Jeff McMillan, Chair and Stephen Sliwa, Director, UCDSB

National Indigenous Peoples Day and National Indigenous History Month is an opportunity for schools across the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) to look closely at their efforts to incorporate the culture, traditions, and history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada into classroom learning throughout the school year.

Since September, more than 1,000 elementary students from the Upper Canada District School Board worked and learned with Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers as part of the school district’s annual focus of building student understanding about the Calls to Action arising from the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. As noted in the report, these types of activities in schools “will lay the groundwork for establishing mutually respectful relationships” for the future.

There were other board-wide commitments including: plans for expanding the opportunity for every student to complete diploma credits from the provincial First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies curriculum in all secondary schools; the support of leadership experiences for students of Indigenous ancestry through the board’s iLead program; and expanding availability of classroom learning resources to support student learning about the culture, history and stories of Indigenous peoples.

Enhancing these resources is the children’s book Sila and the Land, co-authored by Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School student Wentanoron Ariana Roundpoint, a member of the Mohawk community of Akwesasne. All these efforts were enhanced by local events that supported student learning and aided in developing new insights about Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute (SFDCI) organized a two-day community Pow Wow in early June. The event was part of a culminating project of student work. Approximately 70 students took part in the organization of the event, and in ceremonies and other on-site activities.

“I really enjoyed looking after the Sacred Fire during the Pow Wow, and all the drummers and dancers,” said AJ Gunner, a grade 11 student at SFDCI and member of the school’s iLead group. “I think this event is important because it educates the community about native culture.”

Approximately 4,000 people attended the second annual Pow Wow. The event is put on in partnership with the Town of Smiths Falls.

In a separate event, Montague Public School students participated in a webcast with schools in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories to learn more about life for northern students and to share some of their own experiences.

The webcast was facilitated through a community educational resource called A Kids’ Guide to Canada. Students from across Canada participated through pre-recorded video, photos and live phone calls. How they participated was determined on service availability in their respective communities.

Donna Davie’s grade 3/4 class at Montague Public School recorded questions in advance so students in Northern Canada would have time to watch and formulate answers in case live chatting wasn’t available on the day of. As part of the activity, students learned how to ask open-ended questions, and questions of substance.

“We learned a lot from this experience. For example, some students have clean drinking water at home while others have water from the ocean delivered to their community by truck,” said Davie. “We also learned that we share some interests, such as hockey and the love of outdoor play.”

The Upper Canada District School Board values the emphasis that our schools put on indigenous culture and history and encourages all schools to continue the learning and sharing at all times during the school year.

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