Canada’s teachable moment

By: Jennifer Paige

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. True to the multicultural and geographically diverse fabric of the country, Canadians will be celebrating the sesquicentennial in myriad ways – from exploring our national parks for free to sporting commemorative merchandise.

Not everyone is celebrating, though. Many across the spectrum of Canada’s Indigenous communities have expressed concern that the celebration, particularly as it has been branded and communicated, fails to recognize that the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada is much longer than just 150 years; and that Confederation itself and the 150 years since have been characterized by mechanisms of colonialization, by which Indigenous peoples have been at best systematically excluded from “mainstream” Canadian society and at worst have been the targets of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called a “cultural genocide.” Countless shameful examples of racism and systemic discrimination of Indigenous peoples continue today in Canada.

A recent CBC Radio segment featured on The Current highlighted how some Indigenous communities are advocating for organized resistance (consider checking out the hashtag #Resistance150 which aims to foster a different focus and give voice to Indigenous views of the sesquicentennial), while others have worked to rebrand the event in a way that promotes greater inclusivity. A good example of this is the Vancouver Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee’s creation of the “150-plus” theme for Vancouver’s celebrations.

Canadians may well be encouraged to view the sesquicentennial as a “teachable moment” for us all. While many of us may choose to commemorate the event in a way that is personally meaningful, we cannot forget that “For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada.”[i]

Educational resources that can help young people explore this concept in a meaningful way include:

  • Canada 150: Contemporary Indigenous Voices, a collection educational content available for free through Curio.ca that focus on cultural awareness, traditional knowledge and the contemporary challenges facing Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada as we begin to explore reconciliation together
  • The Secret Path, a musical and animated account of Chanie Wenjack, a victim of Canada’s residential school system, by former Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie 
  • The Deepening Knowledge Project seeks to infuse Aboriginal peoples’ histories, knowledges and pedagogies into all levels of education in Canada. The project is a part of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, which is located on the territories of Anishinaabe and Onkwehonwe. The project website features a collection of teaching resources that cover a broad range of topics in Aboriginal Studies. Accompanying each resource is a suggested grade level. Resources include “Aboriginal Heroes,” recommended for Grade 5 students; “Seasonal Traditions,” recommended for Grade 2; “Stereotypes: Learning to Unlearn,” recommended for Grade 6; and “Media Portrayals of Aboriginal Peoples,” recommended for Grade 11

[i] The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Other resources to explore:

  • That’s Not Fair! A suite of resources, including videos, a teaching guide and lesson plans, a book and interactive games developed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to challenge children from 7 to 11 to think critically about rights, freedoms and what it means to live in a democracy.
  • Votes for Women is part of Historica Canada’s educational campaign on Milestones in Canadian history. Available in English and French, the program includes a comprehensive education guide to help students explore and understand the history of women’s suffrage in Canada, as well as a program extension that discusses Indigenous suffrage and the impact of colonial discrimination on Indigenous voting rights. A contest challenges young suffragists aged 10 to 29 to make their voices heard by submitting a written or artistic work depicting the history of women’s suffrage in Canada. The contest deadline is May 21, with winners to be announced June 14. For contest details or to explore the educational resources, go to canadasuffrage.ca.
  • Fundamental Freedoms The Fundamental Freedoms website provides 12 educational guides for teaching various aspects of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The website also breaks the Charter into smaller sections for teachers, providing explanations, analyses and case laws, as well as related audio and video clips. Students and teachers can also explore the Virtual Charter — a high-resolution copy of the original document (in 23 languages).

Jennifer Paige is the Director of Marketing and Communications at The Learning Partnership. Currently completing her MBA, Jennifer has worked as a marketing and communications professional for more than 10 years, and has experience of both the non-profit and corporate sectors. A former print journalist, she is a news junkie with a passionate interest in social justice issues. Her belief in the importance of publicly funded education to promote greater equity of opportunity and a civil and just society drives her work at TLP.

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