Geoff Johnson: Reconciliation begins with learning


Canada’s history includes a long list of mistakes that will not be erased by adorning new or existing schools with Indigenous symbols.

While the primary goal of the Truth and Reconciliation movement is to bring healing and encourage reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, it will not be achieved through impressive-sounding call-to-action speeches.

It will be about learning.

Nor will truth and reconciliation be accomplished by lofty political promises or public recognition that this is happening in unceded land (which covers most of British Columbia), or by demolishing statues of those who are now in disgrace or by redeveloping museums and renaming streets. to “decolonize” the mistakes and wrongs committed in another era.

It may be a start, but it is not enough.

The point is, the Constitution couldn’t be clearer that Indigenous land rights exist, according to Benjamin Ralston, lecturer and researcher at the Indigenous Law Center at the University of Saskatchewan.

But the flaw, says Ralston, lies in the endless struggles over exactly what these rights are, which can take decades to resolve in non-Indigenous courtrooms or in government-sponsored treaty negotiations – which only serve to reveal “cognitive dissonance” in the system when it comes to achieving meaningful truth and reconciliation.

“The real problem is, what are we doing now while these slow processes are taking place? Ralston asks.

It’s easy – we start by learning. We begin this learning in our schools by teaching why, in light of what we know now, “dreams of the future are better than history of the past”.

And yes, that’s a quote from Jefferson, an individual seriously flawed by today’s standards, but whose vision and words still resonate in a country struggling to live with its past.

The history of Canada, which our children must learn, is also a long list of mistakes that will not be erased by adorning new or existing schools with Indigenous symbols.

Instead, schools should be structured in such a way that it accepts that some of the cultural expectations and assumptions that underlie both the organization and the public education programs are in conflict with many cultural values, beliefs and practices. enduring aspects of indigenous tribal life.

If truth and reconciliation are to become more than a slogan, the cultural beliefs and obligations that define Indigenous family life must be taken into account through the configuration of our schools in 2021.

At present, and I don’t think this is overstated, attempts to forcibly integrate Indigenous children into what is still essentially a colonial model of public education are only a few generations away from the assumptions that have been made. led to the development of Indian residential schools. first established in the 1880s – whose stated purpose was to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian society.

What is needed, if truth and reconciliation are to be part of every child’s understanding, is a well-resourced and culturally sensitive program; a curriculum that matches the learning needs, languages, priorities and aspirations of Indigenous children in Kindergarten to Grade 12, and that is delivered through culturally appropriate instructional strategies and in appropriate contexts to culture.

In his book Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools, author, Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse, an Ojibwe / Odawa woman from the community of Sagamok Anishnawbek in Northern Ontario, provides personal ideas, authentic resources, interactive strategies and lesson plans that support Indigenous learners and non-natives in the classroom.

Toulouse has published over 50 educational resources, ranging from books to educational materials.

His book should be a must read for administrators, administrators and educators in the public system.

Toulouse presents a culturally relevant and holistic approach that facilitates relationship building and promotes ways to engage in daily reconciliation activities and perspectives that include residential school history, treaty education, Indigenous contributions, First Nations / Métis / Inuit perspectives and Sacred Circle teachings that can be incorporated into public school curricula.

If our national and global call to action for truth and reconciliation ever comes true, Toulouse’s essential resource for teaching and learning Indigenous history could be one of them. Its text goes “beyond thanks and apologies” to knowledge, culture and contributions to restorative education on and with indigenous peoples. In clear and well-organized language, Toulouse begins by mapping and then explains concepts and methods important to First Nations for meaningful teaching and learning.

But there is more to it. Much more. It is and will continue to be, especially for the next generation, a matter of learning.

As the American poet Amanda Gorman explains so clearly:

“Every day we learn

How to live with gasoline,

not the ease.

How to move in a hurry,

never hate.

How to leave this pain that is beyond us

behind us.

Just like a skill or any art,

We can’t own hope without practicing it

It is the most basic profession that we demand of ourselves.

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Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.


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