I need to first thank @jayodjick for his continual kind nature and supportive ways in helping this educator become more alert and aware of how to decolonize the education system. Another Miigwech to @AlexanderJodyd for her continued support and guidance.
With Orange Shirt Day only a few days away, I am feeling the need to share some of the thoughts that come to mind as an educator, and a first generation Canadian (on one side). I admit that I learned little of this land’s indigenous people prior to university or at least nothing that truly resonated. It was Dr. Cynthia Alexander who opened my eyes to our FNMI community and it has sort of gone forward from there. The connection is what has helped some students better understand the importance of Orange Shirt Day and #EveryChildMatters
Many of my students are like me. They are either first generation or new to Canada Canadians or permanent residents. Sometimes their overall understanding of the history of this land is not that far removed from their own lived experiences. This is something that I have taken to mind when it comes to inclusionary practices of FNMI education in our learning.
Within our learning space, proudly hangs the works of Jay Odjick. FNMI resources are not hidden in an educator closet, but proudly up front with the accesible reads for students. On the wall, when the humidity is not extremely high, hangs a map of the Residential Schools here in Ontario. There is more that could and should be added, but this is what students view daily, begin to ask questions about, and begin to connect it to their lives and where we sit now as community from coast to coast.
This year, I shared with my students a tad bit of my own story that in all honesty, was not often talked about. I lost my father when I was 20 and it was not something I, nor my family was prepared for. I wish I had learned more of my history and understand my father’s narrative. His father fled to Canada during WWII. He raised money for my father, my grandmother, and his sister to come to Canada. From what my mother has told me, my father’s family was one that tried to help others, and as a result, they needed to flee to where they would feel safe. There choice was Canada or Australia and knew little of either. Though it was not an easy road to getting back up on their feet, I was given the impression that they ‘made it’ without horrid persucution given they were from Austria/Hungry. I am not looking for sympathy by sharing this story, I am trying to provide context to connext that will help students better understand the history of residential schools.
So how does this apply to Indigenous education let alone residential schools? Why is sharing this story of my family’s past relevent? In many ways it is not. I am not here to draw grandisoque similarities nor to offend anyone, more so to share how I am attempting to connect students to a past that occured on this land that is sometimes, quite new to them. My family’s need to flee ripped them from family they left behind or who chose go to somewhere else. Their fleeing was not a complete choice, but there was some freedom in that choice. Like some of my students, they have lived similar stories, leaving some family behind and heading to a new land where, everything is new; food, language, clothing, culture in general. Though some are persucuted and unfortunately not all led to feel safe, they have, what some argue, a better life in the moment.
That is where I start to draw the connection. Students have come here for a variety of reasons some of which we cannot even fathom. For some, the idea of residential schools is quite far removed let alone FNMI culture/traditions/rights. Drawing any connection to their lives through being uprooted is at the heart of how I begin to share what residential schools did to the people of this land and continues to do today.
I ask my students if they have been ever asked to cut their hair by an educator; have they ever been asked to shun their religion; have they ever been asked to not speak to their sibblings or been denied the right to go home when the day was done? They all of course say no, though some are quick to point out that they are remnded to speak in English or French and well, that’s a whole other multilingual blog post convo to come. Back to my point, students are encouraged to be who they are and to share it with others in a respectful manner in our school. This was not the cause in our residential school system let alone the choice to ‘attend’ one.
Once students have responded to these questions, residential school system is shared and our inquiry and learning begin. They begin to learn that students did not go by choice to these places called ‘school’. That families were duped, torn apart, and in some cases, destroyed. They learn that identity was denounced and that the use of one’s mother tongue or traditions led to punishments that would lead one to prison today. They, present day students, begin to see how such an act can damage a family for generations in the sense that their moving to Canada has shifted the potential plans of their family.
By drawing these, what some could call ‘over simplistic’ connections into the learning space, students can begin to understand the horrific decisions of this country’s past and better place themselves in a position to respect the land on which they live. Jay’s recent Twitter post says it all in terms of how aweful it all ways and the lengths families were taking to keep their family and community rooted together. It is this point, the rooting of community, that draws me to the activity that I have been doing for the past few years.
This Friday, I be will be sharing the Roots of our Community Activity it will stay proudly in our learning space as a reminder that #EveryChildMatters. We will be looking at where residential schools existed in Ontario, learning of the stories of those who surrvived throughout our school year, and become more informed as to the beautiful teachings of our FNMI community in connection with nature.
There is much more I could write. Like how much more I have to learn, how much I need to reach out to our FNMI community to come into our learning space or head out to their’s to be better informed, and to of course, respect this land that I am on through all means possible. I am committed to do doing better for the sake of generations to come.
It is my hope that our education ‘system’ sees the need and the necessity in decolonizing the curriculum to truly see that #EveryChildMatters and that the whole picture of the history of this land is a right that all who live here need to know.
My personal commitment is to honour the land that has granted myself and my family so much and to honour the people who have lived on this land for centuries.
Thank you, Merci, Miigwech.
Yours in learning,
The Enthusiastic Learner
(Blogged on Unceded Algonquin Territory)