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CIRA’s Community Investment Program funds projects doing good for and through the internet.

Facing History and Ourselves, a non-profit focused on education and professional development for educators, received a grant in 2017 to create an online resource and course on the history of the Indian Residential Schools and their legacies for middle and high school teachers across Canada. After piloting the online course with teachers around the country, Gillian Aitken writes about the impact it is already having.

If we face our history, we can learn from our mistakes. This is the guiding principle behind Facing History’s educational resource for middle and high school teachers, Stolen Lives: The Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the Indian Residential Schools. This groundbreaking resource was published by Facing History after 2015’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) called for educating Canadian students about the estimated 150,000 Indigenous children who were taken from their families, sent to Indian Residential Schools, and stripped of their language, culture, and traditions for over a hundred years.

Stolen Lives brings together primary source material, first-person accounts, and questions for rich classroom discussion, to empower educators to connect this history to today's conversations.

While many teachers recognize their responsibility to teach their students these sensitive and difficult subjects in Canadian history, they find themselves at a loss for how to begin.

Developing an online course for teachers

Understanding this need, Facing History developed a five-week, online course based on the Stolen Lives resource, and piloted the course with teachers in November 2018. To accompany the course, Facing History published a digital version of Stolen Lives that includes a series of video resources and interactive resources related to lesson planning, teaching strategies, and primary source materials.

The online course has had a profound impact on the teachers who have participated. Some teachers expressed feeling unprepared to teach this history, but by the end of the course they felt they had the tools to teach the subject matter respectfully and meaningfully.

“I was very unsure of how I could possibly be qualified to teach Indigenous history as a settler. This course allowed me to realize that I can teach it, I can incorporate primary sources and use strategies that  allow students to process their reactions in their own way,” one teacher shared.

With the support of CIRA’s Community Investment Program, Facing History has made it possible for teachers across Canada, regardless of their location, to access Facing History’s professional development resources on this history.

As Dr. Marie Wilson, TRC Commissioner, said: “Half-truths have not served the children of Canada well. We have grown up to become a country with huge knowledge gaps about our own beginnings, and the Indigenous nations whose lives and families we have trampled in building the Canada of our imagination…All our children have a right to the truth…the whole truth. Stolen Lives can help them learn it, and help them explore new pathways to ongoing reconciliation.”

Education is a crucial step

Education is a crucial step for reconciliation and that education starts by working with teachers to address the knowledge gaps that Dr. Marie Wilson refers to. It is here that digital technology helped expand our impact.

Going forward, Facing History will be offering the online course to cohorts of teachers multiple times a year, reaching communities across the country. As a result, a growing number of young Canadians will be educated about the history of Indian Residential Schools. As future policy makers and leaders, these young people will be sensitive to, and aware of, the harm caused when racism, prejudiced attitudes, and intolerance is prevalent in Canadian society.

Learn more about CIRA's Community Investment Program and funded projects.