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IPad in the library

Students who are part of the treaty education research project are using different methods of learning, including storytelling with digital technology. Photo by Tiffany Cassidy.

by Tiffany Cassidy


Retired teacher Sheila Brass recalls the time her students enthusiastically asked if they could do extra work. They were role playing situations in residential schools, and after an emotional presentation wanted to perform it again in Cree. Brass said this is the magic of teaching through storytelling.


“They can empathize and sense and feel. It’s not just history, cold facts. This is where you actually become part of the history because you role play it. That’s why actual changes can occur then because they’ve actually felt it.”


A University of Regina team is taking this approach in a new research project Storying Treaties and the Treaty Relationship. Story tellers go into classrooms and share their knowledge of treaties. They immerse students in accounts of experiences, trying to get them to understand the implications of the treaties, not just the facts.

The students then tell these stories themselves using digital technology. This allows them to inquire on their own terms and learn by creating, said Patrick Lewis, a U of R professor of education and research team member.

Treaty history and content became mandatory curriculum for Saskatchewan kindergarten to Grade 12 classes in 2008. Lewis said the project takes a different approach to how treaties are taught by allowing students to be more exploratory.

“Humans are storytelling beings and that’s how we make meaning and understanding even from our everyday learned experience,” he said.

There are two classes participating in the project  -- one with mostly non-aboriginal students, and the other with mostly aboriginal. The goal is for the Grade 6 and 7 students participating in the project to learn how the treaties affect them today.

Brass described the formal methods of teaching as very stifling. She said typical methods involve handing down knowledge instead of letting students be part of discovering the information.

“If you want to change people’s thinking, anything to do with role playing is an excellent way of changing attitudes,” said Brass. “When people are put into the roles of a situation, once they start to identify with it they begin to see it in a different light.”

Lewis wants to put students in this mindset when learning about treaties. He said he wants people to understand that we’re all treaty people, and that treaties aren’t just historical documents.

“They’re not something frozen in time,” he said. “They’re alive and dynamic today.”


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