Social Justice in Art, Part Two: KC Adams & GMB Chomichuk

In part two of our Social Justice in Art series, we spoke with artists KC Adams and GMB Chomichuk. We heard their insights on creative collaboration, art as a means to start conversations, and taking risks in the service of important messages. You can read part one here.

KC Adams

KC Adams

KC Adams (she/her/hers) is a Cree/Ojibway/British Winnipeg-based artist. A graduate of  Concordia University with a B.F.A in studio arts, Adams has had several solo and group exhibitions, with work in many permanent collections throughout Canada and abroad. Adams was the set designer for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation production, and she has designed public art sculptures for the Winnipeg Forks South Point Project and United Way of Winnipeg. Her collection of portraits, Perception: A Photo Series, was published in book form in 2019. 

PMP: How did your photo series, Perception, evolve from idea to finished project? Perception: A Photo Series

KCA: I had been thinking about this art piece for 10 years prior to finishing it. I felt there was a need to create a work that showed the humanity of my community because we were mired in negative stereotypes. I knew it had to be a photo project, with community members as my inspiration, but that was the extent of the idea.

Fast forward to the summer of 2014. I read a Facebook post by Lori Steeves that was full of fear which translated into hateful words against my community. The moment I read the post, my photo project came to my mind and it was like a light bulb went on.

I needed to make art that could be shared on social media, because discrimination is a social problem. I couldn’t keep the work in a gallery space, where only a few hundred people would see it. I needed it to be seen by thousands, so we could start the conversation about racism.

PMP: The series made a big impression in Winnipeg and Lethbridge, where the images were installed in public places. Did you observe any reactions to your work that stand out in your mind?

KCA: I worked at Plug In ICA, and they had a billboard in the Osborne Village area where the Shoppers Drug Mart is now located. A couple times per year, a new billboard would go up, and it allowed the general public to have access to art. I loved that idea of accessibility; the opportunity to have viewers be impacted by art, no matter what their social standing.

In my mind, I had hoped that the Perception photos would also be placed all over Winnipeg, so people could see my work. I hoped it would get them to think about their own perspective on racism and stereotypes.

Urban Shaman Gallery heard my hopes, and they made it happen. Having my work on billboards, bus shelters, and posters was incredible. Everything that I had hoped about starting a conversation about racism towards my community is exactly what happened.

I have several examples of reactions to my work. The posters were hung up all around the University of Manitoba, and a friend who was teaching law invited me to meet some of her students. One of the students shared that, because of my work, he was able to have an honest discussion with his friends about hiring practices. His question to his friends was, if two equally qualified candidates were available for hire and one candidate was Indigenous, would they hire him/her? He said that it made several of them uncomfortable, some of them didn’t answer, but it got them thinking about their own prejudices.

I have another story of a friend that I bumped into at an art gallery opening. He felt that my work was perpetuating stereotypes, and that it hurt my community more than it helped. We had a healthy discussion. I told him that the work was about how each viewer has the ability to question their own personal responses to racism. His reaction, and the fact that the work got him to discuss racism, was a goal of creating this art project.

One of the most surprising reactions was how teachers have been using the work in their classrooms, and how it has inspired students to share their own stories of discrimination and isolation.

PMP: When we spoke to you in March, you quoted your friend Steve Loft who beautifully phrased how controlling one’s image as an Indigenous person is ultimately an act of liberation. Can you describe your emotional journey through the process of bringing art into the world that, to you, represents the reclamation of your culture and spirit?

KCA: I was nervous when I started this artwork because I was asking members of my community to put their image in my hands. They took a big risk. I posed, too, because I wanted them to know that we were all in this together—that I would take that journey with them.

What I didn’t anticipate was how empowered they felt by sharing their journey. They were proud to speak out against racism. Finally, our image was in our control instead of negative imagery and print typically found in information media.

Having my community in print in a positive light was always something that I had dreamed about. I am also an educator, and it has always been my goal to go into classrooms and inspire First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students to dream big. This work does this without me entering the classroom. Teachers across Canada are bringing this work into their classrooms, and the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students have responded by creating art that speaks about their own journey.

Art is powerful and can elicit change. I encourage everyone to embrace art, and in doing so, reclaim their spirit.

To discover KC’s full portfolio, visit her website at www.kcadams.net.

GMB Chomichuk

GMB Chomichuk

GMB Chomichuk is an award-winning writer and illustrator whose work has appeared in film, television, books, comics, and graphic novels. His recent work includes illustrations for the graphic novel anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold, and Will I See?, a collaboration with writer David A. Robertson and singer/songwriter Iskwē. Other works include occult-suspense story Midnight City, science fiction epic Red Earth, and the all-ages adventure stories of Cassie and Tonk. He also hosts the Super Pulp Science podcast. His newest full-length graphic novel, Apocrypha: The Legend of Babymetal was featured by The Hollywood Reporter, The Nerdist, and Billboard Magazine.

PMP: You’ve contributed to a number of projects that address issues concerning Indigenous communities, including Will I See? and This Place. As a non-Indigenous person, how do you approach projects like this?

GMBC: Well, being invited is an important step. Whether you were born in the place you live or you come from somewhere else, I think we have a responsibility to participate in our local community. If you are going to participate in a community, you should try to use your skills in the most positive ways you can.

I make comics, and tell stories visually. The skills I have took a long time to develop, but to get here is only possible because I’ve had the safety and security to live in this community. Being a part of this community, I recognize that not everyone is born with the same access that I was. I have a responsibility to do more than entertain.

It’s an interesting position to be in because if I had been asked to write for this collection, I would’ve had to decline. These are not my stories to tell. But, I’m able to use visual storytelling to turn up the volume of another’s voice, and that feels like a thing I can do. I’m not here to speak for anybody, but to stand beside them—and hopefully, together, we can speak for ourselves.

PMP: You’ve illustrated for several graphic novels, including This Place. Is there something in particular about graphic novels that, to you, makes them a powerful medium for social justice? This Place: 150 Years Retold

GMBC: Comics are subversive in nature, in part because they are not considered literary by most people. They’re seen as “safe.” Your guard is down when you enter. Eventually, the words and pictures together do something special—they create memory and emotion in the space between them.

People who dismiss the power of comic storytelling should be wary. Consider the power and influence of advertising, which is a similar way of pairing words and pictures—message with emotion—and have a message stick. Ads want to sell you something, I want to sell you on your own ability to see and make meaning.

PMP: Can you describe the process you use to convey socially conscious messages through your art in a way that is both sensitive and impactful?

GMBC: It’s a group effort—from writer to editorial, the feedback of first readers and sensitivity readers. We do our best. You never know if you’ve done the right thing until after it’s out. All I can try to do is be as sincere in my commitment to supporting my collaborators as I can.

A surprising evidence of the impact of these books for me has been the amount of racism that has been on display to me. Bigots assume I will be their ally. I’ve also been shouted down by the same narrow-viewed people at comic shows for my willingness to be a part of projects like these. It shows me how far we have to go, how many more pages we have to make.

A culture and community is made up of its stories. The more we tell untold stories, the more chances we have to get a real picture of this place we live in.

In the end, I don’t answer to the public, or even the reading community. I have to answer to my kids and be an example to them.

To see more of GMB’s work and upcoming projects, follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @gmbchomichuk, and check out his website, www.alchemicalpress.com.

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Social Justice in Art, Part One: Natasha Donovan & Scott B. Henderson

Art has always been a catalyst for social change. Before a piece of artwork can make an impact on the world, artists must embark on a process of complex decisions, creative thinking, and skillful execution. In part one of this two-part series, we interviewed artists Natasha Donovan and Scott Henderson. Both have contributed artwork to convey powerful messages in works like This Place: 150 Years Retold, the Surviving the City series and the A Girl Called Echo series. We talked to them about how they choose projects, their creative process, and how graphic novel art can impact a social movement.

Natasha Donovan

Natasha Donovan (she/her/hers) is a Vancouver-born freelance artist and illustrator as well as a member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia. She is the illustrator of the award-winning graphic novel series Surviving the City, and has had work published in the graphic novel anthologies, This Place: 150 Years Retold and The Other Side. She is the illustrator of the Mothers of Xsan children’s book series, including the award-winning first book, The Sockeye Mother, which was shortlisted for the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction.

 

PMP: Natasha, your artwork has appeared in socially-conscious works like This Place: 150 Years Retold, and series such as Surviving the City, and Mothers of Xsan. How do you decide which projects to get involved with?

ND: Luckily for me, I’ve stumbled into working with some exceptional editors who do an excellent job of reaching out to Indigenous creators and ensuring that many different voices are heard. My family and my professional background also play a role in driving my decisions—having victims of violence in my family and working for the International Journal of Indigenous Health were strong motivators to illustrate Surviving the City (volume 1 in the Surviving the City series), for example. 

PMP: Why was it important to you to illustrate the Mothers of Xsan series? The sockeye mother

ND: I am very much in love with the Pacific Northwest; nothing says “home” to me like dark grey skies and hanging moss and towering cedars. It’s a rich, interconnected ecosystem, but it’s also fragile—and endangered. I am so grateful to be a part of the Mothers of Xsan series because it gives me the opportunity to share my wonder at living here, and hopefully to contribute in some small way toward a sustainable relationship between humans and rainforest. 

PMP: In your view, how do books like the Mothers of Xsan series impact young learners?

ND: My favourite childhood books were the ones that taught me about the magic and joy that can be found in the everyday world. It’s my hope that the Mothers of Xsan sheds light on a secret world where salmon make epic journeys and grizzlies help the trees grow. This is a world that’s worth engaging with, loving, and protecting. 

To see what Natasha is working on now, follow her on Twitter at @natashamdonovan.

Scott B. Henderson

Scott B. Henderson (he/him/his) is an author and illustrator of many graphic novels, including The Chronicles of Era series, Fire Starters, the A Girl Called Echo series, select titles in the Tales From Big Spirit series, and select stories in This Place: 150 Years Retold. He also illustrated the Eisner-award nominee, A Blanket of Butterflies. In 2016, he was the recipient of the C4 Central Canada Comic Con Storyteller Award.

PMP: Scott, you’ve illustrated graphic novels like Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story, A Blanket of Butterflies, and the A Girl Called Echo series. A lot of your work, including these titles, plays with time (either the past or future) to communicate socially conscious themes to readers. Can you offer some insight into the creative process when working on pieces like these?

SBH: With A Girl Called Echo, I worked with Katherena and Donovan Yaciuk (the colourist) to establish some rules or a theme. The modern-day scenes were to be more muted colours, while the scenes when Echo is in the past are more vibrant and have a more painterly style. It was to help elaborate on the disconnect that Echo had with the present day. Other times, I sometimes play with different border styles to distinguish between different time periods. With Echo, the modern-day scenes have more straight lines and rigid borders, while the past is a little more casual with (subtly) irregular borders.

PMP: How did you find out that A Blanket of Butterflies had been nominated for an Eisner Award?

SBH: I think I found out about the Eisner Award through the marketing team at HighWater Press. It was a pleasant surprise!

PMP: What do see as the role of graphic novels in affecting social change?

SBH: Humans have always been very visual creatures, and so graphic novels tie into this deep, long history. I think books and novels are deeply important as well, but for those just starting to learn a new topic, or that don’t have a lot of experience digesting these larger tomes, graphic novels are great for someone to jump right into a topic. 

We can perceive so much information visually at a glance. From that foundation, the reader can build on their knowledge and develop a more nuanced perspective. Also, visually, you can speak to so many people that maybe don’t speak the same language. The language of art can be more universal. 

Scott B henderson

To see more of Scott’s amazing work, visit his website at scotthendersonart.wordpress.com.

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A Conversation with Faye Brownlie

Over the last several decades, Faye Brownlie has been an educator, a reading clinician, an author, and a keynote speaker. In January 2005, her expertise in literacy education and inclusive learning led her to write her acclaimed book, Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles. With its focus on engaging learners and fostering a love of reading, Brownlie’s work has changed the lives of thousands of students. The principles in the book have taken her around the world; she’s travelled through Canada, the United States, Europe, and Asia leading workshops and speaking at seminars and conferences.

Today, nearly 15 years later, the second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses is here! We caught up with Faye Brownlie to chat about her continued passion for literacy education and diversity, and what to expect from the new edition.

PMP: What experiences in your life lead to your passion for literacy education? 

FB: I grew up as a reader and began teaching junior high in a small, rural school. I imagined myself as spending time sharing books with kids and was very surprised to learn that not all my kids thought this was such a fabulous idea. I became compelled to ‘turn them on to reading,’ and I truly believe that we can and must create readers who read and choose to read, and writers who write and choose to write to communicate. Literacy changes lives—opening doors, lifting out of poverty, changing life expectancy. The impact of the stats is staggering. 

There are so many choices in what to read today. We have the resources to reach each learner. It is our challenge to find their interests and passions and match these learners with text they want to read and text they want to talk about or do something about.

PMP: Since Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses was first published nearly 15 years ago, do you feel educators are facing different challenges or many of the same roadblocks as they work to engage their students? 

FB: Perhaps our classes are more diverse in some parts of Canada. But in many parts of Canada, that diversity was there 15 years ago. We have been working on inclusion of all learners for a long time, and our immigration policies have welcomed new Canadians for many years. 

Diversity is often presented as a challenge, but I also think of it as an opportunity. The diversity of our learners—their backgrounds, their languages, their life experiences, their wide range of skills—all enrich our classroom community and are a reflection of our society.  

I don’t think of roadblocks in terms of engagement. That is not a term I would use. Learners want to be engaged; not being engaged is boring! Doing the same thing, at the same pace, with the same expectations is not a recipe for success. We can’t return to that pattern. Having choice and agency, the expectation to succeed, and the supports to help you succeed invites all learners to the table.

PMP: For educators who aren’t familiar with the first edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses, what are some highlights from the second edition that you think will lead to exciting breakthroughs for new readers? 

FB: I think the structure of no roles, no limits on amount of reading, choice from a selection of texts, student-run conversations about the texts they are reading, and writing in reflection and response to their reading sets learners up for success and provides teachers with an easy-to-use format for teaching. It enables us to have more time for 1:1 conferences, to listen deeply to kids in conversation, to notice what mini-lessons will move the learning forward, and to deeply connect with our readers. 

Teachers will notice the addition of an early primary scenario, teachers’ work with co-created criteria for response journals and comprehension activities, an intermediate/middle years information text example, and a secondary example that extends into a social media format. 

Most exciting, if you haven’t tried this version of literature circles before, you will be amazed about the amount that your learners read, their engagement with text and with each other, and their excitement about reading.

The second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles launches today. Be one of the first to dig into this transformative resource by ordering your copy now!

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Three Teacher’s Guides for Leading Conversations on Indigenous Issues

Did you know we have teacher’s guides for many of our titles? These guides are a great help when it comes to tackling tough themes. If you’re a little nervous about discussing Indigenous issues in your classroom, these resources are worth checking out!

Each teacher’s guide below makes an excellent companion to its respective book. You can use these guides to ensure heavier topics are hitting the right mark with your students. Best of all, each of these guides is free.

A Teacher’s Guide to Student Inquiry: For the Graphic Novel Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story

Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story is a graphic novel by David A. Robertson and illustrated by Scott B. Henderson that tells the true story of Helen Betty Osborne. Known to friends as “Betty,” Osborne was a young woman from Norway House Cree Nation who dreamed of becoming a teacher. One night, while Betty was walking home, four men abducted and murdered her.

Betty’s story is important, but it deals with mature themes that can be tricky to navigate in the classroom. A Teacher’s Guide to Student Inquiry, written by Connie Wyatt Anderson, is a handbook for using Betty as a learning tool. Wyatt Anderson offers thoughtful tips for teaching the sensitive content in the book, including helpful discussion questions for constructive dialogue. Leaf through to the appendix to find suggested readings for further research-based student inquiry.

When We Were Alone: Parent/Teacher Guide

Written by David A. Robertson, When We Were Alone is a children’s book illustrated by Julie Flett. This beautiful picture book won a Governor General’s Literary Award in 2017. The book explains the residential school experience in language young children can understand. In the story, a curious young girl hears from her kókom (grandmother) about the pieces of her identity that residential schools tried to take away.

The parent/teacher guide can help you lead small children through the book in a way that promotes critical thought. Inside, you can find age-appropriate talking points on Indigenous perspectives and residential schools.

Since students often learn best by doing, the guide contains in-class activities to help young readers understand the concepts in When We Were Alone. There’s even a Cree word list to help you teach your students the Cree words used in the book!


Teacher Guide for K.C. Adams’s Perception: A Photo Series

K.C. Adams’s acclaimed photo series, Perception, came out in book form earlier this year. The project first gained attention when Adams’s photographs appeared on bus shelters and billboards, and projected on buildings in Downtown Winnipeg. Each of Adams’s photos is a portrait of an Indigenous person that trades harmful stereotypes for statements of truth. The emotional expressions of her subjects, the stark black-and-white images, and the striking text invited onlookers to “look, then look again” at stereotypes about Indigenous people. Perception: A Photo Series collects a selection of Adams’s photographs into one book.

The Teacher Guide for K.C. Adams’s Perception: A Photo Series was written by Reuben Boulette for high school teachers. You can use the guide to empower teens to question harmful stereotypes about Indigenous people. This guide has ideas for teaching the painful topics the artist’s work addresses. As a bonus, each module has suggestions for assessing your students’ takeaways from Perception.

While these three books and their accompanying guides make great tools, this is only a short list. You can find many more titles for teaching Indigenous history and perspectives in our catalogue. Browse our full collection of free teacher’s guides on our For Teachers page—and don’t forget to bookmark it! As we release new titles, new teacher’s guides will be sure to follow.

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Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: Faye Brownlie on What’s New in the 2nd Edition

All kids should have the opportunity to fall in love with reading. Faye Brownlie’s acclaimed guide, Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses, has offered teachers a powerful set of tools for engaging young readers since its release in 2005. Now, the second edition is almost here, and it’s filled with new strategies and updated tools for today’s classrooms. We caught up with Faye to get her take on the new edition and give teachers a sneak peek at what’s inside.

Faye Brownlie on the New Edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses

“The response over the past 15 years to the first edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses has been overwhelming. I have been humbled and honoured by the feedback and success stories that teachers have shared, and am so pleased to present some of what we have learned together in this new edition.”

The Basics: Literature Circles

“I’ve made significant updates, but have remained true to what is unique to this approach to literature circles.

  • The groups are fluid.
  • Students have choice in what they read.
  • No roles. The Say Something strategy initiates and sustains the conversation.
  • No limits are placed on the amount read.
  • No leveled texts.
  • Responses to text are open-ended and reflective.
  • Formative assessment strategies are infused with the goal of creating readers who read.

This empowers kids to exceed expectations, foster curiosity, and develop better critical thinking and discussion skills.”

What’s New?

“Teachers can also expect much brand-new content. Here’s a sampling of what’s inside:

  • Michelle Hikida and Lisa Schwartz show us how to create communities of readers with literature circles in grades 1-3.
  • Lindsay Holliday shares her grade 6/7 readers ‘I can’ statements, created to support powerful response writing, and then extends this as they are guided by their co-constructed  ‘good, better, wow’ examples.
  • At Highland Park, the 4/5 team and I strengthen response writing with a modeling sequence that begins with an exploded sentence and students critiquing our writing.
  • Neetu Dhaliwal capitalizes on the power of social media and uses Snapcha
    t to create thoughtful, engaged discussion around student-selected quotes with grades 8-12.
  • The Kamloops Literacy Team presents a step-by-step, non-fiction version of literature circles called “inquiry circles.”


There are so many more exciting ideas—for self-assessment, personal reflection, and more integrated summative assessment! Read on, find a colleague (because it’s just richer and more fun to be collaborative), and find an idea that sparks your curiosity and is waiting to be personalized, by you, for your students.”

The second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses will be released on October 24th. Pre-order your copy today.

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Orange Shirt Day: Guiding Conversations about Residential Schools in the Classroom

September 30th is Orange Shirt Day—a nationally-recognized event to acknowledge the harm inflicted by residential schools. For educators, this day represents a special opportunity to engage young people in important discussions about residential schools and other structures of systemic racism. 

There’s no way around it; these conversations are hard. They’re painful, delicate—and necessary. So, where are we to begin?

We spoke to three prominent Indigenous authors to get their take on the meaning behind Orange Shirt Day, and how educators can participate in creating a more equitable future for residential school survivors and their families.

 

David A. Robertson on the Origin and Importance of Orange Shirt Day

David A. Robertson is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and the author of several award-winning books for children and young adults, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for When We Were Alone. His work focuses on creating captivating works that reflect the cultures, histories, and contemporary issues affecting Indigenous peoples in Canada.

PMP/HWP: Where does Orange Shirt Day come from?

DAR: Orange Shirt Day originates from an experience of one residential school survivor that is common to many, that is the attempted elimination of cultural identity. 

A student, Phyllis Webstad, on her first day at residential school had her new orange shirt taken from her by school administration. We know today that Phyllis’s story is representative of the experiences many Indigenous children had while attending residential school, and we recognize it to both remember what happened, and honour survivors, but also to ensure we do not repeat history. 

I think, as well, we should use it as a day to keep our eyes and hearts open, because it is a history that is still happening, through systems like child welfare. Ultimately, Orange Shirt Day is a day of reflection and awareness.

PMP/HWP: You’ve written several books that address the impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples. Your children’s book, When We Were Alone, also frames loss of identity through the school’s control over Nokóm’s clothing. Why do you think clothing is such an effective touchpoint for talking to young kids about residential schools?

DAR: You have to find ways for children to relate to Indigenous children who attended residential schools. If children can relate, they can empathize. And empathy is powerful. 

Any child can understand the expression of identity through the way that somebody dresses, or how they wear their hair. Any child, as well, can understand the impact of what it means to not be able to express identity. If I tell a child, in a safe environment, to imagine that the shirt they are wearing, perhaps a team shirt, is not welcome in the room, because in the room, only the shirt for one certain team is allowed, that child can understand the concept of assimilation. 

If I tell a child the same thing about their hair, they can likewise understand the concept of assimilation. It allows me to have a conversation with students about their individuality, the importance of their uniqueness, and how it might have affected children to not be able to express who they are. To have to be the same as everybody else. 

Kids can understand sophisticated concepts if we are able to meet them at their level, in an age-appropriate way.

PMP/HWP: Why do you think Orange Shirt Day is important?

DAR: I think it’s important because it is an entry point to have an important conversation. More than that, it brings people together to have that conversation. That coming together is an important step in the path to reconciliation. We cannot heal a broken relationship in a vacuum. We need to do it together, and we need to do it through listening, and sharing. 

What I don’t want to happen is for this conversation to happen on just one day, so a vital piece of this is to build on this day, by making each day one where we discuss reconciliation, in one form or another. Because that conversation will shape where we go tomorrow. 

 

Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse on Leading and Enriching Classroom Conversations on Orange Shirt Day

Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse is an Anishinabekwe (Ojibwe/Odawa woman) from Sagamok First Nation and a full professor in the Faculty of Education at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Over the past 25 years, she has taught at all levels from elementary to post-secondary and published over 50 educator resources. Dr. Toulouse is a 3M National Teaching Excellence Fellow.

PMP/HWP: Do you have any suggestions for classroom activities teachers can try with their classrooms on Orange Shirt Day that support the message behind the event?

PRT: There are so many classroom activities that can happen on that day, such as KAIROS blanket exercises, Project of Heart events, and learning from local Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and getting out on the land. 

The key is to reach out to the Indigenous community and form a relationship that goes beyond the one day. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity to fulfill our truthful relationships and responsibilities as caring two-leggeds. 

One of the primary activities is to engage in truth and reconciliation by finding out “who you are.” Being Canadian will be so much more meaningful when you can connect to your own ancestral stories of challenge and hope. This exploration of the past from a personal stance will give students and educators a greater appreciation for “why” Indigenous peoples are so connected to traditions, ceremonies, and the land.

PMP/HWP: You suggest inviting an Elder or Knowledge Keeper from a local Indigenous community to visit the classroom as an extension of learning. If an educator wished to do this but isn’t acquainted with an Indigenous Elder, what can educators do to respectfully make contact with a community?

PRT: Nearly every school board in Canada has an Indigenous Lead who has been entrusted with many roles in K to 12. These Indigenous Leads are the connection between educators and Elders, Metis Senators, and other Knowledge Keepers. 

There is so much diversity across the country in terms of the protocols in how to approach Indigenous resource peoples— the Indigenous Lead can assist educators with this. In the absence of an Indigenous Lead, contacting a local Friendship Centre or a local First Nation or a Métis organization is the best approach.

The gifts and the experiences shared by Indigenous Elders and Metis Senators with classrooms will leave a head to heart impact on the students—and this is something that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

PMP/HWP: How can educators continue to help young people understand the scope of residential schools beyond September 30th?

PRT: Orange Shirt Day is acknowledged once per year, but residential school survivors and their families live with the effects daily. This is why it is so critical to continue to implement the Calls to Action from the TRC and do so in relationships with Indigenous communities.

For me, Call to Action #63, “Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect” is foundational here. It’s one thing to offer classroom lessons on the history and effects of residential schools and quite another to truly feel the depth of these impacts.

The most respectful outcome is for school communities to take that additional step and do something about it. There needs to be action beyond acknowledgments.

 

Christine M’Lot on Making Progress Through Discussion on Orange Shirt Day and Beyond

Chistine M’Lot is an Anishinaabe educator and curriculum developer from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Christine is the co-founder of Red Rising Education, and works to create Indigenous education resources for teachers. She has an extensive background working with young people in multiple capacities, including child welfare, children’s disability services, and Indigenous family planning. Christine currently teaches high school at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.

PMP/HWP: In many Canadian schools, there are kids in the classroom who have been directly impacted by the intergenerational harms of residential schools. They might be sitting right next to kids who have no knowledge at all about this painful time in history. How can educators gently guide conversations about residential schools in a way that is constructive for everyone, and not harmful? 

CM: This is a very real scenario that most educators face while teaching about Indigenous topics. One thing that I’d like to remind teachers is that it’s important not to make any assumptions about the level of knowledge that Indigenous students may have about their histories or culture. I’ve definitely made the assumption that because a student is Indigenous, they must already know about residential schools or the direct impact that they had on their families and communities, but this has not always been the case.

   In my classroom, I try to ensure that our conversations around Indigenous topics are not always focused on the negative aspects of history. While learning about residential schools is hardly positive, I always make time to recognize the resilience and beauty in our communities. I think it’s important to show students examples of Indigenous resistance and political action that our communities partake in. It’s important to be mindful of not inadvertently showing Indigenous people as victims all the time but rather as people who continue to fight for equal rights in Canada. 

PMP/HWP: What are some discussion questions early years educators and middle/high school educators might ask their classrooms on Orange Shirt Day to keep the focus on healing?

CM: Some questions I like to ask my students include: 

  • How can we honour residential school survivors as a school and community? 
  • How can we ensure that the legacy of residential schools is never forgotten? 
  • What are some Indigenous theories and practices around wellness and wellbeing that we can utilize in our own lives?
  • How can we ensure that First Nations children get the same level of education and healthcare as the rest of Canadians?

PMP/HWP: Which resources would you recommend to educators to help them facilitate meaningful conversations about residential schools in their classrooms?

 CM: I would recommend the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Canada website as a great resource for teachers to learn about residential schools and gather teaching resources appropriate to their students’ grade level. You can visit their website here. 

I also recommend Red Rising Education for our authentic Indigenous educational resources. We created a special-edition magazine and accompanying unit plans to teach educators how to include Indigenous topics into their curricula. Our unit plans are centred around the themes of identity, community, land and water, and resistance. You can reach us by email.

For more information about Orange Shirt Day, including Phyllis’s story, upcoming events, and resources, visit the official website at orangeshirtday.org.

 

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Books for Teaching Sustainability, Ecology, and the Environment in BC Classrooms

Sustainability is more than a trend; it’s the initiative our world depends on. As our world reels from climate change, our mission must be to place environmentalism at the heart of our culture. Educators like you have the unique opportunity to engender young people with the desire to live sustainably.

With that goal in mind, we have a lot to learn about sustainability from Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The Grizzly Mother, part of the Mothers of Xsan series, and the Hands-On Science for British Columbia classroom resources make these lessons accessible.

How The Grizzly Mother Teaches Kids About Sustainability

The Grizzly Mother, written by Gitxsan author Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)  and illustrated by Métis artist Natasha Donovan, is the second book in the Mothers of Xsan series. The book was released September 1, 2019.

The book follows a family of grizzly bears along the Xsan, or the “River of Mists.” The life-giving River of Mists is the heart of the Gitxsan Nation, an unceded territory in the Northwest Interior of British Columbia. 

Through Huson’s poetic language and Donovan’s captivating full-colour artwork, readers learn about the ecosystem that binds the rivers, forests, and people together—and how the bears’ survival hangs in the balance.

The story builds beautifully on the first book in the series, The Sockeye Mother, which introduces readers to the life cycle of the sockeye salmon, the grizzlies’ primary food source.

The third book in the trilogy, The Eagle Mother, is coming soon. You can start your collection by ordering your copy of The Sockeye Mother today.

Teaching Sustainability with Hands-On Science for British Columbia

The books in the Mothers of Xsan series are a great introduction to the bridge between sustainability and Indigenous knowledge, but these quick reads only scratch the surface. For more comprehensive lessons on sustainability, the Hands-On Science for British Columbia series goes even deeper.

The series is split into eight modules for each multi-age grade level, each aligned with the new BC science curriculum and grounded in the Know-Do-Understand model. The content of all eight modules integrate First Peoples’ knowledge and perspectives, along with in-class activities and assessment tools.

The four modules for K-2 are Land, Water, and Sky for Grades K-2, Living Things for Grades K-2, Properties of Energy for Grades K-2, and Properties of Matter for Grades K-2. Each module contributes to an overall understanding of sustainability by exploring the core Big Ideas within each book.

Land, Water, and Sky for Grades K-2 focuses on the observable patterns and cycles in the sky and landscape. Students learn how daily and seasonal changes affect all living things, and how water is essential to all of them.

Living Things for Grades K-2 teaches kids to identify plants and animals while thinking about how their characteristics help them survive in their environment. Students learn about ecology with themes like adaptation and the life cycles of living things.

Properties of Energy for Grades K-2 gets kids thinking more about the role that energy plays in our lives as well as in the natural world. Students learn how forces influence motion, how an object’s motion depends on its properties, and how light and sound can be both produced and changed.

Finally, Properties of Matter for Grades K-2 explains what matter is and how it’s central to everything we do. Students learn how and why matter is useful. Hands-on activities illustrate how physical and chemical processes can change different types of matter.

With comprehensive content that helps students understand their world, you’re better equipped to guide discussions on how it can be changed for the better. These topics segue easily into questions like:

  • Why is pollution dangerous?
  • Why do we need bees and other pollinators?
  • What is ‘clean energy,’ and why is it important?
  • What happens to all the plastic from the grocery store?

Each of these modules has the power to engage young learners with the biggest challenge our world is facing today. 

The Hands-On Science for British Columbia modules for kindergarten to grade two are available now. All four modules for grades three to five are now available for pre-order, and Living Things for Grades 3-5 will be ready to add to your bookshelf on September 16.

 

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Authentic Indigenous Content for Middle Years and High School Classrooms

With the new school year just around the corner, we’ve heard from teachers like you looking to include Indigenous perspectives in your curriculum.

If you’re looking to incorporate more great literature from Indigenous authors into your classroom, this list is for you. These stories make great reads for older students with powerful touch points for learning.

Books for Bringing Indigenous Perspectives into the Classroom

Grades 7–12 are tumultuous years for all students, and a time when kids are especially vulnerable to bias. These titles help Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth process tough concepts while offering a more multi-dimensional understanding of Canada.

Surviving the City

High school is tough enough. On top of class work, best friends Miikwan and Dez must also struggle with grief for missing family members and the threat of being placed in a group home. When Dez doesn’t come home one night, Miikwan is distraught. Both girls must lean on their communities and the spirits of their ancestors to watch over them.

Surviving the City deals with the prejudicial treatment experienced by Indigenous teens. This eye-opening graphic novel is written by Tasha Spillett with captivating artwork by Natasha Donovan. 

Will Dez make it home? Find out by ordering your copy here.

The Reckoner Trilogy

Cole Harper is the hero Wounded Sky First Nation needs. In David A. Robertson’s page-turning trilogy, Cole and his friends must fight against the mysterious evils that threaten their community. 

The Reckoner trilogy can help spark a discussion on mental health. With a brilliant portrayal of what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder, the three books—Strangers, Monsters, and Ghosts—are a superhero origin story like nothing you’ve read before. Look out for forthcoming graphic novel series, coming soon.

Once you meet Cole Harper, you won’t want to rest until you’ve learned what happened at  Wounded Sky First Nation. Start with the first book today.

Perception: A Photo Series

After a racist, high-profile tweet surfaced in artist KC Adams’s hometown, she decided to challenge people to “look, then look again” at Winnipeg’s Indigenous people. This brilliant collection of portraits was first displayed on billboards, buildings, and bus shelters around the city. Each image aims to replace dehumanizing assumptions with positive truths about the subjects’ identities.

With a foreword by Katherena Vermette and a critical essay by Cathy Mattes, Perception is a valuable resource for dismantling stereotypes and guiding conversations about bias and racism.

Look for yourself—then look again—by ordering Perception in hardcover.


A Girl Called Echo series

Thirteen-year-old Echo Desjardins is adjusting to her new reality; separated from her mother, living in a new home, and navigating the first few days of middle school. Her reality is hard enough—until she’s suddenly transported back in time. In this graphic novel series, Echo struggles to make sense of the present while learning more about her Métis heritage. 

With absolutely stunning artwork by Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk, author Katherena Vermette’s series brings the history of the Métis Nation to life. 

The first two graphic novels in the series, Pemmican Wars and Red River Resistance, are available for purchase on the HighWater Press website. The third volume, Northwest Resistance, is slated for release in February 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

This Place: 150 Years Retold

Indigenous broadcaster and film critic Jesse Wente has called This Place: 150 Years Retold  “the graphic novel I’ve waited for my whole life, and the graphic novel Canada has needed for 150 years.” 

This Place is a groundbreaking graphic novel anthology that re-frames Canada’s history, present, and future through the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. Through the anthology’s 10 beautifully illustrated stories, young readers will encounter Indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and even time travel.

Get a new perspective on the past 150 years—and beyond—by ordering your copy today

Recommended Teacher Resources

It can be daunting to communicate the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in the classroom. To better understand these perspectives before you approach them with your students, we recommend adding Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning Through Ceremony by Sara Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson, as well as Truth & Reconciliation in Canadian Schools by Pamela Rose Toulouse to your own reading list.

We also recommend Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation for actionable guidance on creating an inclusive, supportive learning environment. The book focuses on developing a classroom that accommodates your students’ mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Read more about these fantastic resources here, along with some of our recent titles for early years learners.

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Authentic Indigenous Content for Early Years Classrooms

As you prepare for another school year, curriculums across Canada are changing to include thoughtful, high-quality Indigenous content. This is a critical shift in Canadian culture, in which you—as an educator—have the power to spark important discussions about where we’ve come from, and where our future may lead.

Written by Indigenous authors, these books give teachers the language and tools to introduce students from kindergarten to grade 6 to Indigenous perspectives.

Books for Bringing Indigenous Ideas into the Classroom

Stories help young children understand the world around them. These books use a storytelling approach to teach elementary school students about traditional and contemporary ways of life in Indigenous communities.

   
Mothers of Xsan Series

The Gitxsan Nation are Indigenous peoples whose homeland surrounds the Xsan, or “River of Mist,” which is also known as the Skeena River. In the Mothers of Xsan series, author Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson) and illustrator Natasha Donovan guide young readers through the life cycles that nourish the land and people. 

The first book, The Sockeye Mother, follows a sockeye salmon fry from its nursing waters, to the Pacific ocean, and back. The second book, The Grizzly Mother, has readers joining a mother grizzly and her cubs as they journey through the Gitxsan territories. Both are available on the HighWater Press website.

Look out for the third book, The Eagle Mother, coming in 2020.


Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock

When Awâsis’s kôhkum (grandmother) asks Awâsis to deliver a batch of her world-famous bannock to a relative, a mishap takes her on a detour through her community. As young readers follow Awâsis on her journey, they’ll encounter the Cree terms that describe her world.

Written by Dallas Hunt and illustrated by Amanda Strong, this charming book uses traditional Indigenous methods of storytelling to help kids practise common Cree words. It also includes a recipe for kôhkum’s world-famous bannock!

Available for purchase on the HighWater Press website.

Nimoshom and His Bus

Nimoshom loves driving the bus for the school children in his rural community. This accessible children’s story brings kids aboard Nimoshom’s bus to learn basic Cree words.

Written by Penny M. Thomas with beautiful watercolour illustrations by Karen Hibbard, kids from all backgrounds will fall in love with Nimoshom. You can purchase Nimoshom and His Bus on the HighWater Press website.

Early-years learners are filled with curiosity about their world and the people in it. With colourful artwork and kid-friendly language, these books can help foster healthy dialogue about Indigenous peoples in your elementary classroom.


Resources for Teachers

In many ways, the methods of teaching are just as important as the content being taught. These resources can help engaged teachers create inclusive learning environments for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning Through Ceremony

In 1884, the Canadian Government passed a law to ban the potlatch, the foundational ceremony of the Haida people. However, the ceremony—which was a time to share stories, knowledge, and resources—was too important for Haida Elders to let it die. The potlatch lived on through generations of oral tradition.

Author and educator Sara Florence Davidson grew up learning Haida traditions from her father, Robert Davidson. While Potlatch as Pedagogy isn’t a licence to borrow Haida traditions, it is a robust framework for holistic learning. The book offers an approach to contemporary education that focuses on the relationship between teacher and student.

Order your copy on the Portage & Main Press website.

Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation

We want our schools to be places where students feel safe, capable, and supported in their pursuit of learning. The reality, for many students, looks very different. Ensouling Our Schools author Dr. Jennifer Katz believes educators can change our approach to education to foster better outcomes for students. To get there, teachers need the tools to understand and talk about mental health, identity, and diversity.

With an approach that focuses on accommodating differences, Ensouling Our Schools is a roadmap to reconciliation and well-being in our schools. 

You can purchase a copy on the Portage & Main Press website.

Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued their final report, they included 94 Calls to Action. These action items are necessary for healing the wounds left by Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples. In Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools, author Pamela Rose Toulouse asserts that educators have a unique opportunity to take part in this healing process.

With lesson plans for all grade levels, Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools is an accessible book for incorporating the TRC’s Calls to Action into school curriculums. Each lesson contains background information, strategies, and step-by-step plans for restorative learning. 

You can purchase a softcover copy or download the ebook on the Portage and Main Press website.

 

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Here’s Your Reading List for Labour Day Weekend

The dog days of summer have begun, and the fall term is just around the corner. We can hardly believe it either!

With a few weeks left before you meet the new faces of the 2019-2020 school year, there are just days to go to prepare your materials. While there’s undoubtedly a long list of supplies to get ready, your mindset is the most important one.

This Labour Day weekend, get ready for another amazing year with these weekend reads—each with takeaways you can bring with you to class.

1. Catch a Fire
Fuelling Inquiry and Passion Through Project-Based Learning

Hot off the presses, Catch a Fire is a new and enlightening look at the transformative power of project-based learning. In each chapter, contributors to the book offer insights into how project-based models benefit learners. The book is packed with intriguing and useful information for educators, and yet it’s a quick and engaging read. Perfect for reading on the patio the weekend before fall term begins.

 

2. Perception
A Photo Series

What began as an independent project by artist KC Adams has evolved into a powerful achievement of social action. Perception is an arresting collection of portraits that challenge readers to “look, then look again” at the stereotypes that Canada’s Indigenous people live with. First displayed on billboards, bus shelters, storefronts, and projected onto buildings in downtown Winnipeg, the collection is now available in book form.

 

3. One Without the Other
Stories of Unity through Diversity and Inclusion

As an educator herself, author Shelley Moore understands the challenges of working in diverse classrooms. One Without the Other explores the philosophies and practises behind creating a truly inclusive learning environment. A master storyteller, Moore uses her witty and empathetic voice to share and build on her experiences with learners of all needs and abilities.

 

5. This Place
150 Years Retold

You don’t have to be a comic book fan to get swept up in this graphic novel anthology. This Place is a journey through time that combines Indigenous retellings of history with stunning full-colour artwork. Don’t be surprised if this engrossing anthology sparks new ways of teaching Indigenous history to your students.

 

 

4. Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools

A must-read for educators seeking to enrich their classroom content with progressive, respectful Indigenous education. In Truth and Reconciliation, author Pamela Rose Toulouse puts relationship-building and reconciliatory action front-and-centre. This book is a complete framework for leading conversations with students about Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations.

5. Indigenous Writes
A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada

Among other things, the long history of genocide, racism, and inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people has caused a vast chasm of misunderstanding. In this bold, clear, and refreshingly accessible read, Indigenous Writes dismantles some of the most harmful myths about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. If you’re a non-Indigenous reader, prepare to find answers to questions you may never have known to ask.

 

6. Ensouling Our Schools
A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation

Stress, marginalization, and isolation are real impediments to learning. In Ensouling Our Schools, author Jennifer Katz offers teachers the tools to support students’ mental, emotional, and spiritual health in the classroom. Contributor Kevin Lamoureux adds an Indigenous perspective on adapting this approach to address the TRC Call to Action.

 

7. Potlatch as Pedagogy
Learning Through Ceremony

The potlatch, the foundational ceremony of the Haida people, is a tradition that has lived on in spite of the odds. Banned by the Canadian government in 1884, the survival of the potlatch is a testament to the resilience of the Haida people. Author Sara Florence Davidson lists her late father, Robert Davidson, as the co-author of Potlatch as Pedagogy as the book explores how the traditions he passed to her can find a place in contemporary classrooms.

While summer may be on its way out, the incoming school year may be your best yet. May the stories and lessons within these inspiring titles stay with you all year long.

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