top of page

Teach Indigenous Brilliance

I have been working with educators across the province, in the Northwest Territories, and within 2 different teacher education programs for the past five years.  There are many great questions I do get asked about how to do this work with Indigenous Education, but what I almost always hear about is how educators are worried about doing this work wrong. We have been in this colonial education system for so long, that we have forgotten about how much we learn from mistakes and grow from them. I know it might not be the answer you are looking for because I believe that none of us wants to harm students in our care. Please know that IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour) students are getting harmed every day in the colonial system and without changing how we do things, it will continue. So, if mistakes happen, own them, apologize, share what you did wrong, tell the person how you harmed them and how you will do it better next time, and hold yourself accountable to that.


What is important for all of us educators to do is to take small steps every day towards change, this can look like including Indigenous voices in your lesson. It could be learning more about race and racism and including other historically silenced voices in your lessons. It could also mean you taking the time to learn about a certain event or history about IBPOC people and then put it into your teaching. Set some small goals for learning, so that you can teach more each time you teach.  I also want you to know as non-Indigenous educators, there will be times when things go wrong or sideways, do not let that stop you from trying again. Take a pause, reflect on what happened, and try again differently, every time it happens, try again.

I have recently been having conversations about what Indigenous books to bring into the K-12 classroom, especially within the BC First Peoples Course.  My hope for this course is for all students across the province to hear Indigenous voices, and most importantly see Indigenous brilliance. There are so many great Indigenous authors writing so many great books, it brings me such happiness to know that Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students will be able to see the world through a different perspective through this learning opportunity. Some of my current favourite books are Waubgeshig Rice’s books; Moon of the Crusted Snow and Moon of the Turning Leaves. I also love Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley. These books take you on a journey through Indigenous culture and story, they are excellent books to show the brilliance found in Indigenous culture and authors. I would hope that BC First Peoples is a course that can show and share not just Indigenous trauma and harm, but brilliance as well. If we only ever talk about Indigenous trauma, then our story as Indigenous people will never be anything different than that. I would like you to think about how you are uplifting Indigenous voices that are not focused on trauma in your classroom? As educators of this course, I encourage you to balance out what you teach, equal parts of brilliance to trauma, and know that there is so much more than residential schools to learn about.

 The tension I have as an Indigenous parent first and an educator second, is when we bring in books about explicit Indigenous trauma, like the book I have seen in some grade 12 classrooms, 5 Little Indians. I need to be really clear that I believe the 5 Little Indians book is an important book to help show people the lived experiences of Indigenous people. It is well written and should be a book that every Canadian reads, but I do have concerns about bringing this book into the classroom in the K-12 system. This again is about balance and what we are sharing with students in the classroom. If you are bringing this book in, how are you balancing out this story with brilliance? How are you setting students up to walk through this trauma in a way that is constructive and supportive? There are many questions I have about this book and how we are setting students and teachers up for success with this work.


My first concerns are, as an Indigenous parent I worry about my own children in the class when reading such a difficult book. Will my children be spotlighted by the teacher to tell the stories of everything Indigenous? I worry about the comments that could be harmful from other students about Indigenous people and culture. I also worry if the teacher doesn’t have the understanding of how to navigate difficult conversations about trauma, race, and racism in the classroom, these conversations could/will come up and then more harm will happen if they cannot address it.  I don’t want my children to be ashamed of being who they are, I also don’t want them to be the point person on everything Indigenous. I also want to be the person my children walk beside in learning about the horrific stories of our history in this place known as Canada today. There are so many layers to think about as an Indigenous parent.


Things I need to think about if I am the teacher in the classroom teaching this book 5 Little Indians:


How well do I know the students in my class? Do I know if any are Indigenous? And if you do why would it be necessary for them to read this very traumatic book as a piece of their learning? What other options do you have? 


Do I know if any have been in or in the foster care system? How will you support them with this book as it also speaks to the harm of being abandoned and the problems within the Canadian foster system.


Do I know if any of the students have experienced sexual violence or trauma from sexual violence? How will you handle this if it comes up in class? How will you support the student and the conversation? What tools do you have in place for this kind of conversation? 


These questions are ones we may not know or ever know about our students, so then it makes it challenging and difficult to know if you will be harming the students in the class until it shows up in the class when talking/reading this book.


I did have a teacher say that they were sending a letter home to parents to talk about this book and what could come up when reading it. My thoughts about this are if you send a letter home to parents saying you will be reading this book and you have an Indigenous parent who comes in super upset about this book, how will you have that conversation with them? What tools are in place for you to be able to justify that Indigenous children must read this book in their classroom? What are you as an educator putting in place to create a safe space in the classroom for Indigenous students and others who have suffered trauma?  


If everyone in the class is reading this book, how are you as the educator making the conversations safe for all students in the class? What tools do you have in place to talk through trauma, race, and racism? How do you talk through sexual violence with your class in a way they can understand it and not be harmed by the conversation? How will you attend to students who cannot read through this book and have been harmed by this book?  


My biggest question out of all of these questions about 5 Little Indians is what is it about this particular book that is so necessary for students that they must read it, that they cannot learn from a less harmful book or less harmful ways? There are so many other less harmful books, podcasts, documentaries, and articles that students can engage with, that I personally do not believe that we need this particular book in the K-12 system, as it is written for adults that have the knowledge and ability to choose to read the book or not.


The hope for BC First Peoples is to educate students about Indigenous people and the stories of this place known as Canada today. We are so much more than our trauma.  If we continue to only tell the trauma stories, I worry that no students will want to take this course and push back against having to be forced to take a mandated course that only talks about trauma. We will then lose the opportunity to really showcase who we are as Indigenous people, and Indigenous brilliance.


If nothing else sticks with you through this post, please take with you, we need to know Indigenous brilliance.

Always teach about Indigenous brilliance.





Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page