“If our kids were young enough to live through the horrors of residential schools, then your kids are definitely old enough to learn about them.” These words, spoken on the radio by the grandson of a residential school survivor, struck a chord with Holy Family teacher Barbara Ann Giroux as she contemplated how to incorporate reconciliation and Indigenous teachings into her grade 1 class. The challenge was to find a way to approach the subject matter in an engaging, meaningful, and age-appropriate way. The result was an innovative, year-long project that saw her first-grade class embark on a vibrant learning journey toward reconciliation.
To approach the subject of reconciliation, she registered her class for the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society’s Reconciliation Ambearrister program. The class received a stuffed bear they named Makoons and took on teaching him about his Indigenous heritage. Indigenous Elders visited the class and helped them learn about the Algonquin peoples, the effects of colonization on Indigenous peoples, and the inequities faced by many Indigenous children, especially those living on reserve, that aren’t faced by other children in Canada.
In December, Ms. Giroux was doing a read-aloud activity with her class about the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child — a lesson she does every year to coincide with International Human Rights Day. As a result of an in-class conversation highlighting inequity, one student felt they had a duty to tell the world about the situation. Other children thought telling the world was a little bit beyond their capabilities, so they decided that the class should inform the whole school body and ask their opinions, students and staff alike.
Taking her cue from the students, Ms. Giroux guided the class to undertake a school-wide human rights study, asking, “Do you think all children in Canada have the same rights?”. For the remainder of the school year, the class learned about different human rights scenarios and created a series of hallway displays posting information they had learned about each topic—many of these concern the situations faced by Indigenous children. The whole school community was invited to participate by reading the displays, answering the survey question, and offering their opinions. The class would then tally the weekly responses and look for trends.
This innovative approach to learning provided the students with a more balanced knowledge of Canada’s history, enabled them to think critically, and allowed them to realize that they have a voice and that their voice matters. Some of the youngest learners became leaders by inviting others in the school community to share their learning. For her successful and creative approach to teaching, Ms. Giroux was awarded the 2022 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching.