Quaternity is a cyclically organized, repetitive, and centre-focused discursive pattern of writing that is intrinsic to First Nations discourse. It does not conform to the classic Colonial trinity of "introductory, body, and conclusion" pattern so often used in mainstream educational writing (essays, papers, and so on), that tends to be uni-dimensional, monologic, definite, linear, and text-bound (St. Clair (2000), Dyck (2005).

Quaternity can be supported within curriculum using a four pronged approach:

1. Storytelling writing a poem, song, story, novel, joke, drama, anecdote
2. Oral History - sharing history passed down through generations
3. Oratory delivering an editorial, speech, sermon, talk
4. Reportage print, book, manual, thesis, newsletter, brochure


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According to Robert St. Clair, "There are two dominant metaphors among most indigenous groups in the Americas. One of them is the journey and the other is the Quaternity. Among many of these groups, both metaphors are combined into the Quaternity, which consists of a circle in which the solar cross is inscribed. The circle represents the eternality of motion, and the cross signifies the four cardinal directions of the earth, the four winds, the four spirits of nature, and so forth. It would appear to the uninitiated that this emblem is just an artistic expression of minor cultural significance. There are two roads within this circle, and they are represented by the arms of the solar cross. One must experience life by taking one of these roads, go to the center, and then venture off in a new direction. Not all indigenous groups use these metaphors; however, many do.

Teachers of the western ways employed to teach composition on Indian reservations seem to comment endlessly on the difficulty their students are having with the basic tripartite system of Aristotelian rhetoric. They do not seem, it is argued, to begin their essays with an introduction, expound their ideas into a body of thought, and conclude with a strong ending. Rather, they strike out in a certain direction to explore some ideas, feelings, sensation, and moods. After a while the essay suddenly turns into another direction without any connection, without a central theme, and without coherence markers. The whole paper is cyclical. It is, they argue, in the form of the spokes of a wheel. They always come to the center before striking out into another direction. Furthermore, these teachers contend that there is too much use of allegory and personification. The trees talk, and so do the animals. The birds leave messages and warnings. The sun welcomes them. The moon watches over them. The flowers feel their presence. These writings are childlike, they argue. They are lost in concrete operational thought" (2000, p. 95) .


READ: St. Clair, R. (n.d.). The teaching of ancient Science, technology, and tribal mythology. http://www.structural-communication.com/Articles/Ancient-science-technology-stclair.html

READ: Dyck, L. (2005). Redefined rhetoric: Academic discourse and Aboriginal students. Paper presented at the First Nations, First Thoughts Conference, Canadian Studies Centre, University of Edinburgh, May 5-6, 2005. http://www.cst.ed.ac.uk/2005conference/papers/Dyck_paper.pdf

READ: St. Clair, R. (2000). Visual Metaphor, Cultural Knowledge, and the New Rhetoric. Learn in Beauty: Indigenous Education for a New Century edited by Jon Reyhner, Joseph Martin, Louise Lockard, and W. Sakiestewa Gilbert, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ. Chapter 8 (pp. 85-101)


Design ways for learners to express an idea using a cyclical and visual metaphor approach.

Possible ways to do this include:

Ask them to draw an image to illustrate their main idea at the centre, surrounded by the branches and sub-ideas that will emerge from this central idea. Then ask them to write their ideas down.

Encourage learners to write their ideas as they flow. Then ask them illustrate the writing, paying attention to the visual ideas that spring to mind from their writing.

Use a computer or tablet to create a mashup of the central idea and sub-themes in the writings

Draw or use a concept map computer program to organize the central and sub ideas in a connected map.

Ask learners to role play or act out the central and sub ideas for the class (or have the whole class act it out).

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