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New program emphasizes Six Nations in classroom

TORONTO – A new classroom guide to the clans of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) is being welcomed by educators as an initiative that will help address a gap in the school curriculum.

The ‘Six Nations Iroquois Clans Programs’ was developed by Raymond Skye, an artist from the Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario and Zig Misiak, a historical activist from nearby Brantford.

“With First Nations material, there are textbooks that are being revised right now, there’s a real scramble right now in Ontario to find good material,” Misiak said.

Existing sources are often out of date, failing to describe the numbers and sophistication of American tribal societies, and even racist. They also fail to explain the culture and belief systems of these societies – the “common ground,” as Misiak likes to call it.

“The Haudenosaunee have a creation story, like Christians and other non-Christians have, they have the Peacemaker – the equivalent of a Christ or a Buddha or a Mohammed - they have the Great Law, which they followed for centuries.”

The clans program, shedding light on often misunderstood beliefs, was designed for both native and non-native students, Misiak said. “We found it evolved into being extremely applicable to both.”

Nine clans are featured – turtle, eel, beaver, wolf, deer, bear, heron, hawk and snipe, with the characteristics of each animal attributed to the group. Hawk clan people are strong and independent, have an acute perception and act swiftly when help is needed. The people of the Eel advocate for the environment and are protectors of the waters.

While Skye and Misiak have been careful to preserve the authenticity of the Six Nations content, drawing on both oral and written sources, they feel the stories speak to the shared pre-contact experience of other indigenous groups.

Misiak, who has fielded inquiries from as far as New Zealand and British Columbia, said he expects other tribal groups as well as Metis and Inuit will find the Haudenosaunee stories interesting and will either use them directly or as a model to develop their own material.

The program, released in October, comes in the form of a well-organized binder with eight lesson plans with activities, tests, student booklets, laminated images for use as wall art and a 30-minute DVD and CD.

Information about the package – as well as about Misiak’s enthusiasm for historical re-enactment - can be found at

Misiak expressed appreciation for the assistance of Brantford developer Steve Charest, president of King & Benton, who provided funding. “He helped produce the DVD and the CD, which we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do because it was very costly.”

Charest also introduced the two to a retired superintendent of education and a retired curriculum expert who helped them navigate the shoals of Ontario education ministry requirements.

While designed primarily as a literacy tool, the guide can also be used to teach history, geography, music, art, spirituality and governance (the Haudonosaunee Great Law of Peace is an early model of democracy).

Corey Judson is one of the teachers who tested the program with his sixth grade class at Princess Elizabeth School in Brantford, where 60 percent of students are aboriginal.

“The reaction was very positive,” he said. The focus on clans opened up a dialogue between students as well as in families.

“For some of the students that have this at home, to hear from their friends. ‘I’m a member of the Bear clan,’ it brings meaning to it, it eliminates some of that uncomfortableness. For both aboriginal and non-aboriginal it was a good opportunity.”

In a release, David Clegg, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, noted that much of current curriculum are lacking in “real life” information in the area of aboriginal culture and traditions.

“By presenting the history of local First Nations clans, this new resource can help non-native students understand and appreciate the history, culture and traditions of their aboriginal classmates while instilling a sense of pride in aboriginal students.”

Many other testimonials can be found at the program Web site. “The primary focus of the Six Nations Iroquois Clans Program is on integrating the teachings about character development and native studies with current curriculum,” Dawn Martin-Hill, academic director of McMaster University’s indigenous studies program wrote. “This information is desperately needed in the schools of Ontario.”

In his 2006 report, Ipperwash Commissioner Sidney Linden recommended the Ontario government develop teaching resources about aboriginal history to improve awareness and understanding between the two communities.

The clans program – now being taught in 16 Ontario schools and under review by another 22 – is a good example of the kind of material that meets that need.

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