Orange shirt day is officially marked on September 30 each year, as that was the time of year Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to attend residential schools in Canada. Orange shirt day is not a day about guilt for actions of other Canadians in days gone by. It is about being part of a story. Our story as Canadians. A story in which 150,000 Indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities and put in residential schools because the differences in culture and language were not understood or appreciated or tolerated. A story where 10,000 years of experience living off the land was not understood as a learning opportunity. A story that started in 1831 with the first residential school and continues today. Because although the last residential school was finally closed in 1996, the trauma of generations of residential schools has left a trail of shame, sadness, and racism.
One of the best things for us as a country has been the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. From 2007 – 2015, as the commission traveled throughout Canada, the stories of residential schools became common knowledge. In many cases for the first time, Indigenous people were able to tell their stories and have people believe they were telling the truth. We learned of the harsh, punitive conditions in which children were not allowed to speak their own language or practice their cultural traditions. Six thousand children never returned home due to inadequate food, health and sanitary conditions. Stories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are all too common. The trauma has crept through generations. And yet the beacon of hope is that the truth has been told and heard. And now the work of reconciliation has a chance of success. We have the opportunity to forge a vision of a future in which Canadians value differences as opportunities for learning, ask questions, problem solve and recognize that every person matters.
Indigenous elders teach respect of the sacredness and importance of clean water. Autumn Peltier from the Anishinabek First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario learned this as a young child. These teachings have allowed this 15 year old girl to clearly articulate the need for clean water to the United Nations and at hundreds of events around the world. She speaks and people listen. Her question, “All across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water. Why so many, and why have they gone without for so long?” I am certain she will be included in the next edition of Wab Kinew’s book about Indigenous heroes! Our country is better with her voice.
The Vancouver School District has identified an Indigenous Goal for all of our public schools: To increase knowledge, acceptance, empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions, cultures and contributions among all students
At David Livingstone Elementary, we will be exploring the Indigenous Principles of Learning incorporated in the new curriculum in British Columbia and exploring Indigenous ways of knowing. Our starting points will be in the school community garden. It will be a place to learn about indigenous plants and how they were used by local Indigenous groups as food and as medicine. We’ll also be exploring many of the legends that are based on different aspects of nature. We have lots to learn and we’re ready to begin.