To start, a quote from Lenard Monkman of Animoziibing (Lake Manitoba) First Nation, co-founder of Red Rising magazine, University of Winnipeg student and associate producer at CBC’s Aboriginal Unit:
“I really truly feel like what’s going on in terms of race relations, Winnipeg is at the centre of what is happening here within Canada. I think the relationships that are being built right now are a reason to be optimistic about what is happening here right now.
“I don’t think certain conversations like this would have happened ten years ago. The work that is being done is really a cultural shift. What happens here in Winnipeg is going to have a ripple effect across Canada.”
I am a volunteer executive for the Council for Aboriginal Education in Manitoba (CAEM). I don’t know if all the words invested into an Election Forum on Indigenous Education and Reconciliation, held last Thu. Mar. 10, 2016, translate into political action, but I must say it was very satisfying to see an idea raised by Jim Partaker at one of our meetings, come to fruition.
Cheryl McKenzie was moderator of the forum. McKenzie hosts the APTN program In Focus which will feature the forum in the Mar. 23 episode, 6:30 p.m. and 12 a.m.
Each of the presenters spoke for ten minutes. Each of the political parties had fifteen minutes to respond to the presenters as well as put forth their platform on the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action in Education.
Kathy Mallett, former co-director of the Community Education Development Association CEDA and former WSD Trustee, spoke mainly about the need for Indigenous teachers.
Dr. Frank Deer, Kanawake Mohawk, Education Professor at the University of Manitoba – who received his PhD from the University of Saskatchewan in Administration, said the litmus test of language is if they are spoken in the home and the community.
The Maples Collegiate Teenage Bears opened the evening with songs at the big drum – Chickadee Honour Song, Bear Song and a Water Song.
Two youth presenters from the group seemed to spontaneously speak to the presence or absence of Indigenous teachers and languages. They spoke from their experiences as students of the Maples Collegiate.
Jordyn Pepin said it really hits home when she hears students speaking fluently in Hindi, Punjabi or Tagalog and she knows only a few cheeky remarks in her own language. She added that even though there are mandatory Indigenous courses, there could be more for everyone.
She would like to see Indigenous Arts courses and opportunities to learn traditional teachings. “A mini reserve, I guess,” she said.
Both Pepin and Dion Wood really appreciate the Indigenous teachers at the Maples, Ryan Cook, Reuben Boulette and Bernadette Smith. Wood thanked Boulette and Smith for visiting the community of Poplar River and talking to the students about persevering for their future.
As a representative of CAEM, a sub group of the Manitoba Teachers Society, it is important for me to remain non-partisan in presenting these issues, as I highlight some of the responses made by the political candidates.
Green Party Leader, James Beddome and others acknowledged we are on Treaty One Territory, homeland of the Metis Nation. Beddome said we need to understand this land was land that belonged to Indigenous peoples. They agreed to share it with us. The history of the relationship sadly isn’t that.
It is worth noting the Green Party Leader thinks Indigenous curriculum can be outside the classroom, like taking kids to traditional harvesting activities. He thinks everyone in remote northern schools should have a greenhouse so that they can learn how to garden and produce more lower cost and accessible foods.
Progressive Conservative education critic and former teacher and guidance councillor, Wayne Ewasko applauded the crisis intervention teams that were sent to meet the suicide crisis in Cross Lake but said we could do so much more and be proactive rather than reactive.
The NDP have in the recent past legislated a Path to Reconcilation Act, a Customary Care Act and a First Nation, Inuit and Metis Education Framework Act. The education curriculum, according to James Allum, Minister of Education, is constantly evolving to include Treaty Education, Residential Schools, The Indian Act and the Sixties Scoop.
Noel Bernier spoke on behalf of the Liberal Party. He said traditional values and techniques should be incorporated into our education system. He acknowledged Indigenous peoples as a part of the kaleidoscope of the most beautiful cultures on Earth but he said the only people who don’t know that are the Indigenous peoples that own those cultures.
I give the last word to Monkman, one of the presenters. He did not mince words. I like that. Monkman grew up in the stereotypical urban Aboriginal experience – moving around to almost every school in the North End. Today he sees around him Indigenous people continuously failed in four systems – the education system, the child welfare system, in criminal justice and in health care.
For Monkman reconciliation is a tough word. It is a watering down of Canada’s true history. He believes there is an opportunity here for education to really break down the history. Be real about it. Be upfront about it. Confront what has happened to Indigenous people in this country and to say we are going to acknowledge the residential school legacy as an act of genocide.
Monkman grew up standing up for the national anthem, O Canada, from nursery to Grade Twelve. Patriotism is put in kids’ heads from day one right to the end of school, he said. We buy into the values that Canada is a multicultural country. We buy into the respect. We buy into the diversity. We see Canada as a peacekeeping country. Yet, many are still not learning about residential schools until they get to university, Monkman said.
Reconciliation is not possible without the truth, he concluded.