'This is our civil rights movement': Teacher says learning Indigenous history only a first step
But when she started teaching kids from Cree communities in James Bay, she saw a gap between what she was teaching and the students in her classroom.
"When you're a teacher and you're given a curriculum that only teaches about the Algonquin people in the year 1500 … you start realizing that teaching about history in that way keeps Indigenous people as historical figures, relics of the past rather than contemporary people," said the Grades 5 and 6 special education teacher at Pierre Elliott Trudeau School in Gatineau, Que.
The goal of the conference was to get educators and teacher candidates engaged with the history of residential schools and the lasting impacts of colonialism.
"It's so important for me as a teacher to help other teachers see that this work needs to be done and help them see how it can be done," Howell explained.
"It just seemed to me that teaching about wigwams and longhouses in this isolated way … we weren't getting anywhere about learning about who we are as settlers and what our relationship is with Indigenous people."
Pivotal time for Canada
Howell put her words into practice in her own classroom, where she and her students learned about residential schools together.
"I have to say the non-Indigenous children were so angry," she said.
"They were so angry that … they had never learned about this before. They didn't understand why they were being lied to. One of my favourite quotes from one of my kids was, 'How could I be in Grade 6 and not know this? Why is this such a secret?'"
Howell said it is important that Canadians learn the history, so that it is not a taboo subject to future generations.
"This is our civil rights movement," she said. "This is a pivotal time in Canadian history where every single Canadian needs to be involved in changing the way that our history has gone. We might not be able to change the past, but how the future goes is up to us."