Topic: Education

Northern Lakes College Collaboration Results in Creation of the Atoske Community Educational Health Lab

In October 2018, the Atoske Action Group (AAG) and Northern Lakes College (NLC) celebrated the grand opening of the Atoske Community Educational Health Lab located at the Northern Lakes College campus in Wabasca. This was made possible when AAG received a contribution of $450,000 from the Government of Canada through Western Economic Diversification Canada to train community members who want to pursue health careers. AAG dedicates its work to increasing the skills, abilities, and size of the local work forces within its communities, which include Bigstone Cree Nation, Chipewyan Lake, the MD of Opportunity, Peerless Trout First Nation, Sandy Lake, and Wabasca-Desmarais. “Atoske” is the Cree word meaning, “to work”.

In 2015, The Bigstone Health Commission reached out to the AAG to assist in promoting health careers to community members. Roundtable meetings between AAG, Alberta Works, Bigstone Education Authority, and NLC resulted in the development of a plan that supports community members to pursue Health Care Aide training.  

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada comments, “Access to local community training programs creates new opportunities for life. Through effective partnerships with Indigenous Peoples, the Government of Canada is helping to remove barriers to success by ensuring local citizens are able to obtain the skills they require to fully participate in the economy and strengthen their communities.”

Art Bigstone, Chair of AAG comments, “A crucial aspect of the Atoske Action Group vision is to provide meaningful and accessible training through key partnerships. The Atoske Community Educational Health Lab and its associated programming are only possible because of the partnership between the Atoske Action Group, Bigstone Cree Nation, the M.D. of Opportunity, the Western Diversification Program, and Northern Lakes College.”

“Educating local residents in the health professions will be a real asset to the MD of Opportunity when we open our seniors’ health facility in the fall of 2019,” enthuses Reeve Marcel Auger, MD of Opportunity No. 17.

NLC President and CEO Ann Everatt says, “The College’s ongoing commitment to access and quality results in the reduction of educational barriers faced by northcentral Albertan’s. The Atoske Community Educational Health Lab ensures that community members will have access to the lab experiences required for the Health Care Aide program right here in the community. As a part of the larger initiative to increase capacity for Health Care Aides in the community, the creation of the customized Health Preparation Program ensures that local students receive the educational preparation required to enter into the Health Care Aide program.”

The Complicated History of Hereditary Chiefs and Elected Councils

Douglas Sanderson | University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Douglas Sanderson | University of Toronto Faculty of Law

The recent internal struggles between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and elected council has many wondering: what powers rest with whom?

The Wet’suwet’en nation is made up of five clans, and within those, 13 houses. The five hereditary chiefs representing the clans are all opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline running through their territory, while the elected council gave their go-ahead.

Elected chiefs and council generally hold authority over reserve lands and their infrastructure. Traditional chiefs oversee the territories and hold ceremonial and historical importance to First Nations.

Electoral systems are a result of the section 74 of the Indian Act, imposed upon First Nations by Canada. It was designed to eradicate the hereditary system and create something more recognizable for the western government.

Gina Starblanket, who is Cree and Saulteaux and a member of the Star Blanket Cree Nation in Treaty 4 territory in Saskatchewan, is an assistant professor in Indigenous Politics at the University of Calgary.  

She says that hereditary chiefs hold a symbolic role as well as a practical one. She acknowledges that it becomes particularly complicated when the question arises of who represents the nation’s voice in external relations, as in the Wet’suwet’en case.

“Hereditary chiefs are often recognized as traditional knowledge keepers, and in some contexts are recognized as having greater authority and rights relative to things like traditional territory or cultural knowledge and tradition,” she says. “But again, this varies from community to community and is also contested within communities.”

When it comes to where the authority lies, the answer is complex. The pipeline has just magnified the continual question of who controls what.

In a media release from the Wet’sewet’en, Chief Na’moks emphasized their rights to protection of their lands.

“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have maintained their use and occupancy of their lands and hereditary governance system for thousands of years. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are the Title Holders and maintain authority and jurisdiction to make decisions on unceded lands,” it said.

Chief Kloum Kuhn said the hereditary chiefs will never support the Coastal GasLink project.

“Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en, Wet’suwet’en rule of law, all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals and given no authority to Coastal Gaslink/TransCanada to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands,” he said.

BRINGING THEM TOGETHER

Douglas Sanderson (Amo Binashii), a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, is a professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto.

He says the answer is more an amalgamation of the hereditary and the elected systems, especially when it comes to working with those outside the community.

“I think what we need to do is find a way to bring these two things together, so that you just have a decision making body,” Sanderson says. “The problem is created because outsiders don’t understand our communities. They’ve never been there, they don’t know how to operate.”

He says it’s integral that companies like the Coastal GasLink pipeline know the communities they’re working with, and that the confrontation should have been obvious if they had met with the Wet’suwet’en.

“They obviously didn’t spend any time there,” Sanderson says. “So they shouldn’t be surprised that this is unraveling in the way that it is.”

AN ASSIMILATORY PROCESS

The proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline will run through 20 First Nations’ territories and the company received approval from all of them, although they sought assent only from elected officials. Some hereditary leaders also gave the thumbs up, but ultimately the go-ahead came from signed agreements with elected officials.

The reactions were mixed, but public opinion seemed to strongly sway toward supporting the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Protests and rallies were held across Canada. Celebrities and musicians across North America voiced their support. Hereditary chiefs and elected council members from other bands wrote letters of encouragement.

Starblanket says this example of the clash between elected and hereditary leadership illustrates the problematic nature of electoral process.

“In many instances where those electoral systems were imposed, that was in an assimilatory process that was intended to undermine traditional leadership,” she says. “It also allowed for the imposition of patriarchal processes because it denied women’s jurisdiction and participation in selecting leaders.”

She emphasizes that she is from the prairie communities and doesn’t want to speak on behalf of the coastal communities.

“These electoral processes were imposed on all of us,” Starblanket says. “But also traditionally, they looked very different.”

Gordon Christie agrees on the fluctuations within Indigenous groups. He’s Inuvialuit and a professor at the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, who studies Aboriginal rights.

“It can be variable, depending on the community or nation,” Christie says. “You’re talking about many First Nations communities that have resisted the imposition of band councils since day one, and they continue to today. Others resisted in the early stages, but then became comfortable with the band council system.”

He says there are First Nations that are comfortable with the band council system because that’s what they have known for generations.

“You’ve got a whole range of different histories. You have to go to each nation and find out what their story is,” he says.

A HISTORY OF RESISTANCE

Christie say the 1920s were a turning point for First Nations communities in Canada, when the country put its foot down, making it illegal to litigate and shut down a lot of legal outlets for Indigenous communities.

“That was a time of strong resistance,” Christie says. “Canada’s response was to get more harsh in its position, and in some communities, it moved in and physically removed the old hereditary system and put in place the band council system.”

For now, he agrees with the hereditary chiefs.

“For the Wet’suwet’en, you have the houses and the clans,” he says. “It makes complete sense to say that they have legal authority over their house territories.”

 

Discover the Iniskim Centre at Mount Royal University


 

Mount Royal University’s Iniskim Centre offers programs and services to increase the engagement and success of Indigenous students while raising awareness of Indigenous peoples and cultures.  Mount Royal University is located on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot people, the Niitsitapi. The centre recognizes and respects the diversity of all Indigenous peoples of Canada. The centre also increases the awareness of distinct Indigenous cultures, history and protocols across the University.

With any program a student chooses, the Iniskim Centre will be there to help them prepare to succeed in their academic pursuits and future career. The Inskim Centre is here to encourage students throughout their program of study, providing resources such as academic and cultural support, academic advising, writing support, and scholarship information.

 

ABORIGINAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION PROGRAM

This program is a comprehensive support system designed to support students as they work towards a career in science and technology.

 

ABORIGINAL EDUCATION PROGRAM

Preparing students to pursue a postsecondary education with three levels of study providing upgrading in Math, English, Native Studies, and Science.

 

INDIGENOUS STUDENT HOUSING

A supportive community of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who live on campus. There are single units and family units at affordable rates. All students in the program gather for monthly social events.

 

MEDICINE TRAIL (NAATO’OHSOKOY) PROGRAM

Students can visit a coordinator and be a part of small and large group cultural teachings. They may also see a coordinator for support and guidance. The Iniskim Centre offers students a place and the resources to smudge each morning and hosts various ceremonies throughout the year.

A coordinator will also support professors by connecting them with wisdom keepers and elders.

 

STUDENT SUCCESS PROGRAM

Students have access to many of the resources provided by the centre such as, academic support, peer mentorship, counseling services, financial information, instructor office hours and tutorials. As a mentor, a student success coordinator will work with students to help ensure success.

To learn more about the Iniskim Centre and all supports available for Indigenous students, visit mru.ca/IndigenousMRU

Space, full of mysteries, still slowly being understood

These plots show the signals of gravitational waves detected by the twin LIGO observatories at Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. The signals came from two merging black holes, each about 30 times the mass of our sun, lying 1.3 billion light-years away.
Photo by Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Corey M. Gray is a Siksika-goo-wan (Blackfoot) who grew up in Southern California. He earned dual Bachelor of Science degrees – one in physics and the other in applied mathematics – from Humboldt State University. Today he is an astronomer at Caltech’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO Hanford Observatory), one of only two LIGO facilities in the U.S.

Built in the arid Benton County, Washington State, the astronomical tool is an eight kilometer long L-shaped structure. Shortly after graduation, Gray was hired to install hardware for the first LIGO detector. He learned to operate the device and collect data on cosmic gravitational waves moving at the speed of light. “Black holes will sometimes merge and create gravitational waves just before merging and then go quiet,” says Gray, who eventually became the lead operator for the Hanford Observatory LIGO.

LIGO collects data on the merging of black holes from long ago and anything else that may make gravitational movement in outer space. Gravitational waves are recorded by using mirrors, laser beams, and hardware installed by Cory’s team. Instruments required frequent modification as this was experimental and the science was new. The second LIGO in Louisiana is necessary because LIGO requires two widely separated detectors operated in unison to rule out false signals.

The machine made its first detection of a real event on September 14, 2015, coincidentally on the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. This detection greatly supports Einstein’s work. From Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): “Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves as part of the theory of general relativity. In Einstein’s theory, space and time are aspects of a single measurable reality called space-time. Matter and energy are two expressions of a single material. We can think of space-time as a fabric; the presence of large amounts of mass or energy distorts space-time – in essence causing the fabric to ‘warp’ – and we observe this warpage as gravity. Freely falling objects – whether soccer balls, satellites, or beams of starlight – simply follow the most direct path in this curved space-time. When large masses move suddenly, some of this space-time curvature ripples outward, spreading in much the way as ripples on the surface of an agitated pond. When two dense objects such as neutron stars or black holes orbit each other, space-time is stirred by their motion and gravitational energy ripples throughout the universe.”

Asked how LIGO’s detections and recordings of the gravitational waves help us understand the universe, Gray tells First Nations Drum that a good chunk of astronomy can be explained by Newton’s law of gravity (for example how planets move around the Sun). “We can get information from stars by looking at them in telescopes, radio dishes, etc.  But this is only a small part of our universe. Our universe is incomprehensibly large, and in this large universe there are big objects (such as black holes) and strong-gravity events that happen quite often,” said Gray. “Gravitational waves come from these types of events, and we can learn something completely new and different with gravitational wave signals.”

Gray says that before LIGO’s detections “all we had to work with when we looked up at the stars was light. Light is something which happens from atomic reactions going on in objects like stars. Gravitational waves are generated by the actual objects. So it is like we have a completely new sense to get information about our universe. Gravitational wave astronomy has barely just started. We have ideas of new things we will detect, but the real exciting thing is we will definitely get some completely big surprises, too—something we had no idea about. And with all of this we get to learn more about the universe around us.”

The word on LIGO findings spread quickly because they were published translated into multiple languages, including the Siksika language. General Theory of Relativity translates to: bisaatsinsiimaan; Gravitational waves translates to: Abuduuxbiisiiy o? bigimskAAsts (meaning “things that stick together, ripples in the water”); Scientist translates to: mugagyabiguwAx (meaning “all encompassing smart person”); Black Holes translate to: sigooxgiya; Universe translates to: spuu?ts.

Many more translated words, pondered by the mind of Gray’s mother Sharon Yellow Fly, is found in official LIGO documents and online.

 

Breaking the Poverty Cycle: The Economic Impact of Post-Secondary Education

Ruby Barclay speaks out about the value of post-secondary education| Photo By Vancouver Island University

Ruby Barclay speaks out about the value of post-secondary education| Photo By Vancouver Island University

 

After a year of planning, Ruby Barclay arrived at Vancouver Island University (VIU) Student Residences from her hometown with two Rubbermaid totes and a duffel bag.

“That was it – that was my entire life,” she remembers. “The first day was really, really tough.”

While most youth transitioning to post-secondary rely on parents and extended family for support with school, living expenses and advice, Barclay had just aged out of BC’s youth in care system. Unlike many of her peers, Barclay did not have a parent to make the journey with her, take her to Costco to get supplies, or help instill the confidence she needed to succeed in her studies.

“I had to figure out and plan all these things on my own,” she says. “Getting my acceptance letter from VIU is still one of the best days of my life. For me, it meant there was a chance to have a future beyond 19, and that someone believed I could do it. It was an opportunity to access education that I otherwise wouldn’t have access to – VIU was one of the only institutions waiving tuition fees for those with lived experience in the care system.”

Fast forward to today, and Barclay, who finished the requirements for her Child and Youth Care degree last spring, has found work she’s passionate about – supporting others who have experienced the government care system as Youth Advisory Council Coordinator with the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre.

A new report commissioned by VIU analyzing the economic impact and return on investment of education at the University found that VIU contributed to the socio-economic well-being of the local and provincial community by $23.1 million due to the benefits of post-secondary education. Students earn more because of the skills and qualifications they acquire at VIU, are less likely to require income assistance or commit crimes for this reason, and are statistically more likely to develop good health habits, states the report.

In 2016-17, the 67 students who were supported by VIU through the Post Care Tuition Waiver Program will generate $2 million in benefits to the provincial government throughout their working lives. This means that not only does the program create opportunities for youth to better their lives, but it also has long-term benefits for all.

While at VIU, Barclay discovered, partly through her own experiences, that although the University paid tuition expenses for anyone who has spent time in the care system, there were no supports built in to meet the unique needs of these students and ensure they were successful once they got here. She developed a practicum placement that later turned into a paid position at VIU – Peer Support Navigator for the Post-Care Tuition Waiver Program.

“As the first institution in BC to adopt such a program, VIU had to learn our role in supporting former youth in care to succeed,” explains William Litchfield, Associate Vice-President of University Relations. “Despite still being a student, Ruby’s role was largely about teaching us how to best support students, and creating a sense of community and connectedness between VIU and tuition waiver students.”

For Barclay, her education breaks the cycle of poverty for her own family and future generations. But that’s not the only thing post-secondary did for her – it also helped her find her family.

“The biggest benefit of going to VIU, aside from education, was the community,” she says. “I didn’t grow up believing that I could be more than someone with lived experience in care until I found a community that believed I could.”

 

The Engineering Access Program (ENGAP) at University of Manitoba

Photo Courtesy of Marketing Communications Office at the University of Manitoba

The Engineering Access Program (ENGAP) is a friendly, warm and supportive community of students and staff that was originally developed to bring about a greater representation of Indigenous students (First Nation, Metis and Inuit) within the engineering profession. One ENGAP student shares his perspective:

“ENGAP is a welcoming family that focus’ 100% of their time and energy to promote student emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health. ENGAP is my second home lead by a selfless director that encourages his staff with their amazing attitudes to promote our success. With the great people that run this program I am a proud student of Canada’s most successful Indigenous Engineering Access Program in Canada.”

– Chanse Kornik—Electrical Engineering

The success of ENGAP can be attributed to the wide array of supports it offers students, from academic, personal and financial to employment and community connections. If Indigenous students do not have the university entrance requirements, the ENGAP program offers free upgrading classes in math, physics, chemistry and computer science to help the students meet the highly competitive demands of engineering. In addition, ENGAP offers all of their students free tutoring, as well as the opportunity for ‘A’ students to become paid tutors. ENGAP then continues to support each student throughout their engineering degree, welcomes new Indigenous students at any stage of their degree and opens the door to all Direct Entry Indigenous students who are ready to take university credit courses.

Nicole Lambert, a Metis electrical engineering student shares her experience “ENGAP is a place where I’m always comfortable and surrounded by friends. It’s such a good resource for school and always welcoming.”

Our Indigenous engineering students have great career opportunities as they are sought after and hired for summer jobs, as well as after graduation.  In addition, when students are part of an engineering department they can experience term work positions through the Co-op program. For example, Nicole worked at Shell Canada for an 8 month Co-op work term.  We are proud to say she will be graduating with her Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering this coming spring!

ENGAP’s Application forms for the 2019/2020 Academic school year are due: MAY 1st.  Be sure to include all required documentation. Application forms can be found on our website.

For more information, please call (204) 474-9872 or toll free in Manitoba 1 (800) 432-1960 ext. 9872 or visit our website at www.engap.com

 

Only I Can Define What I Can Do

Makayla Laboucan. Photo by Northern Lakes College

Makayla Laboucan. Photo by Northern Lakes College

Northern Lakes College graduate Makayla Laboucan credits her family for her career choice in Social Work. “My family was a foster family. While I was growing up, I saw many different faces move in and out of our home. I also grew up watching my mother help clients; she works as a FASD worker in High Prairie. My sister also completed her Social Work Diploma with Northern Lakes College and recently graduated from the University of Calgary with her BSW. My life goal is to help and guide. I want to support those who want change in their lives,” she says.

A member of the Sucker Creek First Nation, Laboucan lives in High Prairie. She graduated from the Social Work Diploma program in May 2018 and has her eye on her future. “I will be returning to University Studies at Northern Lakes College (NLC) this winter before I apply for my degree in Social Work at the University of Calgary for the fall of 2019. I also have plans to continue my studies after my BSW, to pursue a Criminology degree,” she adds.

Laboucan choose to study at NLC because she was not ready to move away from her family. Attending NLC made it possible for her to stay connected with her family and to maintain the support system already in place. “I do not think I would have been as successful if I was four or six hours away from my family and friends,” she states.

Chosen as her class valedictorian, Laboucan delivered the farewell statement to the class of 2018 at NLC’s graduation ceremony in June. “When I received the letter indicating that I was chosen to be valedictorian, I was shocked,” she states. “If you would have told me two and a half years ago that I would be the valedictorian and giving a speech in front of an audience, I would have laughed at you and said ‘yeah right.’ This is a huge accomplishment. As an Aboriginal woman, it has taught me that anything is possible and that only I can define what I can do.”

Laboucan’s advice to others who are considering Social Work as a future career is to “be open-minded to all things. There will be things that you may not agree with but, as a future Social Worker, you cannot judge or make decisions based on your own opinions.”

 

Indigenous College Students Cope with Life Away from Home

Melissa West Morrison | UBC Aboriginal Student Affairs

Melissa West Morrison | UBC Aboriginal Student Affairs

Receiving a college acceptance letter in the mail is a watershed moment for many young adults, but stepping into that empty dorm room is another experience altogether.

More and more universities in Canada are building comprehensive Indigenous resource systems on campus and providing holistic opportunities for education.

While those supports are integral to ensure healthy and equal opportunities for Indigenous students, there’s another resource that most students away from home already have: social media.

It may get a bad rap these days, but now there is research showing that it provides more opportunities to sustain relationships with family and friends. Those students who move away from home especially benefit when logging on.

Far from Home

A study out of the University of Kansas examining international students found that adjusting to college life was made easier when they went online. The study found that interacting online provided a unique connection to people back home who shared the same culture.

While no research has yet been done on the the social media usage of Indigenous students, they share similar experiences with those international students who may be leaving a distinct cultural support system behind.

Adjusting to major life changes is challenging at any age, but it’s a two-for-one shock for students who both move away from home and are immersed in a completely new environment.

Adapting to college life, from sudden absolute freedom to the terrifying task of self management, is one of the most challenging times that young adults will face. There is pressure to not only succeed academically but to fit in socially.

A study published in 2016 looked at all of these components and found that particularly for college students, social media helped them adjust and cope to that exotic landscape.

It’s not just friends that students are reconnecting with: relationships with family also dramatically alter when kids move away. Researchers at Kent State University looked at how they interacted online with their nuclear family.

They found that when parents and children interact on social networks like Facebook, they are also more likely to talk in person: these online connections directly translated to more face-to-face time.

Longhouses, Gardens, and Podcasts

While social media plays a large role in how students cope with a new life away from home, the resources that universities provide also make a difference.

The University of British Columbia offers a First Nation and Indigenous Studies (FNIS) program that incorporates the Indigenous Health Research and Education Garden. The garden gives chances for students to learn about traditional plants and medicines, while also hosting a program that invites urban youth to come and learn.

The FNIS program spoke to several students about their experiences on campus. Melissa West Morrison, who is Kwakwaka’wakw, Namgis First Nation, and Chinese, was an intern at the Xʷc̓ic̓əsəm Garden. This internship not only introduced her to other students, but built up relationships with elders, an opportunity that many Indigenous students may miss.

“During my time at the Garden, I was the lead intern working with the Medicine Collective. I was really fortunate to be able to learn from Indigenous Elders and Knowledge-Keepers sharing traditional teachings and supporting workshops to reconnect and restore our relationships to lands and peoples that live on Turtle Island,” she told the FNIS program.

UBC also has its student-ran radio station, CiTR. It hosts Unceded Airwaves, a radio program hosted by the Indigenous Collective.

Nikita Day, who was getting her minor in First Nations and Indigenous Studies, said although she helped with Unceded Airwaves, she wished she had taken more advantage of the school-run programs.

“It wasn’t really until my third year that I started going to the longhouse and collaborating with the other Indigenous students, and that has turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ll take away from my time here,” she told the program.

“I know how difficult it can be attending an institution like UBC for the first time especially if, like me, you come from a much smaller place. My advice for other Indigenous students would be to try getting involved.”

 

National Gathering Reframes Barriers to Reconciliation in Schools as Opportunities for Change

Photo of Ira Provost, Dr. Leroy Little Bear, Julaine Guitton, Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse. Dr. Michelle Hogue, Darren Googoo, Francis First Charger. Photo by EdCan Network.

Left to right: Ira Provost, Dr. Leroy Little Bear, Julaine Guitton, Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse. Dr. Michelle Hogue, Darren Googoo, Francis First Charger. Photo by EdCan Network.

 

Since the release of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, school systems across Canada have been grappling with how best to embed Indigenous perspectives into all grade levels and aspects of schooling, including lessons on the history and legacy of residential schools. This has included diverse approaches to curricular reform and staff professional development plans, which have revealed that schools are progressing at varying paces along their journey towards reconciliation as they work to implement the Commission’s education-related calls to action. While many educators find themselves at the how-to stage and fearful of committing cultural appropriation in their teaching, numerous more are still asking, “Why should I do this?”, “Why is this my concern?” and “Even if I’m now obligated by curriculum, where would I begin since I know little to nothing about Indigenous histories and cultures?”

On October 12th, in an effort to address this tension, the national EdCan Network organized a professional learning event for over 200 teachers at the University of Lethbridge called “Truth and Reconciliation in Every School: What we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to do to move forward respectfully” – an acknowledgment that the road to reconciliation is not only an ongoing process that everyone is called to take up, but also a challenging personal investment that will unfold differently for each educator. The event catered directly to teachers and teacher candidates – regardless of where they might be along their journeys – and convened authors who had written for the recently-published Education Canada magazine special focus on Truth and Reconciliation in the Schools, which maps the progress Canadian public schools are making on this front.

“It’s not so much about the individual teacher,” explained Dr. Leroy Little Bear, the University of Lethbridge’s Special Assistant to the President. “Rather, it’s about the institutional aspect that teachers are a part of, which has played a large part in history in educating those superintendents, those Indian Agents and those ministers who brought about policies that led to residential schools.”

During the event’s main panel discussion, speakers affirmed the need for educators to assess their intentions and work towards navigating from a place of heart, in lieu of ‘walking on eggshells’ and remaining stagnant out of fear of asking a silly question that could offend someone. Grounded in the view that not doing anything is likewise wrong, speakers accentuated how no one will ever feel 100 percent ready to take up this challenge – that teachers need to be brave enough to say “I don’t know,” which is critical when working with Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities, according to panellist Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse. Beyond those three words follows a willingness to reach out to valuable human resources – school district Indigenous consultants, Elders, Knowledge Keepers and those with authentic expertise – so that teachers can advance their own knowledge, build trust-based relationships, and work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples to teach all students about treaties, residential schools and long-standing issues facing Indigenous communities.

“Reconciliation is about a thousand cups of coffee,” stated panel moderator Dr. Michelle Hogue, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the University of Lethbridge’s First Nations Transition Program, in her recap of the conversation. “It’s about sitting, listening and building relationships.”

The full panel discussion, “Truth and Reconciliation in Every School: What we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to do to move forward respectfully,” can be replayed at www.edcan.ca/reconciliation

It’s Time to Add to Our Story

David Newhouse. Photo by George Horton

David Newhouse. Photo by George Horton

 

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.