Here's how one local charity is providing free, accurate curriculum on Indigenous history

A new, free curriculum available online was created with the help of Indigenous youth who are working to tell the stories of their history.
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Dec 14, 2018 1:51 PM by: Erika Engel
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John Rice and some of the students at the Awen Gathering Circle for Orange Shirt Day. The students spent first period at the site on Monday, Oct. 1. Elephant Thoughts has a mandate to improve the education available on Indigenous history and culture and they are doing it through The Indigenous Journey project. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

A local charity is one of the players behind a project aimed at getting accurate, extensive, and unique curriculum on Indigenous history and culture into the hands of educators in Ontario.

The project is called The Indigenous Journey, and it’s a series of multimedia educational modules designed to fit into a 45-minute class. Some of the modules have included camera and production work by Indigenous youth, and all include personal stories and history as told by Indigenous people.

“The idea was to tell the story of Indigenous people and youth, and to learn their stories,” said Lisa Farano of the Elephant Thoughts Educational Outreach program. “The Elephant Thoughts teachers have put the modules together with some classroom activities, but the youth are the ones that are sharing their stories and recording the modules and, in some cases, filming.”

Earlier this year, Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government announced it had cancelled a planned revision of the Ontario public school curriculum intended to provide programming on Indigenous History, which only made Farano and others more determined to get The Indigenous Journey ready for the classroom.

“This really does step in in that regard,” said Farano. “Teachers do have this learning tool where it was basically taken away.” 

A study published in the International Indigenous Policy Journal in July, 2017, indicated there’s a want and need for embedding Indigenous cultural content in public schooling, but found many teachers don’t feel confident teaching the material and are nervous about saying the wrong thing.

“This really is meant to help,” said Farano. “It’s a best foot forward. This is accurate, comprehensive information and it really will help people understand more about the big picture.”

The modules address topics such as residential schools, missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, land claims, truth and reconciliation, and more.

“It’s a new day!” said Kahontakwas Diane Longboat, education advisor to the Premier of Ontario and the Minister of Education, in a news release. “The time has come for the exploration of Indigenous contributions to the reformation of a new Canada built on equity, well-being, and acknowledgement of rights, histories, cultures, languages, and faith traditions of many Indigenous Nations. The indigenous Journey provides a marker for us along the trail to reconciliation.”

Elephant Thoughts has an office in Collingwood, but does work around the world in many Indigenous communities.

Farano hopes the program will continue to grow and receive support and funding. 

“My dream one day would be to have a module for every Indigenous community in the country,” said Farano. “There’s all kinds of other pieces that can be shared … it’s extraordinary information that needs to be shared.”

She said it’s been pilot tested in Simcoe County schools and the feedback is positive so far.

Recently, they received $74,400 in funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for The Indigenous Journey project that will allow the program to work with more Indigenous youth to give them opportunities to learn skills such as interview techniques, storytelling, digital filmmaking, computer coding, graphic design, photography, and sound engineering.

Their work will be showcased online at The Indigenous Journey website, and will become part of the modules offered for free on the website. The programming is free for anyone, not just educators.

Glen Trivett, an Ojibway Elder, Knowledge Keeper, and Cultural Resource Coordinator, and member of the Midewin Medicine Society has been working with Elephant Thoughts on the project.

“The Indigenous Journey is a fun and interactive way to learn and explore the poignant issues of Canadian colonialism and Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island,” said Trivett in a news release. “The lessons pull no punches while, at the same time, approach sensitive issues without accusation or blame.”

You can access The Indigenous Journey online here.