[caption id=”attachment_4099” align=”aligncenter” width=”464”] Arn Boonstra’s Grade 8 History class welcomed guests to Calvin Christian School last Friday to hear their presentations about First Nations protest movements in Canada.[/caption]
Across Canada, people from the First Nations are protesting. Down the road from Calvin Christian School in Hamilton, over 40 First Nations protesters stopped traffic on Highway 6 in Caledonia this October. Members from the Six Nations of the Grand River created a peaceful blockade as a way of standing in solidarity with the First Nations in New Brunswick, where escalating tensions between shale gas protesters and the RCMP lead to 40 arrests and five police cars being set on fire that same evening. Less than a week later, Arn Boonstra, vice-principal and teacher at Calvin Christian School, began a classroom project with his Grade 8 class asking his students if First Nations people have the right to protest.
It’s a difficult question to answer, but Boonstra thinks it’s one worth wrestling with—in light of the recent events in Caledonia and in relation to past First Nations protests that have occurred in communities across Canada.
To begin the project Boonstra invited Ralph Luimes, President and CEO of Hald-Nor Credit Union in Caledonia, to the school. Not only was Luimes affected by the First Nations protest movement back in 2006, he was also involved in negotiations to bring about a resolution to the crisis.
Last year, students listened to a First Nations speaker talk specifically about the Caledonia land issue, says Boonstra. Bringing in another speaker with a radically different perspective was meant to provide students with a balanced view of the situation. Boonstra views the opportunity to compare and contrast opposing arguments as an essential part of learning.
“The main goal of this project is to have students understand that it’s complex: It’s a matter of grappling with it, understanding it, and dealing with it. Instead of saying it’s not my problem,” he says.
After Mr, Luimes’ visit, Boonstra invited students to dig deep and reflect on resources that presented them with more than one side of a single issue.
“I like the way Mr. Boonstra teaches,” said Grade 8 student, Michelle King. “I like how we’re getting into more depth about the subject. This year we’re learning about stuff that I feel I care about.”
Michelle spent the week researching the Theresa Spence Idle No More movement. Her classmate, Braden Bakker, focused on the Enbridge pipeline protest and said he appreciated the “relatively challenging” nature of the project.
When it came to deciding whether or not First Nations groups had a right to protest in either circumstance, Braden and Michelle said they were somewhere in the middle. Both students were hesitant to answer the project’s driving question with a definitive “yes” or “no” response, recognizing that it’s just not that simple.
Throughout the project, Boonstra wanted important Christian concepts—like healing, peace, and justice—to frame the class’s exploration and understanding of the topics they studied, regardless of how they chose to answer his driving question.
You might say that Boonstra’s project invited students to “tread water” rather than “look for an island”— something that Marilyn Chandler McEntyre challenged teachers to do at last week’s Edifide convention, during her workshop “The Grey Area as Holy Ground.”
The October 17 Caledonia demonstration was peaceful (by comparison) to the violent events unfolding on the same day in New Brunswick, but much remains unresolved.
As students explore the “grey area” that surrounds conversations about First Nations protest movements, how can we encourage them to be voices of reconciliation and wisdom in their communities? After all, notes Boonstra, “these are our future leaders too.”
To learn more about Arn’s First Nations project, connect with him on the eCurriculum’s PBL Discovery and Exploration group.