As a student, I was never made aware of the history of residential schools in Canada until university. University! It was so shocking to me that I went through twelve grades in the public education system in Ontario without ever learning this part of Canada’s history. After first learning about it, I become more motivated than ever to educate myself about indigenous issues and become a stronger advocate in supporting Indigenous Education.
There are so many different paths that students may have taken to end up as a learner in our classrooms. It is thus crucial to acknowledge their lived experiences and history, especially for our First Nations, Inuit and Métis students. These students could have lived or may still live part-time in communities that have a distinct linguistic and cultural tradition, and it is of utmost importance for the teacher to model respect for their culture.
One initiative that I was able to be a part of was “Project of Heart,” which is a program that can be carried out in the classroom that helps students on their “journey of seeking truth about the history of Aboriginal people in Canada.” Created by a teacher in Ottawa (Sylvia Smith), this collaborative program includes a series of activities that help students to more fully understand the extent of loss and suffering associated with the residential school experience. Sylvia Smith is one example of a teacher who has become a strong advocate for Indigenous Education, and she has inspired many students and teachers alike to deepen their understanding of these issues.
At this link, you can find Indian Residential Schools and Reconciliation Teacher Resource Guides for Gr.5, Gr.10, and Gr.11/12, developed by the First Nations Education Steering Committee and First Nations Schools Association. While they are B.C.-specific, they can be adapted for Ontario and provide a wide range of resources for students of different ages.
As highlighted by the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, the Canadian education system must now play an important role in achieving Truth and Reconciliation and repairing relationships with Indigenous people. This begins with teachers who are aware of, and advocates for, stronger support of Indigenous Education. You can learn more about Ontario’s Indigenous Education Strategy here.
Also, you can check out my previous post on a unique birch bark canoe-building project towards reconciliation at the University of Ottawa.