In Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Starts with Educating Ourselves and Our Kids

Students at Blue Quills Residential School, 1940. Image from the Provincial Archives of Alberta, Canada.

At Maclean’s, Bonnie Schiedel writes on how Canadians, and parents in particular, need to first educate themselves, and then their children on Residential Schools: Canada’s cultural genocide. As a nation, we need to learn the individual stories of people like Phyllis Webstad, Gladys Chapman, and Chanie Wenjack, and about how the government partnered with the Catholic Church to remove Indigenous children from their families in a bid to “take the Indian out of the child.”

How would you feel, if this happened in your kid’s class? Last fall, a grade 6 social studies class outside of Edmonton was learning about residential schools. A student put up her hand and said, “I don’t have anything against Indigenous people, but my grandpa told me we had to put the Indians in residential schools because they were killing each other and we had to civilize them.”

Two years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued 94 calls to action to address the legacy of residential schools and move toward reconciliation. I still can’t quite figure out what reconciliation could or should look like in everyday life; it’s one of those slippery words that can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people. Maybe, then, we should pay attention to the truth part first. As Pamala Agawa, a curriculum coordinator for First Nation, Métis and Inuit education (FNMI) at York Region District School Board in Ontario, told me, we need to figure out the truth for ourselves: “What biases do we carry; what learning do we need to do to better understand the true history of the country?”

When Bearhead told me about that grade 6 student repeating her grandpa’s comment, I flinched, thinking my daughter could hear something that casually cruel in her classroom, too. The legacy of residential schools—those strained and broken threads of relationships and culture and identity—is like a widening tear in a piece of fabric. If we have any hope of patching it, we’ve got to listen, really listen, to Indigenous stories and experiences, and then talk to our kids. “The biggest measure of success for me is about how families are talking about reconciliation at the dinner table, when no one else is listening,” says Bearhead. “When we see that shift happening there, that’s when I believe we’ll be on the road to reconciliation as a country.”

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