Matt Henderson

Recipient of the 2013 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching 

November 19, 2013
Canada's History speaks to Matt Henderson about his award-winning classroom project.

St. Johns-Ravencourt School, Winnipeg (Manitoba)

In December 2012, the Idle No More movement exploded and Canadians were challenged with the task of reconciling our colonial history with  how we perceive our collective narrative. Within Matt's classroom, the learning community was equally curious, but they found their understanding of Canada’s colonial roots and certain pieces of legislation lacking. They soon discovered that their attitudes towards folks of indigenous descent were baseless and were shaped by experiences at home. They resolved to do some critical thinking in order to see the world through a new lens.

They began their early investigation into the Idle No More movement by looking at some of the contemporary pieces of legislation, like the Indian Act, in order to come to grips with what Indigenous people were up against. They began building a knowledge base of the Idle No More movement. Matt's blog was used as a forum to post\ videos, news articles, and interviews performed with First Nations leaders. From there, teachers and students from all over Canada began to add to the resources and comment on what they learned or thought of the movement itself.

From there, Matt's Canadian History class decided to explore, in greater detail, the development of Red River, as 2013 would mark the 275th anniversary of the arrival of La Verendrye at the Forks. Their first task was to bring in an expert on treaties and Red River. Niigaan Sinclair from the University of Manitoba was invited to come to their class. He provided the class with a powerful understanding of treaties, of Peguis himself, and the notion of sharing space. Matt took his class to the Hudson Bay Archives to sift through a variety of documents in an attempt to see who lived in Red River in the 19th century and how the development of the fur trade affected the lives of those who lived then. Students were astonished to see the positive and negative stories of how people shared space and they started to talk about how we should express this new knowledge. At the suggestion of one student, works of fiction telling the stories was settled upon.  Following this, the students were taken to Upper Fort Garry, Point Douglas, and St. Boniface to see where all these events occurred. They were able to touch the remaining wall of Fort Garry where the Provisional Government stood up against the Canadian government, sat in Riel’s first classroom, and began to understand how Winnipeg’s two rivers feed all life in this area.

Finally, the book was ready and launched in February of 2013. The students did interviews with the media, and this proved to be the best assessment Matt has ever been apart of. Students were required to explain to the CBC why their stories were valid and important. This was the most authentic piece of assessment Matt had ever witnessed.