Be Teachable

The definition of teachable is “apt and willing to learn.” Are you that person? Specifically, are you willing to put aside what you think you know… to learn another truth?

I’ve been doing that a lot lately. The pandemic and lockdowns have seen me with more time on my hands and because there is a plethora of free (or low cost) webinars and courses available right now, I’ve taken advantage of many.

I’m on a mission to learn as much as I can about Indigenous Peoples in Canada. What I have discovered has been enlightening, shocking and humbling on a very personal level. I realize that I’ve held preconceived notions that have proven to be so far from the truth that I can’t believe I ever thought the way I did.

As European descendants, many of us were led to believe that Indigenous Peoples were somehow “less advanced” than us. That way of thinking isn’t surprising because in the 1800’s the Government of Canada labelled Indigenous Peoples as “primitive, child-like and uncivilized.” They did that on purpose as a way to put them down and allow settlers to take over their land.

Sadly, that same attitude continues today in so many people.

What I have discovered in my education is that Indigenous Peoples pre-1800’s were exactly the opposite. They were incredibly advanced in languages, economics and trade, pharmacology and agriculture, animal behavior, astronomy and weather systems, political and reformatory systems, and spiritual wisdom and ceremonies.

In their rush to take over the land, the government actively destroyed Indigenous Peoples’ ways of living for the purpose of assimilating them. They removed children from their parents for generations as a way to eliminate their language, culture and knowledge. They arrogantly assumed that European ways were more intelligent and somehow better.

Separating generations of children from their parents and community, along with the horrible abuse they suffered in residential schools, left a legacy of shame, humiliation, pain and loss of identity that has resulted in domestic abuse, alcohol and drug addiction and so much more. The ripple effects are still felt today.

The resilience, self-determination and strength shown by Indigenous Peoples after enduring so much is truly remarkable.

After close to 200 years and generations of abuse, some of the Indigenous knowledge and ways of living have been lost. Fortunately, some have survived, and there is an effort now to bring more back through Elders holding this sacred knowledge.

There is much to learn about our shared history and current issues happening today. For reconciliation to happen, it is vitally important that every Canadian do their part and learn the truth for themselves. There are many ways to do that – books, videos, webinars, courses, social media groups, websites, etc.

Allow me to share just a few ways to get started. These are free or charge a small fee:

Indigenous Canada is a 12-lesson Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. It explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada.

Cultivating Compassion is a four-module workshop to create awareness and understanding of Indigenous and Canadian history in order to build bridges from the past to the present and subsequently our future.

KARIOS Blanket Exercise is a two-hour interactive workshop that allows you to learn the history most Canadians are never taught. While this is an amazing event in person, KAIROS has developed a virtual Blanket Exercise workshop that is now available.

Take a look online to see what courses are available that interest you and fit in the time that you have available. I’d love to hear what you take!

We Will Remember… Residential Schools!

People in Alberta (and hopefully Canada) have heard by now that a draft document was leaked to CBC about the Alberta UCP government’s proposed education curriculum. The expert’s (12 hand-picked people who spent 8 days together) advice was to erase Indigenous history from the Alberta school curriculum saying it was too disturbing for children to learn about residential schools. While I agree that education needs to be age appropriate, to erase the history around residentials school in education is taking a huge step backwards. I have sent letters to our Premier, Minister of Education and my MLA stating that.

While thinking about this yesterday, I read a Facebook post by Janice Makokis from Cree Nation. In it she shares a conversation between her father and her 6 year old son on this very topic. Janice has graciously given me permission to share her post here.

I’m inspired to share this for two reasons. First, it provides a unique perspective on this subject. How would YOU feel if it was your history being eliminated? Second, we should ALL be having this conversation with our kids. Imagine what our country would look like if our children grew up understanding the truth.

Janice Makokis’ post (Oct 22, 2020)

Just a quick rant on this ridiculous argument (it’s too sad/ hard for children to hear) the AB UCP government is using to essentially erase Indigenous voices/ perspectives on residential schools in the current AB curriculum review.

Last night, me and Atayoh (who is 6yo) went hunting with my dad. My dad always shares teachings or childhood stories when we travel together or when we go do land based activities. So yesterday, my dad starts to share some stories from his childhood about being in school at Blue Quills and in St Paul. He shares an incident when the teacher took his ear and pulled/ twisted it for punishment for doing something. Atayohs response went like this “Moosom poppa, why would a teacher ever do that? That’s cruel/ mean. Do teachers still do that today?” Then my dad has to explain [in] simple terms about residential schools and what they did there. Then Atayoh said “Mommy is that against the law to hurt children – like what that teacher did to moosom poppa?” And I said yes my boy. Then he said “Well if they broke the law and children were hurt shouldn’t something have happened to those bad people that hurt the children?” The questions and explanations carried on a little bit longer but he knew what was going on.

It’s a gross misrepresentation of the AB UCP to assume children are incapable of understanding and processing these moments in our history that are necessary for every child to learn/ know. This is how we change our collective futures so we co-exist together in peace and friendship, the way the Treaties intended for us to live. In fact, children are incredibly intelligent in connecting feelings, emotions and experiences when explained in a way they understand. We can teach them about social justice, anti-racism and indigenous history/ perspectives from a place of understanding and empowerment to dream a better future for all of us.

So I don’t want to hear the lame sorry excuse that children can’t or won’t comprehend this tragic complex history, because they can and they do. My 6yo is a testament to being the third generation survivor of residential schools and he knows what happened because we have taught him.

Alberta, do better – stop the excuses because you know better.

Yes, we can do better Janice.

I hope that every Albertan and every Canadian stands up and makes their voice heard. We need to learn the truth. We all need to remember the thousands of children who were abused and survived, and especially those who never made it home.

As Janice says, “This is how we change our collective futures so we co-exist together in peace and friendship, the way the Treaties intended for us to live.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation revealed the names of 2,800 children who died in residential schools Monday at a ceremony in Gatieau, Que. A 50-metre long cloth bearing the names of the children who died was unfurled. The event was intended to break the silence over the fate of at least some of the thousands who disappeared during the decades the schools operated. (September 30, 2019.)

Photo source: Provincial Archives of Alberta – Students at Blue Quills Residential School

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