I love school. As a child, it was a safe haven, a place of discovery, and those experiences helped me develop a love of learning that endures today. My childhood was far from perfect, but my experiences with school and with teachers led me to my chosen career as an educator. I graduated high school in the early 1990s without having ever learned one iota of information regarding the government sanctioned genocide known as Residential Schools.
In fall 2005, I finished the undergrad courses needed to complete my Bachelor of Education degree. As one of my final classes, I took Indigenous Studies 100 and it was in this class that I first learned about Residential Schools. As a requirement for the class, I wrote an essay comparing the sanctioning of the schools by the government to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. Two of the primary sources used for my essay were Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools by J.R. Miller and A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System 1879-1996 by John S. Milloy. These books and the chapter of Canadian history that they illuminated for me continue to haunt me.
The horrors I read about in Miller and Milloy’s books made me feel so sad and a deep sense of responsibility. How could the federal government allow such a thing to happen, much less be completely responsible for it? Everything I had ever thought or “known” about Canada as a welcoming, multicultural country was turned on its head. My white privilege was overwhelming and heavy and left me feeling an immense sense of guilt. It also left me feeling powerless.
In 2016, a friend and I visited the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. One of the most moving and inspiring exhibits in the museum is the permanent Truth and Reconciliation exhibition on Level 7 (which is aptly called Inspiring Change). Though the entire museum is moving and awe-inspiring, there was just something about this exhibit that grabbed me by the heartstrings and wouldn’t let me go. The museum’s website contains a section on the history called Childhood Denied. It is a good place to start learning about Residential Schools as a tragic piece of Canadian history.
It took many years for me to arrive here, at a place where I feel not only compelled to participate in a journey of reconciliation, but have the tools I feel I need to embark on the journey in a respectful and supportive way to encourage healing – healing not only for myself but for all those around me. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada recognize that in order for healing to occur, four things must happen:
- awareness of the past,
- acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted,
- atonement for the causes,
- action to change behaviour.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission published ninety-four Calls to Action. Four of those calls to action are specific to Education and call upon the various levels of government to fulfill their responsibilities.
Education for reconciliation
62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:
i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.
ii. Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.
iii. Provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.
iv. Establish senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minister level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education.
63. We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:
i. Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.
ii. Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.
iii. Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.
iv. Identifying teacher-training needs relating to the above.
64. We call upon all levels of government that provide public funds to denominational schools to require such schools to provide an education on comparative religious studies, which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices developed in collaboration with Aboriginal Elders.
65. We call upon the federal government, through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, post-secondary institutions and educators, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and its partner institutions, to establish a national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation.
Of particular value to me as an educator is building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect. With that in mind, I began my journey. Starting a journey of reconciliation can be completely overwhelming. So far the journey has brought feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, shame, and intense loneliness for me. In order to be a witness and to ensure that I am doing my part to promote healing, it is worth the emotional journey.
Over the next few months I will be documenting my journey of reconciliation. I will gather resources and organize the information in such a way that I can share it with my students, my school, and my community. I am using Wakelet to organize my resources and will be sharing each collection of resources as I journey onward. The first collection is Starting a Journey of Reconciliation.
I hope following my journey will encourage others to follow their own path towards reconciliation, and that the resources I share will help them find their way.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu