“Just As We Are All Treaty People, We All Need To Bear Witness”

Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to a powerful lecture based around the ideas of identity and reconciliation. During his lecture,  Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair shared about the profoundly negative impact that residential schools had on the First Nations culture, and continue to have today.  Justice Sinclair brought up many excellent points about how important reconciliation is for everyone, not just First Nations people. All too often, it seems that many feel that the impact that residential schools continue to have is not their problem. Some popular arguments I have heard include:

“It’s not like we were around during residential schools, so why are you blaming all white people?”  

“They (First Nations people) should be over it by now… it happened years ago.” 

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but these types of arguments just make me angry. Angry that residential schools ever happened in the first place, but also angry that our education system has done such a poor job of educating others on the impact that these schools have. As stated previously, residential schools have not just impacted First Nations culture. During his presentation, Justice Sinclair stated that residential schools have also impaired non-First Nations peoples’ knowledge and perception of the First Nations culture. It seems so strange to me that a part of history that has had such a profound effect is talked about in schools so rarely.

While we cannot and should not ever forget the past, it is important that we also consider the future. Many of my peers, including Ryan and Ashley, have written excellent posts reflecting on their own commitments to reconciliation. My commitment to reconciliation is to first better educate myself on the TRC and their invaluable work, and from there try to create a classroom environment where residential schools are not an off-limits topic, and all students’ ever-forming identities and experiences are valued and celebrated.

When I think of residential schools, as well as how they are portrayed today, I often think of the simple explanations of bullying that I received in elementary school. Back then, bullies were simply thought of as those who did harm to others for their own gain, victims were those who helplessly received the harm, and bystanders were those who stood around and watched the harm happen, but did not speak up or step in. When it comes to the portrayal (or non-portrayal) of residential schools and the generations of harm that they have done to First Nations people, I refuse to be a bystander.

“The Perfect Crime” by Aaron Peters is an honest portrayal of the effects of residential schools 

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3 thoughts on ““Just As We Are All Treaty People, We All Need To Bear Witness”

  1. raquelbellefleur says:

    Hi Ashton,

    Thanks for sharing! I love how you shared your commitment to learn more about the TRC. It seems overwhelming, but I was really encouraged by the way Justice Sinclair broke it down, suggesting to start with the summary and to pick one Call to Action and commit to it.

    You said from there you will try to “create a classroom environment where residential schools are not an off-limits topic, and all students’ ever-forming identities and experiences are valued and celebrated.”

    How will you do this create this kind of environment? What strategies can we use to validate and affirm students’ identities?

  2. Ashton Mills says:

    Sorry for the late reply, Raquel! It seems that I start to reply and then sometimes forget to finish haha. I think in order to validate and affirm students’ identities we need to give them the time to share their experiences and explore their opinions. I feel like it would be easy as a teacher to get caught up in just teaching overt curriculum content and putting a large focus on test scores and assessment, but it is so important that the content we are providing is based around our students. They should be able to see themselves in the content that we teach. This means including experiences that allow students to share their stories and funds of knowledge. For a super simple example, during my internship I had one student who was in the foster care system and was First Nations, but had never been taught about his culture by his foster family or teachers. During work time, I put on music by “A Tribe Called Red,” and the boy got so excited and yelled: “Hey! This is the kind of music that my mom sometimes dances to in her beautiful costume!” From there, we had a discussion about First Nations culture and he was able to teach the students about the Pow Wows he attended occasionally. Something as simple as putting on music led to a deeper conversation and allowed the boy to share an important part of his identity.

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