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Defenders for Human Rights
Wilton Littlechild

Wilton Littlechild Truth and Reconciliation

GRADE LEVELS = 5 to 12  /  SUGGESTED TIME = Six 60 minute class periods

Preparatory Set

In the 1880s, residential schools were set up by the Canadian government and administered by the churches. Their purpose was to implement the government’s policy of “aggressive assimilation”, as they believed themselves to be responsible for educating Aboriginal people in Canada. They thought the children’s best chance for success in the “new world” was to learn English and adopt Christianity and Canadian customs. These children would then pass their adopted lifestyle on to their children, and native traditions would diminish, or be completely abolished in a few generations. Residential schools were federally run under the then department of Indian Affairs (now known as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada) and attendance was mandatory. Agents were employed by the government to ensure all native children attended; often meaning children were forcibly removed from their homes and taken far away. The last residential school closed in 1996.

To familiarize students with the history and issues of residential schools:

  1. Share Chief Littlechild’s Interview
  2. Ask students to put themselves in Chief Littlechild’s position and discuss how that would have felt.
    1. How do they think the experience would have changed them from who they are today?
    2. What would have been their coping mechanisms to deal with language barriers, unknown customs, isolation, loneliness, lack of family and community supports?

Activity 1

WarningAll student activities are applicable to Grade 5 to 12 students, with viewer discretion warning. Teachers should review the suggested resources prior to undertaking with their students.

  1. Visit the website “Where are the Children?”, by the Legacy of Hope Foundation, which includes a catalogue of Residential School Survivor Stories. Please note that some of the resources found in this website require a “viewer discretion” advisory. It is strongly recommended that teachers consider the students they have in their classrooms, and that they view these before asking students to view, in order to better assess their applicability in terms of age and grade levels.
  2. Ask students to reflect on the following question and discuss as a group:
    1. What does assimilation mean to you?
    2. What were the goals for the government’s “assimilation” of Aboriginal people?
    3. What are the outcomes of “assimilation”?
    4. To what extent are current social problems, faced by some Aboriginal people, rooted in residential school experiences?

Activity 2

The Blanket Exercise, developed by KAIROS, gives students an understanding of the historic relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada. This experiential learning exercise helps participants understand why reconciliation is needed. The Blanket Exercise itself takes about 30 to 40 minutes, and should always be followed by a talking circle of at least half an hour. Be aware that it often raises deep emotions. Please invite local First Nations, Métis or Inuit individuals or representatives to be with you to honour the traditional territory, to teach, and to begin to build a relationship.

There is a nominal cost for this activity but it is highly recommended.

Activity 3

The goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRCC), established on June 1, 2008, include documenting and promoting the extent and impact of residential school experiences; providing a safe setting for former students to share their stories; and producing a report for the federal government on the legacy of the residential school system. The TRC’s mandate ended in June 2015.

  1. Divide students into groups and request they discuss a few of the following questions:
    1. Questions addressing the history and legacy of residential schools:
      1. If you were writing an entry for a dictionary, how would you define the word TRUTH.
      2. It took over 100 years for the Canadian government to recognize the consequences of the Residential Schools. Why did it take so long for the truth to be recognized?
      3. Do you know, or have you met, a Residential School survivor? If so, how did their story impact you?
      4. If you met a Residential School survivor, what would you say to them?
      5. In discovering the hidden truth about Residential Schools in Canada, what is your most important learning of the day?
    2. Questions addressing reconciliation and what it means:
      1. If you were writing an entry for a dictionary, how would you define the word RECONCILIATION?
      2. When you think of what you’ve learned, do you think reconciliation is sufficient to address the injustices suffered by Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples?
      3. Why do you think reconciliation is an important next step after learning the truth about Indian Residential Schools?
      4. In discovering more about reconciliation as the primary goal of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, what is your most important learning?
    3. Questions addressing hope for change for the future:
      1. As one INDIVIDUAL person, what actions can you take to support the ongoing process of reconciliation?
      2. As a CLASSROOM or school, what collaborative actions can you take to support the ongoing process of reconciliation?
      3. If you had to reach out to your COMMUNITY, what could you do to increase public knowledge of the injustices brought on to Aboriginal People in Canada?
      4. If you had to explain about Truth and Reconciliation to a younger sibling or a younger student who knew nothing about this, what would you say?
      5. If you could send a message to our Government, knowing they made an apology in 2008, what would that message say?
      6. If you could write a message to a survivor of a Residential School, what would that message say?

Activity 4

  1. As a first step in this activity, based on the knowledge acquired by students to date on Canada’s Residential Schools, ask them to compare their class or their school to that of a residential school in Canada.
    1. Ask students to identify similarities and differences? You can use the chart below to list their findings.

      My classroom / My school compared to a residential classroom or school
      Similarities Differences

  2. As a second step in this activity, ask students to imagine they are a new residential school student at the primary or elementary level. They have an opportunity to write a letter to one person only about their experience in their new surroundings and their new life.
    1. Who would they write the letter to?
    2. What would the letter say?
  3. Ask students to read their letters aloud.

Activity 5

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which took 25 years to construct, contains 46 articles. It was adopted by the United Nations general assembly on September 13, 2007. The Canadian government, along with Australia, the United States and New Zealand voted against UNDRIP. All four opposing countries have since changed their vote in favour of the Declaration. The Canadian government’s endorsement of UNDRIP, on July 30, 2012, may also be part of the reconciliation process.

  1. Ask students to become familiar with the declaration, and to choose one or more of the 44 articles of UNDRIP to research and reflect upon.
  2. Ask them to write a short opinion piece that includes how the article(s) ties into the truth and/or reconciliation process today, and in the future.
  3. Ask them to include how the article(s) supports Aboriginal people today and in the future.

Culminating Activity — From Reflection to Action

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued its end-of-mandate report in June 2015, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (PDF, 13.1 MB). Part of that report includes a Call to Action, which includes 94 recommendations to redress the legacy of residential schools in Canada and to advance the process of reconciliation.

  1. Ask students to address one of the following recommendations, as it pertains to the education, health and rights of Aboriginal people in Canada. This would entail discussion, research and presentations.
    1. Recommendation 10: “We call on the federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal Peoples….”
    2. Recommendations 13+14: “We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights, and … We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act ….”
    3. Recommendation 18: “We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in International law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties.”
    4. Recommendation 44: “We call upon the Government of Canada to develop a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
    5. Recommendation 62.i: “We call upon the federal, provincial and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to: i) Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.”
  2. Ask students to prepare a class presentation on the recommendation, including their research and findings, and to potentially include a plan of action that would engage them in the support of the recommendation.

Extension Activity

Many apologies were made in 2008 by the Government of Canada and many churches. Based on the principles of changing societal values, the recognition that people make mistakes based on misinformation and perpetuated stereotypes, and that reconciliation is based on respect, relationships and collaboration:

  1. Ask students to review some of the apologies by:
    1. The Government of Canada
    2. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police
    3. The Anglican Church of Canada, available in 11 languages, including 9 Indigenous languages.
    4. The Presbyterian Church in Canada
    5. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
    6. The United Church of Canada
    7. Pope Francis (the Vatican)
  2. Have an open and honest discussion about our forefathers’ misguided actions and policy decisions, and discuss the merits of public apologies as a process of reconciliation.