Indigenous culture and history coming to every classroom

November 15, 2016
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA Associate Coordinator of Communications

Walking Together consultants (From left to right)

Terry Lynn Cook, Kinuso School, High Prairie School Division
Julia McDougall, Fort McMurray Composite High School, Fort McMurray Public Schools Crystal Clark, O’Chiese School, O’Chiese Education Authority
Hali Heavy Shield, Aahsaopi Elementary School, Kainai Board of Education
Cheryl Devin, Bessie Nichols School, Edmonton Public Schools

Note: listed schools indicate the most recent teaching assignment.

This past September, the Alberta Teachers’ Association began the process of educating all Alberta teachers about indigenous history, world views and ways of knowing so teachers can in turn share this knowledge with all Alberta students.

The ATA has hired six professional development consultants to develop and deliver this $2.5 million initiative, which is called the Walking Together: Education for Reconciliation Professional Learning Project.

Arising from a June agreement between Alberta Education, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Alberta Teachers’ Association and four other education stakeholder organizations in Alberta, the project aims to ensure that all students learn about the history, perspectives and contributions of Canada’s indigenous peoples. Walking Together responds to calls to action 57 and 62 from the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which call on all levels of government to provide education to public servants on the history of aboriginal peoples, and for age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools and indigenous history.

“We can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been,” said Education Minister David Eggen on the launching of the joint agreement. “This is a positive step forward in Alberta’s commitment that all students learn about the history and legacy of residential schools, along with the histories and vibrant cultures of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.”

Charlene Bearhead, education lead for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, applauded the Alberta government for its quick response to the TRC’s calls to action.

“This joint commitment to action in Alberta is absolutely the most comprehensive process that has been undertaken yet in this country,” said Bearhead.

The six consultants will serve for two to three years and deliver programs in one of three treaty areas of the province. All the consultants are experienced classroom teachers with strong knowledge and experience in indigenous education. They include members of all three of Alberta’s treaty areas and the Métis community. The consultants have either been hired on contract or seconded from their employer for the term of their contracts.

One of the consultants, Hali Heavy Shield, has taught on the Blood reserve for 10 years with the Kainai Board of Education and is the president-elect of the ATA’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Council.

“I feel it is a responsibility and an honour to carry on the teachings of my ancestors and my grandparents,” said Heavy Shield. “Indigenous knowledge is the foundation of who we are in Canada, so we have a lot to learn, especially when it comes to our environment and relationships.”

Heavy Shield feels that teachers are very willing to learn and is confident they will be ready to take on the new standards in the TQS. She is hopeful the project will be able to break stereotypes and prejudices related to Alberta’s indigenous people.

Walking Together will engage local indigenous communities by establishing regional advisory committees that include representation from local band leaders and elders. This process will ensure that the professional development programs include regionally specific content for teachers.

Teachers’ professional development will include workshops, presentations, webinars, preservice teacher education programs and a collection of print and online resources for professional learning. The consultants will also train other school board and teacher leaders to deliver professional development programs on their own. It is hoped that the first set of presentations will be ready for field testing at teachers’ conventions in early 2017.

A key challenge for the consultants and for teachers will be in teaching Canada’s history of residential schools, but that will be an essential part of meeting the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“It can be very emotional,” said Heavy Shield. “My mom is a residential school survivor.”

“But we definitely don’t want this to repeat again in Canada’s history,” she said. “This is part of educating our educators so our next generation coming up can ensure it won’t happen again.”