Teachers can now rely on many books to help them and their schools explore their role in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools by Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse (Portage and Main Press, 2018) is one such resource, highly recommended for teachers beginning their journey to provide education for reconciliation.
The first half of the book gives readers background about the legacies of residential schools, the Indigenous peoples of Canada and their contributions, the treaties, and the sacred circle teachings. In the first chapter, Dr. Toulouse weaves stories of her grandmother’s residential school experience with historical fact, contrasting traditional ways of knowing with the harsh realities of the residential school system. Throughout this section, photographs, figures, and tables accompany the text, along with literacy connections. Dr. Toulouse includes excellent book recommendations for all grade levels (yes, K-12!). Acknowledging the fear that many teachers hold about teaching about residential schools, Dr. Toulouse positions literacy as a powerful means to “transform the listener, reader, or viewer and connect them to the lives of these [residential school] survivors by building a bridge that transcends history and time” (p. 12). Teachers will find that the first section provides a broad and helpful mix of story and fact. Further, the curricular connections throughout – not limited to English and social studies – are valuable, highlighting the many ways Indigenous worldviews can be seamlessly integrated into teaching and learning.
The second half of the book features lesson plans rooted in Indigenous pedagogy, developing students’ spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual selves. Dr. Toulouse presents one lesson plan per grade level, which are organized into four themes that fit like a glove with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action for age-appropriate curriculum. The themes are:
- Learning Together (K-Grade 3)
- Building Community (Grade 4-5)
- Facilitating Change (Grade 7-8)
- Transforming Lives (Grade 9-12)
The primary lessons focus on introducing students to Mother Nature and First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Learning about treaties and contributions in the upper elementary years paves the way for students to learn about troubling history as they move into middle school. Residential schools are introduced in the Grade 6 lesson, which uses Nicola I. Campbell’s Shi-shi-etko as a text. Middle school students then participate in the Blanket Exercise. Moving into high school, students build on the truth they learn by being invited to participate in reconciliation. The lesson series culminates in Grade 12 with students forming an authentic, long-lasting relationship with “an Indigenous community, group, organization, cause, family, or person” (p. 139). Subject adaptations, background information, extensions, and assessment tips are included.
School leaders may consider implementing the entire lesson series as a school-wide initiative, and teachers will find the lessons provide many ideas to extend learning beyond one or two days. Teachers may also consider supplementing their teachings with the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba’s Treaty Education Initiative.
Dr. Toulouse’s must-read Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools equips teachers with the knowledge and tools to begin or to fine-tune their teaching about Indigenous peoples, residential schools, and contemporary issues.
Editor's Note: The Reading Council of Greater Winnipeg thanks Portage and Main Press, who provided RCGW with a complimentary copy to review.
About the Reviewer – Jon Sorokowski the Reading Council of Greater Winnipeg's editor and membership director. He serves as co-chair for the Manitoba Reading Association's 5th Adolescent Literacy Summit. A middle-school English Language Arts and Mathematics teacher, Jon believes in the power of learning to transform lives and to build a more informed, thoughtful society.