Indigenous History

Indigenous History…Making It Part of Conversations Year-Round by: Joan Burke
Posted on 06/08/2021
Indigenous Peoples Month


I feel it is important to contextualize this blog, so I am starting by providing my thoughts and feelings about how this blog has come to be.   When I was asked to write a blog in honor of National Indigenous History Month, I must admit my first response was hesitancy.  I hesitated because it seems unbelievable to me that in 2021, we are still only carving a month out of the year to recognize our indigenous brothers and sisters who are so firmly woven into the creation of Canada.  Indigenous history is Canadian history, and we need to celebrate each other.  I do not have enough space to create a blog that can do justice to a topic as significant as indigenous history.  My intent is to just create opportunity for you to seek new knowledge and reflect on your practice, because if any real change is to happen it will be through education.

The past few weeks have uncovered how far we still need to go to understand the history, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples in Canada. Recently, Ethan Bear spoke of the racism he has experienced as an NHL player, and last week 215 children’s bodies were uncovered in a grave outside a former residential school in Kamloops and this week we heard of the despicable treatment of Joyce Echaquan in a hospital in Quebec.

These events weigh heavy on me, so I feel a blog provides me a place to outline some hope and to remind all educators we have a call to action.  In June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 calls to action.  I know I have more to do, and I will continue to learn so I can find meaningful ways to ensure that the colonization of Canada does not continue to negatively impact indigenous people.


Throughout the blog I have included hyperlinks to resources that may be of interest to you.  I have also offered reflective questions if you want to think more deeply about indigenous history, culture and traditions and how these can be part of your classroom lessons.

Indigenous History…Making It Part of Conversations Year-Round.

I am writing this blog as a settler on Treaty 7 land, the ancestorial and traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy: Kanai, Pikani and Siksika as well as the Tsu T’ina First Nation and Stoney Nakoda First Nation.   I acknowledge this territory is home to the Metis Nation, Region 3 and I further acknowledge all Nations – Indigenous and non- who live, work, and play on this land.  I purposefully began my blog with an acknowledgment because this tradition spans generations.  Acknowledgement of the land is a traditional custom of indigenous people when welcoming newcomers onto their land and into their homes. Taking time to acknowledge the land helps to build respect, forge relationships and by honoring the land I am showing my commitment to be part of reconciliation. I can never become complacent with this acknowledgment; I need to reflect each time that the words are important and have deep meaning.  I want to take time to honor the authentic history of North America, recognizing the original people, and help to tell the story of the creation of our country that has historically been missing.  How could you find ways to acknowledge the land with your students and help them see the relevance and importance of this tradition?

In my former role as Coordinator of Instruction, I had the absolute honor of being introduced to a Blackfoot Elder named Randy Bottle.  Randy was such a positive influence for FFCA as campuses looked to build their foundational knowledge of indigenous ways.  Randy graciously guided us through blanket exercises, took students onto the land, told stories in classrooms, and brought his stories to life through virtual reality experiences.  Randy constantly reminded all of us that residential schools were indeed part of the Blackfoot history, but he referred to this time as part of their dark history and he always wanted to share more about the ways his people have lived and thrived on the land.  Randy’s words will remain with me forever, “Everything we need comes from the land and that’s where all lessons come from.  Mother Earth (Na’a) is very important because we ask Mother Earth to embrace us just like our mother and that’s how we survive on the land.” He always reminded me that you would know when it was time to do something because the earth would tell you.  This perspective about our land and time has been missing from our curriculums for decades.  Before spending time with Randy and reading anything I could about indigenous ways, I accepted a Euro-centric version of our history because that is what I had been taught. The Western European concept of time is a clear and simple example of how perspectives can be different.  Time begins somewhere and proceeds in a linear path from A to B to C.  Na’a is never considered.  I have been left wondering; how can people be challenged to consider more than one truth?  Is it okay to value one way of knowing over another?  What kind of curiosity could be sparked to cause people to want to know more about alternative perspectives?    So many Indigenous resources have been created to help with understanding indigenous perspectives.  I don’t think we can wait for Elders or knowledge keepers to tell us what to do, I think our call to action is to educate ourselves.  How have you considered indigenous perspectives and included them in your lessons to deepen students understanding of the history, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples in Canada ?

Finding ways to celebrate diversity and unity is important and teachers are masterful at looking for ways to make education inclusive.  When inclusive classrooms are created, a wealth of learning and opportunity ensues. Recognizing indigenous ways of knowing as valid ways is an important step in reconciliation.  Canada has a rich history of diverse First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people.  Each individual group is unique and possesses their own culture, traditions, and ways of knowing. There are similarities in cultural values, beliefs, and languages, but I know I cannot assume that each of these individual groups can be lumped together.  I need to value their uniqueness and be open to learning more if I don’t understand.  First People share many of the same values for education and many of these values are evident in classrooms across Canada.

  1. Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the community, the land, the spirit, and the ancestors.
  2. Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
  3. Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions.
  4. Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
  5. Learning recognizes the role of indigenous knowledge.
  6. Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
  7. Learning requires exploration of one’s identity
  8. Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations.

Although educators are bound to teach the curriculum assigned to them, how they organize the learning can reflect some of these indigenous principles.  There are so many ways to help students see how indigenous history permeates our everyday lives. We owe it to our children to help them see how history of this country has impacted First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people.  Truly all it takes is commitment to educate yourself.  A little bit at a time, is all that is required.  I don’t believe it will require hours and hours of time, little bits gathered and integrated into your teaching is a step.  As more and more teachers take up this call to action, indigenous history will start to become part of conversations, influence thinking, and open minds to alternative perspectives.   If my dream comes true, we won’t just have a month to honour indigenous history, it will be infused into classrooms across the country—every day, in diverse and inclusive ways.  It really is how we will stand up and show that all children matter. Education is the way to pave a brighter more inclusive future.  How can you continue to carve time to further educate yourself about indigenous history so this way of knowing can be authentically infused into classrooms at all levels?

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