New lessons to boost Indigenous knowledge in classroom

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Alberta educators say that new lesson plans released by the province last week should help students and teachers better understand Alberta’s Indigenous past.

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen rolled out a slate of 32 lesson plans on Oct. 24 in Calgary. The free lessons, designed with the help of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, are part of the province’s ongoing efforts to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and are designed for grades 1 to 9 language arts, fine arts, science, and social studies classes.

Teachers have a critical role in helping students understand reconciliation, and it’s tough to do that when many teachers don’t know Canada’s Indigenous history themselves, Eggen said at Calgary’s Dr. Martha Cohen School.

“Today we can embed the true history of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit into the education experience of every student,” Eggen said.

“We will break down barriers and continue to build understanding and work to make sure that every child in Alberta and all teachers and support workers have an enhanced learning experience to advance reconciliation.”

Our Indigenous communities are more fragile than ever, and the effects of residential schools are still widely misunderstood, said Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation (which is near Lac Ste Anne), speaking alongside Eggen. Creating a shared understanding of this dark and painful part of Canada’s past will create more opportunities for meaningful change and healing.

“Our ancestors have been waiting for us to work together to provide a bright future for all,” he said.

Meagan Lundgren, who piloted some of the new lessons at Calgary’s Dr. Martha Cohen School, spoke of how one of them, based on the late singer Gord Downie’s Secret Path multimedia project, really connected with her students.

“Students openly wept as we listened to the songs,” she said, and grew angry as they learned of the continued injustice faced by Indigenous people.

Many went home and shared these lessons with their parents, who in turned asked the teachers for more information on these subjects, she said.

“That is the power of teaching truth in a school.”

Powerful lessons

These lessons are part of the province’s ongoing curriculum review that, amongst other goals, aims to infuse Indigenous culture and history into all subjects and grade levels, Eggen said. The province would publish similar lessons for high schools this February.

The optional lessons outline activities and resources teachers can slot into their classes. One asks social studies students to discuss the implications of the 2016 Supreme Court rulings on Métis rights, for example, while another has science students investigate First Nations pollution concerns about the Athabasca River.

Vincent J. Maloney teacher Billie-Jo Grant, who recently won a national award for Indigenous education, said she liked the cross-curricular approach these lessons took, as it would help teachers get Indigenous history to more students.

“Education is not just one topic and then we move on,” she said.

“These ideas are meant to complement each other.”

Many teachers want to teach students about Indigenous history but don’t know where to start, said St. Albert Public Schools programming and planning associate superintendent Marianne Barrett. These lessons give teachers tangible resources with which to teach that history, and, unlike many existing ones, are specifically designed to work with Alberta’s curriculum.

St. Albert Public was working on other initiatives to teach students about Indigenous history, such as an upcoming local Métis history unit for Métis Week, Barrett said. They’re also working on info sessions for parents that want to talk to their kids about this subject.

“We need to know the truth about our past and the colonial nature of our country so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” she said.

The lessons are available at www.learnalberta.ca/content/fnmilp/index.html.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.