Just because we’re small doesn’t mean we can’t stand tall: Reconciliation education in the elementary classroom

Co-Investigators: Blackstock, C., & Ng-A-Fook, N., & Shultz, L., Bennett, S., Bearhead, W. C., et. al.

Research Team: Lisa Howell (Research Project Manager), Madelaine McCracken (Research Assistant)

Duration: 2018-2024

Funding: Social Science and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant

Research Report: fncaringsociety.com

Challenges and Issues

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released their Final Report and 94 Calls to Action in 2015 to inspire a transformation of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada. This relationship has been marred by the devastating and ongoing legacy of the Indian residential school system. Emphasizing education as key to creating a deep and lasting reconciliation movement, the TRC (2015b) calls on governments, in collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples and educators, to develop and implement “age-appropriate educational materials” for kindergarten to grade twelve students while “[i]dentifying teacher training needs” and fostering “respectful learning environments” (pp. 289-290). Educators have made great strides in designing and implementing reconciliation-based curriculum, courses and materials (Smith, 2017; Howell, 2017). However, there has been very little research on the impacts that these efforts have had on students, and educators continue to report that they lack the knowledge and age-appropriate resources to teach effectively in this area (Sterritt, 2017; Milne, 2017; CTF, 2013). In addition, many teacher-candidates think that teaching ‘Aboriginal issues’ means teaching about ‘the Other,’ rather than about historical and contemporary relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people (Donald, 2009, 2011; Schick & St. Denis, 2005; Smith, Ng-A-Fook, Berry & Spence, 2011; Stanley, 2009).

Knowledge Advancement and Methodology

This project will study how teachers in the Ottawa-Gatineau region of Ontario/Quebec use reconciliation-based campaigns designed by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (Caring Society) in their elementary classrooms. Researchers will interview educators involved in the campaigns to examine the effects of this learning on elementary students and teachers, produce best practice knowledge about reconciliation education and create professional development workshops and sample lesson plans that enable educators to effectively and ethically integrate reconciliation education into the elementary classroom on a much larger scale than is currently possible. Using the same “Touchstones of Hope” reconciliation framework that guides the Caring Society’s campaigns (Auger, 2012; Blackstock, Cross, George, Brown & Formsma, 2006), this study will embed reconciliation as a research philosophy and method. It will employ a relationship-based approach that incorporates key aspects of Indigenous ethics and worldview (Blackstock, 2009b), 1 and use grounded theory and participatory action research methods to create meaningful opportunities for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educators and children to shape the research project.

Potential Benefits and Impacts

The knowledge produced by this research will contribute to the ability of governments and educators to effectively address the TRC’s Calls to Action in regards to transforming the educational system in Canada. By employing a relationship-based approach grounded in First Nations worldviews and ethics, the project will also build the capacity of scholars, educators, school administrators, students and other participants to engage in applied reconciliation on many levels. In addition, this project will create a network of educators, First Nations communities and organizations across the wider Ottawa-Gatineau region to mobilize evidence-based research on best practices for applied reconciliation. Furthermore, the research will generate new theoretical and practical knowledge about applied reconciliation that will contribute to evidence supporting reconciliation education across the schooling system in Canada. Reconciliation education on this scale has the potential to equip generations to come with the knowledge, analytical skills and relational capabilities required to meaningfully strengthen relationships between

* This project is supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant with Blackstock, C., & Ng-A-Fook, N., & Shultz, L., Bennett, S., Bearhead, W. C., et. al. as co-applicants. Click here to view more SSHRC funded projects.