Indigenous culture, history, and learning philosophies are a cornerstone of the everyday learning experiences at RLC. The Seven Generations Initiative at is named after an Indigenous teaching that emphasizes the responsibility of each generation to consider the impact of their decisions on the next seven generations. The initiative, as it exists at RLC today, is a result of nearly three decades of consultation and development with the guidance from First Nations Elders and families within the Robinson Huron Treaty Territory including Wahta First Nation and many RLC Indigenous alumni.
Today, Indigenous awareness is included in all areas of the curriculum and co-curricular offerings, through respectful, culturally sensitive and Indigenous guided teachings. It includes wellness and wellbeing in combining the schools mission in support of “one another to be the best of ourselves” which emphasizes an important wholistic balance of mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional wellbeing through storytelling and teachings.
The RLC Seven Generation initiative aims to foster a sense of community and responsibility among students, encouraging them to take action to create positive change in the world. A full range of Indigenous perspectives is represented in the classroom, and on the board of directors. Scholarships are offered for First Nations students in order to ensure that all who can benefit from the offering are able to access the school and its programs.
Seven Generations is a vital and integral part of the school's identity, curriculum, and student experience. By the time they graduate, students of RLC will have learned through the lens of Indigenous knowledge holders, have learned about our shared history, and have participated in Indigenous celebrations and ceremonies.
Here are some reflections of some students who participated in the Indigenous Studies class:
“I would like to convey my deepest appreciation for the remarkable profound learning journey that you provided for me over the course of the class. Moreover, by being vulnerable and a gifted storyteller you helped me truly understand the beautiful history of the Indigenous people of Canada.”
“As the school year comes to the end, I want to take a moment to express my deep gratitude and heartfelt emotions. No matter on courses, trip or sharing, you always give me really mild support. Your sharing and teaching will always affect me on my growth. Thank you so much.”
“Thank you Ms. T for teaching me your culture and exposing me to the importance of nature and how beautiful it is. I made this painting simply because I believe it captures all you have taught me and the importance of giving back to nature.”
RLC Director, Olivia Franks ‘15, a graduate of RLC and Queen’s University, ensures that decisions made about the future of the school are done with the input of Indigenous partners. Olivia is a researcher at Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC).
Indigenous Seven Generations Program Coordinator, Dawn Tabobondung is tasked with developing programs, informing academic development and delivery.
Victoria Grant has been named an Officer of the Order, and her citation from the Governor General's office explains it is in recognition of her work to "bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous culture, business and communities through her facilitation and mediation." She is of the Loon Clan, Teme-Augama Anishnabai, and a member of the Temagami First Nation. She describes herself as a community builder, and has had many roles in her career, including resident and owner of Moving Red Canoe, offering consultation on Aboriginal affairs. Victoria continues to provide thought leadership for the ongoing development of Seven Generations at RLC.
In 1986 Rosseau Lake College established a formal partnership with Wasauksing First Nation, and soon after, entered into a similar one with Wahta. Both communities had approached RLC looking for a more inclusive community for their students, one that would provide an alternative to public school education. More than 75 students arrived at RLC through those partnerships, which were augmented by a tuition agreement.
In 2016, the school began the process of consultation to learn more about how to better support Indigenous students. The Truth and Reconciliation Report further highlighted the notion that access to education, itself, wasn’t enough, and that a truly equitable response demanded a broader, more meaningful approach to academic support. The RLC administration reached out to elders, leaders, and alumni from Wahta and Wasauksing to learn more about this aspect of the RLC community. The school soon extended the process of consultation, meeting with elders and families within each of the seven regional First Nations, as well as other Indigenous leaders, such as the CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business JP Gladu and Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, then Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University.
Seeing each other in the school
The result was a report containing more than forty recommendations and observations which formed the basis for what would become RLC’s Seven Generations initiative. The intention was to build all students’ capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect. The curriculum would include an emphasis on land-based learning and ceremony and instruction in Indigenous languages. Cross-cultural programming would begin in Grade 7, and even school menus would be reviewed to incorporate more local ingredients and Indigenous foods. Staffing and administration was considered as well, including a recommendation that at least one seat on the RLC Board of Directors be occupied by an Indigenous member.
RLC’s Seven Generations initiative represented a cultural change, one that would affect the work of every staff member and department: Faculty, Student Life, Admissions, Boarding Life, Food Service, Outdoor Education, Curriculum Development. There was a hope that, in time, it would affect even the architecture of the school, creating physical spaces conducive to cultural practice, ceremony, and wellness—the look of the school would reflect Indigenous values, materials, and involve the contributions of Indigenous architects. RLC would provide a living, tangible example of what reconciliation could mean in the world of education and beyond.
In 2017 the leadership team was tasked with bringing the recommendations to life. This began a process of education, meeting with elders, alumni, and community members. In 2018, at the invitation of RLC alumnus and donor, Kelly Carrick ’85, Victoria Grant visited the campus. Victoria is of the Loon Clan, Teme-Augama Anishnabai, and a member of the Temagami First Nation. She is President and owner of Moving Red Canoe, offering consultation on Aboriginal affairs. “It was a really interesting meeting,” she later recalled. It was, and marked an important turning point. After strategies for introducing the principles of reconciliation into all aspects of student life were presented, Grant paused to refocus the conversation. She recalls, “I said ask yourself: What would make an Indigenous student feel comfortable here? How can they see themselves within the school?”
“Come walk with us”
On the face of it, she was asking exactly that: What would make Indigenous students feel comfortable here? But Grant’s larger point was that the heart of the initiative needs to be relational: people relating to people, all learning and teaching, all equal parts of the academic, social, and cultural equation. Reconciliation isn’t only an acknowledgment of the past, she was suggesting, it’s also a consideration of how we approach each other, and how we move together toward a shared future. When she was invested into the Order of Canada in 2021, the citation noted her efforts to “bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous culture, businesses and communities, through … facilitation and mediation.” She’s often described as a philanthropist, which she is, though during a visit to the school in 2022 she commented that “I would describe myself as a community builder.”
That’s the piece that Grant brought to the Seven Generations project: an anchoring in community. She helped draft the role of the Indigenous Seven Generations Cultural Program Coordinator, one that Dawn Tabobondung has fulfilled, bringing all the concepts to life. The school has integrated Indigegogy, or Indigenous ways of knowing and teaching, into the curriculum, while providing a space where they all can learn from each other. “The school is a whole school,” Grant said. From Austrian to Anishinabek, “it comes together with many different cultures. You come together [and] you learn from each other.” She has said that, within her philanthropic work, “our philosophy is that there is brilliance and ingenuity in our communities.” That, too, found its way into the DNA of the Seven Generations initiative. “We say ‘come walk with us,” she says, “and we’ll create a better world.”
In academics, school culture, enrolment, and administration, RLC’s Seven Generations Initiative serves as a model for other schools and organizations seeking to integrate Indigenous knowledge, tradition culture and perspectives into their own reconciliation initiatives.
The Seven Grandfather Teachings are grounded in traditional Anishinaabe values, and have been passed down through generations as a guide to growing and learning to live a good life.
To know LOVE is to know peace. The eagle teaches us love.
HUMILITY is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation. The wolf teaches us humility.
To honor all of the Creation is to have RESPECT. The buffalo teaches us respect.
HONESTY also means “righteousness,” to be honest first with yourself in word and action. The Sabe teaches us honesty.
BRAVERY / COURAGE is to face the foe with integrity. The bear teaches us courage and bravery.
To cherish knowledge is to know WISDOM. The beaver teaches us wisdom.
TRUTH is to know all of these things. The turtle teaches us truth.