Teachers become students at first-ever PD day on Indigenous studies in Ottawa

For the first time ever, public school teachers in Ottawa spent an entire professional development day learning about Indigenous communities, cultures, and issues in order to strengthen the knowledge and awareness they share with their students.

More than 140 Ottawa teachers attend PD day focused on Indigenous culture and issues

Josh Lewis leads a talking circle for teachers at a professional development day specifically on Indigenous studies. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

For the first time ever, public school teachers in Ottawa spent an entire professional development day learning about Indigenous communities, cultures, and issues in order to strengthen the knowledge and awareness they share with their students.

More than 140 educators from schools throughout the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board were at Bell High School Friday for the First Nation, Métis and Inuit Subject Council PD day, organized by teachers' union OSSTF District 25.

Kim Bruton is a history, English, and Indigenous voices teacher at Sir Robert Borden High School. (Waubgeshig Rice)
"We're coming together with Indigenous community members to bridge the gap between what our students and our teachers can bring to the table in learning about Indigenous cultures," said Kim Bruton, a teacher at Sir Robert Borden High School.

Teachers of different subjects — from Indigenous Studies to English to history and even French and science — moved through different workshops and seminars focused on culture, community engagement, best practices, and more.

"For many of these educators, I think they're really looking for ways to share these Indigenous teachings in the school, but they need to learn from Indigenous people," said Josh Lewis, who works as an Aboriginal School Liaison at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health.

"And I think right now that's what this is today — they're taking off their teaching hats, and they're just listening today."

Lewis led a session on talking circles, a practice in many Indigenous cultures that encourages people to open up and share their feelings and experiences in a group setting.

A 'new beginning'

Kris Meawasige, who's the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit student support coordinator with the OCDSB, calls the PD day a "new beginning" that he hopes will be an annual event.

"As a young person, this was so absent from my experience going to school, right from Kindergarten to Grade 12," said Meawasige, who, like Lewis, is Anishinaabe from northern Ontario. "So to see this now happening for the younger people, it's so needed because they're starving for it."

Organizers originally expected about 70 teachers to register. They were thrilled to have more than double that show up.

Melissa Campbell-Schwartz is the department head of English and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit studies at Rideau High School. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)
"We've worked hard to get this day to happen, and it's been a long time coming," said Rideau High School teacher Melissa Campbell-Schwartz. "I think of how I was introduced to Native studies 20 years ago, and here finally we have a subject council day, and it's validation for the work people have been doing for the last ten years in the school board."

Campbell-Schwartz credits the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action in changing attitudes and encouraging teachers to take Indigenous studies more seriously.

Lewis agrees. "I think a lot of teachers didn't want to talk about it because they were too scared, or they didn't know what questions to ask," he said. 

"But now because they're opening their minds, and they're taking the time to listen, I see them being able to bring it into their schools."

Teachers pass an eagle feather in a talking circle. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)