originally published by CBC, Canada, in the series Unreserved by Rosanna Deerchild. We thank our colleague Ben Loomer at LEARN-Quebec for sharing this with us.
When Lisa Howell started teaching elementary school 11 years ago, she admitted she didn’t know much about residential schools, treaties or Canada’s damaged relationship with Indigenous peoples.
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.
Learning alongside her students, Howell has come a long way on her own educational journey. She was recently the keynote speaker at Giga Maamaawii Bimosemin, or We Will Walk Together: A Conference for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba. podcast of Lisa’s speech
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. She said while schools often make efforts to include cultural components in their curricula, the true history of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples is often lacking.
“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?'”
Armed with this new information, Howell said her students were motivated to go to other schools to share what they had learned. They even visited the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat and taught federal government employees. 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.”