|“I want you to teach children in your classrooms about Indigenous peoples in a way that engenders respect. That’s what I want of you.” Justice Murray Sinclair at recent teacher education symposium.|
Gentle, grave, wise, just – we have a very special person in our midst here in Winnipeg – Justice Murray Sinclair, past chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), recently appointed to the Canadian Senate.
Justice Sinclair led the conversation on re-visioning teacher education and responding to the TRC’s Calls To Action.
Strong first steps were taken in the two day symposium on Mar. 22 and 23, organized by Dr. Frank Deer, Director of Indigenous Initiatives, Faculty of Education and Dr. Melanie Janzen, Associate Dean (Undergraduate Programs) at the University of Manitoba.
Dr. Deer’s commitment to this issue was reflected in this statement.
“It’s important that any responses to the TRC, with regard to curriculum, ensure they have a local perspective,” he said. “Any appropriate response must be developed through consultation with Indigenous peoples in order to understand and reflect their unique knowledge.”
Moderator Kevin Lamoureux acknowledged this community is rich with people trying to do good work but gave his nod to the strong leadership of Dean David Mandzuk of the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
Dean Mandzuk described his support to “plant the seeds for other actions we should be considering to ensure that Indigenous students in this province have the same opportunities for success as non-Indigenous students and to ensure that all students in the province, all students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, understand that we all have a collective responsibility to know what has happened in the past and be part of the solution moving forward.”
Justice Sinclair guided us through the relevant TRC Calls To Action explaining that next to child welfare, education is the second most important significant area for reconciliation to begin to take hold.
“We were also, when looking at reconciliation convinced that it was education, the use of education, the misuse of education, perhaps better put, that got us into this very damaged relationship that exists between Indigenous people and the rest of society,” Justice Sinclair said.
“We really believe education is the key to reconciliation. It’s our fervent belief that if we go about educating children properly that we will change the entire structure of our society by virtue of that fact alone that people will be better informed,” he said.
If educators in society do their job properly, he said, “people will be raised in a more respectful environment, not just in schools, but also in society to have awareness about what each has come through in order to be at this point in our history.”
Justice Sinclair points as well to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework that will gain significance in the near future. Funding and Aboriginal language rights remain critical areas for reconciliation.
Ry Moran is the Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, located in Winnipeg, on the University of Manitoba campus. Moran has worked alongside Justice Sinclair for the six years of the Commission.
Moran passionately acknowledged despite “the depth and the pain and the suffering of survivors across the country, they were somehow brought through that process with the vision, the wisdom, through the gentle guidance and the honourable words of Justice Sinclair, to an inspired nation that is perhaps more ready than ever to embrace the calls for action, to right wrongs, that have been existing in this country for far too long, that finally we are starting to see change.”
It seems to me, as a teacher, one cannot rush into reconciliation. It is not one of those things you teach and check off once it’s been covered.
“One of the most critical elements of understanding we need to be aware of is the effects and realities of intergenerational trauma – what teaching this history and sharing this history with Indigenous kids that have been victims of this very oppressive system for a very long time means for them,” cautioned Moran.
“This is really a brutal history that we are coming to terms with,” he stated bluntly.
“We have to show respect and we have to be respectful of the effect that sharing will have. We have to be respectful of the perspectives and the realities people bring into the classroom – the fact that colonization itself is still alive and well. There are many students out there that are still suffering really tough situations on a daily basis when they go home at night. History is not divorced from their day to day realities,” Moran said.
I asked Moran if curriculum could be modeled after the Treaty Commission education packages. He said he was”talking to Jamie Wilson the other day around some opportunities we have, not just for modeling after, but actually creating synergies between.”
Moran continued, “Of course conversation around reconciliation isn’t just a matter of understanding residential schools … and there’s treaties over here … and there’s land over here.”
Moran said, people at the National Truth and Reconciliation Centre “really do want to work as much in a collaborative way possible to create synergies between programs and opportunities that exist to make it as comprehensive and as complete and as easy possible.”
Looking ahead, Moran said, “I think collectively we have the opportunity to be working together in a collaborative model, a mutually supportive model – to really make sure these records that have been amassed, fulfill the role they are meant to fulfill which is transforming how we understand this country and fulfilling that promise to survivors that we would use their experiences to fundamentally reshape how we understand the relationship in this country.”
Anne Lindsay described the collections and services housed within the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
Lindsay conveyed, it is an honour to be a part of the archive and described it as a tremendous resource to be treated with enormous respect.
She reiterated the point these incredibly profound stories are and continue to be alive or animate. They are a warning of what can go terribly wrong.
Lindsay said, she regards reconciliation as not a single topic but as something that can be woven into everything you teach.
I asked Justice Sinclair to comment on the mechanisms or procedures we need as a collective of teachers, or simply as Canadians, in trying to access community knowledge and trying to build a knowledge base for us all.
Justice Sinclair said, “The work needs to begin with scholarly work, the foundation for everything has to come from the academic community. In many ways we’re breaking new ground here and it’s going to have to be held to a certain standard of academic acceptability in order to convince people there is legitimacy to the kinds of things we’re talking about. I think we’re going to have to call upon scholars in the field of education and elsewhere – history and sociology and other fields of study to do the groundwork necessary to put together the information that will convince us this is a valid area for us to be going into.”
“As much as we have a significant move in society behind the concept of reconciliation we haven’t yet convinced the overwhelming majority of people that this is valid,” he pointed out, realistically.
“Right now from a political or sociopolitical perspective, there’s a lot of weight behind the momentum to get something done here. Indeed we are really trying to persuade people to do it,” said Justice Sinclair.
“Without that (sense of urgency), I fear that we will simply be back where we are now in twenty or thirty years from now,” he said. “That’s not acceptable. We need to take advantage of the momentum that’s there. We need to take advantage of the willingness society is exhibiting to change.”
This symposium was a sign of decisive action taking place in this province. The academic community is continuing the trajectory with this work with another symposium Apr. 25 called, TRC Calls-to-Action: View from Elsewhere and Where Do we Go from Here? Respected Indigenous Education researchers and teachers Dr. Jan Hare (UBC), Dr. Dwayne Donald (Alberta) and Dr. Marie Battiste (Saskatchewan) will be present.
Not only does the academic community need to pave the way, political support needs to be expressed by the provincial parties vying for power in the upcoming provincial election. The Council for Aboriginal Education in Manitoba will be posing a question to the party leaders in an upcoming telephone Town Hall on Apr. 6 by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.
With political will from our new provincial government and commitment from the academic community, perhaps Manitoba will take the lead in Canada in Education for Reconciliation.
Justice Sinclair reminded us, “it is said in our report and we said publicly many times, reconciliation is not just for Indigenous people. Reconciliation is also a call to all Canadians to change how you do business, to change the way you are behaving and that is part of what you can do as educators … to help Canada become the nation it should have been and can still be.”
Cover photo features Carl Stone, Indigenous Student Centre Advisor, University of Manitoba
All photos by Joan Suzuki