I was at work when I received the email that the plans for #ECMP355 had changed and I was unable to attend the lecture in person. I am glad that I was able to watch the live stream but there are some things that are better to be physically present in and I think that this would be one. With that said, I was watching the live stream in the presence of two young ladies whose communities are still feeling the impacts of the generational trauma left by the Residential School era. I could not help but look at them and wonder do they know: Where do I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? And, who am I? Unfortunately, I know that they cannot and I will explain why later.
Justice Sinclair’s lecture impacted me as a future teacher, a youth worker, a parent and as a Canadian. There were so many moving parts for me as I listened to him address this topic I do not really know how to write this post without including more then just how it will impact me as a teacher. I guess because how all these moving parts work will be a part of who I will be as a teacher.
My son is Metis. You would not know to look at him. He has blonde hair, blue eyes and could get sunburnt on a cloudy day. His physical features do not change that his grandfather is a proud Metis person that works developing First Nations curriculum for Regina Public Schools, or that his mom/uncle/aunt are all teachers that are proud of who they are as Metis. I do not know if my son is proud to be Metis. We have never talked about it. I always just assumed that this was something he and his mother discussed or that if he had questions that our relationship was strong enough that he would just ask. It never occurred to me that, due to the system that has been created from colonization and the lack of education that discusses the true history of Canada, my son may not know or even feel comfortable talking to me about his cultural heritage. This is important because his dad, step-mom and sisters are not Metis, they have not been taught about the negative legacy of Residential Schools. More important to this is my lack of focus to promote and foster a connection to his culture in my home. I need to ensure that I create an environment for him that allows him to unequivocally answer the questions that Justice Sinclair proposed in his lecture.
I have spent a third of my life working with at-risk youth from all across Canada. Some of my middle years classmates are probably tired of hearing me discuss some of these experiences but 13 years of working with young people is undeniably the biggest reason why I wanted to come back to school and become a teacher. Listening to Justice Sinclair discuss the current state of the Child Welfare System in Canada was so important. As an audience we were very fortunate that he spent time discussing it. He referenced a system that is taking children away from families and putting them in care of people that in many cases are not improving the quality of life of the children. More importantly, he stated that there is little to know effort to improve the environment of the families and the communities where these children are being taken from. I hope that anyone reading this can make the connection of how similar this situation is to what we as a Nation are trying to reconcile for. I believe Justice Sinclair used the term “broken” when discussing the current child welfare system and I could not agree more.
With that said, I do not feel that what I have done professionally up to this point is part of the problem. The people that I work with and the agency that I work for do exceptional work with the young people that come into our program and I am extremely proud of the relationships I have built personally with these youth. The most common issue that connects to what Justice Sinclair was discussing occurs when these youth are ready to transfer home after they have often been successful in our programs. As an agency we try very hard to incorporate families in the treatment of the youth but often little or no support is being given to the families and communities. Since there is not much being invested to help these families and communities, the young people often struggle and fall back into the same negative patterns that they were facing before coming into treatment. I used to blame the families and communities for the relapses of the youth that worked so hard to get their lives back on track. These past 2 years of education have allowed me to understand that I was projecting blame at the wrong people for these setbacks. Justice Sinclair reinforces this by saying that no amount of money will change the outcomes of communities that are trying to heal unless the system itself changes. I do not know what this system needs to look like, but I know that for healing to occur for indigenous communities the system of taking children away from their families for whatever reasons cannot continue to exist.
As a teacher and a Canadian, Justice Sinclair’s words elevated the importance of what is being taught to us in the Faculty of Education. If we are all Treaty people then that message needs to be delivered to everyone about what needs to be accomplished for our country to become whole. I was not educated about the true history of Canada and its relationship to Residential Schools until now. My parents were not and neither were their parents. These are not excuses to justify the lack of understanding and racial stereotypes that have developed due to a worldview taught through the lens of colonialism, it is the reality of our past. It is unfortunate that it has taken so long for us as a society to realize that we can and have to do better. Schools will be the foundation for where this change will occur and teachers will be the driving force to start this process. If our students are impacted by the lessons we teach, the process of reconciliation can build momentum. This momentum could break down stereotypes and misconceptions that have been built up from limited and misguided education on First Nations issues for generations. Which will hopefully provide Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with more effective ways to build a stronger relationships and communities with one another.
Everything that I have discussed in this post so far brings me back to the young ladies that were with me while I listened to Justice Sinclair. I am hopeful that as I continue to work with them that I can help answer the questions that were proposed: Where do I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? And, who am I? The reason why that they are unable to answer all these questions is because of the complexity of their situations that has been created by Residential Schools and an inadequate social system that seems to mirror, in some ways, the processes of assimilation that were established in Residential Schools. They know where they are from and they know that they want to go home. As a person that now has a greater insight into why there is so much complexity in their lives, I need to become a part of the process to help answer the last 2 questions. The only way to do that is by embracing my role as a teacher and go through a process of education with them. I do not think that I can say that I will educate them because I know that as I talk to them about their communities and experiences they will be teaching me just as much as I teach them…Hopefully through time as they discover the answer to “who they are”, I will be someone that has connected to them in this journey. Because they will undeniably be a part of who I will be as a teacher