Two Winnipeg private school teachers will be jointly honoured with a Governor General’s History Award for their work leading a student-authored book about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Jock Martin and Heather Ragot, both employed at St. John’s-Ravenscourt School, will be honoured Jan. 20 by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette in Ottawa.
The book project was the culmination of a year’s studies by 22 Grade 11 students over the 2017-18 school year.
“We started in September, working on a number of different ways of understanding truth and reconciliation and residential schools… The book actually was a way of publishing all the things we’d been talking and thinking about and writing about, and experiencing, by the end of the year,” Ragot told the Free Press.
“When we talked with students about the best way to publish what we were thinking about, and what we had experienced, they got really excited about the idea of actually having a tangible book you could hold in your hand that could be available for sale in a store,” said Martin.
“That really spoke to this particular class, and so that was what we pursued.”
The book grew out of student research papers exploring different Indigenous communities across Canada, Ragot said.
“What we had talked about was getting away from a pan-Indigenous experience, (the concept) that all Indigenous people are the same, they all have the same languages. But they don’t — it’s a wide variety of cultures and ways of being in Canada’s Indigenous communities,” she said.
The students then came together to collaborate on the book, combining their research papers into chapters.
“So that was a really interesting process, because they had to negotiate with each other what was important information to put in the chapter,” Ragot said.
Martin said the experience was an eye-opener for students, who gained firsthand knowledge by visiting the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, and meeting survivors of Canada’s residential school system.
The book, Reconciling the Past, Finding a New Path, was self-published and carried for a time at McNally Robinson Booksellers.
The Governor General’s History Awards, which includes prizes for history-related community programming, academic research, museums and popular media, are administered by Winnipeg-based national non-profit organization Canada’s History Society.
The excellence in teaching award is backed by TD Bank, and Martin and Ragot will split a $2,500 prize. St. John’s-Ravenscourt School will receive $1,000.
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.