Incorporating Understanding of Residential Schools into Canadian History

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The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre was officially opened at UBC on April 9th, 2018.  As the University Hill Elementary School community works, learns and plays on unceded Musqueam lands, we very much wanted to share our acknowledgement and respect.  Ms. Melody Ludski, one of our teachers who is actively engaged in learning about  Indigenous Education and ways of knowing, also wanted explore ways to include the stories of our collective Canadian history to create a future vision of who we want to be in the world. We were so appreciative that she represented us at this event, and that our librarian, Mr. Jorden Covert, streamed the event into the library so students and teachers could also participate.

Indigenous expressions of culture were banned by Canadian law from 1885 to 1951.  However from 1951 until quite recently, Canadian Education systems have been largely silent on presenting an accurate rendition the decisions and implications of our history on our indigenous people and the subsequent attitudes we embraced.  In his speech, University of British Columbia President Santa Ono  quite articulately expressed the work of Aaron Lazare, Emeritus Chancellor, Dean and professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in his speech at the opening ceremony:   “First, people are not guilty for actions in which they did not participate. But just as people take pride in things for which they had no responsibility (such as famous ancestors, national championships of their sports teams and great accomplishments of their nation), so too must these people accept the shame (but not guilt) of their family, their athletic teams and their nations.”

The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2008) protects the right of children to know their culture and language:

Article 15

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and the diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.
  2. States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.

“Fully implementing this national education framework will take many years, but will ensure that Aboriginal children and youth see themselves and their cultures, languages, and histories respectfully reflected in the classroom.  Non-Aboriginal learners will benefit, as well.  Taught in this way, all students, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, gain historical knowledge while also developing respect and empathy for each other.  Both elements will be vital in supporting reconciliation in the coming years.”

“Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future”

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, July 2015, p. 240

The Vancouver School Board has signed it’s second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, which is dated June 2016 to June 2021.  Many Vancouver Schools are able to directly impact their indigenous students and have a lot to learn from their indigenous families.  All VSB schools are required by the school district to also focus on developing inclusive aspects of our culture and community:

Vancouver School Board District Goal #3 :  To increase knowledge, awareness, appreciation of, and respect for Aboriginal histories, traditions, cultures and contributions by all students through eliminating institutional, cultural and individual racism within the Vancouver school district learning communities

It is an expectation that Vancouver Schools are actively engaged in making our schools more inclusive places.  It is our job as educators to inform ourselves with the background knowledge that was likely omitted from our own school experiences.  It is also our responsibility to be open to opportunities that present learning that just might take us outside of our comfort zone. After all we ask kids to do that all the time.

 

Note:  For more information read Aaron Lazare ‘s book, On Apology,

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