As a full-time teacher and long-time instructor with the Trent School of Education, Professor Mitch Champagne has always looked for ways to bring Indigenous knowledge and discussion to his students. Whether it be through developing teacher resources for the classroom, welcoming Elder voices, or building partnerships with Indigenous communities and organizations, Prof. Champagne’s passion and dedication to providing rich and meaningful experiences for students never wavers.
When the opportunity came to welcome a notable Canadian artist and author to address his classroom, Prof. Champagne opened welcoming doors.
Entering the room, artist, musician, and author Tom Wilson shifted the energy. His tall-stature, booming voice and positive energy captivated the junior students at Immaculate Conception CES instantly, as it did for all in attendance. Sharing his own story of trauma and learning about his Mohawk culture much later in life, students in turn shared their own “reconcili-Actions".
Among the plans of these elementary school students, one student shared that “in the spring, we will also be learning more about water and taking part in a water walk, and we will invite the whole school to join us.”
The visit, organized in partnership with Sony Music and the Downie-Wenjack Fund (DWF), was an opportunity to share stories and music to build awareness, education, and connections to the trauma’s Indigenous people have endured for generations.
“The work of reconciliation is work for settlers like me”, says Prof. Champagne, who teaches with the Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland, Clarington, Catholic District School Board. “Education of our youth is pivotal anytime we need to see meaningful change in society. Teaching and learning about Indigenous and Canadian history and contemporary issues is a moral imperative. Reconciliation is possible, but first we need everyone to know the truth, and that begins in classrooms like mine.”
Answering the call to ‘Do Something’
In 2017, Prof. Champagne developed a teacher resource inspired by Gord Downie’s ‘The Secret Path’ alongside with Trent School of Education teacher candidates and intermediate students. Since then, he continues to build a relationship with the DWF as a means to continue the work of musician and Canadian icon Gord Downie, and his call to ‘Do Something.’
As many educators continue to find ways to bring these important stories into the classroom, often times it is stalled due to a lack of confidence.
“We know that there are a lot of experienced teachers that are hesitant to teach about Indigenous issues,” Prof Champagne said. “They are afraid of making a mistake. These feelings are also present in teacher candidates. Events like this one, where students, teachers, teacher candidates, and community members can learn from someone as engaging and commanding as Tom, are so very important.”
This sentiment was certainly not lost on the teacher candidates in attendance.
“During the open question portion of the event, it was evident by the questions asked, that young learners are capable of exploring these social topics as we all continue our pursuit together to find justice,” shares Kristofer Roach, an Otonabee College student and TC in the School of Education.
Providing opportunities when it matters most
While teacher candidates in the School of Education are on their Fall teaching placements, teacher candidates within Professor Champagne’s Environmental and Sustainability Education course were given special permission to attend the event.
“I am extremely grateful to have been included in this event and I hope to give my future students the same opportunities as Mitch did,” said Alexis Wilson, a TC who is affiliated with Otonabee College. “This event illustrated the value of incorporating Indigenous voices into the classroom, while also being able to hear the students share their actions and the progress they have made on their journey.”
“I hope our TCs left this authentic learning experience inspired to learn more and empowered to do more,” Prof. Champagne continued, “Our current and future teachers need to build their knowledge base and grow in their confidence and ensure that this important work is taking place across Canada.”
The relationship with DWF continues in the new year. As Mitch shares that in May 2023 the Peterborough Public Library will be the home of the city's first Downie-Wenjack Legacy Space. Legacy Spaces are safe, welcoming places dedicated to providing education and spreading awareness about Indigenous history and our journey of reconciliation.