June 5, 2023

Calgary schools find teaching opportunities in Calgary Atlas Project maps

Maps on Calgary’s LGBTQ2S+ story and the history of First Nations – Calgary Stampede relations makes for valuable teaching tools
Calgary schools find teaching opportunities in Calgary Atlas Project maps
Grade two students at St. Jude School created their own winter count maps inspired by the Blackfoot tradition of the bison robe winter count. Calgary Catholic School District

When the Calgary Institute for the Humanities (CIH) launched its extensive Calgary Atlas Project in late 2019 — first with the unveiling of A Queer Map: A Guide to the LGBTQ+ History of Calgary — the plan was to shine a light on important areas of Calgary’s history that had been forgotten or overlooked. It would do so by producing a series of maps, both artistic and educational, meant to enlighten the public about these rich, diverse, and largely hidden histories of Calgary. 

True to the ambitious concept, successive maps in the ongoing series focused on Indigenous histories, and the evolutions of the city’s labour movement, literary scene, and underground art community among the themes.

Because educating the public was always a pillar of the project, Dr. Jim Ellis, PhD, director of the CIH, felt genuinely moved this past year when two of the Atlas Maps found themselves in Calgary schools.

The aforementioned map on Calgary’s LGBTQ2S+ history has been distributed to gay-straight aliances (GSAs) in Calgary Board of Education (CBE) high schools and, the First Nations Stampede Map — documenting the relationship between First Nations Peoples and the Calgary Stampede from a Blackfoot perspective — has been introduced to Grade 2 students within the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD), used as a teaching tool in math classes.

“We’re thrilled with this,” says Ellis. “The idea that kids as young as Grade 2 at CCSD are going to learn a different history of the Calgary Stampede through, of all places, their math classes, is pretty special for us. And ditto for the CBE high school students in the gay-straight alliances who may learn for the first time that queer people do have a history in Calgary, and a long-established community to which they belong.”

Queer history can be lifesaving

Melia Wylie of Calgary’s Centre for Sexuality oversees the program to share the Queer Map with the high schools. “I visit GSAs all across Calgary, but also into the rural areas of Alberta, and I can tell you that providing this education about Calgary queer history can be lifesaving,” Wylie says.

That’s because so many queer and trans youth are in the dark about Calgary’s LGBTQ2S+ history, and this often intensifies the feeling that they’re marginalized and alone.

“When I’ve shown the map to the GSAs, I’d say almost 100 per cent of the youths are shocked,” says Wylie. “They see Calgary as a very anti-gay, anti-trans place, totally lacking in history. Learning that there has been this amazing, inspiring history, and a community that fought hard for their rights, warms their hearts. It gives then hope and builds their resiliency, helping them feel comfortable and confident in who they are.”

Catholic School District embraces Indigenous ways of knowing

CCSD using the First Nations Stampede Map as a teaching tool in Grade 2 math classes is, perhaps, a little more surprising. The original map, by Indigenous artist Adrian Stimson — painted and burned upon the hide of a bison in a pictographic style — revisits the history of the Calgary Stampede from the long-overlooked Blackfoot perspective. The map is inspired by the Blackfoot tradition of the bison robe winter count, wherein important events and stories were recorded on bison hides. Last fall, 400 copies of the map were distributed to the CCSD.

One can easily see the First Nations Stampede Map being taught in social studies, as an important lesson on the significant Blackfoot contribution to First Nations histories. Or, given that the map relays a story, it might also fit in nicely as a language arts lesson. Math seems less obvious.

Not so, according to Wanda First Rider, District Elder of CCSD’s Indigenous Education Team, who shares the winter count protocol and teachings with the team. First Rider supports district Indigenous Education teachers, like Wanda deLaronde who teaches the winter count to Grade 2 math students.

“Each year members from all of the Treaty 7 nations travelled to the Calgary Stampede,” First Rider says. “They travelled many miles and had to plan in advance: ‘This is the number of miles we’re travelling. How long will the journey take?’ This touches on time and distance, which is where the math comes in.”

Certain details on the map also provide mathematical lessons First Rider points out — for example, counting the number of tipis on the map or calculating their measurements.

But while the First Nations Stampede Map has been used, thus far, in math classes, its effectiveness as a teaching tool doesn’t stop there. Says First Rider:

“All of our Indigenous ways of knowing can be intertwined into every part of the curriculum, be it math, social studies, science, or the arts.”

She adds: “While these particular lessons were designed for a Grade 2 audience, the map and the winter count can also be utilized for higher grades.”

This sharing of the Blackfoot perspective of Indigenous traditions can provide the path to healing for First Nations Peoples. “We all know about colonization and residential schools and the manner by which we lost our ways of life,” says First Rider. “Now we’re at a point where we want to share these ways which were taken from us.

“We’re teaching about our Indigenous ways of learning alongside the ways of mainstream education. We’re not just teaching our Indigenous students. We’re teaching all students about the value of our Indigenous ways of knowing so that we can learn to appreciate each other as human beings.”