others the way we want to be treated and avoid being hurtful to ourselves and others.

Love – the Eagle

The eagle reminds us that all people must share kindness. To know peace, we must first learn to love ourselves deeply.

7 Grandfather’s Teachings (PDF) 

* Uniting The Fires Agains Violence. (n.d). The 7 Grandfathers Teachings. Retrieved February 27th, 2022, from


  1. LaFever, M. (2016). Switching from Bloom to the Medicine Wheel: creating learning outcomes that support Indigenous ways of knowing in post-secondary education, Intercultural Education, 27:5, 409-424, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2016.1240496
  2. LaFever, M. (2016). Switching from Bloom to the Medicine Wheel: creating learning outcomes that support Indigenous ways of knowing in post-secondary education, Intercultural Education, 27:5, 409-424, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2016.1240496


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In Their Moccasins Copyright © by Sarena Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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