Bobbie-Jo Leclair is an Indigenous education consultant for the Louis Riel School Division in Manitoba. She has been an educator for 18 years, specializing in Indigenous education for the past seven. Her focus is on supporting teachers in authentic teaching and learning when incorporating Indigenous history and perspectives by connecting with Indigenous voices in the community.
On defining authentic learning
Here in Manitoba we have five First Nations as well as the Métis and Inuit. When kids are learning about Indigenous perspectives, it’s oftentimes bringing in one of the nations, giving students the opportunity to hear from the people themselves. When one of our knowledge keepers is “zooming” into a classroom, they are provided with a list of questions from students. Sometimes it’s about residential schools or about understanding the Seven Sacred Teachings. I think that when it’s the students asking the questions, then it’s more effective to their own learning. With younger years they want to know about homes, animals, the outdoors, things that kids naturally would be interested in. When we get into the older grades it’s more about human rights, unpacking the Indian Act, understanding Indigenous history.
On her role in supporting teachers
I support teachers who teach the First Nations, Inuit, Métis course. I support them with understanding the Indigenous worldview and perspectives, finding resources, and connecting with local community members. I was supporting a teacher this year who is non-Indigenous and it was her first time teaching this course and she was really nervous and her classroom was predominantly non-Indigenous students. Watching her grow as she explored and delved deeper into some of the things that had happened throughout Indigenous history was incredible. There were times she called me and was so upset about what she was learning—having gone so far in her teaching career and not having known these things was mind-blowing for her. Her students were so impassioned by what they were learning that they wanted to make a difference. They created an Instagram account and started posting facts about the Indian Act and inequities that Indigenous people face.
On how teachers should approach teaching Indigenous perspectives
For most of Canadian history, Indigenous history has been left out of textbooks. Educators can go their entire career without having to unpack that. So today, we work a lot with having educators understand that other perspective and supporting them in delivering that understanding in the classroom. You’re now expected to teach something that you don’t have an education in because it wasn’t taught in school and it’s only recently that it was mandated that you take one three-credit course in university as an educator to learn these things. But even then, how do you learn the entire Indigenous history in one course in university? It’s impossible.
Schools need to work with the communities that are closest to where they are — it’s important to understand your own context first. There’s a lot of resources available today with regards to Indigenous education. It’s about making the effort to do your own learning and reaching out for support. In our school division we have made a commitment to walking an authentic alliance with the Indigenous community and part of that is speaking the truth and being discomforted with learning the truth.
On the professional development she offers
A lot of the professional learning that I do is about debunking myths about Indigenous people. What we have in Canada is a single story about Indigenous peoples that was created intentionally, and it’s full of stereotypes, discrimination and racism. There’s this idea that Canada was conquered and defeated, but Canada was created with nation-to-nation agreements with First Nations. So there’s this whole story that we gave away this land, but we didn’t. When we fight for equity, it’s like we’re asking for a handout, but all we want is what everybody else has — like clean drinking water or education where kids don’t have to leave their home communities. The professional development I do is centred around anti-racism, anti-oppression education. It’s also about understanding our own biases, centering ourselves as Canadians, and having educators understand an Indigenous worldview that existed prior to colonization.
On the role of the community
A lot of people think of Indigenous peoples as one group in Canada, that we’re all the same, we live in teepees and have totem poles — all that pan-Indianism that’s occurred. We’re such diverse nations—we have different languages, belief systems, different ways of living and being. It’s really important for children to understand that diversity.
We have many different nations living within our boundaries and in order to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our students, we wanted to bring in Elders in Manitoba from as many nations as we could find to support us in learning. Any decision that happens, it’s coming from a council of grandmothers and grandfathers of these different nations. It’s to ensure that what we’re doing is not appropriation and it shows our children that we are diverse, that there are different ways to look at things and learn things.
On one of the unique projects she has undertaken
One of the incredible things we did in the past year was working with Minecraft and Microsoft and our Anishinaabe Elder to create a world called Manito Ahbee Aki. It was the first time Minecraft created this type of world. The water resembles the river here, the “muddy water,” so a lot of the things in the game were reflective of the flora and the fauna here in Manitoba. A lot of the game takes place at Manito Ahbee Aki, which is a sacred site in Manitoba where there are petroforms, a place where the people learned and celebrated things. We built this game where kids can learn about pre-colonial life, and within the game we embedded some Easter eggs. For example, you can find the red dresses in this game to represent the murdered and missing Indigenous girls and women. In the game itself, you meet Anishinaabe knowledge keepers who teach you as you go through the game and there are links where you can go and watch videos for the full teachings. As kids are learning about Manito Ahbee Aki, maybe later on when they’re learning about residential schools, they would have had an understanding of why residential schools had such an incredible impact on Indigenous peoples. A lot of educators often teach Indigenous education in silos — we talk about treaties, the Sixties Scoop, and all the different issues that Indigenous people face, but we never actually put it together in a story.