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A Truthful Narrative

Bringing First Nations, Métis and Inuit contributions to the world into the K-12 curriculum

This article provides educators with strategies to integrate First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) contributions into the Kindergarten to Grade 12 classroom. The self-esteem of FNMI learners and the fostering of relations with non-FNMI peoples benefits from this inclusionary approach. Building community with students by challenging stereotypes and providing a culturally rich lens that highlights the 500 Nations and their gifts is presented. Each level of education, from elementary to secondary, is briefly described with the appropriate FNMI terms, contributions and across-the-curriculum pedagogical opportunities. The developmental levels of students is also a critical consideration in the presenting, positioning and acquisition of a broader and more truthful narrative about FNMI nations.

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First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) peoples derive from nations that are rich in cultures, traditions, languages, values, ceremonies and unique worldviews. Each of the 500 Nations on Turtle Island (North America and the Mesoamericas) have also given an abundance of innovations and inventions to the world.[1] Many of these gifts have not been credited to the FNMI Nations from which they originate and have been appropriated through colonial laws. Prior to the 1950s, FNMI peoples in Canada were not allowed to have legal representation as a means of patenting original ideas and technologies.[2] This oppressive situation was mirrored in countries around the world where Indigenous Nations were marginalized, relocated and regulated by settler cultures. FNMI practices in architecture, engineering, dentistry, economics, aquaculture, medicine, metallurgy, pharmacology, transportation and many other areas need to be highlighted and shared. The self-esteem and success of FNMI students in our schools depends upon this curricular and pedagogical change,[3] and the fostering of stronger relations between non-FNMI and FNMI peoples requires that this part of a greater truthful narrative be told.[4]

FNMI contributions to the world

At the time of contact (1492) there were 500 distinct Indigenous Nations living on Turtle Island. Each of these Nations thrived in their environment and learned to work with nature to lead balanced lives. Five hundred Nations were co-existing and creating technologies (seen and unseen) that housed, fed, entertained, organized, enlightened and enriched them all.[5] Each person and being was defined by a sacred role and purpose. This way of life provided a sense of belonging that was critical to the greater community and world.[6] Keoke and Porterfield, in the Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World, provide a rich geographical lens for readers to experience FNMI peoples. FNMI Nations are identified through the 12 specific geographical areas they lived in: Arctic, California, Circum-Caribbean, Great Basin, Great Plains, Mesoamerican, Northeast, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Southeast, Southwest and Subarctic. Each of these areas represents a particular topography and physical region that highlight FNMI peoples’ innovative ability to live within that landscape.

Curriculum considerations Kindergarten to Grade 12

FNMI students’ self-esteem is grounded in classrooms where they recognize themselves in the curriculum through the inclusion of various resources, teachings, strategies, histories and knowledge exchanges.[7] The presence of FNMI contributions also facilitates an enhanced understanding between all students and challenges preconceived stereotypes and myths.[8] So, how do we initiate and implement curricular change that provides a balanced narrative of FNMI peoples? Where do we begin and who is to be involved?

Across Canada, FNMI and non-FNMI organizations, ministries and boards are working to mobilize policies and programs in schools to develop more culturally competent, relevant classrooms for Indigenous learners.[9] Nearly every province and territory has a policy framework and department dedicated to this very task. The impacts of these plans vary from region to region; however, the content focus requires reflective balance (i.e. need to tell the colonial story, but also strongly highlight the contributions and beauty of FNMI Nations).

As classroom teachers, we have great impact and influence on our students. The building of community, the creation of learning opportunities and the knowledge shared in our classes can be facilitated by our ongoing commitment to equity and diversity.[10] The tables that follow offer potential content for educators to consider as part of their regular curriculum plans. These tables are not meant to be all-inclusive, but represent starting points for further development with the FNMI peoples of the area. Helpful contacts for starting this process may be the FNMI Lead with your school board, the FNMI Education Counsellor assigned to your region, the local FNMI Friendship Centre, or the FNMI communities themselves.

FNMI inclusion benefits all

Educators committed to equity, diversity and human rights understand the value to all learners of including FNMI (and other marginalized voices) content across the curriculum. Providing authentic and balanced knowledge exchanges builds relationships of understanding and compassion and fosters citizens who are aware and conscious of the impacts they have on each other and this world.[11] Building on the foundation of a truthful narrative, we can empower each other in a place of truth and action.

Curriculum tables (Download PDF)

The following tables highlight potential curriculum inclusions at each grade level for teachers to consider.

Table 1. Early Learning / Kindergarten: Holistic Engagement with FNMI Nations

From the age of four to five years, children’s emotional and moral development is rapidly growing and greatly impressionable. At this stage they are forming images of self, beginning to express ideas, asking questions and learning to engage in discussion.[12] This is a time for growth, compassion and understanding FNMI peoples through a holistic perspective.

Table 2. Primary Division (Grades 1 to 3): Building Community with FNMI Peoples

Children aged six to eight have a social and moral development phase where they begin to form strong group identities and have resilient ideas about fairness. This creates opportunities to learn about what makes FNMI peoples unique and what the students may have in common with FNMI Nations.

Table 3. Junior Division (Grades 4 to 6): FNMI Contributions in Our Lives

From nine to 11, children develop the ability to understand abstract ideas and to identify/label their feelings. This provides teachers with spaces to investigate FNMI contributions and the effects that these gifts have on the lives of the students today.

Table 4. Intermediate Division (Grades 7 and 8): Investigating FNMI Nations

Youth aged 12 to 13 are forming their own personal morality codes and are capable of introspection (i.e. visions of what is and what can be). This is a time in their educational career when they can respectfully confront FNMI stereotypes and make connections to authenticity.

Table 5. Secondary Division (Grades 9 and 10): FNMI Resources

From 13 to 15, our youth (FNMI and non-FNMI) experience challenging emotional and social development. They often feel misunderstood and rely heavily on peers for acceptance and meaning. This is a critical time for educators to provide our youth with FNMI role models and mentorship opportunities.

Table 6. Secondary Division (Grades 11 and 12): FNMI Present Realities

Young adults aged 15 to 18 are confronted with many decisions and experience intellectual and moral development benchmarks. They have reasoning abilities that require evidence and believe/understand that behaviours are influenced by authorities (and can challenge these powers). This time represents an opportunity to provide lessons on FNMI current issues, successes and innovations.

Photo: courtesy Saskatchewan School Boards Association

First published in Education Canada, June 2014

EN BREF - Cet article présente aux éducateurs des stratégies d’intégration des apports des Premières Nations, des Métis et des Inuits (PNMI) aux classes de la maternelle à la 12e année. L’estime de soi des élèves PNMI et la promotion des relations avec des groupes autres que PNMI bénéficient de cette approche inclusive. L’article indique comment bâtir l’esprit communautaire des élèves en remettant en question les stéréotypes et en favorisant un regard culturellement richemettant en valeur les 500 nations. Du primaire au secondaire, chaque niveau d’enseignement est décrit brièvement en utilisant les termes, les apports et les possibilités pédagogiques PNMI appropriés dans tout le curriculum. Les niveaux développementaux des élèves constituent également un facteur critique de la présentation, du positionnement et de l’acquisition d’un récit élargi et plus vrai au sujet des nations PNMI.

[1] Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield, Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 years of inventions and innovations (New York, NY: Facts on File Inc., 2002).

[2] Pamela Toulouse, Achieving Aboriginal Student Success: A guide for K to 8 classrooms (Winnipeg: Portage and Main Press, 2011).

[3] Mary Hampton and Joan Roy, “Strategies for Facilitating Success of First Nations Students,” The Canadian Journal of Higher Education 32, No. 3 (2002): 1-28.

[4] Sabrina Redwing-Saunders and Susan Hill, “Native Education and In-Classroom Coalition-Building: Factors and models in delivering an equitous authentic education,” Canadian Journal of Education 30, No. 4 (2007): 1015-1045.

[5] Keoke and Porterfield, Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World, xiii.

[6] Best Start Resource Centre, Founded in Culture: Strategies to promote early learning in First Nations children in Ontario (Toronto: Health Nexus, 2010).

[7] David Bell, K. Anderson, T. Fortin, J. Ottman, S. Ros, L. Simard and K. Spencer, Sharing Our Success: Ten case studies in Aboriginal schooling (Kelowna: Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education, 2004).

[8] Judith Maxwell, “First Nations’ Quiet Revolution will begin in the classroom,” The Globe and Mail (December 23, 2010). www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/first-nations-quiet-revolution-will-begin-in-the-classroom/article4084190/

[9] Verna St. Denis, “Aboriginal Education and Anti-Racist Education: Building alliances across cultural and racial identity,” Canadian Journal of Education 30, No. 4 (2007): 1068-1092.

[10] Anne McKeough, S. Bird, E. Tourigny, A. Romaine, S. Graham, J. Ottman and J. Jeary, “Storytelling as a Foundation to Literacy Development for Aboriginal Children: Culturally and developmentally appropriate practices,” Canadian Psychology 49, No. 2 (2008): 148-154.

[11] St. Denis, “Aboriginal Education,” 1085.

[12] This and all child development information in tables from: Calgary and Area Child and Family Services, “Developmental Stages for Children/Youth.” www.calgaryandareacfsa.gov.ab.ca/home/index.cfm