Teaching Towards Reconciliation

This past week, the University of Regina held the Woodrow Lloyd lecture with guest speaker Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.  The lecture was held as a way to bring further awareness to the intergenerational traumas associated with indigenous history in Canada, including the residential school system.  I would like to talk about my reaction and how I hope to move forward as an educator.

First, I have always been passionate about social justice issues and have always felt connected to the notion of reconciliation with indigenous peoples in Canada.  Many people describe me as someone who is deeply compassionate, driven, and willing to make others aware of injustices embedded in society.  Many people are uncomfortable when confronted with such issues, due to ignorance or an inability to recognize their own privilege in an inequitable world.  For example, I have made it clear to many that I do consider myself a “feminist.”  I can’t tell you how many times the responses has been “Oh, so you hate men?”  This type of reaction is a representation of what it means to be uncomfortable when privilege is questioned or challenged.  In addition, I’ve noticed a lack of understanding when I discuss issues related to First Nations or Metis people here in Saskatchewan.  After all, I am “white” so why should I be so concerned?!  (I’m hoping you can sense the sarcasm).  It is true – I sometimes have not really understood it myself.  I wasn’t taught much regarding indigenous history in Canada growing up, as this was not mandatory in SK until 2007.  I’m not sure I truly know this answer yet – all I know is I want to positively contribute to reconciliation in Canada.  The video below provides a brief explanation of why the journey towards reconciliation is so important:

What Is Reconciliation from TRC – CVR on Vimeo.

One of the main takeaways I learned from the lecture with Murray Sinclair was his statement: “Whatever it is that you do, make sure you never stop doing it.”  This resonated with me both as a future educator and in my personal life.  Many of us who are trying to create equitable, reconciled, decolonized classrooms will be faced with criticism, judgment, and a lack of understanding.  This should not hold us back from contributing to positive change in our communities.  I hope to foster an environment that is built on diverse ideas and backgrounds, recognizing different ways of knowing, and equitable opportunities for all learners.

My question for any readers out there: How do you plan to contribute towards reconciliation?


Blanket Exercise

One of the most powerful learning experiences regarding Canada’s past and indigenous history comes from the KAIROS Blanket Exercise.  This exercise is a teaching tool to share the broad history of indigenous peoples in Canada, the treaty relationship with European settlers, and the intergenerational effects of colonization and assimilation.  It provides a simulation of the historical timeline, allowing participants a learning experience that is interactive appealing to auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learners.

I led this exercise during my internship with grade 6 and 7 students.  We had previously been discussing the history of the treaty relationship in Canada and how this relationship has had an effect on contemporary issues.  Some of the students were left feeling a sense of motivation to help others while some felt the emotional connection to their own family’s history and indigenous roots.

(Top middle) picture shown above is a representation of indigenous peoples who have experienced the loss of their land, culture, and rights.  It is a powerful visual representation that allows students to truly perceive a history that has been ignored.  The other pictures show the folding up of blankets (representing loss) and the beginning of the exercise (representing full, vibrant culture of people).  Following the exercise, we discussed of what we just experienced.  I explained to the students that this is not just for students in elementary school – University students, teachers, and people alike are also impacted by the experience.  One of the students suggested we being a social action project to contribute to reconciliation.  Another student shared her family’s background with residential schools.  It seemed to bring the classroom community together – all students allowed each other to speak and share their thoughts.  I recommend all teacher share this experience with their students.

Treaty Education Unit and Resources

Treaty Obligations and Commitments and Connection to Contemporary Issues:

Additional Resources: