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.
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.
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. https://globalnews.ca/news/4579143/land-based-learning-curriculum-indigenous-culture/.
“Education for Reconciliation.” Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Government of Canada, September 5, 2019. https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1524504501233/1557513602139.
Koennecke, Franz M. “Francis Pegahmagabow,” March 28, 2020. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/francis-pegahmagabow .
“Phyllis' Story.” Orange Shirt Day. Accessed July 2, 2020. https://www.orangeshirtday.org/phyllis-story.html.
Stolen Children | Residential School Survivors Speak Out. YouTube. CBC News: The National, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdR9HcmiXLA.
Adoptees of Sixties Scoop Tell Their Stories. YouTube. Toronto Star, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJHR1STq_-s.
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.