French immersion teachers Naomi Fortier-Fréçon and Leia Laing wanted to take their students beyond a classroom study of treaty education and explore the idea of treaty citizenship and the role of their generation in Treaty 4 territory now and in the future.
Both Fortier-Fréçon and Laing are quick to say they are not experts on Treaty 4 or treaty relationships, but they were eager to provide a learning opportunity for their students. Treaty 4: The Next Generation Youth Conference, based on the year-long project that arose from their desire to enhance their classroom teaching, brought together Elder Noel Starblanket, Cree/Métis artist Ray Keighley, university professors, activists, education students, Regina Public Schools teachers and advocates, as well as their own students to explore the idea that “we are all treaty people.”
With the support of the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the teachers brought together more than 200 students from four different Regina high schools to participate in a two-day conference exploring treaty citizenship.
On the second day, the youth worked with the artist to create tiles that formed a mural in the shape of the medicine wheel.
After the first conference, and with the possibility of a second one on the horizon, the teachers approached the McDowell Foundation to help research and better understand the learning that took place. They began the research with a pipe ceremony and relied on Elder Starblanket’s advice and support throughout the project.
The teachers followed up with work in the classroom, and by interviewing two of the students about their experiences with the Treaty 4 Project. The teachers also kept research journals throughout the process and documented their own reactions to the experience.
The teachers found that after the conference, classroom work and reflection, students were more likely to identify and be troubled by systemic racism and more open to new ideas. They were exposed to and began to develop an understanding of white privilege and the impact on society. Through the use of art and interactions with other students from beyond their own schools, students began to truly understand the expression “we are all treaty people.”
The teachers also found that the project had a broader impact on their schools. Teachers from other classes began incorporating additional Indigenous teachings into their classrooms, and became more comfortable inviting Elders and other guests into their classrooms to work with their students.
Now that the project is complete, both teachers continue to use art and writing to explore treaty relationships in their current classes.
The conference itself has taken place two additional times since the initial gathering and continues to explore questions of treaty and identity. The mural created by the students with the support of Keighley at the first conference was displayed in each of the four local high schools, and it is currently awaiting confirmation of a permanent home.
For more information about this or other McDowell research, please visit www .mcdowellfoundation.ca. The final report of this project is available in both English and French.