Students move towards reconciliation
Every nation has its own unique history. In Ontario, grade 10 students are required to
take a mandatory Canadian History course. While each student’s experience is unique
to their teacher’s professional approach, one thing that remains consistent is the lack of
focus on Indigenous history.
It’s a scenario all too common in classrooms across the province: students cover
material ranging from the Roaring 20’s to the early 90’s recession all while ignoring the
elephant in the room. The topic of Indigenous history, if covered at all, is frequently
limited to an acknowledgement of the negative impacts of residential schools – which
may I remind you, the last school didn’t close until 1996.
Where do we go from here? I’m sure you’re thinking, “isn’t an apology enough?” No, it’s
not. If I were to ask you if an apology was enough for you to forgive someone for your
family being killed, for your culture and traditions being mocked, for the land that was
once yours and was stolen from you and your family, and for you to constantly be
silenced – does an apology seem like enough now?
It’s a heavy topic, I get it. We as a society need to understand that even if something
doesn’t directly affect us, it still matters. According to Statistics Canada, in 2016, 4.9%
of the population or approximately 1,673,785 people self-identified as First Nations,
Métis or Inuit. This is clearly an issue that matters to our friends, our families and many
others our local communities.
In my own school, there are a high number of students who self-identify openly, and
even more who choose to keep their identity a secret for a selection of personal
reasons. That’s one high school. Now think of your own school, your own workplace, or
your own community. Mind you, this is only the record for the people who have
knowledge on their background and heritage. Day by day, many people learn that they
too have Indigenous blood running through their veins. So yes, this is culture and history
one that is interwoven through each of our own lives.
Students want to be educated on Indigenous culture however it’s a topic many students
and educators struggle to approach. This further perpetuates a collective state of
ignorance in regards to a vital part of our national history.
So now what?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has released 94 Calls to Action to
“to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian
reconciliation.” These include movements such as calling upon the federal government
to “establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including,
where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children”
and “[appointing], in consultation with Aboriginal groups, a [federal] Aboriginal
Languages Commissioner.” These are powerful ideas that would signify immense
progress in our efforts of reconciliation, however, each of us can make meaningful
contributions on a smaller scale.
Everyone starts at a different place. Students make their own changes all in hopes of
making an impact in their schools and ultimately, their community. For example, the
Durham District School Boards Student Senate made “Acknowledging and
Understanding Indigenous Staff and Students” one of the three main goals for their
year. They invited Indigenous community members to speak at their meetings,
participated in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise and made contributions to the Moccasin
Senators were inspired to inspire positive change in their own schools. Some schools
have started reading Land Acknowledgments every morning, and others are founding
schools are councils to help educate their fellow classmates. There are some students
who have even taken the initiative to ask their history teachers to introduce a stronger
in-class focus Indigenous Education.
On a provincial scale, the Ontario Student Trustees Association (OSTA-AECO) has
founded an Indigenous Relations Working Group. This group is comprised of student
trustees from a selection of school boards throughout Ontario. They are united by a
long-term goal to establish an Indigenous Youth Council across all Ontario school
boards to amplify Indigenous student voice. This working group was instrumental in
inviting Jody Alexander (Vice-Principal of Indigenous Education, Ottawa-Carleton DSB)
to deliver a keynote presentation on Indigenous history at the annual OSTA-AECO Board
Council Conference in February 2018.
As students, we have a desire to learn more about Indigenous history. We care about
moving towards reconciliation and we embrace the unique perspective that each
individual brings to the table. It is only through collaborative efforts that we may
educate ourselves and others about Indigenous culture. It has been said that a little
goes a long way and most definitely applies here. There is a lot of work to be done, but
each of us are capable of laying stepping stones towards powerful cultural change. It is
time for students to move towards truth and reconciliation.
Samar Jeddi is a student trustee for the Durham District School Board and a member of
the OSTA-AECO Communications Working Group.