Learning about Canada’s Truth
Sometimes we as teachers, contemplate topics we might like to share with our students, which we know could bring shock, controversy, or mixed reactions into our classroom. This is my niche zone, I must say. There is a natural interest and engagement for upper grade students, when we provoke them with controversy, riskiness, and world events. Despite the fact that less than 1% of my students pay any attention to the news, when I throw it at them…they attack it, just as any starving great white shark would attack its prey. I decided it was time for me to teach my class about Canada’s REAL history. It was time I got to teaching about Canada’s truth during my history lessons.
Leading up to this school year, I had wondered at length, how I might introduce my students to Canada’s colonial past, and the impact it had on Indigenous Peoples. Nowadays, Canadian media is buzzing and vibrating with stories surrounding the challenges our Indigenous peoples have faced in the past, and continue to face. There is no escaping the media reports of desperation, discrimination, horror, poverty, abuse, even cultural genocide. Elementary students today, do not have all the facts on how Canada truly went from, British colony to independent nation. In the middle grades, Canadian students learn about how the Vikings sited North America, setting foot on Newfoundland. They learn about how various brave, european explorers were hired to settle on this new land to bring back furs, fish, and other resources. It all sounds so adventurous, brave, and pioneer-like, doesn’t it? It’s the stuff that Marvel and DC Comics are made of!
Yet, every year I teach about New France or British North America, I have students that soon draw the conclusion that Europeans bullied their way onto Indigenous People’s land, taking the resources, displacing indigenous peoples and their communities, and shoved them onto reserved land via treaties. But these students never came to learn about these as facts with the textbook material to back it.
Not only that, as teachers, we would never talk about when the unthinkable happened. My goodness, I didn’t learn about the “truth” until Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology. I was shocked and disgusted by the news. How would I roll this out to my own students?
How do you stand-up and deliver such horrific details on how the colonial government (later the Canadian Government) opened a residential school system? Indigenous children were forced from their homes and taken hundreds of kilometres away to a school where they were stripped of their cultural practices and ceremonies. They were forced to learn and speak english, and abused if they spoke in their native language. They were physically and sexually abused, with emotional harassment that many just could not survive. Thousands of children died…but the people of Canada did not know. When these children finally did return to their indigenous families and communities, they were left unable to communicate with their families. Indigenous children were left abused, neglected, confused, traumatized. So we can see, Canada’s growth and prosperity came at the expense of the Indigenous Peoples heritage.
So, as a teacher…I set out to find a way to provoke my two grade eight history classes with these truths. I would provide them with a sample of challenges that Indigenous Peoples have suffered, or suffer to this day. I provoked students’ minds with videos, images, quotes, and more. We explored the topics of:
- Canada’s Residential Schools
- Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
- Life on Reserve
- Oil Pipelines
From there, students self-selected a topic they were hungry to learn more about. Students engaged in discussion and debate…drilling questions, deeply wondering; and growing irritated and angry by these truths they had come to learn about their nation.
It soon became evident that the patriotism of these students was being challenged and stressed. They were deeply saddened and angered by the manner in which Canada developed the foundation of their nation. There was real shame, guilt, and disappointment in our colonial predecessors. They found the governmental practices to be criminal, disgusting, humiliating, and terrorizing. These students were angry with every, single Canadian prime minister. They quickly figured-out that every PM had deprived citizens of the truth about the relations between colonists and First Nations peoples.
Teaching through this whole experience has been exhausting, painful…yet inspiring. Everyday was filled with a twinge of anxiety and uncertainty. Yet each time, these students rose to the occasion and expressed feelings and opinions a teacher could only dream of. I am sure they matured through the process, and feel proud of the knowledge they have, and the personal growth journey have endured.
When researching how to go about this Inquiry Based Learning experience myself, I strived to honour the information outlined by the, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It was there that I read this,
Why is the TRC important to Canadians?
Indian Residential Schools are a part of our shared history, a history that is not well understood by many.
Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal people has suffered as a result of the IRS system. Healing and repairing that relationship will require education, awareness, and increased understanding of the legacy and the impacts still being felt for everyone involved in that relationship.”
At the end of it all…these students have risen to a golden standard on how to be an ally to Indigenous Peoples of Canada. In classroom discussions, I beamed with pride as I listened to the new perspectives these students had towards Indigenous Peoples. They expressed feelings of duty, loyalty, and friendship.
These students know Our truth. They are committed to showing acts of compassion, empathy, and kindness towards Indigenous Peoples while at the mall, on a bus, at the gym, in an airport, or when they arrive at high school next year. These students are hungry to lay the groundwork towards reconciliation, and they want to hear from Indigenous Peoples about what they need. Now that is an ally…that is a friend.
I have provided a few links to share student work. There are a variety of project formats. Students carried out their research, documenting facts and information onto a Lotus Diagram. Students selected from a choice board of options for their final produc (Google Slides projects need a login, I’m trying to fix that). They were invited to display their research as:
- a Prezi slideshow (http://www.prezi.com)
- a two-page spread (as you might find in an informational text)
- a petition
- a public service announcement or video
I long for the healing of our Indigenous Peoples of Canada, and the healing of the relationships amongst the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. For this to happen, we need to commit to educating young people in Canada on the lasting impact and legacy that colonialism has left behind. Let’s work together on building a better Canada, one we can all be proud of.
Well…History Term One – COMPLETE!
Student Work samples:
Student EM – http://bit.ly/2lAlqqy
Student BP – http://bit.ly/2lAacCK
Student AD – http://bit.ly/2l66srU
Student ES – http://bit.ly/2lFDLyx
Student ET – http://bit.ly/2lFu7fk
Student CR – https://prezi.com/p/wff9rjoeq8pg/
Student JC – https://prezi.com/p/mmg8vvduixtg/
Student TK – http://bit.ly/2lFQrWd