Jacqueline Cleave Transcript

When the 94 calls to action were released by the TRC, the UNESCO Network that the school is part of, talked about the fact that there really isn’t a child-friendly version of it and if education was supposed to be part of the reconciliation process, we needed a version that the kids could really wrestle with and understand.

At the time Chantal Cotton was a division social studies expert and she was looking to find some class that would take on the project of rewarding the calls in child-friendly language and although she, sort of, was looking at the junior high, I foolishly said, “Well, maybe my grade 4, 5, 6 could take that on.”

And so, we talked about it and we thought well we’d give it a try and I, at the time, had two teaching partners that also taught grades 4, 5, 6 here at Laura Secord School, one in the alternative program and another one in the English program and the three of us took our 75 kids through this process of examining the calls to action as they were written by the TRC and then figuring out how can we make a version of this that is accessible to kids at school and probably to lots of Canadians that don’t want to plow through the political and legal jargon of the actual report, so I guess I was the lead teacher in the process.

We spent an entire year rewriting the calls and then another year to get the book produced and it was just lots of sticking to it and working through it and we had all kinds of steps that helped the kids to wrestle with the words and come up with something that made sense for them.

By the time we were finished, two years later we had produced this book called Answering the Calls: A Child’s View of the 94 Calls to Action and it contains within it the artwork that the kids did to illustrate the calls that they worked on. Then, we also included the original wordings of the calls and the children’s work to put it into language that they could understand. So, there’s a found poem that they use, just pulling out what they thought were keywords from the original document and those are all displayed on the page and then over here is the child language rewording.

One of the things that I realized part way through was that the kids were struggling with “well, why is this a call to action? Hasn’t this already been done?” And the one that really resonated with me was the one about keeping families together, of course, referring to the preponderance of Indigenous kids in care and the two children that were working on that call said to me, “Why is this in here? The schools have closed, like we’ve been talking about this, why do we still need to work on this?”

So, it made me realize that we had to have the kids understand what the problem was that the TRC was addressing if the calls were going to make any sense at all. So, then, we walked through things like what’s the Child and Family Services situation, and why are there more Indigenous people in the prisons, and all of those problems that are being addressed by the calls so contained in the pages is also the problem as the kids explain it so that beside each of the calls, this is why it’s a problem and these are our understanding of the language that makes it accessible to me.

The range of topics that came into the project was huge and I think the kids at the end of it had a better grasp of the reason for the discord between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada — the reality that it hasn’t just gone away, and the idea of “well you should just get over it, it was so long ago” like our kids know that it’s not that simple because of the project.

There were lots of times that I thought, “We’ve asked them such a huge task and is it real like, are they really engaged or is this just something we’re sort of forcing down their throats, so to speak?” But, I remember, it was I think the last week of school and we had gotten to the point that in the year when it’s “Okay, so do you want to take a little time. We could go out for extra recess” and I offered that because we were at a break in the day and one of my grade 6 boys said, “But, we have two more calls that we haven’t done the class edit for. So, why don’t we just finish that up.” And I thought, “Okay, you were given the chance to just go outside on this lovely June day and you said instead, ‘no, let’s stick with it and finish the editing of the calls.’” So, I thought, I guess they stayed engaged through the entire year, which was pretty amazing.

There are many ways that I feel torn about receiving this award because it was not a project that I did on my own. Obviously, without the 75 kids that worked on the project, it could not have possibly happened and they worked incredibly hard but Chantal Cotton and Jill Jonette and Stephanie Jones were my teaching partners in all of this and without them like I couldn’t have done it with just my classroom. So, I feel like I’ve been singled out for something that a whole team worked on and our principal Rona Sherman at the time also freed up lots of extra time because it was huge and the UNESCO Network provided funding for the book to be produced originally. This small idea of can we figure out how to put these words in child-friendly language that I was sure we’d be done by Christmas grew into this huge, amazing project but I could not have done it on my own.