Walking in a New Way – the Ottawa Indigenous Walk

Yesterday I walked through an Ottawa that is now new to me.

As part of our Urban Communities Cohort experience at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, our group of first-year teacher candidates took part in one of the Ottawa Indigenous walks that are available throughout the city.

Ours took place around City Hall, the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument and Confederation Park. The tour was 90 minutes long and our group was led by Jennifer David (Chapleau Cree First Nation), a journalist and consultant who has an incredible depth of knowledge and a gift for story-telling.

It is amazing how a tour like this can take you through familiar places and at the same time open ones’ eyes to new perspectives.

Some snapshots – A memorial to the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. Indigenous peoples fought in this war and made significant contributions to the British side. Their hope was that a separate homeland would be carved out for them after the war. Considering the important role they played in the war’s outcome, this was a reasonable expectation.

Instead, no land was granted and they only received what they already had before the war.

A Hundred Years Peace by artist Amedee Forestier, 1914 – although
First Nations played a key role in the War of 1812, they are missing from
this portrait of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent

Another stop – we finished our tour at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument. Here a reading that we did by Cynthia Chambers entitled “Where do I belong?” Canadian Curriculum as Passport Home resonated. In this article, Chambers writes a personal story about her journey to figure out her own Canadian identity. Her story intersects with the struggle of Canadian Indigenous People to establish their own narrative.

As we looked at the monument, I recalled a passage where she quotes George Erasmus on enfranchisement and the Indian Act. Looking at the war memorial, I was struck by the fact that the act of joining the Canadian military once resulted in people losing their status under the Indian Act:

When the option of enfranchisement, trading
Indian status for voting rights, failed to attract
individuals, more coercive measures were enacted,
enfranchising Indians if they lived away from their
reserves, joined the military, obtained higher
education, or, in the case of women, if they married a
non-Indian.

“Where do I belong?”
Canadian Curriculum as Passport Home
JAAACS: Journal of American Association for Advancement of Curriculum Studies

“To Aboriginal War Veterans in Canada and to those that have Fallen
This monument is raised in sacred and everlasting honour of the contributions of all Aboriginal Canadians in war and peacekeeping operations.”
– inscription on National Aboriginal Veterans Monument

When you really start to think what it is like to teach in a Canadian school, experiences like the Indigenous Walk and the article by Chambers really are foundational. Chambers wrote this article in 2006 and already things have changed a great deal in this country. A walk of 90 minutes really does alter ones’ perspective on how we approach teaching in a Canadian context.

Walking, listening, reading, talking can change the way you look at the world. Learning can change behaviour, can begin to right wrongs that go back centuries. As we work with a new generation of teachers, it is so important that we take the necessary time to orient ourselves to an approach that focuses on justice and a new world view.

We walk and we learn. We begin to ask ourselves new questions. Where do I belong may take a lifetime to answer. For Chambers, this is a question that remains unresolved; it is a question that is a part of our character. It is a question that informs what we are doing as educators.

The Algonquin land claim
The largest land claim being negotiated in Ontario. If successful, it will be the province’s first modern-day constitutionally protected treaty.
The claim covers a territory of 36,000 square kilometres in eastern Ontario that is populated by more than 1.2 million people.
If successful, the negotiations will produce the province’s first modern-day constitutionally protected treaty.
The Algonquins of Ontario assert that they have Aboriginal rights and title that have never been extinguished, and have continuing ownership of the Ontario portions of the Ottawa and Mattawa River watersheds and their natural resources.

When your plan is no longer the plan

What are the dragons we need to address every day in our classes?

Sometimes the irritating thing about learning is that learning is tough and somewhat uncomfortable.

I am continuing my learning journey by teaching an Intermediate History course to second-year students at the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa. It is a new experience for me. Although I have done lots of PD with adults, it is different when you are teaching a class at a faculty of education. It is a new challenge.

Life needs to be all about challenges. That is how we learn and grow. Just because I am now retired doesn’t mean I can’t grow! Not for a minute do I believe that!

On Friday I was looking forward to my third class with my second-year students. I had spent hours (many hours) of developing a lesson on Historical Significance, one of the six concepts of Historical Thinking. I am really excited about these concepts, it gives a framework for the study of history that didn’t exist when I taught the subject.

Historical Thinking concepts

After some presentations and a group work session, I was ready to launch into my slides, full of activities and material that I hoped would convey why this concept was important to the study and teaching of history.

This is where the plan moved in a direction I hadn’t expected.

One of the students in the class had a legitimate concern about something that had gone on in the previous class. It related to a much wider concern about how we are approaching the teaching of indigenous issues, the inherent racism that exists in Canada when it comes to First Nations peoples and how these issues are being addressed.

The student approached me during the break and asked if he could address the class. He did and what transpired was an incredibly powerful and at times challenging conversation that involved the entire class. It was pretty amazing and students brought up stuff that had been percolating for over a year. I have to say, I felt privileged and certainly humbled to be in on the conversation.

I hope they found it useful. You never really know. It is not like anyone is going to come up and say – ‘thanks for that really difficult conversation’. No one plans for these conversations. If one tries to, the conversation will be disingenuous and forced.

I am not a historian nor an academic.  The one thing I think I can contribute to a class like this is 31 years of teaching. Sometimes when something is bubbling just under the surface, a teacher has to know it is time to throw the lesson out the window and just let the learning happen.

That is what I tried to do on Friday. Everything I have learned about teaching and working with students led me to the conclusion that there was a more important lesson out there that had to be experienced by all of us. I know I learned lots, not just about the topic of the discussion, but, more importantly, I learned so much about the students I am working with.

I encouraged the class to write about their experiences in the class on Friday. I don’t know if any of them will – they are really busy people! But no matter, I had to and I hope my writing clarifies things for me at least.

Maybe next week I will get to my lesson on historical significance, but I think we have already gone much further down a different road.

In ancient times unknown areas on maps were labelled ‘Here be Dragons’