Journey Towards Reconciliation
I would be telling a lie if I was to say that my journey towards truth and reconciliation began before I made my return to University. I recently spent twelve years away from school and had established myself in a corporate, professional work environment. In that period of time, I did not spend any time learning about truth and reconciliation and it was never something I gave second thought to. Looking back on this, I now believe truth and reconciliation has a place in all work environments. I did not always think this way, but I have learned that in itself is part of the underlying problem today. Along my relatively short journey, I have learned that I will need to seriously question the teachings of my past, I will need to undo some of those teachings, and I will need to relearn with an open mind and open heart. I know my learning will not be perfect, rather a journey.
In 1990 I was born into a middle-class white family and little did I know, I had won the racial lottery. I was born with something I was unaware I had for twenty-eight years of my life; this something was my white privilege. I never knew what white privilege was nor did I understand it was something I possessed; likely because all of that time, I was reaping the benefits of it (DiAngelo, 2016). To be white is to be normal which is an example of structural racism and how our society was built (DiAngelo, 2016). At no point in my life have I ever had to question my skin colour or worry that it would affect me in a negative way. Only a short time ago, I also would have defended my position in order to make it known I was far from privileged and skin color had nothing to do with it. I now understand, I may have had some worries along the way, but my skin color was something I never had to consider.
While learning about Indigenous culture and traditions, was not a memorable part of my public education, I do recall some brief teachings. I recall learning about residential schools and that they were bad, but I did not know or understand the details. I learned about Treaties, but again did not understand what they were, or how I was involved with them, or why they were in place. These types of learnings were not incorporated into the classroom on a daily basis, they were taught as a section in a social studies class. To look back, I would certainly need to admit that most of my knowledge and experience with Indigenous people, culture and teachings came from mainstream media, which I understand to be a poor source of factual information. Upon entering the classroom this semester for the first time in twelve years, it is evident there has been a culture shift. I now see Indigenous culture is much more prevalent from what is being posted around the school, to what and how things are being taught in the classroom. There are clubs like beading and jigging, smudges are held once a week and on occasion, O’Canada sang in Cree.
The education and learning experience for Indigenous people was not always this way, in fact, it was far from it. Residential schools were in existence in Canada for over one hundred years and it has only been in recent years the truth is finally being told (CTF, 2016). The purpose of these schools was to separate Indigenous children from their families in order to weaken family ties and cultural links to create assimilation into the dominant Euro-Christian Canadian Society (CTF, 2016). Children at these schools were physically and verbally abused for speaking their traditional languages. They were raped, beaten and in some cases murdered (Methot, 2019). The teachings in these schools were centered around the Christian God which later created conflict with survivors being open and honest about their own stories and what happened to them (Mongrel Media Inc., 2007). Both culture and language were greatly affected by these schools which pushed some languages very close to extinction (Clearsky, 2011).
For years the truth was not told by our Government about what actually happened at these institutions (CTF, 2016). Traumas from these schools and their events carried over from one generation to the next generation, creating something which is referred to as, intergenerational trauma. Intergenerational happens when trauma from abuse and neglect over an extended period of time, remains unresolved and is never dealt with (Methot, 2019). The individual suffering from this trauma often subconsciously takes it out on the next generation and a cyclical pattern is created. Many of the survivors from the documentary “Muffins for Granny” speak of troubles with drugs and alcohol. There were many who spoke about suicide, suicidal thoughts and abuse they carried on with them many years later (Mongrel Media Inc., 2007).
To break this pattern, the trauma needs to be addressed but given the magnitude of the problem, it is not something that will be easy. Canadians need to hear the truth about what actually happened, and it needs to come from those directly involved. I believe truth means to be honest, always. It means to recognize your faults and to admit when you are wrong, without hesitation. To be truthful is to tell the full story and to not omit details. Truth does not have different versions; it is something whole and it is something complete. The children in the booklet titled ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ also shared things about truth like “to tell the truth is to show RESPECT and TRUST” and “Truth is about taking responsibility”. Perhaps the most staggering is “Truth is the TOTAL OPPOSITE of what the government did with telling us what happened in all the RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS” (CTF, 2016).
To work towards reconciliation, I believe is an all-encompassing process which begins with the understanding of one’s own journey both past and present. My journey began one year ago on my first day of ECS 110 where I was constantly challenged on my beliefs, my thoughts, my ideas and I was to question where exactly these came from. I have learned to question, is to seek and find the truth. This truth needs to be uncensored, raw and emotional, in order to be able to carve a purposeful path towards healing. Truth and reconciliation need to be at the forefront of all I do from day one to my final day.
At the beginning of my journey I did not understand that intergenerational trauma can most certainly be prevalent in the classroom and that it will be. I also did not understand the importance of culture and traditions within school; likely because my own culture was always at the forefront. Children look to see a representation of themselves in schools, in the staff and relationships are critical. I did not know that the way schools look today is thanks to colonialism. In knowing this, I will do all I can to honor all types of learners because I too learn best with a hands-on experience. I am aware my journey towards truth and reconciliation is not finished and there is no final destination. There will be many layers involved in my journey and my learning will be trial and error. I am not perfect, but I can make the commitment to continue my learning alongside my future students each and every day. I know this journey is mine to lead and I will welcome it with open arms to work towards creating, living and being the change.
Canadian Teachers’ Federation (2016). Truth and Reconciliation: What is it about?. Imagineaction.
Clearsky, E. (2011). Destruction of a language and culture: A personal story. Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education, 5(4), 260-265. doi: 10.1080/15595629.2011.606008
DiAngelo, Dr. Robin (2016). Why It’s So Hard to Talk to While People about Racism. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism_b_7183710
Methot, Suzanne. (2019). Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing. Toronto: ECW Press
Mongrel Media Inc. (Distributor). (2007). Muffins for Granny [Documentary]. Canada: Mongrel Media Inc.
At first glance, it might not be obvious, I have never made a quilt before. My experience making a quilt was trial and error just as I expect my journey towards truth and reconciliation will be. Before sewn together, each piece in the quilt was seven inches long, there are seven pieces across and seven pieces down, the back panel is also made of seven pieces stitched together. There are fourteen lines stitched across the quilt to hold it together; fourteen being significant as it is a multiple of seven. The colours used for the quilt are the colours of the Medicine Wheel.
I know the number seven is significant to Cree Culture and I know a few details of the Medicine Wheel. I chose these details to symbolize my limited knowledge with room to grow. At the end of the quilt, there are pieces which are shorter than the seven inches I had originally said. The shorter pieces represent the stories of Indigenous people not being told by the right people or not being told at all. A closer look at the quilt will show, the stiches are not perfect representing my imperfect learning journey. The quilt has layers just like my learning will too.
Finally, the quilt has been left unfinished to represent my unfinished journey towards truth and reconciliation. I know the final result of my project is not perfect, but my creation has help me realize, if I continue to work at it, I really do have the ability to create something beautiful.