To Holly Richard, a secondary teacher at Brooklin High School, educating her students in her First Nations, Metis, and Inuit history class is all about Reconciliation in Action.
By teaching First Nations, Metis and Inuit history courses at secondary schools across the Durham District School Board, Holly has found the experiential learning for her students gives something more than she has ever imagined – a life changing experience for both her students and ones from the Indigenous communities.
For over 5 years, starting first at Ajax High School and now Brooklin High School, Holly has applied to the Youth Exchange Program with the YMCA of Greater Toronto to take part in exchanges where her students can visit a First Nations community and in turn students from the First Nations community visit her students.
"The experience has been life changing for everybody - including me," says Holly. "It's been life changing for students and colleagues who have joined me as chaperons.
"We have been to three different Cree communities, central western Alberta, northern Alberta and northern Saskatchewan. This year we are headed to an Inuit community in the far northern tip of Quebec."
Holly states it will be quite a change for students who are accustomed to having an overabundance of things in life to see and feel what it is like to live in communities that are still considered Canadian and far different from what they would ever experience.
"The program is more about First Nations history and issues. However, a lot of Canadians are still woefully unaware of the issues within First Nations communities and where the issues experienced come from socially and historically. They might have heard of residential schools for example, but a lot of people still don't necessarily understand the connection between that system and the social issues we now see in the community today," says Holly.
This program is not just about kids learning, it's about taking that learning and doing something meaningful with it. Whether it's reconciliation with people from Indigenous communities or educating people from our own communities with a project like this."
The learning does not end there states Holly. There is a third component which is teaching grades 7 and 8 students about the legacy of the residential school system.
"I am already seeing the ripple effect of this program and seeing former participants taking more Indigenous study courses, or social work or policing and have the background of this program behind them," says Holly.
What I am hoping to do with this award is get the word out that this basically is a framework for reconciliation as a greater goal, which is one of the goals our country has right now. I think starting with youth and the actual experience of connecting with Indigenous youth helps to start to heal wounds and helps to change the sense of mistrust and helps to build relationships," says Holly.
"I'd like to see this program grow with connections through this award where other teachers can pick it up because it is so powerful."
The Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching is administered by Canada's History, a national charity devoted to the field of public history.