Helping Teachers to Be Conscious Allies: Honouring and helping heal Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) students

Posted by Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse on March 23, 2018

Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Laurentian University, 3M National Teaching Excellence Fellow and author of Achieving Indigenous Student Success, and Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools frames the role educators can play as allies to Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) students and shares with us several key resources for how to do so.

Hockey, basketball, potato chips, popcorn, disposable diapers, kayaks, canoes, sign language, sunglasses, apartment complexes and copper mining are only a few of the many innovations Indigenous Peoples have given to the world. Friendship, teachings, humour, values, languages, knowledge and healing are the non-material gifts that we continue to share with our non-Indigenous sisters and brothers in our lands. There are over 500 distinct Indigenous Nations that live on Turtle Island (North America, Mesoamerica, Circum-Caribbean). Each have their own unique worldviews, ceremonies, traditions and ways of life.  

Canada is home to approximately 1.7 million First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples. There are about 60 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada and each have several dialects existent within it (ex. Cree has 8 dialects). My own language of Anishinaabemowin (ex. Ojibwe, Odawa, Pottawatomi) is one of the few that is actually slated for survival. Our communities continue to work hard at ensuring that our kids know who they are through our original languages and culture. I am lucky to have a passive knowledge of Anishinaabemowin. I understand the majority of what is being said and can converse at a basic level. This is the result of growing up on Sagamok First Nation and pursuing language learning throughout these years. For me, my identity is based in these original connections. I cannot go anywhere else in the world to learn about who I am.

So, what does this intro have to do with “facing our history”? As educators, we care about our students and continually seek ways to “lift them up in a good way”. Indigenous kids and youth (especially in these times) need to know that they matter. The recent events in the news (ex. Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine) has sent a clear message that they don’t. This is why, moving forward, we teachers have been entrusted with a task that goes beyond the day-to-day curriculum. We are being called upon to be conscious allies that are positioned to honour and help heal Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) students. How do we this? What resources and/or strategies can be put in place as supports?

#1 Resource is the Indigenous Community

Reaching out to the community by connecting with the Indigenous Lead at your School Board is a great way to start. In the absence of a Lead, the local Friendship Centre, Aboriginal Health Access Centre, First Nation Band Office, Métis or Inuit organization is that link.

Building relationships is foundational.


#2 Resource is Attending Indigenous Events

There are always a multitude of Indigenous events happening across our Nation at different times in the year. I strongly suggest these sites that have Indigenous events and social action movements listed at them.

Understanding is essential to connecting.


3# Resource is Indigenous Curriculum Inclusion

Every province and territory has its mandated curriculum for K to 12 and may (or may not) have explicit Indigenous connections. Including Indigenous content is about Indigenous peoples speaking for themselves. This is done through a combination of human, land and/or other resources. A safe place to start is to incorporate these suggested titles (with suggested activities). These tables come from the book Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools (2018) at Portage and Main Press.



Intermediate (7 & 8)

7 - Oral Communication – Before reading My Name is Seepeetza, set a listening goal with the class (i.e. listen to create personal connections with the character). Share these insights after the story has been read.

8 – Reading – While reading Goodbye Buffalo Bay, have students think about whose point of view is being represented and whose point of view is missing. Discuss how the other points of view may (or may not) enhance the story.

7 & 8 – Writing – Gather information on residential schools and use a graphic organizer to arrange key ideas and dates. Compare this information to the ideas in their story.

7 & 8 - Media Literacy – Locate several media texts (i.e. newspaper, magazine, blog, podcast, website, other) that addresses a key theme/s from the story. Analyze their impacts on the theme/s.

7- My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling (2004)

8 - Goodbye Buffalo Bay by Constance Brissenden & Larry Oskiniko Loyie (2008)

Secondary (9 to 12)

9 - Oral Communication – While reading Sugar Falls have the students reflect on the images being produced by the text. Discuss these images in a large group.

10 - Reading and Literature Studies – Read Ends/Begins and have students comment on how the content in the story raises questions about power, values and culture.

11 – Writing – Read the Secret Path. Have the students write a response to the issues raised in this text by including a variety of forms (i.e. responses from classmates, research, images, statistics, poetry, other).

12 - Media Studies – Read God and the Indian. Have the students identify a variety of media texts that could advertise the key messages in this play. Compare the potential effectiveness (or lack thereof) of these media texts.

9 - Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story by David Alexander Robinson (2011)

10 - Ends/Begins by David Alexander Robinson (2010)

11 - Secret Path by Gord Downie (2016)

12 - God and the Indian: A Play by Drew Hayden Taylor (2014)



Intermediate (7 & 8)

7 – New France and British North America, 1713-1800 – Complete the intermediate treaty activities in Aboriginal History and Realities in Canada. Extend this by focusing on the political/legal changes during these times and discussing what this means for Indigenous and non-Indigenous lives today.

8 – Global Settlement: Patterns and Sustainability – Review the treaty negotiation section in Unit 2 of Aboriginal Peoples: Building for the Future and complete the suggested activities. Extend this by identifying the land issues and the responses of the various groups in Canada. Compare this to another Indigenous Nation in the world.

7 – Aboriginal History and Realities in Canada by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (2015)

8 - Aboriginal Peoples: Building for the Future by Kevin Reed (1999)

Secondary (9 to 12)

9 – Issues in Canadian Geography – Select and complete activities on treaties from the Sovereignty and Self-Determination section in the Aboriginal Beliefs, Values and Aspirations text. Extend this by connecting findings from these activities to characteristics/patterns of land use in these treaty territories in Canada.

10 – Civics and Citizenship – Read Chapter 5 in The Ruptured Sky: The War of 1812. Closely review the historical timeline of significant events that is part of this chapter. Connect this content to the civic actions of Indigenous peoples and how these Nations made a difference in the establishment of Canada.

11 – Politics in Action – Select and complete activities on treaties from the governance section in the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada text. Extend this by connecting findings from these activities to the key changes in Canadian law/policy that treaties have affected; and what the implications are for Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens alike.

12 – History, Identity and Culture – Review key content on treaties from Chapters 26 through to 28 from Indigenous Writes – A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada. Extend this by connecting to themes of diversity and citizenship; especially how treaties and land claims have become front and centre in the Canadian mindset.

9 – Aboriginal Beliefs, Values and Aspirations by Kevin Reed, Natasha Beeds, Mary Joy Elijah, Keith Lickers and Neal McLeod (2011)

10 – The Ruptured Sky: The War of 1812 by Pearson Canada (2013)

11 – Aboriginal Peoples in Canada by Kevin Reed, Natasha Beeds, Mary Joy Elijah, Keith Lickers and Neal McLeod (2011)

12 – Indigenous Writes – A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel (2016)



Intermediate (7 & 8)

7 – Active Participation – While reading the Adventures of Rabbit and Bear Paws: Tall Tale, ask the students to keep a list of the indoor and outdoor activities in the story. Facilitate a discussion on the unique aspects of these activities and how they compare/differ to their range of current physical activities.

8 – Personal Safety and Injury Prevention – While reading The Way: A Novel, have students identify the violent behaviours in this book. Extend this by analyzing the impact of this violence on the person, the perpetrator, the bystanders and the critical role of helpers/support (i.e. Uncle John).

7 – Adventures of Rabbit and Bear Paws: Tall Tale by Chad Solomon & Christopher Meyer (2010)

8 – The Way: A Novel by Joseph Bruchac (2007)

Secondary (9 to 12)

9 – Healthy Active Living Education, Healthy Eating – Use the Anishinaabe Almanac: Living Through the Seasons to develop a holistic model of health with the students (i.e. active living; healthy eating; mental; emotional; spiritual). Extend this with a conversation on the benefits of adopting a holistic approach.

10 – Healthy Active Living Education, Personal Safety and Injury Prevention – While reading Fire Starters have the students highlight the situations involving conflict in the story (i.e. being blamed for something you did not do; community attitudes/values; racism). Extend this by discussing similar situations and how conflict resolution skills may have assisted.

11 – Health for Life, Personal Safety and Injury Prevention – Read Three Feathers: A Graphic Novel and have the students describe the behaviours of the main characters (i.e. Flinch, Bryce, Rupert) and the remedy applied by the community. Extend this by having a conversation about the 9-month reconciliation program described in the book and how it can reduce the risk of injury and death.

12 – Recreation and Healthy Active Living Leadership, Personal Safety and Injury Prevention – Read the graphic novel Will I See? Extend this by exploring the occurrence (and phenomena) of violence against Indigenous women and the actions that need to be taken to protect/honour their lives. Discuss the implications of these issues in their community (i.e. incidence of violence and programs in place). 

Discuss the implications of these issues in their community (i.e. incidence of violence and programs in place).

9 –Anishinaabe Almanac: Living Through the Seasons by Edward Benton-Banai (2008)

10 – Fire Starters by Jan Storm (2016)

11 – Three Feathers: A Graphic Novel by Richard Van Camp (2014)

12 – Will I See? by David Alexander Robinson (2016)


I wish to say “Miigwetch” (thank you in Anishinaabemowin) to my Creator, family, ancestors, friends, colleagues and students that continue to inspire me everyday in different ways. I am a better human being for everything that you teach me.


Next Steps

When has a teacher made a significant impact on your life through supporting your identity? Feel free to answer in the comments below. 

To learn more check out the following Facing History Summer Seminar: Stolen Lives: Indigenous Peoples of Canada and Indian Residential Schools



Topics: Teaching Strategies, Residential Schools, HSB, CHC, difficult conversations, trc, stolen lives, facing history pedagogy, settler educators, Treaty, Sacred Circle Teachings


This is where Canadian Facing History and Ourselves teachers and community members meet to share reflections, scholarship and teaching practices that will inspire, challenge and improve teaching and student learning. Our stories provide a window into diverse Facing History classrooms in Canada, and invite you into the discussion.

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