Posted by Laura Fraser
June 21st was National Aboriginal Day in Canada and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how Aboriginal stories can be better integrated with our teaching of History.
As the Program Coordinator for The Historica-Dominion Institute’s Canadian Aboriginal Writing & Arts Challenge, I spend a lot of my time working alongside Aboriginal communities to share the collective and personal stories of their youth. Not only has the experience been incredibly moving for me personally, but as a teacher, I’ve found incredible value in their storytelling.
In many (though not all) classrooms, Aboriginal experiences are told in isolation, or in a piecemeal way. Students learn about Aboriginal peoples when studying the arrival of Europeans, and often not beyond that. However Aboriginal experiences did not end there. Take this example:
“With Friends,” by 26 year old Whitehorse artist Joseph Tisiga, examines the ‘Sixties Scoop.’ This was a period where government and private organizations would, in the auspices of caring, remove Aboriginal children from their homes and place them into foster care.
Now imagine you’re a History teacher (which for many of you, shouldn’t be hard!). Imagine presenting this work to a group of students and asking them to explore the piece for meaning, bias and historical context. They would learn that the artist’s mother was one of those children removed from their home. They would see the sinister nature of the painting. There would be the opportunity connect with prior knowledge with the Hudson’s Bay blanket in the foreground.
Teach Aboriginal experiences more regularly and teach it in a meaningful way. In examining just that one piece of artwork, students can gain a broader sense of Aboriginal experiences, develop a deeper understanding of the specific event in question, build research and critical thinking skills, connect to prior learning and could learn to better communicate their findings.
Yesterday was National Aboriginal Day. But I would encourage all teachers to use each day and each lesson to explore all of the perspectives Canadian communities, heritage and history has to offer.
Information on and Winners of the 2011 Aboriginal Writing & Arts Challenge are posted at www.our-story.ca.