Inner Fire

The Inner Fire is a First Nations construct that originated with the Anishanabe people in Eastern Canada. Essentially, the inner fire is the passion, drive, and enthusiasm felt within a person when they discover their special calling and path in life. This construct rests in the belief that all people are born with special gifts that must be cultivated and nurtured throughout childhood into early adulthood. If this is done, the inner fire awakens and burns brightly, leading to the development of a strong learning spirit. This construct also rests on the concept of positionality, or one's identity and place in the natural order of the world and universe.

Positionality and the Inner Fire (cultivating one’s Gift and finding one’s place in the scheme of things) are important precursors of the Learning Spirit.


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“It is my understanding that the learning spirit is a gift from the Creator, and is a part of one's being. It is present from conception and birth and exists in an individual's heart and soul. It is a holistic concept, characterized by a combination of learning strengths, gifts, and capacities, which are supported through inter-relationships with culture, language, tradition, community, self, and the natural world.” (Canadian Council on Learning. Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre, 2008, Nourishing the Learning Spirit. p. 28).

Each person is unique, thus have unique special gifts. In traditional times, these special gifts were carefully observed and acknowledged. Special gifts could include:

The gift of leadership.
The gift of healing.
The gift of working with plants or animals.
The gift of artistry and craft work.
The gift of music or dance.
The gift of reading and communicating with the land.
The gift of prophesy and communicating with Spirit.
The gift of story telling and oral expression.

When the child's special gift(s) are cultivated consistently, the child's will to be and to act is ignited, which signals the beginning of the burning of the inner fire. This fire provides the drive and determination needed to master the gift fully so that the child grows into an adult who can give the gift to the community in service and dedication. The process that fuels this fire and drive is called the Learning Spirit. This Learning Spirit fuels the will of action through the whole course of life, to enable the person to continue to learn and evolve through all of their life.

“Aboriginal peoples view success as based on self-mastery and learning about one’s special gifts and competencies. ... The ‘learning spirit’ ... is the entity within each of us that guides our search for purpose and vision. The learning spirit knows its journey and finds itself attracted to the certain learning experiences that will build those gifts. Those gifts require a learning environment that will sustain and challenge learners.” (Ireland, B, 2009. Moving from the head to the heart. Canadian Council on Learning, Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre. p. 8.).


VIEW POWER POINT: Canadian Council on Learning. (June 2008). Nourishing the Learning Spirit. Findings from a National Project on Knowledge Exchange in Aboriginal Learning.

READ: The Aboriginal Education Research Centre (February 2009). Fact Sheets for Nourishing the Learning Spirit University of Saskatchewan.

Activities to Discover Special Gifts

Provide space for children and young people to explore their own unique talents, abilities and gifts.

Notice their interests and what they are naturally good at doing.

Encourage their own recognition of these abilities and ask them to express them in their own unique ways.

Tending the Inner Fire and Learning Spirit

Early childhood is the perfect time to begin to cultivate the learning spirit.

The key is to focus on each child’s uniqueness and to offer as much choice and control as possible.

Another key is to involve family, Elders, community and the natural world in the learning setting.

Inner Fire Exploration

Download the Inner Fire Exploration worksheet and spend some time exploring your special gifts, inner fire and learning spirit.

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