Two teachers from Regina received a Governor General's History Award Wednesday for their innovative work on treaty education in the province.
Leia Laing and Naomi Fortier-Freçon were both working at Regina's Campbell Collegiate when they decided they wanted to take a different approach to teaching their students about Indigenous culture.
The resulting journey saw high school students learning from elders, visiting with community members and illustrating a graphic novel through what they called the Treaty4Project.
"That's one of the first parts of reconciliation … understanding each other," said Laing.
The project involved both a youth conference at the First Nations University of Canada, and a collaborative art project exploring the concept of reconciliation.
Laing and Fortier-Freçon's work was noticed on a national level and they were named this year's recipients of the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching.
"For the last few days I've been feeling so many emotions. I've been overjoyed, I've been excited, I've been humbled at listening to so many other people's stories … but overall, honoured and very thankful," Laing said.
"This is such a distinction and I never thought that I would be here in Ottawa to receive such an award."
A new approach
The teachers said they launched their project after they found that whenever they talked about treaties in the classroom, the students were able to answer questions but didn't seem to understand the topic in depth.
Laing said she immediately contacted the First Nations University and community elders to help the high school students establish a deeper connection with the material.
"All of a sudden there was all these people around us who wanted to help us create an extraordinary youth conference," she said.
Four high schools and just over 220 students participated in 2015, the first year for the conference.
Laing hosted a number elders in her classroom so her students could learn more about Indigenous culture. Students took the initiative to learn how to present a pouch of tobacco to elders before they spoke to the class.
"It was nice to see them understanding how important it is to respect that … and then making sure that we are honouring each other," she said.
Laing said there have been two youth conferences in Regina since she initiated the first one. Currently, the school division is preparing for a 2018 Treaty4Project.