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Ahead by (almost) a century: Downie material to appear in Jasper school

by Evan Matthews |

While the Alberta government unveils new First Nations, Métis and Inuit lesson plans for classrooms, Jasper Elementary School is ready to adapt, but has already been working to stay ahead of the curve.

Last week, Alberta’s Minister of Education David Eggen announced new resources to support reconciliation and the inclusion of First Nations, Métis and Inuit history, perspectives and contributions into the current Grades 1-9 curriculum.

“It’s critical our students understand the history of residential schools, along with the histories and vibrant cultures of Indigenous communities, and the role we all have to play in reconciliation,” says Eggen. “It is equally important teachers have the tools they need to… teach this important material in the classroom as we work to prepare our students for success.”

Teachers at Jasper Elementary have already set the date for their first “staff professional development” session — Dec. 1 — in which they will go over the new curriculum. The school also has professional development dates in February and June.

With Indigenous educator Matricia Brown involved with staff, Jasper Elementary School principal Jodi Campbell says the school is already teaching First Nations culture to its youth.

“The students will be doing some drumming with Matricia next week, for example,” says Campbell, adding the dates will be finalized this week.

Brown is an Indigenous drum keeper, hand drummer, big drummer, singer and songwriter, and has spent her summers educating and entertaining guests at the Jasper Park Lodge.

Once the new curriculum and lesson plans are implemented, every Alberta student will learn about the history and legacy of residential schools and the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada as part of the Government of Alberta’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, according to the province.

Within each of the lesson plans, the province says there are a variety of new resources and activities identified teachers can use to engage students. The introduction of these new resources also provides an opportunity for schools to review their existing resources to ensure they are accurate and respectful of First Nations, Métis and Inuit history and perspectives.

One of the resources identified within the lesson plans is Secret Path, a multimedia project that includes a solo album by the late Gord Downie, along with a graphic novel and an animated film, based on the story of Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who died while trying to return home after escaping from a residential school. Downie, the frontman of the Tragically Hip, passed away Oct. 17 after battling brain cancer. He dedicated much of his career to uncovering and telling stories of Canadian history, focusing intensely on the residential school legacy in his final months.

Earlier this year, Downie was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada for his work raising awareness of Indigenous issues. Downie’s work continues to bring attention to the history and legacy of residential schools and will serve as a resource for teachers, students and all Canadians as we continue on the journey to reconciliation.

In June 2016, the Government of Alberta announced plans to develop new curriculum across six core subject areas, which will include First Nations, Métis and Inuit content at every grade level.

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