Post #4 – Treaty Education

During fall semester several years ago, Dr. Mike Cappello received an email from an intern asking for help. Here’s part of it: “As part of my classes for my three week block I have picked up a Social Studies 30 course. This past week we have been discussing the concept of standard of living and looking at the different standards across Canada . I tried to introduce this concept from the perspective of the First Nations people of Canada and my class was very confused about the topic and in many cases made some racist remarks. I have tried to reintroduce the concept but they continue to treat it as a joke. The teachers at this school are very lax on the topic of Treaty Education as well as First Nations ways of knowing. I have asked my Coop for advice on Treaty Education and she told me that she does not see the purpose of teaching it at this school because there are no First Nations students. I was wondering if you would have any ideas of how to approach this topic with my class or if you would have any resources to recommend.”

Dear [Anonymous Intern],

Thank you for reaching out and for choosing to continue to discuss Treaty Education. I would urge you to read Cynthia Chamber’s, “We Are All Treaty People” and to share this with the other teachers in your school. Perhaps you must seek to change the understanding of your faculty peers through education before you will be able to probe your student’s minds about these topics. These opinions and viewpoints that educators have on Treaty education, whether intended to or not, do come through to students. Regardless of race or culture ‘We are all Treaty people’ and we all benefit from these agreements whether we realize this or not (Chambers). The Treaty history impacts us all and a really good way that you could go about this would be to set up informational opportunities for the school faculty and push to further educate those you work alongside. It will be very difficult to spark perspective change with only a few staff members on board. The purpose of teaching Treaty Education or First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Content and Perspectives where there are few or no First Nations, Metis, or Inuit peoples is to share this understanding that ‘We Are All Treaty People’ as Chambers explicitly identifies. It is about understanding history and honouring past agreements as Claire mentions in her lecture and covers in the Q&A session with Mike Capello.

Dwayne Donald also adds some clarity in his presentation, “What terms can we speak?” which provides another glimpse at how educators can bring up these stories/historical happenings in the classroom. Donald explains how Aboriginal and Canadian people are frequently missing each other when discussing topics such as Treaty Education and that this is what creates this disconnect. Donald is able to tie this disconnect back to culture. For Aboriginal students, learning is a cultural practice, and our educational systems set these students up for failure because culture is absent. Donald refers to this absence of culture as a “learning disability.” The reason why I share this with you is that the terms we speak in the classroom have great impact on our students. Sometimes terms can be misused. Claire and Mike address this in a very applicable situation where Claire herself didn’t have a response to a student’s remark during class because she didn’t know how to answer it. After doing some research she had realized that she had taught the topic incorrectly and shared this with her students. They then went back and relearned the topics in the correct light. They dove deeper into the material. I share this with you to reaffirm that it is okay to teach something wrong or to not quite get the language/terms right. It’s about recognizing this, further educating yourself and your students, and to constantly be willing to go through this process. Learning is lifelong and discussing Treaty Education is a prime example of this for both teacher and student.

In regard to approaching this topic with your students, perhaps you could bring in some guest speakers, tie in an applicable field trip (if you’re in the Regina area Claire explains a very impactful field trip she has taken students on before, I’ll leave the resource link below), or find an intriguing video. Bring in the experts of the material. I do truly believe that it will be hard to spark change alone. The student’s view of Treaty Education as a joke and the racist remarks by the students definitely find their routes in what they have heard or witnessed in the past from friends, family, or even previous teachers. The students have seen other influential people in their lives talk about or act towards these topics in a way that implies that they are not important and this has shaped their views. They have not had a chance to explore the topics and as such getting them started on these teachings may be very difficult. Having a school full of teachers who do not see the importance in teaching/understanding this content further supports these jokes and viewpoints that your students are expressing.

For me, this statement that “We are all Treaty people” means that our curriculum and what I teach as an educator must reflect this. I must educate myself on the Treaty Agreements and I must find a way to engage my students in these topics. Teachers must educate students about how regardless of race or culture, that the Treaties have impacted us all. Regardless of status, if you are a resident of Canada the Treaty agreements have affected you. The have benefitted different groups of people in different ways as Clare explains. We as teachers must make sure that we cover the Treaty Agreements in a thorough and comprehensive ways. We must go above and beyond what we have seen other educators do in the past. Education curriculum is ever changing based on the happenings of society and the new meaning associated with historical pasts. It concerns us and it affects how we teach and what we teach. Regardless of personal viewpoints we have a duty to our students, our profession, and ourselves to teach every piece of the curriculum in full because that is what great teachers do.

I hope that my response has been helpful and that it has given you a few ideas on how to approach the situation you find yourself in. I have attached the resources I mentioned above at the bottom of this message for your convenience. Wishing you all the best as you embark to educate about Treaty Agreements in your school. Keep up the great work and know that there are many teachers and resources out there for you to use. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”-Gandhi


Taylor Bubnick


Cynthia Chambers: We Are All Treaty People

Dwayne Donald: What Terms Can We Speak

Claire Kreuger Lecture

Claire Kreuger and Mike Capello Q&A Session

Claire’s Blog: Things She’s Done With Students

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