Honouring Truth & Reconciliation in the Classroom

3 minutes

What does it mean to Indigenize education in the classroom, particularly in math? Eleven of the ninety-four Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) final report are specific to education, so there is much work to be done by everyone in the education sector to begin addressing them in classrooms across the country.

Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse, an expert in Indigenous education, has described the commitment to these recommendations as both a “spiritual and emotional journey” that is essential to all students and educators.

“Having the ability to say ‘I don’t know’, and learning together, is what educators and students do in classrooms that honour Indigenous ways of knowing.”

-Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse, EdCan, 2018

JUMP Math is committed to supporting the math learning needs of Indigenous children and is on a journey to better understand how our organization can play a meaningful role in ‘honouring the treaty relationship’ and implementing the Commission’s recommendations. Our goal is to ensure that our pedagogical approach reflects the presence of Indigenous peoples and their contribution of Indigenous knowledge.    

In 2020 alone, JUMP Math provided math support and training to over 11,500 students and hundreds of teachers and embarked on several important initiatives, including  waiving copyright on Indigenous translations of JUMP Math materials through a translation agreement with Indigenous communities across Canada. This is a small step on our journey to honouring Truth & Reconciliation in math education—creating supportive and trusting relationships with Indigenous peoples is an essential step along the way.

JUMP Math has recently engaged with Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse, an Ojibwe/Odawa woman from the community of Sagamok Anishnawbek in Northern Ontario, to guide us with her expertise. Dr. Pam, as she’s affectionately known, has been in education for almost 30 years as a classroom teacher, administrator, consultant, researcher, author and professor, and is currently serving as the Visiting Scholar at York University’s Faculty of Education. She has won multiple awards and published over 55 resources, including Truth and Reconciliation in the Classroom, an honest account of Indigenous peoples that provides insights, resources, strategies, and lesson plans that support Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners.

We recently sat down with Dr. Pam to learn more about how educators can authentically embed Truth & Reconciliation within the classroom in a way that honours, respects, and supports Indigenous students:

1. Hello, Pam! Thank you for being here, many of us at JUMP Math are deeply inspired by your work in social justice and Indigenous education. Can you tell us more about what inspired you to pursue this path?

I’m an Anishinaabe from Sagamok First Nation in Northern Ontario, my ancestors are signatories to the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850. Coming from a long line of educators, I’m inspired by the voices and resilience of children and youth every day. Indigenous children and youth having the right to be respected and valued, this will always be my first inspiration. I go back to my own experiences with school, as well as my families’ experiences (many went to residential and Indian Day Schools) and work towards making things different for the next seven generations. Our children have the right to dream and have access to those dreams. My nephews and nieces have the right to walk with pride and be safe in their life journeys.

2. Some of your key research has focused on creating equitable educational pathways for students. Can you tell us more about the barriers that Indigenous children are facing in education?

Indigenous learners face so many levels of racism in schools; this continues to be the greatest barrier. There is systemic racism in the curriculum (what is taught), pedagogy (how it is taught) and overt racism against our children—because of the many false stereotypes about Indigenous peoples that are continuously perpetuated in society. K-12 Indigenous children and youth are still required to be multilingual, so our unique cultures/languages are always being negotiated in classrooms. Another barrier is poverty, as many of our children and youth face issues related to food security, clean water and first world rights that other citizens in Canada get to enjoy.

3. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Truth & Reconciliation in Canadian Schools and who could benefit from this? 

Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools is written for educators, administrators and citizens that want and deserve an honest account of Indigenous peoples. There are five chapters that start with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Call to Action that the chapter is addressing. The topics range from Residential Schools, Treaties, Indigenous Peoples in Canada, to Contributions of Indigenous Peoples (historical and contemporary) and the Sacred Circle. There are also 13 easy to follow K-12 lesson plans that honour Indigenous worldview, teachings, and contributions. Readers will be shocked to find out that hockey, Dr. Pepper, potato chips, women’s rights and so many other things that we take for granted actually came from an Indigenous source here in Turtle Island (North America).

4. What steps can educators take to begin the process of Indigenizing the classroom?

Having relationships with Indigenous communities is definitely foundational to moving forward in any equitable classroom – this means also having resources that are authentically Indigenous and showcase the diversity of the many Nations–over 500 in North America alone.

I would actually take the word ‘indigenizing’ out completely and use the phrase ‘honouring the treaty relationship’ in the classroom instead. This means that K-12 education systems and their representatives need to really think hard about the lands that they live, work and play on. This also means really considering how K-12 education systems and their representatives that continue to benefit from the sacrifices of Indigenous peoples and their children. This is the first step in the process and requires a ‘head to heart’ connection to happen, before any other steps. This is not an easy process for any person, but it does require the emotional work first.

5. A selection of your work also explores the self-esteem of Indigenous students. Can you tell us more about this and how can educators begin to support this?

Indigenous self-esteem is rooted in wholism, meaning that there is a sacred balance between the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of the self that need to be considered and honoured. This approach to self-esteem is foundational to Indigenous children and youth having the necessary tools/skills to have a good life. The good life is really about knowing who you are and where you are going, this is rooted in culture, language, land and worldview. Once you have this wholistic balance or work towards it, anything is possible.

Live Discussion: Creating Equity in the Classroom

To continue this important conversation, JUMP Math will be hosting a live, virtual discussion with Dr. Toulouse and JUMP Math’s founder, Dr. John Mighton on Tuesday, February 8th 2022 from 7-8pm EST. We will be exploring the landscape of an equitable classroom, root causes of educational poverty, student self-esteem strategies for educators, and more. Viewers will also have the opportunity to ask questions during the session and share this important discussion with others in their workplace and communities.

Register here.