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The Indigenous Peoples’ Atlas of Canada, a giant floor map that has never ventured outside of Ottawa until now, was the subject of plenty of excitement at Quamichan School last week.

Teacher Jesse Whittington explained, “We have the first copy of this 11m x 8m floor map of Canada developed by Indigenous people via Canadian Geographic.

It was laid out on the floor in the school’s library from Thursday, Oct. 11 to Wednesday, Oct. 17, when it was disassembled and taken to the mainland.

Quamichan was the only school on Vancouver Island that got to see it this time around, according to retired Chemainus Secondary teacher and Governor General’s Award winner Janet Ruest. She and current Quamichan teachers Jen Bayley and Jesse Whittington were behind getting this remarkable teaching aid to come to the Cowichan Valley.

Classes were taken into the library throughout the map’s visit so they could study what it had to teach.

Even before a class started, it was obvious the students were intrigued by what they could discover as they walked in their socks over the surface of the huge map.

There are many ways to use the map as a teaching tool. Just its mere size alone is enough to tell a story as teachers get students to think about how long it takes to drive from Duncan to Victoria and then check that distance on the map and then try to imagine how many times that distance it takes to get anywhere in Canada.

“We can use our mapping skills with that,” Ruest said.

An Indigenous map is very different from the political maps we usually see because there are no provincial or country borders shown. Students looking for the familiar outlines of the provinces couldn’t find them.

Also using the map, teachers suggested that Quamichan School be renamed after some person from Canada’s history, as a way to start discussion about the renaming of landmarks from their traditional Indigenous names. Ruest said that she’s been surprised at the way students took this idea to heart, objecting that they hadn’t been consulted, that their families had attended Quamichan, that it was the traditional name, and more. It gave the students a personal example of the reactions of First Nations people to having new names applied to their traditional places and landmarks, she said, adding that the school’s having an Indigenous name made the lesson even stronger.

“We’ve run almost every single student in the school through, using the map. The focus is on Indigenous people, it’s been created by Indigenous people, and they’ve created activities and lessons for the students to use. There are several of them, and they are going on tour across Canada. We’ve been lucky to have this one come here. Miss Myhre, Miss Bailey and Mr. Whittington have all been super helpful.

“On the map, we can see different language groups, where treaties have been negotiated and where they are still areas in dispute. We see that there are no political boundaries. So, what was it really like without them?”

It’s easy to see that Canada’s geography has played a big part in the spread of language. Some languages spread widely across large parts of Canada find their boundaries at the Rocky Mountains, and in B.C. other language groups developed. The fur trade played a big part in that, too.

Residential school locations are shown on the map, and areas where Canada’s Métis peoples are predominant.

Along the outside of the map is a historical timeline for Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

“There are lots of interactive activities involved. The students quite like it. It’s tactile, they can learn a lot from it. There’s a definite […]

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