My Journey towards reconciliation has been an eye-opening learning experience. My knowledge on Indigenous people and culture has been very limited prior to my post-secondary education. I started my true learning journey here at the University of Regina during my first semester in the Secondary Education program. To start I decided to research the history of the Indigenous people here in Canada. During my research I was pleasantly surprised with all the resources and information available online. It is great to see this information available to anyone. I promised myself to start this learning journey with an open mindset, and to not let any previous thoughts and opinions get in the way of learning something new. While looking through what the internet had to offer, I was challenged, confused, felt emotional, frustrated and happy at what I came across. You might think, why happy? I think I felt happy because even though a lot of this history is painful it brings me joy that Indigenous people will no longer be silenced, that issues are being brought up, that the truth is being told, that people are standing up, that we can be here for them, that we can work towards reconciliation.
During my research one of the things that stood out to me was the Residential schools here in Canada. There was a total of 130 Residentials schools in Canada, approximately 150,000 Indigenous children attended these schools and approximately 6,000 of them passed away. (J.R. Miller, 2020) These numbers are approximate due to poor record keeping. The fact that residential schools are part of our history is devastating and painful. The pain that the Indigenous community has gone through is unfathomable. In the documentary Muffins for Granny the residential school survivors speak about the shame, pain and abuse they endured. The survivors describe the experience as a nightmare and express how their cultures were stolen from them. (Muffins for Granny, 2007). Many children endured abuse at the residential schools, this included being confined, beaten, chained, and sexually abused. When allegations were brought up, oftentimes the Church did very little, sometimes the abuser was fired. At other times, they allowed the abuser to keep teaching. (J.R. Miller, 2020). Residential schools were placed in order to assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian society. I struggle with the fact of one culture trying to completely erase another. Residential schools stole Indigenous culture not only from Indigenous children and their families but also from this country. A culture that should have been shared, appreciated and valued. Although Canada has this dark past in their history, I know Indigenous people are strong and resilient and we will all continue this healing journey and celebrate their cultures, traditions and way of life.
A story I came across during my research was that of Greg Murdock. Greg is a residential school survivor. During his time at the residential school he talks about the trauma and abuse that he went through. Greg also talks about how he felt so ashamed of what happened to him, and this made it hard for him to share his story. He also talked about how he felt institutionalized and didn’t know how to function outside of the residential school. He “could not imagine living in a world without violence”. Greg also mentions how he felt like a “white man and not a Cree man”, as most of his experiences have been Western and he had no connection to Cree culture. Later in his life Greg started to explore his spirituality and his culture, he attended many traditional dances and ceremonies to help him connect to his Cree culture. By reconnecting to his culture Greg felt like he was finally home, as these were the dances of his grandfathers, before colonization and before residential schools. Although I can never feel the same pain that Greg does, listening to his story made me emotional and disappointed that so many Indigenous people have gone through this and are still dealing with the pain today.
So, what does this mean for me as a future educator? This means that I have a responsibility to share and spread awareness. To talk to my students about this difficult time in our country’s history. To make my classroom a safe place for all, and to never stop learning, sharing and talking. “Young people are already leading many of the conversations about reconciliation and social justice in Canada. Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and youth are speaking up. They are ready to lead, and they are looking to their teachers for information.” (CTF, 2016) I believe that not only do we need to continue to educate ourselves and our students but also our friends and our family. From my experience being on social media, I have witnessed individuals make posts about deleting or unfriending other individuals who do not agree with them and while I do believe you need to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who will fight for justice, I also believe we need to educate and have conversations instead of pushing people away. This is how we will make a difference in the world.
For my aesthetic piece, I decided to fill in a map of Canada with how many residential schools Canada had in total. The blue squares represent the 130 schools in Canada from 1831 to 1996. The dots represent the 150,000+ kids who attended the school and the X’s represent the 6,000+ Indigenous children who died while at residential schools. The map is outlined with words that I relate to residential schools based on my research. Something I have taken away from this course is we are all on different learning journeys and different stages and I do not believe our learning journeys will ever end. I believe we all need to continue learning about our Canadian history, the good, the bad and the ugly. Hearing from authentic Indigenous voices is so important and we need to help Indigenous people feel safe and encourage them to share not only their stories but their traditions and their way of life. Standing up and speaking the truth is so important.
Miller, J. (2012). Residential Schools in Canada. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/residential-schools
Muffins for Granny. Mongrel Media Inc. (2007). Retrieved November 22, 20, from https://media3-criterionpic-com.libproxy.uregina.ca/htbin/wwform/006?T=MON1671
CTF. (2016). Truth and Reconciliation: What is it about? Canadian Teachers’ Federation
Greg Murdock, 2016, Greg Murdock’s Story [Greg Murdock’s story as told to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNJyJldwjqM&t=5211s