Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy Programming in Indigenous Communities

Learning is a lifelong process which starts with the loving relationships in families. Roots of Empathy believes that we are all born with the capacity for empathy but that it is in the earliest months and years in the primary relationships in a baby’s life that empathy either blooms or fades. The Indigenous communities with whom we work frequently mention that “babies are gifts of the Creator”. We agree and see babies as tiny, but powerful teachers.

Collaborating over the decades with First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities we have learned much about the power of love, the power of community, the power of tradition, culture and language.

Please contact Catherine Talbot, Director, Canada ctalbot@rootsofempathy.org if you would like to learn more!

Changing the World Child by Child

Resolution 38

Roots of Empathy is supported and endorsed by Resolution 38 presented to Founder/President Mary Gordon in 2008 by Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chief Phil Fontaine and the Assembly of First Nations at the Annual General Assembly. We are further supported and endorsed by AFN Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. In many Indigenous communities, Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy are identified as “healing programs” because they increase emotional literacy.

Photo: Mary Gordon meets with Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chief Phil Fontaine in 2008 in his Ottawa office.   

Twenty-five years of published, independent research proves the effectiveness of the Roots of Empathy program, which has been repeatedly shown to reduce aggression, including bullying, and increase prosocial behaviour – kindness, caring, helping and including. The research shows that this impact continues over time.

Roots of Empathy (Green Blanket) and Seeds of Empathy (Lavender Blanket) programs reach Indigenous children in every province in Canada. We also work with Indigenous communities in New Zealand and Hawaii.

“A lot of things are difficult in our community but connection to each other is a big part of who we are and Roots of Empathy strengthens those connections. And because our community is small, the program goes beyond the school.” – Kathyrn Kapashesit, parent and Roots of Empathy Instructor, Moosonee

Faces from the Lavender and Green Blanket

Voices from the Lavender and Green Blanket

We Only Ask Authentic Questions
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Grade 7 student written prompt from Theme 8 " Who Am I" They wrote, " I am First Nations. My great grandpa was a chief. I go to long houses. I have experienced traveling. Fortnite. Football. Soccer. Family. I am athletic. Passionate. I want to be an automotive designer. Friends. I have experienced laughter. I have experienced friends. I sing traditional songs. Go to potlucks. I make traditional cedar huts. I go to traditional meets. Have experienced wealth. Great grandpa went to residential school. I have a good sense of humour. I am kind. I am caring.

In Roots of Empathy classes, whether at the kindergarten level or Grade 7, all students are invited to reflect on who they are, and on what is important to them and to their family. Additionally, children are exposed to the concept of intrinsic motivation and intrinsic pride, that their contribution to their family, school and community is not so much about their talent in school or sports or art, but about their character. The “Who Am I” theme which comes close to the end of the Roots of Empathy year has allowed this student to reflect on his pride of his First Nations heritage.

The Earliest Days of Building Attachment - Father Bathes Baby

Roots of Empathy training video celebrates male nurturance and the primacy of the attachment relationship in developing empathy.

Roots of Empathy Books

Faces of Time is a celebration of Indigenous babies. All the babies in this book are of Indigenous heritage—First Nations, Métis and Inuit. They are the contemporary faces of the founding Nations—faces of time—honouring the antiquity of Indigenous peoples and the promise of the future. The shades of language and culture that are our collective past inform our future and are the bedrock from which we grow. This book features several Indigenous languages: Cree Syllabics, Inuktitut, Ojibway, and Mohawk. We recognize that this contribution is not inclusive of all Indigenous languages but instead represents a humble attempt to honour and celebrate those who first peopled our land.

Wise Love, is a book by Roots of Empathy that celebrates the centrality of love in the family and the strength of connection between generations. Wise Love celebrates Elders as keepers and givers of wisdom and culture.

In our fast-paced world, where reflection is a scarce commodity, Elders from the Anishinabek of M’Chigeeng and Wikwemikong open their doors and their hearts to reflect on their culture, language and values, with stories of love, loss and hope. The insights they share in this book help us look in the rear view mirror to see where we have been, informing where we will go.

“The wisdom of the heart in Wise Love lights the footpath beyond the boundaries of science and technology to create the world children deserve.” – Mary Gordon, Founder/President Roots of Empathy 

Voices from Wise Love

“Grandfathers and grandmothers should be listened to about the good way and about their life. Children need this kind of knowledge. They hunger for it. We have to share the knowledge we have.” – Linda Kaboni

“When I was young I learned lot from my grandparents. They taught me how to trap, and how to live off the land. – Jules Osawamick

“The best way to talk to a child is real real clam, not to yell. Both sides have to be respectful. The child and the parent. We have to teach that respect.” – Jacob Wemingwans

“All the older people, they are grandparents to every child here. Because one of our teachings is that the whole community raises the child.” – Jacob Wemingwans

“I lost my son three years ago. He was only 16. It’s devastating but I have so much love here for him. We learned how to grieve as family, not to shut each other out. So we learned that, and that’s part of empathy that our children need to learn. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to say I love you. It’s ok to hug.” – Valerie Lavallee

“Our children are gifts from the creator. Love and respect them to raise them best you can. I know they are only on loan.” – Valerie Lavallee

“I have two daughters, three grandchildren. I taught them how to love no matter what state the person is in. We always told each other, “I love you”, and I think that is the most basic thing that everyone should be saying to their children, “I love you”. – Patricia Migwans

“I help my two children. And what I know to show them I would show them. They’ve seen me prepare fish and they said, “What are you doing Grandma?” I said, “I’m smoking fish, if you want to learn how, come with me, stay here and watch me. See how I do it.” Show them so they can carry on what they know. And I teach them Ojibwe. – Linda Judy Armstrong

Voices for Indigenous People

Lyle Viereck

Lyle Viereck is of both Cree and African American heritage. He has over 30 years of experience in negotiations on behalf of First Nations, negotiating hundreds of resource agreements between First Nations, large corporations and government. He gives an emotional narrative on how he connected to Roots of Empathy and supported our Indigenous programming in British Columbia. Lyle is also a Roots of Empathy Canadian Board member.

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Click here to watch his testimonial.

Justice Murray Sinclair

In honour of Roots of Empathy’s 25th anniversary, we presented the inaugural Roots of Empathy Social Justice Award to His Honour Justice Murray Sinclair, LLB, MSC, IPC. He is Anishinaabe and a member of the Peguis First Nation. He is a Fourth Degree Chief of the Midewiwin Society, a traditional healing and spiritual society of the Anishinaabe Nation responsible for protecting the teachings, ceremonies, laws and history of the Anishinaabe. Among his many achievements: he was the first Indigenous Judge appointed in Manitoba and the second in Canada; he served as Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry in Manitoba and was Chief Commissioner of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Roots of Empathy is honoured to present this award to His Honour Justice Murray Sinclair. For his response to the award, CLICK HERE

Subsequent to the Symposium, Canada grieved the death of 215 Indigenous children whose remains were discovered in the grounds of a former Kamloops residential school in British Columbia. Then, another 751 unmarked graves of Indigenous children were discovered in Saskatchewan. His Honour Justice Murray Sinclair is a voice for justice for Indigenous children, their families and their community and he reminds us that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission outlined six specific calls to action that pertain to child deaths – including that records of children who died in care be released and that families be informed of where their deceased children were buried. To read the Truth and Reconciliation Report CLICK HERE

Assembly of First Nations Chief RoseAnne Archibald

Roots of Empathy congratulates RoseAnne Archibald, of the Taykwa Tagamou Nation in Ontario. She is the first female leader of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), an advocacy organization representing 634 First Nations with 900,000 members. The first woman to hold the position of National Chief, Archibald has promised to work with governments to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action. Archibald says “I know that with that heart-centred approach, together with any government we can move the yardstick, we can create quantum leaps of change and that’s my plan.” Among the issues she plans to focus on are the unmarked burial sites at former residential schools, murdered and missing Indigenous women and systemic racism. “With the recent discovery and recovery of our little ones across this country, we are all awake and what people need to understand and what people need to come to terms with is how settler Canadians have benefited from these colonial practices and how we, as Indigenous people, have been the target of genocide,” she said after the win. “We are going to stare this straight in the face and kick colonial policies to the curb. Change is happening.”

Her Excellency Governor General Mary Simon

It is with great honour that Roots of Empathy extends our congratulations to Her Excellency, Mary Simon in her newly appointed role as Governor General of Canada. This historic appointment is an important moment for the Inuit community and all Indigenous people. The Governor General is the Queen’s representative of Canada and acts as the country’s head of state. An advocate for Inuit rights for more than 40 years, Ms Simon will be the first Indigenous person to fulfill the role of Governor General of Canada. “My view is that reconciliation is a way of life and requires work every day,” Simon said. “Reconciliation is getting to know one another.”

Resources in Indigenous Languages

What is Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy? – Indigenous Languages

Ojibway

Cree Roman Orthography

Cree Syllabics

Mohawk

Cayuga

Parenting Through COVID-19 Video Series in Indigenous Languages

To help parents and educators during these challenging times, and beyond, Mary Gordon, Roots of Empathy’s Founder/President, created a parenting video series translated into six Indigenous languages: Mohawk, Ojibwe, Cree, Inuktitut, Wolastoqey, and Mi’kmaq.