Edit note: I was reading this out to my daughter tonight and she made fun of me. I did what I always tell my students not to do. Always read your work out loud to catch your mistakes. I clearly did not do that. I apologize for the errors that I missed.
I was listening to this discussion on the way to work today. Yes, I am a teacher and I work during the summer. My total inability to shut down for more than a couple of weeks during the break is a conversation for another post. One of the great things about a PLN is that you realize that you are not the only person who thinks about teaching during the summer and that you can always find someone who else who is willing to talk about school. I really do my best learning during the summer!
As I listened to this podcast and heard Debbie Donsky talk about her journey towards learning and teaching about the lived Indigenous experience in this country, I was struck by the access she had to elders and mentors within her learning community. I am not sure when I first started being aware of the idea of residential schools and the treatment of the Indigenous people of this land by the colonizers. I don’t remember learning about it in elementary school. Then again, when I was in elementary there were Iroquois and Hurons and lots and lots of Indians. The Jesuit priests were the victims at St.Marie among the Hurons and there was not a Haudenosaunee or Anishnaabe in sight. There was never a discussion about smallpox or treaties or settlers or colonizers. We never learned about pow-wows or the Seven Grandfather teachings. Yes, this was the 70’s and 80s, and I have never read the curriculum from that time, but I am sure there was no mention of the real relationship between between the Indigenous people and the European colonizers.
When I became a teacher, I was lucky enough to teach with an amazing educator, Peter Jenkins, who, now that I think about it, started me on my path. We were both teaching Grade 7 geography and the curriculum at the time spoke about looking at North America before the arrival of the Europeans. He delivered the curriculum by having the students put themselves in the place of the people who experienced it. Through personal stories, told around a ersatz campfire, he had students think about life before colonization and how the First Nations people in our area (Richmond Hill, Ontario) would have lived and how the landing of the Europeans and their radically different world view so drastically changed their lives. Permanently and forever.
I have spent many years teaching about the Holocaust. My favourite author, and friend, is Kathy Kacer who writes stories about children and young adults who experienced the Holocaust and she tells those stories through their memories, artifacts and visits back to where the stories took place. I was always fascinated by the personal stories, the real lives that made sense of the numbers. I taught my students for years about the Holocaust so they could have an understanding of how hate and racism can destroy lives and how it is social responsibility to speak up when something is not right. I really did not think so much about the Indigenous experience in Canada. And then I heard the United Nations declare that Canadian Treatment of its Indigenous people as a genocide. And I read Fatty Legs. And then it snowballed so that my students and I explored the whole idea of Residential schools and started to question the ideas surrounding the colonizers and settler mentality. I also paid attention to the Idle No more movement and the issues facing Attawapiskat and the deaths and the suicides and the systemic racism that was part of every single conversation that I ever had with “White” Canadians. And I got to know the amazing work of Facing History and Ourselves. I went to a workshop on a Sunday at OISE and I learned about their resource, Stolen Voices and all the work that so many other people were doing. I got to know some of our Curriculum Consultants in our board and spent an hour on the phone with Andrew McConnell talking about the appropriateness of a particular presentation done at my school, the land acknowledgement that we were doing at Graduation and cultural appropriation. Then a student said during a class discussion, ” You know, this is just like the Holocaust” and my brain exploded. I realized that my reaction to the cultural genocide of the Indigenous people of Canada was probably similar to the reaction of non-Jews to the Holocaust. Every single Jewish person I know has some story about how the Holocaust effected their family, either directly through loss and survival or indirectly. I begun to feel very upset with the government of Canada and how they perpetrated this atrocity that made an entire group of people feel less than the people that took their land, and that these settlers to feel that they were somehow better than them.