Teachers across Alberta will now have access to a series of unique lesson plans promoting the history of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in Canada, including the dark legacy of residential schools.
Education Minister David Eggen announced the new resources Tuesday as part of the ongoing $64-million curriculum overhaul, which will include an increased focus on Indigenous history, culture and the government’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation commission.
“It is critical our students understand the history of residential schools, along with the histories and vibrant cultures of Indigenous communities and the role we all have to play in reconciliation,” Eggen said during the announcement at Dr. Martha Cohen School in the deep south community of New Brighton.
“It’s equally important teachers have the tools they need to feel empowered to teach this important material in the classroom as we work to prepare our students for success.”
One of several resources identified within the lesson plans is Secret Path, geared towards Grade 9 English Language Arts students. The multimedia project includes a solo album by the late Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip along with a graphic novel and animated film. It is based on the true story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who froze to death in 1966 while trying to walk back home to Ogoki Post after escaping a residential school in Kenora, Ontario.
Through the moving story of poetry and music, students will learn from Downie’s own words, including his music video called The Stranger, which states that “between the 1880s and 1996, over 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and sent to residential schools run by church organizations and funded by the Canadian government . . . forbidden to speak their language and practise their culture, forced to assimilate into white Canada.”
Teachers are also being given background materials in the new First Nations, Metis and Inuit Perspectives in Curriculum from Alberta Education including Kinship, Healing Historical Trauma, Well-being, Ancestors Time and Place and media articles on Truth and Reconciliation.
Meagan Lundgren, a teacher at Dr. Martha Cohen School, worked on the pilot program to develop the new curriculum and said she was especially moved by how her students responded to the history of Indigenous people and the plight of those forced into residential schools.
“Many openly wept,” she explained, and would go home and share the lessons with their parents and families.
“If we do not connect with our children’s hearts, we won’t be able to help them learn,” Lundgren said, adding that the new resources are especially valuable to teachers who are discovering that Canada’s true history does not match what they were taught in school.
“I have seen the meaningful role that teachers can play in bringing greater understanding of reconciliation to students. I’m thrilled to have new resources and activities to draw from that are current, meaningful and respectful of First Nations, Metis and Inuit perspectives.”
Chief Tony Alexis with the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation said Indigenous people are at a particularly vulnerable point in their history trying to build better futures, which makes the new curriculum especially important.
“We are making important progress in our journey towards reconciliation and a shared understanding,” Alexis said.
“These new resources will shed light on our painfully dark history . . . There cannot be reconciliation without truth.”