New Year, New Ideas for Legacy Schools!

A new year brings new ideas and inspiration. Our reconciliation journey is far from over, and there’s no better way to get inspired than to share ideas with one another. In December, Legacy Schools educators and leaders gathered online from various places in Canada to share the work they’ve been doing and to ask questions about how they can do this work in meaningful ways. We dedicated this newsletter to sharing those ideas, and we hope it continues to inspire the change needed in schools, groups, and communities to make Canada the place it should be.

Sharing Circle Ideas & Resources: Elementary Classes

Sarah Mazzei and her grade 6/7 students held a fundraiser for DWF last spring.

Sarah Mazzei, Grade 6/7 Teacher, Ridgeway Elementary, North Vancouver, BC and DWF Educator Advisor hosted our first Virtual Sharing Circle in December for elementary-level teachers and leaders. Sarah’s presentation delved into the journey her classroom has taken as part of the Legacy Schools program. Here are some of the ideas she suggests for enhancing your classroom:

Create a wholistic, interdisciplinary unit that:

  • Celebrates Indigenous cultures,
  • educates students about residential schools through Chanie Wenjack’s story,
  • and empowers students to take action towards reconciliation.

It was recommended to find Indigenous guest speakers, books, videos, and other materials that have been created by Indigenous people to include in your lessons.

Lean on Your Own Strengths

St. Bonaventure Elementary School, Brampton, ON students made a mural entitled “We Now Know”.

In younger grades, you can use colour, symbols, and images to break down themes in different songs within the Secret Path. Sarah suggested a variety of ways you can use the Secret Path in your classroom, such as poetry, a graphic novel, musical album, film, or artwork.


Lessons focused on colour, symbolism, and images were shared, as well as the four part story wheel, and a mixed media project based on George Littlechild and Jane Ash Poitras.She suggested adding the Learning Principals Poster to your classroom wall.You can also map Chanie’s Journey with your students. Lessons and worksheets are available here thanks to Sarah.

Pictured here are the mainstay books Ms. Devlin uses when talking with young children.Colleen Devlin, a K/1 teacher at Ecole Puntledge Park in Courtenay BC shared how she incorporates residential school teachings into the classroom for very young students. Read her piece, Every Child Deserves to Feel Loved: Teaching young children about residential schools.

Legacy Schools Resources by Grade

Elementary: Resources for Schools

Here are some resources that you can use as part of your teaching:

Recommended Books:

Last fall, kindergarten teacher Sabrina Donamo, from James Short Memorial in Calgary, AB shared her experience with very young students and how they connected with Chanie during their Walk for Wenjack.Planning your Walk for Wenjack | Downie Wenjack Fund (@ 15:42min)

How does a non-Indigenous teacher incorporate an Indigenous perspective?

Having someone who is Indigenous and knowledgeable to introduce these topics is helpful. If your school board or district has an Indigenous education department you can contact them for assistance. Using lessons, resources, books, documentaries, and films by Indigenous content creators is an easy way to bring Indigenous voices to the youth you are working with.Doing things in a careful and educated manner is imperative and taking the steps to ensure Indigenous perspective is included in every classroom is so important. We all need to take these steps to be inclusive otherwise youth will never learn.ImagineNATIVE offers an amazing guide that provides cultural principles, and best practices for filmmakers, and production companies when depicting Indigenous content on screen, and how communities can be collaborative partners. It’s an excellent resource that can be applied to teachers and youth leaders when including First Nations, Inuit and Métis perspective in lessons for students and youth. (Online Screen Protocols & Pathways ENFR)

Aakdehewin means bravery in Anishinabe and is represented by the bear.GC Huston in Southampton, ON created school shirts with input from Indigenous advisors to include the Seven Grandfather Teachings as part of the school’s culture. They also paint a classroom door each year with students and provide a plaque beside the door describing what the door means.Artist Ambassador, Patrick Hunter, also offers painting workshops where he teaches Seven Grandfather Teachings while painting.Our DWF LIVE sessions cover a variety of teachings and will continue with new sessions each month. Sign your class up for a camera spot to speak directly with Indigenous artists, writers, musicians, and more.

Sharing Circle Ideas & Resources: Secondary & Teens

Johna Hupfield creates an inclusive space where students feel supported, valued and can see themselves reflected, which is important in all classrooms and learning spaces. Students painted the front of the school with feathers to honour the victims of residential schools.Johna Hupfield is a high school teacher at Parry Sound High School in Ontario, and a DWF Educator Advisor. Johna hosted our first Virtual Sharing Circle in December 2021 for secondary-level teachers and leaders. She had these suggestions for teaching about reconciliation in your classroom:

  • Aim to build a better experience for students than what she had in high school (especially for Indigenous youth).
  • Show how much change can come about through hard work that comes from your heart.
  • Former students can act as role models (continuing work to support education and safe spaces).
  • Find a connection to reconciliation — for some it’s finding and recognizing who you are.
  • Rethink graduation ceremonies to be inclusive of local Indigenous culture.
    • When youth graduate, local women bead and provide a feather for the graduating students.
  • During periods of remote learning “language bundles” were provided to students which included masks, a hat, stickers, writing book, their own language manual, and language book.

Check out their student Instagram for highlights of the impressive work being done. Saugeen Senior School staff and students joined the sharing circle to speak about making their new Reconciliation Hall. They highlighted:

  • Having material items and information displayed so guests understand the importance of local Indigenous culture in their school and community.
  • The hall started with a table which was made by construction students and painted by students with alumni and Artist Ambassador Emily Kewageshig’s guidance.
  • This is not linear work, there is a need to ensure all information is accurate, so it will continue to evolve and grow as more is be added and included.
  • Indigenous staff and students feel represented in their school now; it feels good to walk in and show the space to others.
  • It was important to pay students for their work.
  • There were concerns about making sure everything was correct so they continue to work with Elders, Knowledge Keepers and community.

Here is a link to the opening of Reconciliation Hall.

Scott Garbe from County Day School was also present and shared the work they’ve done through art and drama. Their script Ahead by a Century is free for Legacy Schools to use in their own productions. Here’s the Short Doc about the production. Their most recent play focuses on the environment.Shannon Agowissa shared the work their school is doing as a new sign-up to the Legacy School program. She hosted a PD session for schools in her district.

Students at Sioux Mountain Public School create animals that would have accompanied Chanie on his journey.Harriet Visitor, DWF Board member and Chanie Wenjack’s niece, joined both the senior and elementary sessions to learn more about the amazing work that is happening and share what she is doing in her own classroom.Harriet teaches elementary students and always connects students’ understanding to empathy and caring. One of her lessons focuses on asking the students if Chanie was alone on his journey. When they realize he was not, and that many animals were there with him, students get to explore the relationships between nature and people. Students then create clay animals which lead into lessons on the Seven Sacred Grandfather teachings.Classroom Pen PalsIf anyone would like to contribute to a Pen Pal program, Ms. McBean’s grade 7/8 class in Calgary, AB would love to connect with other Legacy School students in different parts of Canada. If you’d be interested in having your class share their reconciliation journey with another school, let us know and we’ll be happy to connect you.

Secondary: Resources for Schools

Recommended Books:

Upcoming DWF Live & Events


Waubgeshig Rice | Author and JournalistWaubgeshig Rice is an author and journalist originally from Wasauksing First Nation. He’s written three works of fiction, most recently the national bestseller Moon of the Crusted Snow. He lives in Sudbury, Ontario with his wife and two sons.February 24th, 1pm ET

Register here

Send us your ReconciliACTIONS

We love seeing and sharing what Legacy Schools are doing all the time! Send us your reconciliACTIONs for a chance to be featured in our ReconciliACTION guidebook, in next year’s Legacy School materials and other DWF communications!

Submit Yours Here

Share your ReconciliACTIONS on social media

We love seeing the change you’re making – and so does the DWF community! Share your photos and tag us on social media @downiewenjack and we’ll try our best to share with our networks.

Every Child Deserves to Feel Loved. Teaching young children about residential schools.

By Colleen Devlin, teacher Aboriginal K / 1 Program at Ecole Puntledge Park, Courtenay, B.C.

Colleen Devlin is the Indigenous teacher for K/1 programming at École Puntledge Park, a Legacy School in Courtenay, B.C. She has been doing amazing work with younger children in teaching them about residential schools from an early age, creating a safe space for these important conversations.  

After DWF’s first virtual sharing circle, Colleen was kind enough to share her article with us so we could share it with other early primary teachers. It was originally shared within her school district along with a mini workshop to give primary teachers enough knowledge and courage to teach this important topic to their students. Colleen is happy to share her article further as she said, “the more educators feel comfortable teaching this topic, the more our kids learn.”  

Walking for Wenjack at Ecole Puntledge Park with young students provides opportunities to talk and ask questions.

Canada’s true history with residential schools is a topic mandated in the B.C. curriculum for every grade including kindergarten. Given the difficult subject matter, it is important for educators to take time for self-care after teaching lessons on the topic, whether it is going for a walk on the beach or talking with a friend or family member over a coffee break. When starting to teach about the subject, it is important to start by doing some background work – know which of your students  are in foster care or who may be having a difficult time, so you know who might need extra attention and care. Remember this is not ancient history – the last residential school closed in 1997. This article is a good resource that has some great early primary books, art projects, and ways to weave in kindness and generosity to structured lessons. 

We are constructing the building blocks of knowledge for further study in the upper grades. The history of residential schools is difficult to discuss for anyone, however it is especially challenging when talking to youth. Pictured here are the mainstay books I would use when talking with children.  

Amik Loves School is a gentle story. As you read it you could say, “Imagine if the Elder you know (the Ni’noxsola assigned to your school) couldn’t share her culture language or special songs with us because she wasn’t allowed to do so when she was at school. For some people this happened in schools like the one in this book.” Unless the class has more questions, I would leave them with that thought.  

With Shi Shi Etko, many pages lead to further discussion about the land and rich culture which allows you to invite children to think of what they would gather from their favourite places, and what memories they enjoy with their grand parents or important people in their lives. As Starleigh Grass says, “We will never understand the richness of what was taken away for seven generations unless we deeply understand the value First Nations place on land stewardship and multi-generational learning.”  

A brand-new book called The Train, is a special reflection of those who attended residential schools, as a Survivor visits a place with important but sad memories of relatives and friends that never came back. It is gentle and full of love, despite the challenging subject matter and personal story.  

Throughout of all our lessons, conversations, and art projects, we reassure children that they are loved – loved by their families, their people at school, and in the community. 

As you can see, these are all small steps; for the most part, I like to let the children take the lead by asking questions. Be prepared for some questions that come later as the students process the lesson. Parents may also have questions; in which case they can be referred to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website. 

Doing an art project after these discussions gives you a chance to circulate and check in on each child. Painting rocks or making orange handprints, making a Heart Garden with each heart bearing a special message to Survivors written by each child could help the kids connect with the material. The other art idea (pictured here) was inspired by George Littlechild – he had the class brainstorm feelings about going to residential school and being away from family. The children then choose a photo to add to their painting – very powerful.

George Littlechild had the class brainstorm feelings about going to residential school then they choose a photo to add to their painting.

Interweaving themes of love and compassion will help the children feel like they can enact change – Monique Gray Smith has beautiful books that help teach about kindness and generosity. Young students know what social justice is – they may be moved to actions like baking cookies for a soup kitchen or making donations to a local Indigenous organization. It is through these actions that we all bring about change for our future. 

Remember to prioritize your own  self-care. Indigenous Education Departments can also suggest books and lessons for you to support your teaching.  

Check out the Legacy Schools resources for more ideas as well. 

Check our calendar of events for our next virtual sharing circle