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Integrating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action in History Classes

Many settler educators (myself included) feel a certain level of trepidation and anxiety around integrating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) Calls to Action in their classrooms. The hesitancy doesn't stem from educators thinking it is unimportant, but rather, fear of doing it wrong or not knowing where to start. I hope to help us find a place to begin through this deep dive. To do so, I will indicate a variety of ways in which Indigenous knowledge and ways of teaching can be integrated in our classrooms, with a particular focus on integrating it into Canadian history classes, as well as ways to teach about the residential school system.

As I mentioned, I'm a settler so I've attempted to highlight Indigenous voices throughout this exploration. I've also included links to a variety of resources at the bottom of this post that I hope you'll explore.


Integration Method #1: Key Figures

The first method which I recommend for integrating Indigenous knowledge is by highlighting key Indigenous figures that connect to the curriculum. These figures should not be studied in isolation or in specific profiles of Indigenous history, but rather should be integrated with other key figures. Their Indigenous identities should be highlighted, but the focus should be on their skills and accomplishments.

In looking at the Ontario curriculum for grade ten history (CHC2D/P which covers Canadian history from 1914-present), it connects throughout, as it specifically calls for speaking about Indigenous history and figures of note, as well as tying into the general requirements to speak about key figures of the time in each chronological unit.

An image of Francis Pegahmagabow and an image of Phyllis Webstad are in the center. Each image has its own caption, which read as follows. In World War One, Francis Pegahmagabow was one of Canada's best snipers and was one of the most highly decorated soldiers. He then went on to become an advocate for Indigenous rights and sovereignty and sever as Chief of Wasauksing First Nation from 1921 to 1925. Phyllis Webstad is Northern Secwpemc and was sent to residential school at age six. When she arrived, she was stripped of all her clothes, including her new "shiny orange shirt". This orange shirt went on to serve as a symbol in the Orange Shirt Day movement she founded.

A great tool for this is my FNMI Key Figures Fact Sheet research task, which is appropriate for grades 4-12. This resource is completely free here!


Integration Method #2: Oral Histories

To incorporate Indigenous ways of teaching in the classroom, I suggest using oral histories. Storytelling is a huge part of Indigenous cultures and traditions – but a method of preserving history that has largely been frowned upon in Western study. I believe that it is important to introduce students to a wide variety of historical sources and methodologies, and oral histories are a huge part of Indigenous knowledge-keeping so it is very important to me that students have the opportunity to engage with it.

One way that oral histories can be integrated into the classroom is by bringing in an Indigenous knowledge-keeper or Elder to speak with the class about anything from the course curriculum or anything that sets the primer/provides background for a curricular topic. For example, with the Canadian history 1914-present course I mentioned earlier, I could have an Indigenous knowledge-keeper share an Indigenous perspective on World War II or share about important social movements like Idle No More or Orange Shirt Day.

Another way to integrate Indigenous oral histories is through videos. For example, there are many videos online which speak to individual’s experiences in residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, etc. which fits within the curricular timeframe of the above mentioned course as well as the specific TRC Calls to Action to discuss these topics. For example, CBC has published a video on YouTube entitled “Stolen Children | Residential School survivors

speak out” which is a collection of oral histories recounting personal residential school

experiences/traumas and the generational effects. Another great video to use for this integration strategy is the Toronto Star’s YouTube video “Adoptees of Sixties Scoop tell their stories” which, as the title suggests, features Sixties Scoop survivors speaking about their experiences and their lasting traumas. These videos can be excellent ways to connect to the TRC's Calls to Action and bring Indigenous voices into the classroom.


Integration Method #3: Written Histories

Another important way of integrating Indigenous knowledge in history classes

is through using histories written by Indigenous authors. There are many phenomenal Indigenous authors who are writing both non-fiction and fiction books that are useful in the history classroom.

As an aside, it is important that students know the difference between fiction and non-fiction

sources. While fictional sources can be historically based and well-researched (and can

have a place in the history classroom – much like how the novel All Quiet on the Western

Front by Erich Maria Remarque is often used) it is important that students understand

that it may not be totally accurate.

Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian covers Indigenous and settler relations in North America from the 15th Century onwards as well as his thoughts on how popular culture has shaped colonial and personal ideas of what being Indigenous means. The Education of Augie Merasty is the powerful memoir of Joseph Auguste Merasty’s experiences in residential school, transcribed by David Carpenter. Merasty’s book details the traumas (abuse, cultural genocide, etc.) he experienced – some of which is too graphic for CHC2P/D, though students could read excerpts of this memoir to gain a better sense of what being in a residential school was like.

Monique Gray Smith’s Tilly, loosely based on the author’s life is about discovering and reclaiming Indigenous identity and reckoning with Canada’s colonial abuses as a teenager in the 1980’s. While this work is fictional, it is largely based in experiences of Indigenous folks in Canada and can be a valuable resource for students to learn from in CHC2P/D. Midnight Sweatlodge, by Waubgeshig Rice, is based off Rice’s experiences on reserve and tells a fictional story of “young aboriginal people who visit an elder at a sweat lodge and recount their sometimes painful life experiences.” 8 While it is fictional, students can still learn about the impacts of colonialism and daily life of Indigenous people in Canada from this novel which connects history to the present for students.


Integration Method #4: Land-Based Learning

A huge part of Indigenous teaching and knowledge is land-based. “[Land-based learning] encourages critical thought through interaction with the land, an understanding of nature and its relation to science – all the while connecting with and celebrating Indigenous

culture.”(Malone, Kelly Geraldine) To incorporate both Indigenous teaching methods and Indigenous knowledge into history classes, I would utilize land-based learning. Students can explore the historical connections to the land around them.

One method of exploring land-based learning in history classes would be to study environmental history – to explore how our history is dependent on the environment. For example, students could consider how natural resources were used in the war effort in World War One.

Another method would be to visit historical sites and explore how the natural environment shaped what happened at the site. For example students could visit a historical battle site (ie. the Plains of Abraham in Quebec) and explore the military decisions made and how

they connected to the physical battlefield’s nature/conditions. (ie. How did the St. Laurence River shape the battle?)


TRC's Calls to Action

Throughout this post, I've made reference to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the 94 Calls to Action they published. Integrating Indigenous knowledge into the classroom as I have explored correlates primarily to two points from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action:

  • 63.1: “We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including ... Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.” In this post I have presented a variety of ways to teach about Indigenous history and the lasting trauma of colonial cultural genocide through methods including residential schools to align with this Call to Action.

  • 63.3: “We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including ... Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.” Through considering all these instructional strategies and specific resources, it was important to me that the approach consistently both present an accurate representation of Indigenous history, while also building student empathy and intercultural understanding by presenting information from non-colonial sources and fostering an inclusive classroom space.


References and Further Reading

As promised at the top, here are a collection of excellent resources to further explore Indigenous ways of teaching and learning, ways to incorporate these into your classroom, and the TRC and the 94 Calls to Action.

Merasty, Joseph Auguste, and David Carpenter. The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir. Regina: University of Regina, 2017.

As a personal note, I cannot recommend reading this book enough - it is a difficult read but an important one.

Milloy, John S. A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2017.

Malone, Kelly Geraldine. “Land-Based Learning Links Curriculum with Indigenous Culture.” Global News. Corus, October 21, 2018.

“Education for Reconciliation.” Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Government of Canada, September 5, 2019.

Koennecke, Franz M. “Francis Pegahmagabow,” March 28, 2020. .

“Phyllis' Story.” Orange Shirt Day. Accessed July 2, 2020.

Stolen Children | Residential School Survivors Speak Out. YouTube. CBC News: The National, 2015.

Adoptees of Sixties Scoop Tell Their Stories. YouTube. Toronto Star, 2019.

King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Anchor Canada, 2013.

All images in this post are from a presentation I delivered on the topic in July 2020.

1 Comment

Aug 28, 2021

Just some advice from an Indigenous educator: if you bring in an Elder or Knowledge Keeper into your classroom be prepared to offer protocol. Also, please refrain from using the acronym FNMI. We are not an acronym.

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