Just as the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls triggered shock waves across the country, bringing conversations about violence against Indigenous people into the classroom, so did the discovery of 215 children's remains at the Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this year.
As the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches, we can expect Canadian teachers are thinking about how they can better weave Indigenous perspectives into their lesson planning.
In the past, events like this rarely made it as national news, staying inside our Indigenous communities where the pain remained hidden from the rest of Canada. Now, teachers are talking about them with their students — how history and society influence individual situations of race-motivated violence and cultural genocide. It's our responsibility to make sure they are equipped to teach the truth and acknowledge the important role schools play in reconciliation.
But how do we do that when many of our educators were not taught about residential schools when they were students?
This question does not have one answer. In 2016, the Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said, "Education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it." After generations of miseducation, it will take generations of real truth-sharing and knowledge-building within our provincial education systems to achieve reconciliation.
We've seen the early benefits across the country, and credit can be given to the provinces and school boards that have made meaningful efforts to engage Indigenous communities and advisers.This is just the beginning: it takes continued work and dedication to face up to difficult truths. We need to tell Canada's story from more than just a colonial perspective.
We owe it to Indigenous educators who are triggered and challenged to deliver education around a topic like residential schools that have impacted them. Educators like me, who when viewing the images of children with their plain clothes, short hair, and empty eyes — identities stripped — still struggle to separate the pain we hold from lesson planning.
We also owe it to non-Indigenous educators who lack confidence in teaching because they weren't taught the truth about the atrocities of the residential school system. This is a significant blocker to the successful integration of truth-telling in our classrooms, which can be solved by supporting educators in their journey of learning.
We must ensure the materials passed down to educators are written accurately by authentic voices. We need ongoing government funding and access to professional learning programs. Alberta is one province that does this well. Its Teacher Qualifications Standard requires educators to take courses in foundational knowledge of Indigenous history.
History, however, is only one subject taught to kindergarten to Grade 12 students. We need a culturally responsive approach to all subjects, ensuring 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 about the Mi'kmaw principle of Etuaptmumk, or Two-Eyed Seeing, and understand the world through Indigenous and non-Indigenous scientific systems.
Schools need to tell Canada's story from more than just a colonial perspective, write Linda Isaac and John Estabillo. #FirstNations #EveryChildMatters
We must tell accurate stories of our past and tell stories about the contemporary lifestyles of Indigenous people. Our rich culture and deep ties to our community and land have made Indigenous peoples exceptionally strong, but we are more than the adversity we have faced. Indigenous students need to be seen in the present through the roles our community members have taken on.
They need to know the modern Indigenous figures that are leading their fields and making important contributions to society. We need this for our Indigenous youth in Canada so they can see themselves in our resources in the curriculum and leave the classroom with positive role models.
People like Autumn Peltier, a youth activist known as the "water warrior," who is fighting for clean drinking water in Indigenous communities in Canada. Her advocacy has taken her across the world — in 2018 and 2019, Autumn delivered her right to drink clean water message to the United Nations.
People like James Jones, a Cree hoop dance artist from Edmonton. He took his hoop dancing talent to TikTok, gaining over three million followers, and is considered one of the top five hoop dancers in the world.
People like Carey Price, a member of the Ulkatcho First Nation and goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens who is being celebrated for driving the Habs into the 2021 Stanley Cup finals. At 33, he is considered one of the world's best goalies.
We owe it to Indigenous students, so they can celebrate Indigenous excellence and feel motivated to make accomplishments in the fields they pursue. We owe it to all students, so they can grow up and be equipped to drive change with the truth in hand.
Linda Isaac is a citizen of Alderville First Nation and Nelson's national director of Indigenous education, equity and inclusion.
John Estabillo is Nelson’s literacy and social studies publisher and collaborates with educators, authors, artists and editors across the country to represent Canada as fully as possible in classroom resources.