Thursday’s release of a book that’s meant to help teachers tackle the difficult topic of residential schools is just the tip of the iceberg.
A non-profit group called Facing History and Ourselves is reaching out to host workshops and offer strategies for the classroom.
It’s important for kids to understand this dark chapter in our country’s history, said the director of Facing History and Ourselves’ Toronto office, Leora Schafer.
“The history of the residential schools did not end when the last residential school closed nor when the Truth and Reconciliation presented their final report. This is a lasting history, a lasting legacy that we, our students, have an opportunity to participate in,” she said.
The book Stolen Lives: The Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the Indian Residential Schools is an educational resource for teachers who need help with difficult classroom subjects like the Holocaust and Armenian genocide. In recent years, Facing History and Ourselves branched out to Canada.
The push for this recent book came after a woman at a teaching workshop called Schafer out for not focusing on Canada’s own past.
“She stood up and said, ‘how dare you, how can you, stand and say you’re working in Canada, call yourself as an organization Facing History and Ourselves and yet have nothing looking at our own history here, looking at our own history of how the Indigenous peoples of Canada were treated?’” Schafer recalled.
At the time it felt like a punch in the stomach, but helped bring about Stolen Lives.
Schafer says their goal is to help students do more than just remember facts, they want to help kids understand the legacy of residential schools.
“It raises some of the very same, important questions that are raised in the other cases that we look at as an organization. Questions of identity… what happens when groups become marginalized and targeted… and understanding that legacy,” she said.
The book launch happens to come just months after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report called for schools to add the topic of Indian Residential Schools into Canada’s curricula. The book is endorsed by TRC commissioner, Dr. Marie Wilson.
Schafer points out that it’s up to each province to move towards that. She said she hopes that governments reach out to Facing History and Ourselves, and make the content of Stolen Lives mandatory learning in their schools.
The book launch is very meaningful to Schafer. When she moved to Toronto from Boston many years ago, she brought the concept of Facing History and Ourselves to Canada for the first time. Schafer spearheaded funding, consulted with aboriginal people like Elder Theodore Fontaine, and has seen the project through to the day the printed books were delivered to her office.
“It has been, I would say, one of, if not the most meaningful professional experiences that I’ve had,” she said.
The book is free and downloadable for educators, and Schafer encourages any teachers who are interested to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org