Just like the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls sent shockwaves across the country, bringing conversations about violence against Indigenous peoples into classrooms, as did the discovery of the remains of 215 children at Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this year.
As the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches, we can expect Canadian teachers to consider how they can best integrate Indigenous perspectives into their lesson planning.
In the past, events like this rarely made national news, staying within our Indigenous communities where pain remained hidden from the rest of Canada. Now teachers are talking about it with their students – how history and society influence individual situations of racially motivated violence and cultural genocide. It is our responsibility to ensure that they are equipped to teach the truth and recognize the important role schools play in reconciliation.
But how do we do this when many of our educators were not told about residential schools when they were students?
This question has no answer. In 2016, the Hon. Judge Murray Sinclair, former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said: “Education has gotten us into this mess and education will get us out of it. After generations of poor education, it will take generations of true truth-sharing and knowledge-building within our provincial education systems to achieve reconciliation.
We have seen the first benefits across the country, and credit can be attributed to the provinces and school boards that have made significant efforts to engage Indigenous communities and counselors. This is just the beginning: it takes continuous work and dedication to make difficult truths. We must tell the story of Canada from a point of view other than a simple colonial point of view.
We owe it to Aboriginal educators who are motivated and challenged to provide education on a subject like residential schools that affected them. Educators like me, who when they look at pictures of children in civilian clothes, short hair and empty eyes – identities stripped down – still struggle to separate the pain we feel from the planning of lessons.
We also owe it to non-native educators who lack confidence in teaching because they have not learned the truth about the atrocities of the residential school system. This is a significant barrier to the successful integration of truth into our classrooms, which can be resolved by supporting educators on their learning journey.
We need to ensure that the material delivered to educators is written accurately by authentic voices. We need continued government funding and access to skills training programs. Alberta is a province that does it well. His Teacher qualification standard requires educators to take courses in basic knowledge of Indigenous history.
History, however, is only one subject taught to students in Kindergarten to Grade 12. We need a culturally appropriate approach to all subjects, ensuring that materials are authored by Indigenous writers and celebrate Indigenous excellence by weaving perspectives into math activities, social studies, and all aspects of a student’s educational experience. In subjects like science, students can learn more about Etuaptmumk’s Mi’kmaw principle, or See through two eyes, and understanding the world through indigenous and non-indigenous scientific systems.
We need to tell accurate stories from our past and tell stories about contemporary lifestyles of indigenous peoples. Our rich culture and deep connections to our community and our land have made Indigenous peoples exceptionally strong, but we are more than the adversity we have faced. Indigenous students must be seen in the present through the roles that members of our community have assumed.
Schools must tell the story of Canada from a perspective other than colonial, write Linda Isaac and John Estabillo. #FirstNations #EveryChildMatters
They need to know the modern indigenous personalities who run their estates and make important contributions to society. We need it for our Indigenous youth in Canada so that they can see themselves in our resources in the program and leave the classroom with positive role models.
People like Autumn Peltier, a young activist known as the “Water Warrior” who fights for clean water in Indigenous communities across Canada. Her advocacy took her across the world – in 2018 and 2019, fall delivered her message on the right to drink safe water at the United Nations.
People like James jones, a Cree hoop dance artist from Edmonton. He took advantage of his talent as a hoop dancer to TIC Tac, gaining over three million followers, and is considered one of the top five hoop dancers in the world.
People like Carey Award, member of Ulkatcho First Nation and goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens who is celebrated for leading the Habs to the 2021 Stanley Cup final. At 33, he is considered one of the best goalies in the world.
We owe it to Indigenous students, so they can celebrate Indigenous excellence and feel motivated to achieve achievement in the fields they pursue. We owe it to all students, so that they can grow and be equipped to lead change with the truth in hand.
Linda Isaac is a citizen of Alderville First Nation and NelsonNational Director of Indigenous Education, Equity and Inclusion.
John Estabillo is Nelson’s literacy and social studies editor and works with educators, authors, artists and publishers across the country to represent Canada as fully as possible in educational resources.