Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) in Ontario, Canada services the City of Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton County, and the District Municipality of Muskoka, including the Wahta Mohawk Territory. TLDSB’s mission is to keep the focus on students by creating safe and positive environments for all students from Kindergarten all the way through to their adult learning programs.
To that end, TLDSB formed a committee 10 years ago in partnership with community members from Wahta and others from Indigenous Nations represented in the area, focussed on supporting the needs of Indigenous students across the school board. This committee provides a place for rich conversations to occur, ensures there is dedicated time to highlight and address the specific needs of Indigenous students, creates dialogue around what is and isn’t happening in schools, provides a sense of accountability, and ensures there is authentic representation and voices leading the way.
As TLDSB Indigenous Education Consultant Holly Groome explains, this partnership between the board and Wahta Mohawks is mutually beneficial. “It makes us richer as a community, as a school board and as educators,” she says. “It makes us feel safer — that we are so loved and so supported by people in the community.” This sense of safety and access to information, people, and resources helps to ease some of the anxieties around “doing it wrong,” because at its core, the committee’s purpose is clear: “What we want to do is make a connection between a community and classroom,” Holly says.
There are many aspects to consider as educators, schools, and districts embark on this critical journey. For many, the first aspect to consider is an individual’s understanding about the complexities of Indigenous history, the communities, and the untold truths of the past. Building partnerships that invite, amplify, and strengthen the connections to Indigenous culture and tradition support everyone’s understanding and ultimately deepen student learning opportunities.
School boards like TLDSB, who are forming those relationships with communities like Wahta, are having a huge impact.
As for how this partnership benefits Indigenous students in the board, Wahta Education Coordinator Carol Holmes credits the committee’s focus on the annual planning process, which focuses on the concerns about and needs of Indigenous students. The resulting accountability to take action is not only reassuring, but furthers the progress of the work being done inside the community itself. “We have worked collaboratively to provide Indigenous teachings in classrooms,” Carol says, pointing out that they “most recently partnered to provide a virtual learning experience for Indigenous students specifically.”
Future Design School had the opportunity to collaborate with TLDSB, Wahta, and several Elders and Knowledge Keepers from the area to create and deliver a culturally rich Social Entrepreneurship Program for students in grades 4-12. Over the course of the week-long programs, students attended online sessions where they participated in traditional openings and teaching led by Elders and Knowledge Keepers, heard Indigenous languages spoken, and leveraged that knowledge and understanding to help address real challenges
The program blended cultural knowledge and traditional teachings and practices with future ready skills like:
• Critical Thinking
Tehonatahnhen Christopher Stock
Elder & Knowledge Keeper,
Christopher Stock, a Wahta Mohawk member and Kanien'kehá:ka Knowledge Keeper describes this program as an opportunity to “bring our mindset back — giving students a different perspective of how to look at the world around them.” Participants selected challenges in their communities and focused on developing solutions that encouraged the use of traditional knowledge. “I think it will instill a greater sense of pride in our young people,” says Christopher. “We have to teach them who they are before they can understand where they can go.”
Carol agrees. “The goals of the community in Wahta are to promote language and culture and we certainly were able to offer both within the Social Entrepreneurship Program,” she says. “It was a beautiful experience to have teachings from the perspective of the Kanien'kehá:ka, Anishinaabe and Metis mentors. Students were exposed to different languages and world views. We want our students to have as many opportunities to know and understand our teachings. The experience with this program offered Indigenous students from across the board to connect and learn and share together.”
This is an important and exciting journey that Trillium Lakelands District School Board, Wahta and all of the contributing Elders, Knowledge Keepers, educators and students are on. The impact it has on Indigenous and Non-Indigenous students alike, their families, communities will have a ripple effect as this ripples out into the future.
As for the future of the partnership itself, the sky’s the limit. When asked about her goals for the partnership, Holly says, “I see Indigenous students being surrounded by cultural Knowledge Keepers and Elders on a daily basis in our schools. I see our educators being meaningful contributors to allyship and every school having spaces dedicated to cultural teachings and opportunity for everyone to participate in ongoing cultural competency training...I see Indigenous languages being taught in every single one of our schools.”