There is one month more or less left in the semester and I kind of feel like things are coming together for me. I have everything pretty much under control in terms of assignments and studying which has given me sometime to reflect on the past couple weeks. I was an organizer and volunteer at Treaty Ed Camp this year and I feel like I have come away with a few key learnings that are helping me to discover what reconciliation means to me. During Charlene Bearhead’s keynote address, she talked about using what you have to make a difference. She discussed how Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, brought awareness to the story of Chanie Wenjack and Indian Residential Schools. I really thought that statement was powerful because we may not all have the kind of platform that Gord Downie had, but we can make a difference in our own ways. This is so exciting because I think that by using the knowledge and the teaching strategies I’ve been learning I will be able to make a difference too! Teaching and helping individuals learn about Canada’s past is definitely part of what reconciliation means to me. Char also talked about how as teachers we are always in a constant state of undoing. This is why we need to start teaching about Canada’s past and the move towards reconciliation in Kindergarten. This is the part that can be really difficult because as teachers we are also undoing the misinformation and racist ideologies that students have learned directly or indirectly through the constructs of the society that we live in. Overall, I believe that these are exciting times to be a teacher and I hope that as I work in my field that I will begin to see the change in society.
These past couple of weeks have been extremely busy – which is really no surprise considering that it is mid-October and assignments and other homework are beginning to add up. It’s hard to believe that we are already mid-way through the semester! What I am really struggling with right now is how I feel there is just no time for anything, especially being an engaged citizen. While a feel frustrated that I find it hard to commit to the pledge I made, I’m also realizing that perhaps it isn’t meant to be easy. Sure, I could have chosen something that would have been easier, but maybe I wouldn’t have gotten a lot out of it.
Lately, I have been considering what reconciliation means to me. Last ESST class, we visited the Indian Residential School graveyard on Pinkie Road. Since then, I have been wondering what would do the cemetery justice. Right now, there is just a plain, white fence that surrounds the grounds, with no other signs or markers that I am aware of. I bet many people drive by without even knowing what the fence is for. Recently, the cemetery has become protected by municipal heritages status which is a step in the right direction but I do think more can and should be done. I think that there needs to be signage indicating what the grounds are, so that everyone is aware that children who were taken away from their homes died at the school that was nearby. Everyone needs to know what Orange Shirt Day is, and it needs to become something more than just one day a year when we talk about Indian Residential Schools. We cannot let it become a forgotten thing of the past.
This past week I attended my first URSTARS meeting. It was a good opportunity to meet some of the people that I will be working with. I’m looking forward to being part of this group because I think that I will learn and grow a lot. I’m also looking forward to attending and helping with Treaty Ed Camp this coming weekend. I really enjoy attending these types of conferences because I come away with new ideas, knowledge and positivity that I can bring with me into the classroom to become a better teacher. Additionally, I’m happy to be volunteering at Treaty Ed Camp because it makes me feel like I’m contributing more to my community and to my profession. Even though I’m busy, it is important to myself and to the pledge that I made to find time, even when things are hectic.
This week was the normal hectic week once again. The week was filled with classes, taking kids to and from their activities, a family gathering, family photos and planning and preparing for the coming weeks assignments. Through all of this I have been giving some extra thought to my pledge. Initially, I thought that it would be doable to volunteer my time facilitating blanket exercises with the URSTARS group. Unfortunately, that is not as easy as I suspected because of scheduling conflicts, there are not enough blanket exercises to facilitate. I want to continue on my journey towards promoting anti-racist and anti-oppressive education with URSTARS because it is something that I believe in, however, there simply isn’t enough weekly activity in that regard. So, I think the best thing to do is to amend my initial pledge to continue to include facilitating blanket exercises and to also include regular, weekly action that will assist me to continue on my journey. So, on Friday I attended the “Orange Shirt Day Walk” in Victoria Park. I was aware that it was orange shirt day, but I hadn’t heard of the walk happening until Kim Thue invited me to join him. We met at the park and I was happy to experience the walk. There was a good turn out of people and I think that the event will only become bigger as the years go on.
While listening to Mayor Fougere speak, I was pleased to hear that the City of Regina was working with the Provincial Government and together they have secured the Regina Indian Industrial School cemetery on Pinkie Road to have official Municipal Heritage designation. The heritage designation protects the cemetery from being developed or demolished for building or road purposes. Fougere also stated that they are in process of working with the Federal government to receive federal heritage designation. The cemetery on Pinkie Road is believed to have as many as 40 children’s bodies in unmarked graves. The Regina Indian Industrial School that once stood in the background of the cemetery has long since been demolished, and now the only thing that surrounds the cemetery is a wheat field, with the Paul Dojak Youth Centre off in the distance. I am aware of the sad irony of this circumstance as it is not lost on me. Afterwards, I was thinking about what would do justice to the site? A memorial of some sort? I hope that they will do something more to honour the children that died there and the families that lost their children. Secondly, I was thinking about what reconciliation means to me. After participating in the walk, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like a consumer. I know that the walk and orange shirt day is a really good thing and helps raise awareness and promotes education and understanding, but how do I move beyond that feeling of consuming something? Perhaps I need to be a contributor, maybe then I would feel like I was giving a bit more and taking a bit less.
Well, it’s been a crazy busy week! Classes were busy with assignments as I have several that are in various stages of production. Additionally, there are always readings, reflections and planning to be worked on and finalized. Things were also busy with my kids – Logan participated in his first cross country run on Wednesday and he came in 5th overall which is quite an accomplishment! I was also busy at work playing catch up with all of my responsibilities there.
It was a good week but I didn’t find any time at all to fulfill my pledge #2 – which is taking some time out just for myself. I’m not surprised because this is the story of my life right now. It’s just busy and it will probably be this way for while. I will try to make some “me” time this week…
Even though I didn’t facilitate a blanket exercise or anything directly related to STARS I feel like attending and participating in the Treaty Education Conference relates to my pledge #1 because I learned so much more about colonization, treaties and the Indian Act. I learned from my facilitator Cort Doganiez, how some treaties were made before the Act was legislated and how the two are woven tightly together. I had an “aha” moment when Cort explained that the Indian Act is the only piece of Canadian legislation that tries to control a specific group of people. I’ve never thought of the Act quite like that before. How ridiculous to think that the government imposed laws to dictate what Indigenous people could and could not do on their very own land. I now have a clearer understanding of the history of colonization, the policies that were implemented and imposed onto the First Nation, Metis and Inuit people and the intergenerational effects of Indian Residential Schools. I’ve taken away valuable information that I will be able to apply in my classrooms moving forward.
Additionally, I always love listening to and learning from elders within our community because they share so much knowledge. I found Elder Howard Walker was truly insightful when he spoke about dealing with children because he has a very holistic point of view that I can identify with. He reminded us to speak from the heart and to the spirit of the child, not the behaviour, and that it is important to create non-threatening environments for children. These are lessons I can use at home and bring into my classroom in the future.
Overall, it was a great week and weekend and I’m looking forward to what the next week has in store!
After attending Treaty 4 gathering on Wednesday, there have been a number of things that I have been mulling over. First, I have been reflecting on what it really meant to participate in a blanket exercise on the land where Treaty Four was signed and where one of the first Indian Residential Schools of Canada was opened. I have been thinking about the communities that were left with no children because they were forced into residential schools, and what that would have been like as a parent to have your child taken. I have been thinking about the tension and the struggles that this land has experienced and the struggles that the Indigenous Peoples have experienced here since colonization. I have been thinking about what it would have been like as woman to have lost Treaty Status and then be unable to return home, to my family. I have been thinking about all of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous women that have been lost. I have been thinking about the loss of culture and language and how some of this knowledge is gone forever, never to be recovered. But mostly, I have been thinking about how this side of the story, this part of history has been silenced for far too long. Colonization, cultural genocide, forced assimilation and Indian Residential Schools are simply not part of the national grand narrative and it really needs to be. It’s important to our society that this part of the story is told.
Secondly, despite of all of the negativity surrounding this area of the Qu’Appelle Valley, I had this indescribable, overwhelming sense of peace. Perhaps this is because the valley, so rich in history is also extremely beautiful with rolling hills, shades of autumn amongst the tree tops and the blue waters of Echo and Mission Lakes that sandwich Fort Qu’Appelle at the center. The sheer beauty of the valley is breath-taking and made me wonder: how am I connected to this space? This place? I felt a strong sense of peace, centeredness and connectedness to the land and valley.
After all of these thoughts and experiences I have decided that my pledge as part of my ESST 317 assignment will be two-fold. First, I pledge that I will contribute my time as a STARS volunteer facilitating the blanket exercise at least once a month, so that I can help educate people on the long and complicated relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Canada. Doing so will fulfill my obligation to contribute to the society that I live in. Additionally, it will help me unpack my thoughts and feelings towards being a white, settler Canadian steeped in privilege. I can connect this to the grade 6 Social Studies Outcome IN6.1:Evaluate and represent personal beliefs and values by determining how culture and place influence them. Secondly, I pledge to myself to begin the practise of daily self-care. This may be in the form of going for a walk with my dog, or practising mindfulness. I think this is an important step for me to be able to continue to give of myself because as a busy mom of three children, I often put myself and my needs last which in the end doesn’t work because I become completely depleted. Practising self care will help me stay centered and focused and will also assist in maintaining the peacefulness I felt while spending time in the Fort Qu’Appelle Valley.