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Four male RCMP officers and a woman stand on top of a giant map of Canada on the ground outside next to a gazebo. A lake is behind them.

Remote communities accessing Indigenous learning kits to share local history and knowledge

The West Coast Marine Service took the map and learning kits to Haida Gwaii when the community celebrated a totem pole raising at the Daajing Giids (Queen Charlotte) RCMP detachment. Credit: RCMP


Remote communities along the coast of British Columbia are accessing educational tools to support Indigenous history and culture.

The Naut'sa mawt Initiative is a partnership between the RCMP and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) and supported by the BC Teachers' Federation. The RCMP's West Coast Marine Service (WCMS) has started delivering Canadian Geographic's four-volume Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, a giant floor map and other educational materials into the remote communities.

Educators, Elders and community members can use the map and other tools to highlight local history and knowledge, and share stories unique to their respective Nations.

The initiative was imagined when RCMP Cst. Bill Nadeau was completing his master's degree while working with the RCGS. He learned about the atlas and the floor map, and the challenges of getting the materials into some communities.

"I thought hey, I work with West Coast Marine Service and our mandate is to serve all the remote Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities from Washington to Alaska. We're ideally positioned to go in and deliver these materials," says Nadeau.

The WCMS patrols coastal British Columbia, serving hard-to-reach communities. Its four patrol vessels function as floating detachments that are equipped with resources to assist open-water operations, small coastal detachments and specialized RCMP units.

Educational endeavors

Canadian Geographic created the learning kits to advance the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action by promoting education on Indigenous culture and history.

"This is one of the most comprehensive Indigenous-focused maps and learning materials ever created in this country," says Charlene Bearhead, director of reconciliation with Canadian Geographic.

The atlas volumes cover Truth and Reconciliation, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis topics such as culture, history and language. The gymnasium-sized floor map showcases traditional territories, identifies Indigenous languages, features locations significant to Indigenous peoples, and provides education on Indigenous and colonial shared history.

The project's name, The Naut'sa mawt Initiative, was selected during the WCMS's initial orientation with the maps. Snaw-naw-as Elder Jim Bob was present to bless the maps and provide advice on connecting with the communities. He shared a word in Halkomelem that he felt represented the project: Naut'sa mawt. It means working together with one mind and one heart.

Nadeau and Bearhead worked with Cpl. Anthony Cameron of the B.C. RCMP Indigenous Policing Services (IPS) to draft a project proposal for the learning kits. Soon after, IPS bought two of the kits to use throughout the province. Thousands of B.C. students will get the chance to explore the country and its history through an Indigenous lens with the resources.

"This project is a great opportunity for us," says Cameron. "It aligns with reconciliation, it aligns with educating RCMP officers on Indigenous communities and it supports the Indigenous communities that officers serve."

The initiative also allows RCMP officers to connect with community, as the map can serve as an ice breaker to start conversations between officers and students, teachers or community members.

"One of the biggest highlights is seeing the shift in engagement with RCMP officers and the community," says Bearhead. "WCMS and IPS have raised the bar."

Learning ambassadors

As part of the initiative, RCMP officers with the WCMS and IPS are trained as Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada education kit ambassadors learning about the kits and how they can be used in the classroom and the community. They can provide teachers and community members with ideas on how to use the map and materials. The unit delivers the kits to the communities, introduces educators to the materials and collects the kits the next time they stop by.

During the orientation, officers learned more about Indigenous experiences and finished with new perspectives.

"To see a bunch of [officers] show compassion and stand up to be champions of this project is huge," says Nadeau. So far, she says communities are hearing about the positive experiences with the kits and want to have their turn.

"After the first two or three communities, word travelled quick and people are now reaching out asking when they can participate," says Nadeau.

The WCMS took the kits to Haida Gwaii when a totem pole was raised at the Daajing Giids (Queen Charlotte) RCMP detachment. RCMP officers, community members and visitors had the chance to explore the giant floor map, learn about local history and find out more about the Naut'sa mawt Initiative.

IPS hopes to buy more learning kits in the future to make them more available throughout the province.

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