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How We’re Teaching Indigenous History to Our Kids

Aug 22, 2017

I don’t know about you, but when I think about the pressure of raising kids, my head kind of implodes. Kisses and cuddles, laundry, physical exertion, physical dependence, lack of sleep, the role of chief, cook and bottle-washer — all of these hats (and more) pale compared to the importance of introducing our kids to some of the harsher realities of the world.

As my children’s cognitive understanding and curiosity about the world around them begins to deepen, I’ve gotten into the habit of turning the radio down as soon as the news comes on. There are too many questions that I’m not ready to answer, and too many grim topics that I don’t think need to be on their radar. 

It is about helping them wade through 500 years of colonization and oppression, while still raising happy, resilient humans who are proud of ALL their cultural roots as mixed kids.

The conviction that certain realities shouldn’t be exposed to children is complicated. Age, awareness, cognitive development and emotional intelligence are all factors, of course, but ultimately the difficult talks need to begin as they get older. Our kids are often within earshot of big discussions coming from a family of Indigenous activists, artists, scholars, engineers, world travellers and change-makers. My kids are 5 and 7, and they have lots of concern and confusion in their eyes, even though I turn that radio dial down. Questions like, “why do mosquitoes bite?” and “why do flamingos stand on one leg?” are definitely easier to dig into.

When Standing Rock was at its height, some of our family, colleagues and friends were dropping everything to join as allies on the front lines. That’s how invested members of our small village are in supporting one another. I myself am serious about bridging the uneducated and misinformed gaps that lead to continued ignorance and racism within neighbourhood circles, workplace communities and on broader, international scales.


More to read: Why White Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Racism


Talking with our kids about the truths of Indigenous History in Canada isn’t just about talking about Standing Rock or Kinder Morgan, or any of the other pipeline projects in the news. It is about slowly and consistently helping them wade through 500 years of colonization and oppression, while still raising happy, resilient humans who are proud of ALL their cultural roots as mixed kids. It might even be about raising a new generation of community leaders, rising in solidarity with all of their relations.

Why? This is our moment in Canada as parents to acknowledge our responsibility for making space to talk in our homes with the little ones who are next in line to become young adults with heavy burdens to bear. To talk about change and understanding, instead of a continued colonial mindset. We have a role to play in their future, collective health and in planting seeds of justice and respect for all humanity and the environment. Here are three ways we're playing that role:

1. At School, Build Community, Curriculum and Leadership

The extent and content of Indigenous rights and what they mean to Canada continue to be disputed to this day, and our kids are noticing. Maybe not in Kindergarten, but as the grades stack on, you bet. Rights recognized under treaty have not been respected during post-Confederation (a.k.a. -Colonization), no matter how much that fact may be disputed. Schools are a great place to begin informing the next generation from an honest place. We have talked to our kids about Indigenous topics they could cover for Show and Share. They’ve both chosen to share their understanding of ceremonies they’ve been a part of, and have even brought in a Talking Feather to pass around for other kids to use when they wanted to speak or ask a question. I’ve volunteered in the school and brought in kid-lit such as The Mishomis Book: The Voice of The Ojibway. This and other kids' books by Indigenous authors have been purchased by my kids’ school because I’ve put them on their radar. Support and advocate for First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) curriculum — led by Indigenous educators and resources whenever possible — in your own child’s school. Be that link! Campaign to have Orange Shirt Day at your own child’s school, Indigenous early-childhood educators for workshops and Indigenous vendors at school-led community and fundraising events. The opportunities really are endless.


You'll Also Love: 10 Beautiful Indigenous Children's Books to Add to Your Library


2. Read The Truth and Reconcilliation Commission's Report 

There was a steep decline in the vitality of Indigenous well-being, cultures and languages after the Indian Act of 1876. The country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, looking into the legacy and abuses of the residential school system for Indigenous children, wrote in its 2015 report that “national reconciliation is the most suitable framework to guide commemoration” of Canada’s 150th anniversary, calling it, “an opportunity for Canadians to take stock of the past, celebrating the country’s accomplishments without shirking responsibility for its failures.” Share copies of the summary of the TRC report with your kids' teachers and other parents, and decide which parts can open up space for conversation with your own kids at home. Reading age-appropriate books are always a great place to begin.

3. Shine a Light on the Positive

For our own family, the history of Indigenous peoples has a vibrant and strong story to tell as well. Introduce them to inspiring Indigenous artists, leaders, academics, authors, musicians, scholars, scientists, healers, traditionalists and elders from around the globe. It all matters and has a profoundly positive and empowering impact on our children and youth, Indigenous and allies alike. At home we host and participate in as many ceremonies and traditions as we can, and we branch out to learn from other Indigenous communities, clans and tribes. This past spring I was invited to Sundance Ceremonies with my kids in South Dakota, and suffice to say it was the experience/trip of a lifetime for all of us. Steeping and revelling in the ways of our ancestors through ceremony and celebration invites healing and lifts up respect and pride into the complicated ways the past intersects with the present.


There are so many great books and articles that can help parents tackle difficult topics with their kids in age-appropriate ways. First and foremost, however, personal values and belief systems are the foundation in which most of us determine when, how and what we are going to teach our kids. 

Article Author Selena Mills
Selena Mills

Read more from Selena here

A multidisciplinary creative professional and artisan, Selena has over 10 years of experience writing and editing for acclaimed publications, B2B content creation, social management, brand building, design and VA services. Passionate about elevating Indigenous and FNMI stories, perspectives and voices in digital media, she strives to build bridges renegade style. When the chaos permits, Selena is an avid four-seasons permaculture gardener and a hobby “chef” who looks for other parents to revel (and or kvetch) in motherhood with. Clearly, she doesn’t like rules, most visionaries don’t.

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