Reframing Canadian History – Indigenous Perspectives

Indigenous map Pre-Contact Canada

I write this from my perspective as the teacher in the room teaching during Covid-19. . Students will have a different point of view and assessment of how things are going. I will also add that as a rotary subject teacher who now dashes from room to room trying to remember to bring all materials, manage technology, and make enormous mental leaps from language to art to history from grade 7 and 8 to 3/4 for Health – this is not for the faint of heart. I can do this temporarily, but it is not sustainable in the long run.

Grade 7 and 8 History instruction began this week. My goal, as mentioned in an earlier post, is to prioritize an Indigenous perpsective as we consider the story of our country, Canada. That has meant rethinking what I do as an educator – from content choices, to how I introduce, provoke, and guide learning. There is a certain amount of irony in making this shift during a pandemic as students now sit in socially distant rows while I teach from the front of the class wearing a mask and faceshield.- the exact opposite of a circle of shared learning. We are able to go outside for some of our learning most days, but certainly not all, particularly when technology is involved. What hasn’t changed is my commitment to developing effective thinkers and communicators.

Our History inquiry began with three concepts: worldview, hierarchy, and interconnected. See previous post. The chalk mess of opposing worldviews has now been transformed into an anchor chart that can be regularly referred to. Students have been considering what would happen when those opposing world views came into contact. We’ve also been exploring opposing feelings, ideas, and issues during art with drawings emphasizing line and with collages.

One of my favourite pedagogical approaches that so beautifully develops good thinking is, of course, Integrative Thinking. A key idea from Integrative Thinking is that we must make our own and each others’ mental models explicit so they can be examined. Yesterday I wanted students to reveal to themselves their mental models of Canada. They had to do four things.

  1. Draw a map of Canada from memory.
  2. Write facts about Canada.
  3. Judge Canada. Good or bad and why?
  4. List places in Canada that are personally meaningful. This could be anything from their bedroom, to their cottage, to places they’ve visited …

There was much groaning and giggling as they attempted to draw the map – some more successfully than others. I promised that what was drawn in that room would stay in that room. We then looked at a current map and discussed facts, answered questions, and clarified understandings. The discussion was rich. Today when they came into class we began to question those mental models of Canada. Why do they exist the way the do? I wrote several questions on the board which included:

  1. Why is it that no Indigenous knowledge was represented on any of the maps? This led to excellent discussions in both classes, each going in different directions. Both classes concluded that Indigenous knowledge about Canada has not been prioritized.
  2. Next I asked them if anyone knew, had met, or had family members that they knew were Indigenous. A few hands went up. I then asked them to quickly sketch or write in words what they pictured when they heard the phrase ‘Indigenous person’. Some pictured nothing, some pictured a stereotypical Indigenous person from long ago that they might have seen in a textbook, movie, or picture book. We discussed why that image existed. Again, responses were quite insightful. Finally I asked if any had ever heard an Indigenous person speak either in English or in an Indigenous language. Once again, that led to an interesting discussion.

Next, I pointed out how important it is that they hear first hand from Indigenous people rather than from my interpretation of Indigenous people or from a textbook. For that I am so grateful to have come across Dr. Tracy Bear and her colleagues’ MOOC – Indigenous Canda – which is a 12 part course created to help non-Indigenous Canadians learn. I played a segment from the Introduction to the course which for most of the students was the first time they encountered modern day Indigenous people going about their work. Some were relieved to see that their drawings were not totally off-base. Dr. Bear was wearning a fringed jacket.

We watched the first part of the video. It does 2 important things.

1. Clarifies usage: Aboriginal, Indigenous, Native, First Nations, Indian, Metis, Inuit. Many teachers are concerned about using those correctly and not giving offense. We learned appropriate use and how certain words appear in offical documents such as the constitution. Students also learn how important is to use the words Indigenous people use to name themselves in their own languages. Naming matters.

2. Shows a map of Indigenous language groupings precontact. Again that provoked rich discussion.

Finally I asked students to reflect on what they had learned. ‘I used to think … now I think …”

This has given us a base that we can build upon as we address Orange Shirt Day. #EveryChildMatters, and the history of Residential Schools. More importantly it has allowed us to begin deepening our understanding of Canada by prioritizing the people who were here first.

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