Changing the conversation


Love is something you must have. We must have it because our spirit feeds upon it. We must have it because without it we become weak and faint. Without love our self-esteem weakens. Without it our courage fails. Without love we can no longer look confidently about the world. 

~ Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation

Travis Rycroft’s AbEd Inquiry Question: Can changing the conversation change attitudes towards Canada’s Aboriginal community?

My inquiry was inspired by a conversation I had with a Haida/Kwakwakw’wakw artist who is dedicated to preserving her ancestors’ traditions and culture. Her enthusiasm, passion and pride of her Aboriginal heritage and culture was contagious and it was through this conversation that I realized that most of the conversations we have at school – or see on the news – regarding Canada’s Aboriginal and Indigenous people is focused on the negative: the residential schools, the marginalization, cultural appropriation, ect. While these issues are important and worth discussing I wondered how the continual focus on the negative aspects influence students’ attitudes. There is significant research that shows how using positive primes is can positively influence peoples’ attitudes and opinions. So I thought it would be interesting to apply this theory to my Social Studies 11 lessons on Canada’s Aboriginal and Indigenous Peoples to see how examining their culture through a celebratory lens could influence students’ attitudes.

I developed as Social Studies unit plan on Canadian Identity which gave me and the students the opportunity to learn more about Canada’s Indigenous Peoples’ incredible culture and sense of community. I made cross-curricular connections with art that allowed students to use critical thinking to identify the interrelationships between history, culture and art.

Results & Lessons Learned 

Through this inquiry process I discovered the power of creating a positive narrative! By focusing the conversation on the positive we change attitudes and help eliminate harmful stereotypes. I along with my students developed a new appreciation and respect for Canada’s Indigenous People which we were able to celebrate through the construction of our own Story Pole.

Through this inquiry process I developed a strong awareness of how influential educators are in shaping students attitudes – be it towards a group or subject, or even school as a whole.  It has been an incredibly valuable experience for me and is an area I will continue to reflect and grow in as I become an educator.

Lesson Ideas & Resources –

Museum of Anthropology – Secondary School Program – MoA offers elementary and secondary school programs and its website (see link) also features an excellent educational toolkit. We took a class field trip to the Museum of Anthropology, where the students were able to see and develop an appreciation of the amazing work of First Nation artists and discuss these pieces at an artistic, cultural and historic context. I had students identify and  ‘works’ and what those pieces meant to them and how they reflected Canadian identity and or culture. This was a strategic effort to have them create their own positive narrative about Indigenous culture and exercise critical thinking to understand how it contributes to Canadian identity.

Skwachays Lodge Aboriginal Art Gallery – Field study to the Skwachays Lodge provided students with another opportunity to seem different forms of Aboriginal art, such as carvings, jewelry, drums, clothing, ect. Students in my class also had the opportunity to volunteer at the gallery to learn more while also giving back.

BC Aboriginal Legends & Animal Symbology – A local Aboriginal artist,  Gordon August, was kind enough to accept my invitation to come and speak to our class about Aboriginal culture, specifically the significance of story poles [not Totem Poles] to the people of the Pacific North West. Having a guest speaker – who was excited about the topic and could authentically speak to the cultural significance – was a tremendous opportunity that was very well received by the students. I used the information from this website to front-load students prior to the guest speaker’s talk.

Totem Pole Project – The presentation from Mr. August combined with the material from the website above served as the foundation of our class project where students identified an animal from the Pacific North West that represented them as an individual, part of their Canadian identity. Students were to construct their animal out of cardboard and collectively these animals would be joined to form our classes Story Pole which represented the diversity of our class and celebrated the diversity of Canadian identity. We used the technique demonstrated in the video to develop our own class totem pole – below are two examples of students’ animals – the beaver & the fox.

Fox AbEd


Beaver AbEd


MoA AbEd

Amazing guest speaker      GORDAN AUGUST speaking to the class

AbEd photo

Student at the Skwachays Lodge Art Gallery



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