TRC calls for education as a tool for reconciliation

The TRC calls for changes in the curriculum to incorporate Indigenous perspectives in education. In the Winnipeg School Division that means more than just learning about the history of residential schools.

Why moving from truth to reconciliation may mean using a teepee to teach math

Grade 11 students at Kelvin High School learn about Treaty 5 through role playing. (Raymond Sokalski)

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released the 94 calls to action, all the schools in the Winnipeg School Division were sent a copy. Marsha Missyabit, an aboriginal education consultant for the school division, says she wanted teachers to be aware of the calls to action and educate their students about them.

"We're looking at a national reconciliation through restoring respectful relationships between all people living here," Missyabit said. Several of the TRC's recommendations call for changes in education, including changes to the curriculum, that would make teaching about residential schools and treaties mandatory for students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

"A lot of teachers are coming to us with questions about [residential schools], asking why they were not taught this when they were attending school," Missyabit said, adding she does professional development workshops for teachers in the division about the history of residential schools.

Missyabit said she met a teacher last week who had never heard of residential schools. 

"There's a lot of shock for people who are hearing about this for the first time," she said.

Raymond Sokalski has been teaching about residential schools for 25 years. The social studies teacher at Kelvin High School said he's already seen a change in the way indigenous history is taught. 
Grade 11 student Lauren MacCrae learns about treaties through role play. (Raymond Sokalski)

Each year Grade 11 students in Sokalski's class spend a week studying the history of treaties through role play. Students take on the role of real historical figures who were implicated in the negotiations of Treaty 5 at Norway House in 1875. 

"It's so important to put [students] in the flesh of somebody whose entire future and the future of their children's children's children depended on what amounted to 48 hours [of negotiation]," said Sokalski. "The reflections they write afterwards show me they understand how much the dice were loaded against First Nations.

"The reason we do it every semester is because it's so gratifying to see the responses."

Both Sokalski and Missyabit look forward to a time when indigenous perspectives permeate all subject matter. Missyabit and the aboriginal education team in the school division have already been working on that. They're creating lesson plans in math, science and language arts that help teachers educate students about the diversity of aboriginal people and their contributions.
Aboriginal education consultant Marsha Missyabit said teachers can teach math using elements of indigenous culture, like the teepee. (Jenn Smith Nelson)

"There's lots of math in homes and dwellings," said Missyabit. She uses the teepee as an example to teach younger students shapes and older students concepts like length and circumference.

"It's just making those connections with an aboriginal perspective, because we are on indigenous soil."