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A new way of looking at Canada

BCTF members experience the atlas, facilitated by Denise Hendry (right), at Summer Leadership Conference. Photos provided by Gail Stromquist.

By Denise Hendry, teacher, Kamloops


For the last three years, I have been using the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada with my Grade 4 students to teach several lessons touching on reconciliation and other social studies curriculum topics. The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive, so much so that I’ve now begun leading other teachers through some of the lessons I’ve tested out with my classes, so they can take the learning back to their own classrooms.


What is the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada?


This giant atlas is the size of a school gymnasium. It covers the floor to give students an opportunity to walk across the map and interact in a more tangible way. The map intentionally leaves off provincial and territorial borders and many of the European place names most of us are accustomed to using as identifiers. Instead, the map highlights Indigenous territories and languages to identify place.


It is designed to change the way kids and adults look at this country. It centres Indigenous knowledge and challenges the privilege given to settler place names and languages.

Each time I watch students walk into a room and see the map for the first time, I see their faces light up with curiosity, excitement, and a bit of confusion. The first activity I do with students is an opportunity for exploration. Students are invited to take their shoes off and walk around on the map, exploring the Indigenous place names and trying to centre themselves on a map that may feel unfamiliar. We often do a scavenger hunt on the map so students can explore in more detail as they search for specific places and landmarks across the country.


As we dive into more learning, students compare and contrast a typical map of Canada with what they see on the Indigenous Peoples Atlas. They note the similarities and differences. We look at the size of reservations and compare them to the size of the territory used by the Indigenous nation before colonization. We acknowledge and commit to remember the Indigenous place names for locations familiar or important to us, such as where our homes or relatives are situated. We learn about the languages spoken in the places we identify as being personally significant. Often, we’re able to research how the place names came to be and how they connect to language describing the landscape in that area.

...students are able to deeply understand the colonial legacy of Canadian history and develop an appreciation for diverse Indigenous languages.

To me, this is all a part of reconciliation. Students get to learn in a way that prioritizes Indigenous languages and knowledges. And they have an opportunity to explore a visual depiction of how Canada’s history is shaped by stolen lands.


The lessons with this map can extend into a variety of topics, including climate change, residential schools, movement of people, seasonal cycles and migration, trade routes, human rights, and Indigenous governance. Teacher guides to support educators in planning and teaching lessons related to all these topics, and more, are available on the Canadian Geographic website, Supplementary reading is also available at The teacher guides and supplementary reading cover regions across Canada to give educators an option to look at Indigenous history on a national scale.


The BCTF is also working to develop additional resources for teachers wanting to use the map with their classes. At the 2023 BCTF Summer Leadership Conference, we tested out some workshops for teachers to provide training, ideas, and resources on how to structure learning opportunities using the map. The workshop will soon be available for locals or schools to book as professional development with their colleagues. The objectives of the workshop are to guide teachers as they explore the map, and help educators challenge the current Eurocentric practices that have silenced other ways of knowing and being.


My experience using this map with students has been impactful and meaningful. I can see that students are able to deeply understand the colonial legacy of Canadian history and develop an appreciation for diverse Indigenous languages. With so many opportunities to engage in different levels of learning about several topics, the map is an inspiring resource that can be used from Kindergarten to Grade 12. I look forward to bringing this workshop to teachers across the province, so more students have an opportunity to learn about Canada’s geography with an Indigenous lens.


More information

The BCTF has three atlases available for members to borrow. Some districts also have atlases for teachers to sign out from district resource centres. If you would like to book one of the BCTF atlases, email Miranda Light ( for more information.


Teacher guides are available at


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