Holy Cross also integrates Indigenous content across subject areas. English classes include FNMI creation stories, novels, and short stories; one teacher describes connecting To Kill a Mockingbird with past and present FNMI experiences. Students study First Nations artists and learn Métis beadwork in art class; various FNMI traditions are used to interpret artwork, and Jerry Whitehead, a local Indigenous artist, has been invited to display his work around the school. Students are introduced to FNMI music and spiritual ceremonies in music and religion class, respectively. Holy Cross offers Indigenous-studies classes as well. Outside the classroom, Holy Cross teachers have regular discussions about treaties, the Indian Act, residential schools, reserves, reconciliation, and Indigenous culture. Sharing circles and medicine wheels are used to organize related topics during group discussions and brainstorming sessions. Numerous posters on the school walls call attention to Indigenous ways of knowing; medicine wheels are used as teaching tools in multiple classes to map and convey information to students; and every classroom receives a Métis flag. The school runs events such as an annual multicultural day and the blanket exercise, an experiential learning activity that teaches participants about the impact of colonization, which one teacher highlighted as “a moving and memorable experience for the students.” Some teachers take their students on outdoor education field trips to visit Wanuskewin, a provincial historic site that focuses on the Plains Indigenous people (Wanuskewin 2019), including an art teacher whose class received research-grant funding to work with Indigenous artist Leah Dorian.
In addition, Holy Cross has a partnership with the University of Saskatchewan, which provides the high school with expertise and financial support for FNMI students. Staff say this collaboration has helped broaden their understanding and equipped them with practical ways to “help educate students in FNMI content.” Holy Cross administration and staff are vigilant in acknowledging that they are on treaty land. The school’s goal to integrate Indigenous perspectives features in discussions of curriculum outcomes and influences professional development initiatives. The school uses Learning Sprints, an instructional initiative developed by GSCS that helps guide teachers to build on a “culturally responsive pedagogy,” which describes “teaching that recognizes all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity” (Hodson 2018; Ontario Ministry of Education 2013). GSCS also supplies resources for in-class instruction—“treaty kits,” for example, teach students about treaties made between Indigenous groups and the government. The library’s collection of Indigenous titles is available to all students and staff as well.
An Expanding Impact
Being able to incorporate a faith dimension into the curriculum has helped Father Robinson and Holy Cross adopt Indigenous content and pedagogy. One staff member from Holy Cross noted, “The important thing is that we meet Jesus in all we encounter, and the Indigenous content and pedagogy follow naturally from that understanding and appreciation.” Despite religious differences, the recognition that spirituality is part of a holistic education may give faith-based schools an advantage as they seek to integrate Indigenous perspectives: “It may be easier for us to include the spiritual aspects in our teaching as this is already a part of our culture.” Novalis (2018) argues that Christian educators can explore parallels to their faith in Indigenous spiritual traditions, such as stewardship of the natural world—connections that Father Robinson and Holy Cross have emphasized. Staff believe that by incorporating Indigenous worldviews into the curriculum they are upholding their Catholic Christian faith: “Our Christian belief of welcoming and being a good servant is an essential teaching of our Catholic faith.” Staff also believe that their integration of FNMI perspectives is making a positive contribution to the common good and future of Canada, shaping students to be more informed citizens.
Fr. Robinson Elementary School, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Since examining different worldviews may be considered sensitive content, Father Robinson and Holy Cross staff are careful to inform parents of Indigenous cultural activities practiced at the school and invite their involvement. Several GSCS-division schools invite students to participate in the traditional Indigenous blessing ceremony of smudging, for example; schooldivision policy requires that schools inform and obtain a signature of consent from parents prior to each student’s participation in the ceremony.
By embracing Indigenous content and pedagogy, Father Robinson and Holy Cross schools are making a significant impact not only on the school itself but also on the community at large. One teacher remarked, “Hopefully the fruits of our labour will have a lasting impact in the community as time goes by.” The schools’ efforts are also bringing an awareness about the deep wounds inflicted by residential schools. As students learn about the historical damage done to Indigenous communities, they can also pass this new knowledge on to their parents (Castellon 2017). A number of parents at Father Robinson and Holy Cross have embraced this new learning through participation in various school activities. The education students receive at Father Robinson and Holy Cross contributes to the good of the country as a whole, since learning about Indigenous history, as one teacher reflects, is important for every Canadian:
“I think the key to remember is that everyone is part of the community, no matter what race, religion, gender or views, and that there must be open, truthful, and informative dialogue about the issues and concerns of all Canadians. Indigenous history is Canadian history; we cannot separate the two or choose to overlook the impact that our historical relationships have on our current Canadian identity.”
- Educators have an important role in advancing reconciliation in Canada, including responding to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- Christian schools are included in the call to seek reconciliation, even schools that do not have large populations of Indigenous students.
- In order to ensure that Indigenous perspectives are integrated in an accurate and respectful way, it is important for schools to seek guidance from members of Indigenous communities.
- Indigenous perspectives can be integrated into all subject areas, both through including FNMI content in the curriculum and introducing students to traditional Indigenous practices.
- Schools can deepen students’ and staff’s appreciation of FNMI culture by showcasing the work of Indigenous artists.
- When introducing students to traditional Indigenous practices, schools should communicate with parents about their children’s participation in these activities, including providing them with information, obtaining their consent, and inviting their involvement.
- Learning about Indigenous perspectives helps students become more informed and conscientious members of their civic communities, equipping them to contribute to the common good.
Holy Cross High School teachers participate in the research survey