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British Columbia teachers and their students process the news out of Kamloops in their classrooms

Decoration, discussion and integrating Indigenous cultures into lessons are just some of the ways that the disturbing news is responded to in class.

Decoration, discussion and integrating Indigenous cultures into lessons are just some of the ways that the disturbing news is responded to in class.

Today, the discovery of another mass grave of First Nations children–the largest to such site to date–this time in Saskatchewan, is leading to discussions of reconciliation and Canada’s history of cultural genocide against Indigenous people.

This is the second such discovery in recent weeks. After the discovery of the remains of 215 First Nations children in Kamloops, the nation has been in mourning and searching for appropriate responses. British Columbia teachers, tasked with helping students understand the dark history of residential schools have rededicated themselves to this task.

One Burnaby math teacher told 8forty that she is bringing Indigenous culture into the classroom in multiple ways. For one, she says she is planning to have “music from BC Indeginous artists playing when class starts.” But the content is in her lessons too. She also says that her Math 9 class is currently learning about “patterns, rotations and symmetry” which she would like to implement some Indigenous art into.  

Many of the teachers that spoke about this topic said it was obvious the news was impacting their students the week after it broke. 

Mrs. McAllister, an English teacher from BC says it has been hard for herself to process the news. “I have been struggling greatly with the idea of knowing that many babies have died this way after experiencing the preceding trauma from residential schooling.” 

She responded by lining her drama studio with 215 orange hearts to represent the children that were found. 

While the teachers had a variety of responses, they were all familiar enough with the history of residential schools that the discovery was expected. 

“I was, like a lot of people, shocked by the discovery of 215 children’s remains on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, but not really surprised,” said one BC social studies teacher.

Many Canadians learned the grisly details of this history through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which pointed out, among other things, the high death rate among residential school students, and the fact that bodies were most often buried on site, largely to save shipping expenses. 

But already understanding the issue doesn’t mean that the teachers aren’t more motivated by the news. 

“It is a serious time of reckoning for Canadians about the history and growth of this country – the ugliness cannot be ignored – even if it makes people uncomfortable to acknowledge. Has to happen,” another social studies teacher said. 

It wasn’t always teachers leading the classroom discussions that followed in the wake of the news. 

“Although I had seen it in the news and planned on addressing it within a couple of days, it was a student who brought it up in class first and asked about it,” another English teacher said.  

“I was glad to see the willingness on the part of students: to see the effect of the past.” 

Most teachers seemed happy to see students get involved in current world problems, and to have them communicate their thoughts through class discussions. 

The math teacher said, “As teachers, we need to remember that our role is to guide and nurture their own sense of community and action.”

Image Credit: allyyadams

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