In an effort to bring the topic of reconciliation to the classroom, and inspired by Gord Downie’s body of music, Trent University School of Education instructor and teacher from the PVNC Catholic District School Board, Mitch Champagne took the opportunity to infuse the story of Chanie Wenjack, as told by Downie’s October 2016’s release Secret Path, into his classrooms.
Working with first-year teacher candidates from the School of Education at Trent, Mr. Champagne facilitated the development of lesson plans, aligning with curriculum expectations, that link to each of the songs on the album. Simultaneously, Mr. Champagne worked with his Grade 7 and 8 students from Immaculate Conception in Peterborough to work through the lessons, and to create their own interpretations of the Secret Path through art, inspired by Jeff Lemire’s work.
“My students have taken the lessons to heart because they can see themselves in 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack,” says Mr. Champagne. “Through the music of Gordon Downie and the Secret Path story, my students are able to dive deeply into the subject matter, to have an emotional response, and my hope is that the lessons learned through this process about the residential school system and our treatment of our First Nations peoples will remain with them long after they leave my classroom.”
In the Winter/Spring of 2017, TV Ontario partnered with Mr. Champagne to showcase the work he was doing with his students in an effort to mobilize the conversations around Truth and Reconciliation to other educators in Ontario. From this, it was decided to turn these lessons and artwork into a package that could be widely used by educators to serve as a building block in facilitating the difficult conversations he felt we needed to be having about Canada’s relationships with its Indigenous people.
“Many teachers are inspired by the TRC recommendations, but it can be intimidating to know where to start,” he explains. “My hope in creating this curriculum document was to offer tangible, ready-to-go lesson plans to teach this history that will have a meaningful impact on students.”
Releasing the lesson package in late October 2017 for free download, the education community and people and organizations close to Downie and the Secret Path project have embraced its power by sharing the package widely to their followers. Since its release, the package has been downloaded more than 1,000 times. Websites for the Downie Wenjack Fund and the National Centre for Truth Reconciliation are also housing links to the lesson plans.
This type of community support is a testament to the work that the School of Education at Trent has long infused into their programming with their teacher candidates.
“As we continue to bring Indigenous knowledges and perspectives to the forefront of our teacher education programs in the Trent School of Education, the Secret Path lesson plan package serves as a springboard for important conversations about Truth and Reconciliation,” says School of Education dean, Dr. Cathy Bruce. “Developed by our Trent teacher candidates and instructor Mitch Champagne, these lessons are a wonderful example of collaboration and creativity that will help students learn more about Chanie Wenjack, and the history of residential schooling.
Moving forward, Mr. Champagne and the Trent School of Education look to provide additional lessons to round out the resource as well as host events that continue the conversation and mission of Gord Downie through the story of Chanie Wenjack.