Education Newsletter: June 10, 2020

June 10, 2020


Wiesenthal Education Weekly

For Educators, Parents & Students

June 10, 2020

June is Indigenous History Month!

Every June, people living in Canada celebrate the enduring legacy and strength of the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Peoples. This year, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center is marking National Indigenous History Month with a series of articles, interviews, and activities with which parents, teachers, and students can engage and learn. The content we have chosen to share balances the rich cultural heritage and ongoing traditions of Indigenous Peoples while acknowledging the devastating toll colonial and genocidal practices have taken on all aspects of Indigenous life.

Throughout the month, FSWC's Education Team will be providing you with articles, resources and activity ideas. Please visit the Government of Canada website for additional information

Spotlight on..

Charles Tompkins

Charles Tompkins was born in Grouard, Alberta to Métis parents Isabella and Peter Tompkins Jr., both of whom spoke the Cree language and taught their children to do the same. His proficiency in the language made Charles a prime candidate for code talking during the Second World War.

He joined the Canadian Army in 1939 and was sent overseas in 1941. Charles was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, stationed in England. The Canadian High Command in London issued a secret summons to Charles and other Indigenous soldiers. Upon their arrival, military commanders divided the soldiers into groups based on the Indigenous languages they spoke.

Code Talkers like Charles Tompkins were integral to the Allies forces hiding information about troops and supplies from enemies. While Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were able to break certain Allied codes, they were not familiar with Indigenous languages in Canada. Therefore, languages such as Cree helped the Allied forces to cleverly disguise important information. After Charles translated the messages into Cree, they were sent to battlefields in Europe, where another code talker translated them back into English and sent them to military commanders.

Sworn to secrecy during the war, little documentation about the efforts of code talkers exists in Canada. Related documents remained highly classified until the Canadian government released them in 1963. Charles’s family was unaware of his role as a code talker until well after the war, many finding out only shortly before his death in 2003.

For more information about Canada's Code Talkers, we recommend The Canadian Encyclopedia

Activity: Indigenous Art in the Classroom

The land can be used as a tool to integrate Indigenous and Western knowledges. It is important to introduce students to the importance of land acknowledgements. This involves making a statement that recognizes the traditional territories of the Indigenous people(s) that occupied the land and called it home before the arrival of settlers.

This activity explores the perceptions and importance of land through art. This activity entails dividing students into groups and rotating to different tables which will have art from Group of 7 and Indigenous artists. This will introduce students to the notion that the white settler perspective was that the land was empty, but the Indigenous perspective that the land was extremely relevant and important to all areas of life.

Engage students in a conversation based on the following probing questions:

a)     What are similarities and/or differences that are presented within the pieces?

b)     What do we know about the creators of the artwork?

c)     What European values and/ or perceptions are being portrayed?

d)    What Indigenous values and/or perceptions are being portrayed?

e)     How can looking at art further enhance our knowledge about the importance of land and Indigenous-settler relations?

Top: work by Brian Allen Adams, an Indigenous artist who is inspired by nature, the history of Canada, the life of the Inuit, the Hudson's Bay Company.
Bottom: Work by Arthur Lismer, a member of the Group of 7. Titled The Village.

Survivor Testimony in Indigenous History Education: A Dialogue Between Survivors

Indigenous History Month is an important opportunity for all Canadians to learn about the First Peoples of our nation, their stories and traditions which have evolved and survived for hundreds of years in the face of colonial displacement genocidal legislation. Although our work is founded on lessons of the Holocaust, we recognize that human prejudice is a multifaceted and long-standing force across time and place in human history. Any discussion of prejudice from a Canadian perspective must place Indigenous experiences at the centre of the conversation. In our Roots of Hate and Intolerance in Canada workshop, one of the major thematic components is the legacy of genocide in Canada’s historic residential school system which was founded on the policy of forced assimilation and part of a broader constellation of destructive policies written into the Indian Act of 1876.

At FSWC, we strongly believe that as members of diverse communities, we can all gain empathy and insight when we learn directly from survivors of violent prejudice. Their first-hand accounts are incredibly impactful and convey their experiences in a way that helps students connect with history on a deeper level. Thousands of survivors of the Holocaust have told their stories and their body of literature has had a dramatic impact the relationship between personal testimony and the methodology of historical scholarship, particularly in cases of war or ethnic genocide. We are very lucky that we are able to routinely host speaking engagements where Holocaust survivors share their testimony with students. We also strive to build connections with survivors of other genocides and human rights abuses, including survivors of the residential school system and seek out opportunities for inter-community dialogue.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a lot of chaos for students in Ontario and has also unfortunately robbed them of special learning opportunities, including a special event that our organization is excited about but have had to put on pause for the time being. FSWC has been working with the Algoma District School Board to facilitate a dialogue between a residential school survivor and a Holocaust survivor for high school students and community members in Sault Ste Marie. Their discussion will take place in the old Shingwauk Residential School building which is now an education centre within Algoma University. The Shingwauk Residential School Centre has a special mandate to collect and preserve material relating to the legacy residential schools in Canada, healing and reconciliation, and Indigenous communities. We hope that this survivor dialogue will serve as an opportunity to build bridges of empathy and to help students recognize that crimes against First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in Canada’s history should be talked about openly and often if we want to learn from the past, heal as a nation, and be better allies to Indigenous communities in the future.

Stay in Touch

Although FSWC's Education Team is practicing social distancing for the health and safety of themselves and those around them, you can reach us remotely at any time at

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