Teaching the Treaties to Teachers

Published on Tuesday, 06 February 2024 08:27

Teachers in the Swan Valley School Division participated in training delivered by the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba (TRCM) this past Friday. Teachers from Grades 9 to 12 attended the morning session, while teachers from kindergarten to Grade 8 attended the afternoon.
TRCM’s Treaty Education Lead Connie Wyatt Anderson was the facilitator and is a former resident of the Swan Valley. Her passion for storytelling led to her calling to teach history.
“I grew up in Mafeking and went to high school in Swan River,” said Wyatt Anderson. “It felt like I was related to everyone and my parents still live there. My dad was a real seasoned storyteller, so I think early on I got a love of local stories and history. I attended the University of Winnipeg and when I finished, I ended up teaching in Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN).
“OCN had just built a new school and I was offered a job teaching history. That was just the perfect fit for me.”
Wyatt Anderson taught at OCN for 22 years and then in 2014, left to focus her time on pedagogical writing.
This led her to become part of TRCM developing curriculum and teaching about the treaties and their role in Canada.
“While teaching history back then, I was following the history curriculum and textbook and it was a reflection of its time, and even back then I noticed there were massive gaps in it,” said Wyatt Anderson. “The nice thing about history is that parts of it may be in textbooks, but it’s also in the people, the land, the language and is all around you. The coolest thing about being a history teacher is using the framework from the provincial government and then making it meaningful for the students.
“In 2009, Jamie Wilson became the second treaty commissioner in Manitoba and I knew him personally because he is from OCN. We taught together. When he came in, one of his goals was to begin an education initiative, where students in schools could learn about the treaties. He reached out to me because he knew I had been involved in curriculum development with the Province, so over the years I had been on five different curriculum teams.
I was asked if I was interested in doing it and that is how I got set on this path.
“When I first got started, I’ll admit, I knew just the bare bones of what a treaty was,” said Wyatt Anderson. “I had an understanding as a history teacher, but it was Jamie who really taught me to see it from the perspective of a partnership. It wasn’t just about Indigenous people; it was about factors such as how one’s non-Indigenous great-grandfather accessed land back then and relating that piece to how things unfolded.
“I came in and framed the curriculum. After being a long-time teacher, I knew the project would be successful if it was there to support teachers, not give them extra work. No teacher needs another special project; they have so much already to do. I will refer again to the recipe analogy, but this was like a meal kit, giving teachers the information, they needed to put it together. This was meant to support what they were doing.
“One of the first things I thought in my head, was this cannot be a special project, because those tend to be fleeting and die out,” said Wyatt Anderson. “Our friends in Saskatchewan had done the same thing and they predated Manitoba’s treaty education by a decade. They were excellent supporters to us.
“From there we started off offering workshops on treaty education. I’ve been all around Manitoba and sharing this with teachers.”
Wyatt Anderson encourages educators to use the information they learn about treaty relations and personalize it to suit the area, relevance and audience they are teaching it to.
“I always tell teachers to use the curriculum like a recipe,” said Wyatt Anderson. “There is a reason why allrecipes.com is so popular. The first thing everyone does with a recipe is make it their own, and you can do that in the way you teach history.
Two people can take the same recipe and adjust it for the people they are cooking for, much like teachers can do that with the way they teach history.
“I kind of like the idea of contested history, but when an event happens, not everyone sees it the same way. There are things where two people could witness the same thing and have different takes on it. Everybody tends to think that history is about a regurgitation of facts, it is to some extent, but it’s also about skills too; the ability to weigh evidence and develop critical thinking.
“Nothing in history is random; you have to look at the patterns. Every single thing is connected, except when a tornado hits.
Students are really good if you give them the leeway to find the connections. Dates don’t fall out of the sky and nothing is random.
“Teachers were doing great work already and I knew that,” said Wyatt Anderson. “I think that teachers sometimes aren’t supportive enough and I think by providing something like this, it gives them a little more courage to learn and teach more on something that may be outside their normal scope. This initiative started as a voluntary one and was for an entire decade. A lot of people embraced taking this opportunity to learn about the treaties on their own, while some school divisions totally embraced it. All this stuff predates the calls to action.
“We’re in a different place now, it’s 2024, and when we first started a lot of people were gobsmacked, because they didn’t know any of this. Many said they never took it to school or didn’t understand any of it.
Some people were empowered and felt they could do this and incorporate it into their teaching plans, while others could see themselves in this narrative about treaties as well.”

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