CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 29 . . . . March 30, 2018
When faced with new curricular demands, teachers are challenged by the task of finding the resources and developing the lessons or teaching activities for its implementation. Amongst the 94 Calls to Action from the 2015 final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), is a series of calls for "Education for Reconciliation". Call 62 states, "We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to: i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples' historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students." (TRC Final Report p. 2015) With this in mind, Pamela Rose Toulouse, (Anishinaabe-Kwe from Sagamok First Nation, ON,) an associate professor in Laurentian University's School of Education has created Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools, an accessible, teacher-friendly, and hands-on resource, for teachers from K-12.
The 147-page book is divided into two parts: "Part 1: Program Foundations" and "Part 2: Truth and Reconciliation Lesson Plans by Grade". It's often said that "you can't teach what you don't know", and many teachers know that they really learn a topic or subject or activity by teaching it. Even teachers who have immersed themselves in learning about the history and culture of the Indigenous peoples of Canada are bound to learn something new from the content of the five chapters of Part 1. Each of the five chapters begins with a statement of the TRC Call to Action on which it focuses, followed by an "Introduction" in which Toulouse provides her personal connection with the focus topic. For example, in the "Introduction" to "Chapter 1. Residential Schools Legacy", Toulouse tells the story of her grandmother, who attended St. Joseph's Residential School for Girls in Spanish, ON. While at the school, Madonna Rose Toulouse nearly died from pneumonia, and she spent the rest of her life suffering from chronic lung illness. Nevertheless, she was a fighter, surviving to become a "resilient, hard-working, stubborn, and funny woman", of whom Pamela Toulouse states, "I was so lucky to be her granddaughter." (p. 5) The rest of the chapter offers an overview of the history of residential schools, both in text and in selected photographs, a comparison of the nature of education in Indigenous and settler societies, followed by a rationale for using a particular subject area to teach that topic. For teaching about residential schools, "a literacy approach, harnessing the power of story" (p. 12) and its transformative power, is the means by which that history can be told in a sensitive manner. Following the rationale is a table, detailing curriculum connections, grouped by grade level, along with suggested resources which are age-appropriate.
This format is replicated in the subsequent four chapters of Part 1. "Chapter 2. Indigenous Peoples of Canada" provides content about the three groups of Canadian Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit), including provincial/territorial populations of the three groups, a description of traditional vs. technological (i.e. settler) values, an overview of the provisions of the Indian Act of 1876, facts about Canada's Indigenous peoples (drawn from Statistics Canada), links to valid and reliable web-sites, and finally, an "arts-based pedagogy" (p. 27), utilizing drama, dance, music and the visual arts as a means of learning about the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
Perhaps one of the more contentious areas of Indigenous history is the nature of the treaties negotiated between Indigenous peoples and the Government of Canada. In "Chapter 3. Treaties of Canada", Toulouse provides a very accessible overview of the concept of treaties, their geographic scope in Canada, and a frank discussion of the fact that there are two differing and conflicting perspectives on treaties: that of the Crown/government and that of Indigenous peoples. This chapter contains a select listing of treaties and their key provisions. The list begins with the earliest Peace and Friendship treaties, allowing for peaceful co-existence of settlers and Indigenous Peoples, various pre-Confederation Treaties, the BNA Act, the Constitution Act of 1982, guaranteeing "the rights and fredoms of all Aboriginal, Métis and Inuit peoples" (p. 35), and the modern treaties and land claims, many of which deal with self-government. This is followed by a very comprehensive table that provides annotated resource web-sites for treaties in each Canadian province and territory. Learning that the content of treaties also exists in non-textual formats, such as wampum belts, totem poles, sacred scrolls (made of birchbark), petroglyphs, pictographs, and orally-transmitted stories, will undoubtedly be new knowledge for many educators, especially those who come from settler ancestry. Finally, Toulouse provides curriculum connections in the areas of social studies, history, geography, and world issues, so that teachers and students can learn that "we are all treaty people." (p. 42)
Whether one is a settler, Indigenous, Métis, or Inuit, as elementary, junior and senior high school students, we typically learned little about the contributions of Indigenous peoples to the world. Perhaps we were taught that most early settlers wouldn't have survived life in Canada (or the U. S.) without the generous assistance of Indigenous peoples. In my case, because my father worked for the Department of Transport in Canada's North, I learned that a pair of traditional Inuit snow goggles were not just a souvenir, but practical and necessary for preventing snow blindness. However, there is much more for students to learn, and "Chapter 4. Contributions of Indigenous Peoples" provides it. The creation stories of many Indigenous peoples contain some common elements, one of which is a strong sense of stewardship for the land, its flora and fauna. Indigenous peoples often refer to North America as "Turtle Island", a place of 12 distinct geographic areas, each posing unique challenges to survival. Indigenous peoples learned to work with and care for their environments, offering the world a variety of gifts, including "pharmaceutical innovations, … sports, …games, surgical and agricultural technique, musical instruments, and much more. Many of the foods we enjoy come from Indigenous peoples, (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada 2017), and many of the continent's place names come from their languages." (p. 47) In addition to a selective listing of the many contributions of Indigenous peoples throughout North America, Toulouse provides content on the specific contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada, with special focus on those of nations living in Ontario, Toulouse's home province. Science is the subject used to teach Indigenous contributions, offering "an authentic connection" that can be "personally meaningful" to students. (p. 54)
The fifth chapter of Part I focuses on "Sacred Circle Teachings", sometimes referred to as the "medicine wheel". Toulouse describes it as "a living model that provides guidance to our people on how to live as honourable human beings." (p. 58) It focuses on an individual's wellness in which the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of one's life are balanced. More than in the previous four chapters, the content is drawn primarily from the 7 Living Teachings of the Anishiaabek peoples of the Lake Huron region, to whose nation Toulouse belongs. However, Toulouse stresses that other Indigenous nations have similar teachings and values. The sacred circle teachings are multi-dimensional, describing the four main stages of human development, seasonal and monthly changes in the natural environment, and changes in perspective as the year progresses. The seven teachings each represent a pair of positive and negative values: respect and greed, love and fear, wisdom and ignorance, bravery and cowardice, honesty and lies, humility and pride, truth and selfishness. Health and physical education is the focus of curriculum connections to the wellness offered by the sacred circle teachings. Many people know that lacrosse is an Indigenous sport, but this chapter concludes with a listing of web-sites on grade/age-appropriate Indigenous games, many of which "were – and are – played in Canada." (p. 70)
The second half of the book contains a series of lesson plans, one for each grade level, from K through Grade 12. In the "Introduction of Part 2", Toulouse describes the values underpinning the plan behind the lessons. "To ensure balanced student learning, each lesson focuses on all four aspects of the Anishinaabe sacred circle: spiritual, physical, emotion, and intellectual." (p. 73) She also describes how each lesson is structured to include all four aspects of the sacred circle, and she provides a thematic structure for the "Scope/Sequence" of lessons for primary, junior, intermediate, and senior grades. Each lesson plan follows the same structure: background information for teachers, key terms or vocabulary, a visual or graphic element which exemplifies the concept to be taught, a suggested time frame for the lesson, a list of needed materials/resources, a statement of the learning goal and a step-by-step description of learning activities, a consolidation of learning activity, assessment goals and a reproducible black line master to be used at some point in the lesson.
Toulouse is to be commended for providing lesson plan examples for all grade levels; most teaching works of this type tend to focus on either elementary or junior/senior grade levels. As a former classroom teacher, I view the lessons presented in Part 2 as "exemplars" of best practice, rather than as "recipes". Teachers must commit to serious planning and thought, before undertaking these teaching activities As a former teacher-librarian, I know that finding needed resources is not always as easy as sitting down at the computer and doing a "Google™" search. The author has done an excellent job of providing valid and reliable web resources for teachers and students to search, and in each of the "curriculum connections" of Part 1, she has listed both fiction and non-fiction which will support the intended learning outcomes. The "References" list provides the sources of the research underpinning the book's pedagogy, and there is also a list of "Image Credits" for the black and white photographs and drawings in this work. It would have been very helpful to have a listing of all of the fiction and non-fiction works intended as classroom support materials (as well as library acquisitions). Such a list, along with details of the books' publishers, would certainly make it easier for teachers and teacher-librarians to source these needed works.
However, this is a minor criticism in an otherwise excellent teaching resource. Even if teachers don't use any of the lesson plans in Part 2, they will find the content of Part 1 to be very useful background material for the Indigenous education learning activities they will plan and implement. The book (softcover) is $29.00, and I think that the price is a real bargain for the value it offers.
Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools is highly recommended for the professional teaching resource collections of school libraries and school board resource libraries, and as a teaching resource for teachers of all subject areas, from K-12. Purchase more than one copy for your school library and find ways to promote it to teachers in your school.
Joanne Peters, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB (Treaty 1 Territory and homeland of the Métis Nation).