“What is Your Word?”

Audience members sat in a packed auditorium to await Justice Murray Sinclair’s speech at the University of Regina.  Sinclair, the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, delivered an impactful and thought-provoking lecture.  His words were moving and profound because of the weight of his message.  If you were unable to attend the lecture or watch the live stream, you could have seen some of the words Sinclair had to share on Twitter.  I have included a few of the tweets from individuals I follow on Twitter below.

Sinclair’s word resonated for me as an educator for a number of reasons.  Growing up in a small town, I was never exposed to a lot of culture throughout my schooling.  However, I distinctly remember a few of my teachers focusing on First Nations culture, including Treaty Education.  Having no representation of First Nations peoples in my school’s population, I think it was essential that as a student, I was exposed to these learnings.  I think it is a common misconception that rural schools, where there is arguably less multiculturalism in the classrooms, gain little to no exposure to multicultural teaching.  However, the issue is not whether you attend school in an urban or rural setting.  Instead, the issue is whether or not teachers take the time to educate themselves and access outside resources, such as elders, that can help assist with the learning.  I believe as an educator, we have to be willing to find authentic and meaningful learning experiences so student are not afraid to share their voices.  Something that I have always carried forward with me that I learned from my professor, Sean Lessard, is that we cannot be afraid to disrupt the narratives.  These words have influenced me in pre-internship and internship and will continue to influence me in my future as a teacher.  I actually have to credit the Education program at the University of Regina for providing meaningful opportunities, such as Sinclair’s lecture, to learn about reconciliation and the importance of Treaty Education.

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One idea that resonated with me during Sinclair’s speech was the fact that reconciliation involves both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal peoples.  This begins through conversations in order to “better understand one another.”  As a teacher, I think this includes continuing to educate myself in order to have these conversations with students.

Something that Horizon School Division has done is created a video to send the message that “We Are All Treaty People.”  Claire Kreuger, a teacher who advocates for Treaty Education, bases her first project of the year as a response to Horizon School Division’s video.  The idea is simple, the conversation that takes place as a result is significant.

Sinclair’s lecture further reinforced my belief to continue to learn and teach Treaty Education and First Nation culture to work towards reconciliation.  He mentioned that we must help students answer these four important questions about identity:

“Where do I come from?”

“Where am I going?”

“Why am I here?”

“Who am I?”

As an educator, I believe we have the responsibility to make all students feel included and acknowledged.  It is so important that as educators we teach about First Nations and Treaties in the classroom.  Even though, as Sinclair mentioned, it can often be met with resistance with parents at home.  Why? I think it stems from the fact that they were never taught.  They don’t understand that residential schools still have lasting impacts, they don’t understand the history of First Nations colonization; the assimilation and segregation that took place, and they don’t understand the systemic racism as a result of Canada’s history.  I recently had a discussion with my boss at my job about the comments a member was making about the recent tragedy that took place at LaLoche.  I disagreed with the comments he was making about the events that took place, about reserves, and about First Nations people in general.  I wanted nothing more than to argue with the member, but I reminded myself that I needed to act professionally.  All I could do was inform the member I disagreed with his perspective and politely suggested he educate himself further on the matter before making such comments.  The problem is that these ignorant ways of thinking stem from a lack of education.  The lack of education stems from a generation of First Nations people as being represented as inferior.

When Sinclair talked of residential schools, I was reminded of the Witness Blanket that began its tour at the University of Regina last year.  I had the privilege of bringing my pre-internship class to see this monumental project last.  Fortunately, the app allowed me to teach about the Witness Blanket again during internship last fall.  It’s these moments that allow me to feel empowered as a teacher.  Whether I am sitting with Joseph Naytowhow having a conversation about how I should teach about the residential schools and the Witness Blanket, participating in events like Treaty Ed Camp, or listening to Sinclair’s moving lecture, I always leave feeling empowered and refreshed about how I can help end the stigma and teach towards reconciliation.  If I have learned anything it is that the conversation must never end and we must all continue to learn.

The following is from a reflective piece I wrote last year after meeting with Emerging Elder, Joseph Naytowhow.

“A question, which I think many of my peers share, is how do we teach about First Nations history and culture when we were not part of the lived experiences?  Joseph’s insight on this was something that I was not expecting.  He said that he, too, shared the same fears when he began teaching because residential schools stripped him of his culture.  Therefore, he self educated himself about his own culture. We all have the responsibility to do the same.”  


Students in pre-internship brainstorming their thoughts about residential schools. Later they created their own “Witness Blanket” on global issues. An idea inspired by Emerging Elder, Joseph Naytowhow.

I want to close in the same way Dr. Shauneen Pete did at Treaty Ed Camp.  She asked us to choose a word for the day.  She ended by saying, “remember your word and carry it forward.”  My word for today is empowered.  What is your word?


6 thoughts on ““What is Your Word?”

  1. Shout out to Sean… what a great teacher to have when it comes to learning/talking about First Nations culture. Really thoughtful post, Ryan. I always really like how you insert snippets of journal entries that really helps to emphasize your points! Also, it’s a great testament to your school that didn’t have First Nations population within their walls but still incorporated it into the learning. I grew up in a rural community with an abundance of First Nations peoples but in grade twelve I moved to a Catholic school in Saskatoon. Students who had been in that system their whole lives had not experienced First Nations culture but what’s even more horrifying is that they had next to nothing when it came to education on them as well. Kind of a weird mind shift then what you’d expect. Thanks for sharing… that was a really amazing lecture!

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  3. Thoughtful post, Ryan. I love that you shared the personal story about the conversation about your co-worker. I’m proud of you for speaking out but still doing it in a professional way. That’s so challenging. I’m more prone to getting quiet than yelling/getting angry, but I think both are equally problematic.

    I also appreciate how you acknowledged that ignorance stems from lack of education and representation of First Nations people as inferior. Similarly, Shauneen always says we have to recognize that people have been systematically denied the opportunity to learn both sides of Canada’s history. Ignorance is not their fault, but there is a “blissful ignorance” or a desire to remain ignorant that we need to be critical of, which is what I think you were doing when you respectfully disagreed with your colleague.

    You said that reconciliation involves conversations to better understand one another as well as educating yourself. How will you continue to learn/unlearn these issues? How will you get involved in conversations so you can better understand Indigenous peoples’ perspectives?

    This is something I have struggled with. Reconciliation is about relationships, but how do we spring relationships out of nowhere? Where do we start?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for sharing. I think it is important to remind ourselves that people have been “systematically denied the opportunity to learn about both sides of Canada’s history.”

      I think we all share the same concern about where we start. I constantly remind myself how much I have learned in my four years of university. Of course I must keep learning but I think, much like university, opportunities to learn and be a part of the conversation will present itself.

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