I teach a first-year class in Indigenous Studies at Trent University and have done so since 1999. We tell the story of what I call the Long Assault: the more than a century assault on Indigenous lands, territories, languages, cultures and knowledge. It is a remarkable story to tell, and there is now a tremendous volume of material that can be used to illustrate how it worked and show its continuing impact on our lives. It’s an essential and challenging story for students to learn. It helps them to understand what happened and why. The new generation of students, popularly called Gen Z, don’t just want facts presented to them, they want to know why things are the way they are. They are motivated by social justice, a desire for equality and fairness. Many want their education to go beyond the classroom and to present them with knowledge and tools that can help them to make a real difference.
Local Elders have told us that you cannot build upon weakness, you have to build upon strength, that we should choose ways to lift our students. Over the last decade, I’ve added to the story and teach the students about what I call The Great Healing. This story tells of the journey over the previous half-century to restore sovereignty, reclaim lands, waters and territories as well as the development of our communities and nations. It’s also a story of cultural revitalization through the arts and a renewed spirituality. We recognize that enormous challenges are facing us (increasing access to safe drinking water, improving levels of education and incomes, improving overall health, tackling mental health and high rates of suicides, challenging racism and prejudice, etc.) and we discuss how we are addressing these challenges.
We point out that we have committed and educated leaders, men and women who are well schooled in both western and Indigenous knowledge. Our leaders are politicians, educators, social workers, health care workers, business owners, lawyers, scientists, public intellectuals, Elders and spiritual leaders. We turn to Indspire as a place where Indigenous achievement is recognized and acknowledged. Many Indigenous community leaders have been recognized by their communities and Canada and the provinces for their outstanding contributions to their communities.
We tell stories of determination, persistence, creativity, innovation and leadership. Using the medicine circle, we also tell stories through time: of the past, the present and a new future. Telling this story is hard as it is overwhelmed by the story of the Long Assault and its impact. Adding the Great Healing to our narrative uplifts our communities, our leaders and our students. It also provides a foundation for concrete action for gen z students so that they can build on their strengths.