Journey Towards Reconciliation: Formal Paper (ECS 101)
Journey Toward Reconciliation: Stories of Learning
Throughout my life, there were many truths that I had not confronted until I took this course. Specifically speaking, the horrors that the Indigenous people experienced in residential schools and the residual effects caused by the Canadian people. Subconsciously, I disregarded the pain, trauma, and experiences of Indigenous peoples – I did not realize that I had been doing so until now. Although recognizing one’s ignorance is an accomplishment in itself, there is much more work to be done after the fact. To continue this journey, I sought to find resources and literature that expanded my understanding. It was not long before I realized I needed to analyze what I knew about residential schools and compare and contrast the real history of residential schools. Understanding residential schools was only one component I sought to understand Truth and Reconciliation. Another piece was to figure out what reconciliation is to me. There are many ways to accomplish reconciliation, and I had to analyze how I was to do my part. Lastly, I needed to reflect on what I learned to know how I can commit to Truth and Reconciliation. Truth and Reconciliation is not a goal to be reached; instead, it is a commitment to provide a promising future for those robbed of their past.
Recognizing my ignorance was my first step on a very long journey towards reconciliation. This project is very personal to me as I was made to realize that I did not know enough. The quote that revealed my ignorance came from the Truth and Reconciliation booklet given to us in this course: “I will never fully understand what you went through but I will try my best” (Canadian Teacher’s Federation, 2016, p.13). This quote made me understand that I was not trying my best to sympathize with the Indigenous peoples; consequently, I contributed to their ongoing suffering. I did feel a lot of sorrow for many of the past mistakes I had made, but Charlene Bearhead gave me confidence in an interview she did with the First Nations University of Canada. Bearhead says, “You just shared with me your greatest strength, I believe. The fact that you can recognize that you are not an expert. Because none of us are experts” (Bearhead, 00:31 – 00:40). Bearhead gave me confidence in the fact that there is room to grow and learn. There is nothing wrong in saying “I do not know enough” or “I am not sure” because the moments when we admit what we do not know are where we have opportunities to expand our knowledge. And that knowledge can be used to change what we invest in society.
At this point, I was conscious of my ignorance and had the confidence to learn more, but I did not know where to go next. As such, I decided to analyze what I thought I already knew about the Indigenous People’s history. In my K-12 education, I was taught only bits and pieces of what Canadians inflicted against the Indigenous People. I mostly learned about residential schools, but never the full scope of what occurred and the residual effects present today. So, I asked myself, “Why am I not learning the entire truth, but only selected pieces of it?” The quote that answered this question came from Niessen (2017) in her assembled eBook Shattering the Silence:
The selective history that most Canadians have learned in school is a history shaped by colonizers, a history devoid of Indigenous voices, experiences, and perspectives, a history that has covered over and silenced the truth about how this land was settled and the injustices and wrongs done to First Peoples. (p.18)
Niessen had made me acknowledge that my education had and has bias weaved into its curriculum. What I learned is curated to fit narratives that benefit those who decide what is told – what I learned was not the truth. To be truthful is to fully admit what actually happened and deny what we thought happened. Evidently, the truth is difficult for those it inconveniences. But, to achieve justice, we must make a commitment to the truth.
What is the truth, then? The truth is that for over 100 years, aboriginal children were removed from their families and sent to residential schools. The residential schools were government-funded and ran by the church. The schools were located across Canada and were made to “Kill the Indian in the Child” (Facing History and Ourselves, n.d.). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (n.d.) elaborates further:
During this chapter in Canadian history, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were forced to attend these schools some of which were hundreds of miles from their home. The cumulative impact of residential schools is a legacy of unresolved trauma passed from generation to generation and has had a profound effect on the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. (para. 2)
What I learned from the Commission strongly contrasts with what I learned in my previous years. I never realized that more than 150,000 children were assimilated and lost their culture. Moreover, I did not know that the trauma Aboriginal people carry remains unresolved. Learning this truth was vitally important in my journey towards reconciliation.
Now that I understood the actual history of residential schools and I am conscious of my ignorance, I needed to determine how I was to incorporate what I learned into my journey to reconciliation. “But what is reconciliation?” I asked myself. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) states the meaning of reconciliation in the following quote:
Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour. (p.14)
The meaning I had for reconciliation before discovering this quote was about the same; however, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s definition expanded the criteria. I understand now that I need to confront the past and acknowledge how I partake in perpetuating harm and benefiting from past atrocities. But understanding is only one part of reconciliation. I need to determine how I can atone for my mistakes. I have decided that I want to commit my teaching philosophy to fully educating students on the past and current problems in society regarding Aboriginal peoples regardless of how difficult it becomes. The students I teach are the future of humanity, and starting from the roots of their education will define what society evolves into.
To reflect on what I learned through my journey towards reconciliation, I wrote a short poem that encompasses everything I have learned and where I aspire to go. I wanted to be very truthful about my experience as a non-Indigenous person and the gaps in my knowledge. In the poem, I talk about how I have been ignorant and what I took for granted. Additionally, I reflect on how I decided not to call others out on their disrespectful behaviour. Although I feel a lot of sorrow and frustration with myself, I acknowledge that there is room to grow and change. I play a vital role amongst many others to guide the narrative the future is heading to. And I intend to do so with knowledge in my hands and compassion in my heart.
Canadian Teacher’s Federation. (2016). Truth and Reconciliation – What is it about? A discussion booklet for the classroom. National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
Bearhead, C. (n.d). Perspectives of Reconciliation [Personal Interview]. 4 Seasons of Reconciliation, First Nations University of Canada. https://www.reconciliationeducation.ca/module-9-reconciliation
Facing History and Ourselves. (n.d.). The Indian Act and the Indian Residential Schools: Chapter 3 – Killing the Indian in the Child. https://www.facinghistory.org/stolen-lives-indigenous-peoples-canada-and-indian-residential-schools/chapter-3/killing-indian-child
Niessen, S. (2017). Shattering the Silence: The Hidden History of Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. University of Regina, Faculty of Education.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. http://www.trc.ca/assets/pdf/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (n.d.). Reconciliation … towards a new relationship. http://www.trc.ca/reconciliation.html