Before the workshop begins
Research the local Indigenous people of your territory, and inquire to bring in Elder or local Friendship Center group. Elders are valued guest speakers and the protocol associated with bringing one in will vary from location to location.
Keep in mind that this guide is flexible! As this toolkit is comprised of activities that can be completed in a variety of settings, and for nearly any class size. The time you take on each section will depend on the number of participants, the familiarity of your participants with Indigenous topics, and the depth of discussion you choose to engage in. At a minimum, this material will require two class sessions to complete.
If students require accommodations, please feel free to adjust the program accordingly. Consult with teachers and staff at the school to assess access to Indigenous resources, knowledge keepers, and facilities. Keep in mind that this material is very flexible! You can conduct this workshop indoors or outside, in short mini-sessions, or as one large day-long workshop. Some of the material is emotionally heavy, and may require room for the participants to take breaks. The purpose of this toolkit is to engage in the process of contextualizing the Indigenous history of Canada, so don't worry if your class ends up on tangents, or deeply interested in one aspect of the timeline - that's the overall goal.
Land Acknowledgements: Honour Traditional Practices & People
1. Begin the class by acknowledging the traditional territory(ies) you are currently on. A territorial or land acknowledgement is an act of reconciliation that involves making a statement recognizing the traditional territory of the Indigenous people who called the land home before the arrival of settlers, and in many cases still do call it home (CBC). Introduce yourself as the instructor, and say what traditional territory you are from (as an example for the students to follow as they introduce themselves later). For a helpful guide on how to do a traditional land acknowledgement, the US Department of Arts and Culture has a good downloadable guide to help you : Honor Native Land
2. If possible, bring in someone (Elder / Aboriginal liaison/ etc) to lead a smudge, or territory-specific opening ceremony (such as a song, traditional thanksgiving address, etc). Ideally, the person you bring in would be part of the local Indigenous community for the land you are on. By bringing in a local Elder or liason, you are acknowledging the importance of the relationship with the land and community, as well as centering Indigenous ways of knowing. For more info on this, I suggest Guidelines for Working with Elders, by Carleton University. If you are in a university setting, reach out to your Native student association, or the Native studies department if your university has one.
* If you choose to engage in ceremony such as smudging, be prepared to hold it in an appropriate space such as the outdoors, or an approved well ventilated room, and give students notice in advance. Ensure students understand that participation is optional, and explain how it does not have to be religious in nature. Some students may not feel comfortable engaging, so make sure the non-participation option is simple and low pressure (ex: if a student does not wish to smudge, let them know to simply step back, or fold their arms when it comes to their turn).
3. Next, complete a talking circle for introductions and bringing the participants together.
Briefly explain talking circle protocols. A helpful guide for respectful talking circles can be found at : FirstNationsPedagogy.ca
Use a talking stick, if you don't have one, you can use another object so long as it is respectful.
For this talking circle, the goal is to build community in the class, and also to establish a sense of place on the land.
Have everyone in the circle say their name, and do their best to name the traditional territory that their hometown is on. This will ideally start the students thinking about the “hidden” history of Indigenous people in Canada and the world.
It might be helpful to consult a map of Indigenous territories of Canada if students don’t know their traditional territory, but this could also be an opportunity to let them look it up after the circle.
Scaffolding: Establish a Connection with the Group, Create a Safe Space
Working with issues of race and colonialism can be an uncomfortable experience for many people, especially those who have little experience with Indigenous topics. In order to facilitate an environment where people can safely be exposed to this kind of material, it's important to expressly set out guidelines for behaviour, in order to minimize conflict and maximize learning. The needs of each classroom will be different, but the following guidelines are a good starting point.
1. Introduce The Four Agreements, as a guideline for classroom behaviour. These four agreements can help reduce the anxiety of learning new, sensitive information, and can help establish and foster a supportive and growth oriented classroom. Write the agreements out on a large piece of paper, and keep it posted or visible in the workshop space.
The Four Agreements are as follows:
1. Be Impeccable with your Word - This one will help your participants to engage with each other with care. Committing to using careful and sincere language helps minimize conflict and encourage compassionate conversation.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally - This may be difficult, and certainly isn't to be used as an excuse to hurt peoples feelings directly. However, much of the content of Canadian history will not be favourable to settlers. It may be the first time many of the participants are learning about these topics. It's important to be able to look critically at history, without taking it as a personal affront.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions - For this material, it is important not to assume you know how others are thinking about a subject. This history impacts us all, in different and distinct ways. The legacy of the colonization of Canada touches everyone, so it's vital to make sure we're letting people tell their own stories, and making an effort to listen to each other explain what we're experiencing.
4. Always Do Your Best - This one seems simple, but is really important in when engaging with sensitive topics. Know that this material may be triggering, confronting, and unexpectedly emotion invoking for many of your participants. Both the participants and instructor are likely to make some mistakes, so it's vital for everyone to agree that they're going to do their best, act on good faith, and leave room
for growth when a mistake is made.
Terms for Indigenous People
There's a lot of anxiety around knowing how to talk about Indigenous
People! Sometimes, this anxiety - more specifically, the fear of getting it
wrong - prevents people from engaging in any material related to Indigenous
people at all.
To bypass this awkward phase of not knowing which terms are appropriate
when, please present and discuss this helpful worksheet to your class.
*There are many resources online that go into more detail, one good one
is the Style Guide for Indigenous People by the Journalists for
3. Explain the idea of using a critical lens for educational materials regarding FNMI people and issues. Acknowledge that there are a lot of questionable resources that are still widely distributed. Encourage careful thought and use of educational materials - emphasize FNMI authored / created materials. A good guide for evaluating resources for and about Indigenous people can be found at Arizona.edu
This is a good add-on activity for engaging with this material on a deeper level, and allows participants to self-evaluate their understanding of colonialism in Canada.
1. On two large pieces of paper, write “colonization”, and “decolonization.” Post it somewhere visible to the whole class.
2. Pass out stacks of sticky notes, and have students write their definitions, ideas of each word, and then place them on the posters like a brainstorming map. Allow them to have “I’m not sure” as an acceptable answer.
3. Leave these posters up for the duration of the workshop, then at the end of the timeline activity, pass out another stack of sticky notes, in a different colour.
Stage 1: Assembling the Puzzle
Before this activity, find a wall where you can place these cards, and enough tape/ pushpins/ etc for all of the cards. Prepare the wall with the date cards, placing the earliest date on the far left, and spacing them out by one meter, to create the framework for the timeline. Have the timeline set up before the students come into the workshop space, if possible. The timeline cards can be found here: Timeline Cards
This is an activity for small groups, ideally 3-5 people in size. Have the students sit in small circles where they can face each other, and have discussions. Please ask the students not to use the internet or devices for this activity.
It's really important that this portion of the activity is done without devices! Each of the timeline cards has a QR code that
links directly to the answer, but for the activity to work, students have to first attempt to navigate the gaps in their
knowledge. This time spent actively not knowing, wondering, and guessing is critical to the success of the activity.
Shuffle the cards well, then distribute them equally to the groups. Each group should have a variety of colours of cards. Ask them to ignore the colours of the cards, and to focus on placing them on the timeline approximately where they think the event written on the card occurred. Give the students ample time to read over their cards and engage in discussion. If they are completely stumped, it's ok to just make guesses! This activity is not supposed to be high pressure, so uncertainty is welcome.
The timeline result will likely look somewhat chaotic, the colours may be quite mixed up.
*Note- if you have opted to print your timeline cards onto your own
choice of colours, don't put them in rainbow order!
Host another Talking Circle after this activity, in order to debrief the student's experience. They may have come to new understandings or confusion and emotions regarding the activity.
If there's time, each group can choose one topic that they weren’t aware of and do some informal research on it. Then, they can present their findings to another group. (Devices ok!) Alternately, some students might prefer to do write a journal-style reflection on this experience. Writing might be something they're more comfortable with, as some might feel too vulnerable expressing their ideas or learning in front of their peers.
Stage 2: Decoding The Bigger Picture
Now that your students have had time to wrestle with the ideas, it's time to put them into historical context. Using the colour coded master timeline, take time to go through each of the dates along the timeline, starting with the earliest one. Ideally, this could be done incrementally, one date at a time. Watching their work being corrected and explained in real time will help them to remember why they originally chose the starting point for each card.
As you explain the significance for each item, allow time for questions or moments of short discussion. Some points will require more explanation than others: for example "Any Indian with a degree was automatically enfranchised" - may sound like a good thing without the added context of what enfranchisement meant at the time (being permanently separated from their community).
At this time, the purpose of the colour coding will become apparent. It serves as both a visual cue / self assessment of the difference between the original timeline and the corrected version, as well as a way to see the progression of history in manageable chunks.
When the timeline is finally complete and in order, provide the students with a link to the website (www.Decolonize-ed.com) where all of this information is accessed and updated. Demonstrate some basic site navigation for the class if possible.
Give everyone a chance to go through the timeline and choose a date that interests them, and use their devices to follow the QR code on the card to follow to the website and seek out the resources, further reading and teaching materials on that card. Afterward, they can present their findings to their group.
Stage 3: Debrief and Contextualize
The timeline activity may have stirred up some heavy thoughts and feelings, so a concluding Talking Circle might provide the students a chance to reflect on what they’ve learned, experienced, or felt. This is a chance for consolidation, and conclusion. Part of this talking circle might include questions about how this material will affect the teacher's pedagogy, how they're feeling about the future of Indigenous education in Canada or something else entirely. Feel free to cater to the needs of the group, and support any further inquiry with resources. A good place to start looking at Indigenous resources by Indigenous people is at The Friendship Center.
Return to the sticky note activity. Follow up with new definitions of colonization and decolonization on the posters with a different colour of sticky note. Discuss how/ if their understanding of each has developed or changed.
Take it further by brainstorming ideas on sticky notes of potentially effective strategies for how they can decolonize their classroom in the future.
For many participants, this is a side of Canadian history that they will be hearing for the first time. Canada has done a good job of hiding these events from the general awareness of the average person. It is shocking, saddening, and yet also encouraging, because there are so many dedicated people who are working tirelessly to advocate for the Indigenous people of Canada, and other colonized people around the world.
This toolkit is not meant to be an exhaustive and in-depth history, but rather a springboard for educators to jump from into their own journey of decolonizing and advocating for Indigenous students, Indigenous content, and non-Indigenous awareness thereof. More resources for further learning can be found at The Friendship Center page of this website.
Please encourage your students to continue to seek out Indigenous perspectives, and to work with their schools and local communities to agitate for change.
THE TIMELINE ACTIVITY