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U of T librarian’s online resource helps Ontario teachers find Indigenous course material

U of T outreach librarian Desmond Wong works with Indigenous students, faculty, and staff throughout the year (photo by Johnny Guatto)

After hearing about the cancellation of upcoming writing sessions to look at ways of introducing more Indigenous content into the Ontario school curriculum, a University of Toronto outreach librarian decided to create an extensive online resource of Indigenous education materials.

Desmond Wong, who is based at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) library, specializes in Indigenous initiatives. While he is not Indigenous himself, he has extensive experience working with Indigenous communities at U of T and across Canada.

Read more about Desmond Wong

“Like a lot of other people who are in Indigenous education or an ally like myself, I was really disappointed and quite devastated by the decision to cancel them,” he says of the writing sessions.

The sessions were created in response to recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which highlighted a need to incorporate more Indigenous perspectives into all levels of education across the country.

“What we see with the work that Desmond is doing is that there is the need – there's such a strong need, not only for our own community but largely the outside community as well,” says Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, U of T's director of Indigenous Initiatives.

“Resources are not always easy to find and I think with the diversity and complexity of Indigenous issues and communities, there is so much out there and people really want to know where to start and what to consult with.”

Read the CBC article about the online resource for Indigenous education 

The resources Wong is compiling don’t just benefit Indigenous students, OISE Assistant Professor Jeffrey Ansloos told the CBC.

“They lift the entire community up, so I think it's something that we need to care about, not just because it's helping some Indigenous kids or families, but it's something that can really transform our entire community,” said Ansloos, who specializes in Indigenous mental health and social policy, in the CBC interview.

Infusing Indigenous Perspectives in K-12 Teaching is free and available online.

U of T News spoke with Wong about what went into compiling the resource and the importance of Indigenous education.

Why did you decide to create this online resource?

I heard about the cancellation of the TRC writing groups once they were announced. I have been very fortunate to work with, and be connected, with a lot of Indigenous educators who are involved in this process.

I thought about actions and what I could do to contribute to this process. I thought as someone who works in this area, as a librarian who is familiar with the resources, I wanted to put together a list that would be available to teachers so they would be able to take the materials into their classrooms, talk to their students and continue this work.

It was also really important to me that the materials were free because I know that teachers already spend a lot of their own personal money on bringing education materials into the classroom and, depending on the school board, whether or not there's support for this kind of thing, it could be highly dependent.

How did you compile the list?

On a regular basis I work with Indigenous students, faculty and staff so I was already aware of all of these resources. These resources are ones that have been recommended to me by faculty before, outside of the context of making this list. There are things I have personally watched that have really pushed me in terms of the way I think about Indigenous education, and I really tried to focus on curating materials and collecting materials that were created by Indigenous artists and authors and educators so authentic Indigenous voices would be represented.

What are some of the different kinds of materials included in the resource?

I try to focus on Indigenous creators for the list. There are quite a few different media on the list, including audio-visual, cartographic materials, different applications, and podcasts. What was especially important for me was the massive open online courses as well as the education networks and the teacher lesson plans and documents.

The reason I included the podcasts and the online courses was because, although most of these are resources to bring into the classroom, some of these are directed at teachers for their own learning so they can better understand Indigenous issues – so they can seek from a place of knowledge, or at least a place of better understanding, when they're teaching these materials and they're teaching their students.

How have colleagues inside and outside the university responded to the resource you created?

My colleagues have been really, really supportive. They've been really encouraging like they have been since I came to U of T. They have all told me that they think it's a really good idea. I hope people who do find this list and are looking at the materials can make good, meaningful use out of it and bring these conversations to their friends and their families.

The list is really just a beginning point. Of course, there are more than 50 freely available online items that are created by Indigenous people. I would really encourage people to explore Indigenous literature, to explore Indigenous films and audio-visual material, podcasts – there's so many different types of media that Indigenous artists and creators are pushing the boundaries of and making such intentional contributions to Indigenous education, to their communities.

Why is it important to teach students across Ontario about Indigenous history and culture?

For too long, for the entire history of what is now Canada, Indigenous students, Indigenous Peoples, haven't been celebrated or acknowledged for the knowledges and the gifts that they carry. And they really deserve to be celebrated because these cultures and these languages are beautiful and they come from this land and they're deeply rooted in the land we currently live on and the land we currently stand on.

For non-Indigenous students like myself – I am a settler – it is really important that we acknowledge people, but also that we understand the type of relationship we have and our obligations as settlers in relationship to the Indigenous Peoples of this land.

I know when you better understand Indigenous Peoples' relationship to the land, when you better understand issues of sovereignty and language revitalization and cultural responsibility, there comes this really deep sense of gratitude for Indigenous Peoples and the knowledges they carry because it's really profound how deep those responsibilities are.