Four Feathers Writing Guide: Traditional Coast Salish teachings and approaches to learning to support Indigenous students develop as academic writers

Vol. 1, No. 2 (Spring 2020)
By Theresa Bell, Manager, Blended Learning Success, Royal Roads University

In recognition of National Indigenous Peoples Day, I am very pleased to share the Four Feathers Writing Guide with the CWCA/ACCR community.

The Four Feathers Writing Guide respectfully presents Coast Salish Traditional Knowledge to support First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students’ development as academic writers. The guide was a collaboration between Elder Shirley THE-LA-ME-YÉ Alphonse, who is from Hul’q’umi’num People of Cowichan Nation and who is a spiritual leader of T’Sou-ke Nation on Vancouver Island; the late Elder D. Nadine TEȺȽIE Charles, who was from Scia’new Nation on Vancouver Island; and me in my role of Manager, Blended Learning Success, at Royal Roads University, which is located on the ancestral lands of the Xwesepsum and Lekwungen families and their ancestors. I am from the traditional territories of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, and I have lived, worked, and learned on the lands of the Xwesepsum and Lekwungen families for 17 years. We also received tremendous support and guidance from the Heron People, who are Elders and Old Ones from Xwsepsum Nation, Lekwungen Nation, Scia’new Nation, T’Sou-ke Nation, Tsawout Nation, and Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. Finally, Indigenous Education and Student Services Manager Asma-na-hi Antoine, who is Nuu-chah-nulth from Toquaht Nation, ensured we moved through the project in a good way.

The guide provides a holistic approach to writing that encourages students to bring their entire selves, traditions, and cultures to their writing processes so they can confidently share their voices in their writing. Structured by the four Traditional stages of learning, which are vision, gathering, knowledge, and sharing, each section of the guide focuses on Traditional Knowledge, including teachings shared by Songhees Elder Elmer Seniemten George, Cowichan Elder Arvid Luschiim Charlie, and T’Sou’ke Nation Chief Gordon HYA-QUATCHA Planes.

The Four Feathers Writing Guide launched on National Indigenous Peoples Day in 2019, and in an interview for a Royal Roads’ news story about the launch, Elder Alphonse encouraged both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to learn from the guide:

“Abide by it. Enjoy the stories that we share. Understand where we’ve come from. Our lives were very different long ago and nothing was ever written. It was just learned from our parents and grand-parents. Nothing was written down. We learned by living and following our parents and grand-parents and other Elders. All Elders in a community always watched over the children. They could correct the children if they saw them doing something wrong,” she says. “Everything was learned by witnessing. We learned by witnessing everything, seeing everything happen and learning through experience.” (Royal Roads University, 2019, para. 7)

When I asked Elder Alphonse if she would like to share any comments for this post, she returned to that quotation as her ongoing message and gave me permission to share it with you here.

Please feel warmly invited to visit the Four Feathers Writing Guide, and if you have any questions, please contact me at

I raise my hands in gratitude for this opportunity to connect with all of you on National Indigenous Peoples Day. Hay’sxw’qa Si’em!


Royal Roads University. (2019, June 19). New writing guide bridges academic and Traditional Knowledge.