The Map Challenge

fullMapLand Acknowledgement: Place Based Histories and Indigenous Leadership, Butcher paper, acrylic paint, collaged colour prints, pencil crayons, marker, gouache, 88 x 68″, Scarborough Centre for Alternative Studies 2018-2019. 

Images of Indigenous leaders depicted in this project, and their quotes, have been used with permission from the individuals depicted, or from their family members. 

This project aims to create an awareness of place based histories on this continent.  Students painted a map of Turtle Island indicating the territories of Indigenous nations, and they located both Indigenous and colonial place based histories on the map.  Each student researched an Indigenous leader and collaged their image into their territory, with a good quote that would be important to share.




Inspired by Vine Deloria’s writings, the shift from time based history to place based history was intended to evoke a more concrete understanding (than what would be learned from memorizing events on a timeline) of Indigenous peoples’ profound connection to the lands here, and of Canada’s colonial history.


To begin, students were asked to project and trace a map of North America (where Canada is situated) onto a huge piece of paper that they had stapled to the wall.  They then used the Whose Land website to paint the Indigenous territories onto this land mass.  Multiple classes took part in this task which took much perseverance and patience.  The challenge lay in the overlapping territories.  It was difficult to demarcate a territory from multiple overlapping boundaries and from this we learned that people actually shared land.  I would like to learn more about the traditional forms of governance and the protocols that enabled this. 


Maps have been used throughout history as colonial tools for claiming stolen land and they are still used to shape the minds of Canadians in schools today.  When Canadian students are directed to draw out the provinces of Canada with no regard to the Indigenous territories that they were superimposed upon, their teachers are maintaining a colonial system.  Through drawing out the Indigenous territories, the notion of Indigenous land from the land acknowledgements became less abstract and more understandable as something real in our minds. 


While various students worked on the territories, we began learning about Indigenous Place Based Histories.  Students made drawings or found pictures of key elements from the stories which showed how Indigenous people have belonged to these lands for thousands of years.  They then collaged these images into the map.




After learning about some Indigenous place based histories, students then located Colonial Events on the map.  By finding the locations of treaties that were made dishonestly to steal land, in the order that they occurred, along with the locations of impacts of oppressive legislation that was breaking up families and dispossessing Indigenous peoples from their lands, our understanding of colonial history was heightened.  Amidst these colonial events, students also located instances of Indigenous resistance which have been continuous since the time of contact.








At the end of June, I took the map home to add finishing touches.  I wanted to ensure that there were quotes which conveyed the 5 criteria for genocide that are still occurring today.  If students and teachers could see the research in a glance, maybe more people will be likely to take a stand against what is happening.  I am hopeful that this will be the case, and I call on educators to take the map challenge and paint the Indigenous territories with their students this year. 






This project will soon be on permanent display in the library at Midland Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, Ontario.  It is a gift to teachers and students to help them learn about our collective histories on this land, and to make decisions that reflect responsible citizenship rooted in truth, respect and love.



Click on the links below for curriculum resources connected to this project:

Place Based Histories examples and lesson.

Timeline of Colonial Events and Instances of Indigenous Resistance to read from. 

List of Colonial Events and Indigenous Resistance to cut out for students to locate on the map.

Citations from the map.


1.  Cathy Calfchild and Kanahus Manuel refer to genocide in their quotes.  Read the United Nations’ document entitled “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide“.   Find examples in the map of how Canada is fulfilling each of the 5 criteria listed in Article II.  According to this document, how can genocide be stopped?  (Discussion and/or essay)

2.   Choose 3 people depicted in the map and find a connection between what they are saying.  Have a discussion about it or write an essay about it.

3.  Cindy Blackstock urges Canadians to insist on change from the government.  How do you insist on something to your government?  Figure it out together and do it.

John Morton, founder and principal of the Student School in Toronto once told me in terms of activism, “Make it easier for them to respond than to ignore you.”  Once you do your research and learn about the issue, be persistent.  Make phone calls every day.  Write letters.  Organize with other students.  Write letters to your MPs. 

4.  Mylan Tootoosis’ quote refers to emotional intelligence in 2 different ways:

i)  He talks about embracing your emotions when faced with ongoing historical trauma, in order to disrupt the colonial system.   Explore this process somehow (writing journals, discussions, public speaking).

ii) Do you ever feel defensive or fearful when facing the truth about something bad that you are connected to?  How can you work through these feelings in a productive way?  How can you use your position as a member of an oppressor group to stop the oppression?  Do something real to disrupt the colonial system.