The education system of Canada contributed to the problem of injustice among First Nations people, but it is through the education system that we can repair this injustice. This was one of the key messages I took away from the 2016 Woodrow Lloyd Lecture that was livestreamed from the University of Regina. As a future educator, it is my responsibility along with the responsibility of my colleagues to develop change and reconciliation for First Nations children in our schools. Justice Murray Sinclair, the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was the speaker who educated us about the experiences of the Residential School System in Canada.
We are all treaty people. As educators, we have the capability and responsibility to repair injustice through positive social change. One of the most important understandings I have gained as an educator is to build relationships with our students. First Nations students need those strong relationships so they can feel safe and educators can discover their needs in order to be successful in their education and future lives. As Justice discussed, these students deserve equal opportunities to education and resources. It is also our responsibility to educate all students about First Nations people and Treaty Education so we can develop a culture of acceptance and understanding.
Justice discussed many things about residential schools during his lecture. He explained that 7 generations of children went through residential schools, and it may take another 7 generations for the negative effects of these schools to be overcome, but never forgotten. He discussed that every child that went into a residential school was abused in some way. Although it was not always physical abuse, the abuse was emotional, mental or spiritual as well. This type of abuse often left First Nations children wondering who they were and what they did wrong. It is vital as teachers to teach First Nations children along with other children that it is important to be proud of who you are. Justice brought up an interesting an eye-opening thing we need to do to help guide children into answering four important questions in their life about identity. These questions can sometimes be more struggling for First Nations people who may experience identity loss. It is our role as educators to help students set out on the right path to begin to answer these questions:
Where do I come from?
Where am I going?
Why am I here?
Who am I?
Going back to building relationships with students, I believe it is just as important to build relationships with First Nations families. As mentioned in the lecture, we must not consider families as being just the nuclear family model. In First Nations culture, when a child belongs to someone who gives him or her a sense of self, that person is considered family. This includes grandparents, cousins, friends or community members. As educators, we must understand that First Nations families may be more reluctant to entering our schools and classrooms. We must show willingness to build relationships with these families, and be culturally responsive to their needs.