Former Bemidji teacher leads educational Indigenous workshops

Longtime basketball coach and Bemidji Middle School physical education teacher Dan Ninham retired back in June and is now spending his time developing a series of online workshops.

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Dan Ninham, pictured here in a 2019 file photo, has started a series of online workshops called the Indigenous Pedagogy Virtual Academy. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Longtime basketball coach and Bemidji Middle School physical education teacher Dan Ninham retired back in June… sort of. He said had no intention of spending his retirement “kicking my heels up on the footstool and watching Netflix all day,” and in the time since then he has embarked on a new adventure.

This time, it’s virtual.

Earlier this fall, Ninham began an online series of workshops held over Zoom called the Indigenous Pedagogy Virtual Academy.

The course is geared primarily toward educators, but also parents, paraprofessionals and administrators. It is structured with sessions held online on weekdays. A variety of professional presenters address areas of Indigenous science, art, music, storytelling, youth empowerment, Ojibwemowin and Dakota languages, ethnomathematics, Indigenous language revitalization, cultural identity, pedagogy, Indigenous education, and other topics, Ninham said.

“We bring in experts in their field throughout the country, to encourage Indigenous pedagogy,” Ninham said. “The concept is to encourage the implementation of Indigenous ways of doing and thinking, and to encourage kids to be successful. Not only Indigenous kids, but non-Indigenous kids as well. We have important lessons for all people.”


The program just wrapped up its first eight-week long session, and Ninham said the response was overwhelmingly positive. He said so far around 35-55 people attend each session which are usually 60 to 90 minutes in length. Ninham said while 35-55 people might not sound like a huge number, if you take into account that each of those educators likely comes in contact with hundreds of students each day, it can have a ripple effect.

While just starting out, the program is having a wide geographical reach too, with groups of faculty joining from San Diego State University, University of North Dakota, some schools in Canada and a variety of regional high schools.

Ninham, who is a member of the Oneida Nation in Wisc., spoke about the importance of interdisciplinary teaching and said that’s the true key to this program.

He used the example of the snow snake game, a traditional Indigenous game that involves throwing a piece of wood down a track of snow to see how far it can go. Ninham used this game as an example of how Indigenous history, math and physical education could intersect. Students could learn of the game, learn about the biomechanics involved and measure distances.

Ninham said this virtual academy is needed because educators need to be informed about Indigenous peoples, and that many Indigenous teaching styles and ways of thinking could be helpful to all students.

“I think this is unprecedented that we have an Indigenous person with Indigenous and Non-Indigenous presenters, that also want to share how to empower our Indigenous and non-Indigenous student population to be successful, and there are other ways than what’s happening now,” he said. “We have to find other ways, and those other ways are all around us with the Ojibwe people.”

“It’s okay not to know, but it’s not okay to continue not knowing,” is one of his personal philosophies and the drive behind this venture, Ninham said.

“The indigenization of a comprehensive curriculum emphasizes the cultural and linguistic thoughts and behaviors of the local, regional, and national Indigenous peoples,” Ninham’s website reads. “The Indigenous ways of being, knowing, and doing have been utilized to improve the quality of life of all people. The culturally-integrated lessons can also encourage the empowered journey of all people.”


As he reflects on his past and his plans for the future, Ninham said, “It’s been an honor to be able to make a difference with kids and to encourage kids to be successful on and off the court, in and out of the gym. I still want to make an impact.”

The Indigenous Pedagogy Virtual Academy will be held in nine-week terms throughout the calendar year. The spring term begins January 18 and will be held in three-week-long trimesters: Jan. 18 to Feb. 6; Feb. 22 to March 13; and May 3 to 22. There will be 12 hours of sessions per trimester and there may be bonus sessions offered, Ninham said. For registration information, visit his website: .

Hannah Olson is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer covering education, Indigenous-centric stories and features.
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