When Jennifer Gallays was making social studies lesson plans for her Grade 4 students at Mother Teresa School, she discovered a gap in material available to teach students about First Nations and Métis historical figures. “Material is available,” Gallays said, “it’s just not written in a way that Grade 4 students can easily understand.”
So, Gallays set out to fill that gap by creating a series of e-books.
She wrote the stories of three significant historical First Nations figures in Saskatchewan—Almighty Voice, Chief Poundmaker and Chief Big Bear—in language friendly for Gr. 4 students.
“I wanted to tie in art,” said Gallays. “Books need art. Plus the process of creating art helps tell the story, and students start to express more interest. They make connections that enhance learning.”
With the help of funding from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, Gallays (of Métis heritage herself) partnered with renowned First Nations artist Kevin Pee-ace. Gr. 4 - 6 students were given a few paragraphs of information about one of the historical figures and created artwork to accompany the story. Pee-ace then transferred select portions from the students’ artwork onto individual canvases. The canvases were returned to the students to paint in groups. Pee-ace also created a mural at the school that Gr. 7 and 8 students helped paint.
“I am grateful and honored to be called upon to work with the students at Mother Teresa School with their book project and mural; it gave me a sense of purpose to be able to work with such bright and eager students,” said Pee-ace. “The priority from the beginning was to maintain the integrity of their ideas, drawings and paintings. Although this project was not related to any reconciliation event, it’s important to note that it was treated as such because the understanding of First Nations history, in any form, requires those that want to learn it and those that want to teach it. I’m confident that this project has and will open dialogue regarding our treaty relationship, history and the story of the residential school system.”
Gallays also partnered with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner. They will host links to the e-books on their website so they can be used in classrooms throughout the province and translate them into Cree.
“Projects like creating these e-books help to spread the notion that ‘We Are All Treaty People,’” said Brenda Ahenakew, director of educational programs at the Office of the Treaty Commissioner. “Teaching treaties in the classroom ensures that the students of today are positioned to actualize treaties and that they are understood by all. This is a fine example of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action."
Alluding to plans to write more e-books in the future, Gallays said, “There’s an opportunity to share so many more stories. We need to better understand our shared history—and not just from a Euro-centric view. I hope these resources help us do that.”
pictured: mural at Mother Teresa School created by students and artist Kevin Pee-ace (l-r): Diane Boyko, Board of Education chair at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools; Joanne Weninger, superintendent of learning services at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools; Lindsay Knight, program consultant at Saskatchewan Arts Board; Kevin Pee-ace, artist; Jennifer Gallays, teacher at Mother Teresa School; Brenda Ahenakew, director of educational programs at the Office of the Treaty Commissioner