Ontario’s Children: Our Hope & Light

Photo by RDNE

In the heart of young minds, a world unfolds,
Where seeds of change and justice are sowed,
Ontario’s children, our hope and light,
Embrace the path of equality, shining bright.

In elementary schools, a sacred space,
Where lessons weave a tapestry, embrace,
A tale of courage, empathy, and grace,
Of breaking chains, to reach a higher place.

In classrooms where the laughter rings,
A symphony of voices, diverse things,
Their innocence, a canvas so pure,
Where colours of acceptance shall endure.

Oh, let them learn of struggles faced,
Of heroes who, with love, embraced,
The fight against oppression’s might,
To carve a future that’s just and right.

Teach them the power of unity,
That strength resides in diversity,
No voice too soft, no heart too small,
To stand for justice, one and all.

As whispers of the past float by,
Lessons of history, they can’t deny,
The pain of prejudice, we must reveal,
To kindle empathy, foster what’s real.

To understand the wounds that scar,
And strive to heal, near and far,
In this young realm, we plant the seed,
Of anti-oppression, urgent need.

In every story shared and heard,
A tapestry of humanity is stirred,
To weave compassion into the core,
And let injustice exist no more.

For as they learn with open hearts,
A world of change, this love imparts,
A generation, bold and wise,
Embracing truth, no compromise.

Ontario’s children, a beacon strong,
In their hearts, a justice song,
They’ll rise above, lift others high,
A future bright beneath the sky.

So let us teach with love and care,
Anti-oppression, always aware,
In elementary schools, the power resides,
To shape a world where all love abides.

Beyond One Day – Truth & Reconciliation through curriculum planning.

Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day Bead Work

September 30 has been earmarked as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Before this, most educators knew this day as Orange Shirt Day, which stemmed from the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc author from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who shares the story of her experiences in a residential school. The significance of September 30 is profound as it calls for us all as a nation, particularly as educators, to pause and reflect on the effects and impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples (children and adults) to this day. It is estimated that over 150000 Indigenous children attended residential schools in Ontario alone over the span of 100+ years (Restoule, 2013). We know that many of these children did not make it home, while many others still live with the trauma they faced within these schooling systems. 

Orange Shirt Day, now known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, is but a starting point for us as educators. How can we collectively move beyond one day to infuse learning about Indigenous histories and present Indigenous impacts into our overall planning across different subject areas? In the ‘Calls to Action’ reported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), sections 62 and 63 emphasizes the need for an educational approach that centers Indigenous histories, accounts, and perspectives in the curriculum, not as a one-off event or as an interruption to learning, but instead as an integral part of developing understanding within Canadian education. 

Simply put, Indigenous history is Canadian History. Indigenous peoples continue to shape and influence Canadian society in meaningful ways. 

“In 2015, ETFO endorsed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. ETFO understands that it is integral for educators to move forward into reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada” (ETFO, 2022). Challenge yourself to learn more using the curated information provided by ETFO, and be intentional about infusing Indigenous representation in the various subject areas you may teach. Resources can be found and explored at etfofnmi.ca

Fostering further development and understanding (both in learning and teaching practices) of Indigenous accounts and narratives in K-12 learning communities not as an alternate focus or ‘alternative learning’, but as a central tenet of Canadian education is critical to moving towards reconciliation as we learn and teach about Indigenous peoples of Canada.

For more exploration and information, visit https://etfofnmi.ca/.

References:

Restoule, K. (2013). An Overview of the Indian Residential School System.’ Anishinabek.ca. Retrieved from https://www.anishinabek.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/An-Overview-of-the-IRS -System-Booklet.pdf.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Reports – NCTR. NCTR – National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Retrieved from https://nctr.ca/records/reports/#trc-reports.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. (2015). First Nation, Métis and Inuit (FNMI). Etfo.ca. Retrieved from https://www.etfo.ca/socialjusticeunion/first-nation,-metis-and-inuit-(fnmi).

A Day To Listen

September is a busy month in schools as teachers get to know their students, learn new curriculum, set up classroom norms and some teachers even have to deal with reorganization by the end of the month. It has been an especially busy start for my class as many students are new to our school and some are returning back to the classroom for the first time in almost three years. Getting into a routine has been challenging as I know the routine is an important thing to establish in September.

Having said that, September is an important month about Truth and Reconciliation. As September 30th is Truth and Reconciliation Day, schools prepare differently to reflect as a community. Our school spent time considering a school-wide assembly filled with student created land acknowledgements, a video of all students sharing why they wear orange, various poems, Indigenous art and highlights from the 94 Calls to Action. We shared our thoughts with Indigenous members within our board and were asked to remind the school community that Orange “Every Child Matters” shirts should be worn all year not just on September 30th. They also shared other ideas to ensure our assembly was culturally appropriate.

Students in my class as well as many others started looking at the Land Acknowledgement and thinking about what it really meant. Students hear it on the announcements every day but may not actually understand the meaning of the words. Many students came up with really well written versions and were going to read them to the school.

However, our board sent out an email stating that we needed to avoid assemblies on September 30th and that it would be better to reflect and listen within our own classrooms so that we could support student responses within the classroom. We were asked to concentrate on classroom activities instead. We decided to have students read their land acknowledgements over the announcements and some staff shared their student-created videos by email instead.

I was able to share the video with my class from our member ETFO news from September 28th, where Shawnee Talbot explains her connection to music. The video can be found if you click this link: Music is Medicine. My grade eight history class watched her TedxGrandJunction video about her life as a member of the Two Spirit community and how music has been such an integral part of her life. Students connected with their love for music and how it helps them during their times of need. It was a great discussion and I really encourage you to explore our ETFO news article from September 28th for more resources. The entire resource can be found here: Two Spirit Resource. 

I would like to close this post by sharing a reflective piece of writing by one of my students as she shares how she will help others remember the horrible past of Residential Schools:

“I pledge to remember the people who were here before us on this land and how they suffered in residential schools. Also, to help younger people to remember by telling stories, wearing an orange shirt, watching videos about Truth and Reconciliation and making posters to put up on walls. I would want my teacher to bring a friend or a member of the Indigenous Community to share about Truth and Reconciliation. We should also have moments of silence and reflection to honour the children who died in Residential Schools. I also want the people around to acknowledge that it is Truth and Reconciliation and respect the people who may have lost a family or friend in a Residential school.”

I share this post in a reflective lens and understand I am learning and listening each year as we reflect on the horrible past of our country. 

Pushing the Wet’suwet’en conversation forward

I am inspired by students’ reflections and discussions about current events around the world, and especially last week as we learned about the arrests of land defenders and journalists on Wet’suwet’en territory. We talked about what it means for land to be unceded, and we learned that the Supreme Court confirmed through the Delgamuukw case in 1997 that the Wet’suwet’en had not given up title to their land in Northern British Columbia. Here is what we captured during our learning:

Image

During discussion, one of my students asked an incredible question that caught me off guard: “I thought the Supreme Court was the most important place where decisions are made, and that no one can change their decisions. Why is all of this still happening even after the case in 1997?” 

Despite thinking that I had done enough research on the issue of the Coastal GasLink pipeline passing through Wet’suwet’en land, I did not have an answer for her at that moment. I asked myself: What are the gaps in my understanding of this issue that would leave me without an answer to this question?

I spent some time finding the answer:

  • While the Supreme Court did confirm the hereditary chiefs’ right to the land and sole authority to sanction development on Wet’suwet’en territory based on pre-colonial law, there were unresolved issues regarding the divisions of power between hereditary chiefs and band councils. The band council system is imposed under the Indian Act (which falls under Canadian law) to facilitate nation-to-nation relationships, but is not recognized under pre-colonial laws and structures used by the nation’s hereditary chiefs.
  • Coastal GasLink claims that all necessary permits were acquired in order to build the pipeline, but the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation argue that they never gave express consent to build on the territory. There seems to be a loophole through which Coastal GasLink got approval for the pipeline because they negotiated an agreement with the Wet’suwet’en elected band council. This is all fine and good if we’re talking about Canadian laws and structures but Wet’suwet’en First Nation is unceded land, meaning that the land is meant to be self-governed under pre-colonial law by the hereditary chiefs (which is also recognized in Section 35 of the Constitution).

I’m happy I spent the time to find an answer to my student’s question; I learned so much and feel much better equipped to continue the conversation. Even still, I have some thoughts about how else I can move forward through the rest of this year and grow as an educator in this area. How can I constantly push myself to find the answers? How can I continue teaching about Indigenous right to self-government and sovereignty, especially on unceded land?

I teach Grade 6, so I try my best to bring these issues back to the heart of what is most important to those most affected. In this case, a commonality in what I read is that the water on Wet’suwet’en land is of utmost importance. “You could swim in that lake and just open your mouth and drink the water, it’s so pristine, and the river is so clear that you can see these very deep spawning beds that the salmon have been returning to for thousands of years,” Sleydo’ says. Whether or not a student understands the legal or historical significance of a conflict like Wet’suwet’en, they will understand the importance of clean water and a thriving ecosystem. Perhaps this fundamental understanding of what is most important could be something that brings groups together to move towards reconciliation.

Truth and Reconciliation Day Reflections

In my grade 7/8 class, we spent the month of September discussing residential schools, learning about how these schools horribly affected many people and their families to this very day. We spent the past two week doing an activity from a Canva slideshow that my principal shared with our staff. We listened to many residential school survivors tell their story and we commented on how these stories made us feel. During the time when these videos were on, my students were actively listening and not distracted by anything around them. I could tell that what they were listening to was important to them. We discussed and participated in activities from this link Canva Link

Then, during the week of September 27th to October 1st, we participated and listened to various live speakers from the Truth and Reconciliation Week activities. During these live videos and activities, my students once again were engaged and being respectful to the speakers. The events we participated in can be found by clicking on this link

After listening to all of the speakers and pre-recorded videos, my students made their own orange shirt out of felt that they could safety pin to their shirt if they did not have an orange shirt for our first Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30th. This idea was shared with me by a fellow teacher in my school (who has done this every year with her class). My students wore them with pride on September 30th as they knew the significance and importance of wearing orange.

Some questions my students had about Truth and Reconciliation Week/Day were:

  1. Why do the government officials get a holiday?
  2. Why would anyone choose to put children in a residential school?
  3. How can we learn from this?
  4. What can we do to help?
  5. Why…just why?

One of my grade eights said it best when he was commenting on the total devastation a parent would feel if their child never returned home. This comment was met with silence from my students.

We also read an article about perhaps in the future moving to make Truth and Reconciliation Day a provincial holiday as well. This brought up a great discussion about why this year it was only for federal employees. One student made a comment along the lines of, “I wonder if those employees are taking the day to reflect.” A good question from a grade eight student.

I commented on the fact that even though we may not feel as if we can do a lot to change what happened, we can respect the time we take each year to remember those children in the unmarked graves and to learn and listen from all of those who were impacted by that. I can continue to teach my class during this month about this each year and my students can continue to remember the children who were found. I enjoyed looking at Instagram and Twitter to see how schools reflected and shared their learning on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

As we move into October and learn about Islamic Heritage Month, we need to do our best to remember how to honour and respect all that we heard during September for the entire school year.

 

Before you summer, take time to D.E.A.L

Drop Everything and Learn

This week, I hit the stop button on my life inside of the classroom for another school year. To quote the Grateful Dead. “What a long strange trip it’s been.” Yet, before shutting down, I need to D.E.A.L. more about how to deepen my understanding and leverage my white settler privilege in support of FNMI communities.

Heart wrenching discoveries of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada have me fighting to make sense of many things right now in this country. How and why could so much hatred and overt evil be inflicted on generations of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people for more than a century? How can a democratically empowered system built on commandments of love thy neighbour, be so obviously racist and genocidal to the very people who shared this land in the first place? And how did it come with the criminal complicity of faith based institutions to boot? These questions have me hearing some very strong internal voices telling me to stay in teacher/learner mode a little longer.

Maybe it’s time we give Canada Day a timeout for a while so we can move forward in a good way?

Can you recall reading or hearing of any treaties that included one group being subjugated to tyranny and relegated to systemic abuse and racism by the other? I can’t. Everyone in education must take time to ensure that the truth about the traumatic truth of Canada’s past no longer remains on the outside of the history books. It’s can be as simple as shifting from outdated text books and colonizer curricula, by for profit publishers, when we plan our lessons. It can be in seeking your closest FNMI partners in education. Numerous school boards are already doing this and ETFO as well. It’s time to seek out resources that include all sides of the story, and not those that fit the nauseatingly one sided Disney endings written for and by settlers.

In my mind it stands at the heart of our humanity as educators and treaty people. We must do more than acknowledging the trauma caused in the past, but to genuinely reconcile our relationships in order to build a just and inclusive future. There is work to be done and despite my momentary fatigue. This learning is a personal call to action that serves as the energy to keep going instead of heading straight for the chaise lounge on my patio. It needs to start now.

Things I can do (you can too)

I need to turn my attention to learning more about the truth that has been so strategically whitewashed out of our conversations and history books as a nation. A nation that is supposed to be the beacon of kindness and inclusion to the rest of the world. The truth, about Canada that world has been shown by our gleaming generosity and polished politeness, may not be seen the same reality as seen through the eyes and experiences of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. It’s time to demand better from those in leadership to stop standing in the way of the truth as shared in the TRC Commission Report shared in 2015.

I need to come to terms with the dissonace from what I have been taught about Canada as a student, and ensure that it’s mistreatment of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit does not continue. As such, I am committing more time to listening to voices that have been silenced for far too long, reading books from authors who share stories from first hand experiences or who speak for elders who have been silenced, and by seeking out ways to bring this into my future classrooms.

I need to reflect in order to move forward.

Throughout this year, my grade 4/5 classroom was a space for conversations and lessons on Residential Schools, Orange Shirt Day, the Mik Maw fishery, BLM, Anti-Asian hate, and systemic racism in general. What is abundantly clear despite many meaningful moments of cleared understanding, the fires that have been lit in my students will need to be refuelled. I hope you all take some time to recharge your bodies and minds over the break, but encourage everyone, at some time over the summer, to drop everything and learn in preparation of re-igniting the fires of truth and reconciliation in the minds of students when we gather again to D.E.A.L in September.

Need a place to start?

Digital Resources:

Education – NCTR – Reconciliation through Education
ETFO First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education Resources 
First Nations Education Steering Committee – Indian Residential Schools and Reconciliation Resources
FNMI Learning Grid curated by Richard Erdmann

Important reads to deepen your understanding:

21 Things you may not know about the Indian Act – Bob Joseph
All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward – Tanya Talaga
Seven Fallen Feathers – Tanya Talaga
Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer

Wisdom always found here on Twitter:

Bob Joseph @wewap
Colinda Clyne @clclyne
Pamala Agawa @agawap
Bryson the Gaytive @ArnallLabrador 
Jody Kohoko @NishVPKwe

 

 

Water is Life

I have been learning with, from, and about water for several years. In another blog, I shared examples of what decolonial water pedagogy might look like in a Grade 2 classroom.  Whenever possible, it is critically important to invite Indigenous artists, activists, and Earth workers to share their knowledge with students in their own voices.

Water is Life:

This fall, the Grade 2-6 students participated in a workshop with Joce Two-Crows Tremblay and Faye Mullen called “Water is Life”.  They describe the workshop as: “Wondering on water as an ancestral highway, as home, as Medicine and more, through story, song and ceremony.”  

It was a beautiful morning. We gathered in a circle and welcomed our special guests with the song, “Funga Alafia”. Archer Pechawis, a Grove parent, joined us and shared songs and drumming. We offered tobacco and gratitude for their teachings. 



Water as Home:

Joce taught us about the strong connections between language and land. We learned about the Indigenous roots of many words spoken in English. After the workshop, I asked the Grade 2 students to document their new learning on inquiry cards with the prompt, “Now I know….”.

NOW I KNOW….
…that Toronto is pronounced many different ways. SOL
…that Lake Ontario in the Indigenous language is “Lake Handsome Lake.” DEMA


Water as Relative:

After a discussion about the importance of water and who we consider to be our relatives, we learned about the relationship between salmon, people, and water. When young children see themselves in relationships with land that are rooted in reciprocity and respect, they might care for all humans and more-than-humans as family.

Water as Ancestral Highway:

In preparation for the workshop, everyone had made salmon puppets, and we re-created water using tarps and blue material. As Joce and Faye paddled up the river, singing an Anishinaabe Water song, our salmon puppets swam upstream to spawn.

NOW I KNOW….

…a song about water. GWEN
…that people sing river songs to catch up to salmon. CLEM

At the end of our journey, we learned more about how Anishinaabeg used land as tools and technology in innovative ways.

NOW I KNOW…

...how to catch salmon, and when to.  DESMOND

…people put Willows down to trap big salmon.  SVEA

Water as Medicine:

We ended our workshop with a Water Ceremony. We sat in a circle and water was poured into our cup. As we held water in our hands, Joce and Faye invited us to think about how living things can feel and absorb our energy, and that is why we must be aware and intentional about our relationship to land. We were encouraged to send greetings of love and hope and gratitude to the water. After sitting quietly and reflecting, we drank from our cup and wondered if the taste of the water was affected by our ceremony.

NOW I KNOW….
…water can hold lots of energy. LOTE
…water gives life to everything. ELLIOT

It was a powerful morning.  We learned many important lessons about land and language, connection and community, technology and teachings.  Everyone enjoyed learning outside with and from the land, through storytelling, movement and music.  Thank you to Joce, Faye and Archer for sharing your knowledge with us.

Hindsight is…

Please don’t make me finish the title until the last second has ticked off the clock. I may have developed a defensive outlook about this trip around the sun. While I know this Gregorian Calender measurement of time will soon be in the rearview mirror of our lives, it is still a battle avoiding the queasiness and wincing that come when I think about all we have been through in 2020. Can resolutions be far behind?

Dang! I just wrote 2020

My understanding, perhaps acceptance, of this year is coming into clearer focus. It has been an extraordinary year on so many levels, and thus a great opportunity for personal growth. It has also been an educational year because, dang, I learnt a lot. 

Dang! I just wrote ‘dang’ again. 

I also taught a lot, and despite it feeling like a roller coaster ride from hell along the way, it meant that there were many lessons for me as an educator in 2020 too. Which made me happy to find this quote below after thinking I made it up myself. 

“If you are not learning, then you are not teaching.” Vernon L Smith*

A wise and gentle reminder that there was always something new to learn about ourselves, the students we teach, and the world around us during periods of unexpected loss, labour strife, professional uncertainty, and a global crisis. Smith’s words echoing loudly as I type. Here’s my version of it à la René Descartes. 

I learn, therefore I am a teacher.

So here is what I learnt from hindsight/2020:

  1. Take time to grieve and offer comfort first when students/families are hurting. The lessons can wait. It hurts to lose a student to senseless violence. Our school felt this very deeply last January
  2. Sometimes governments do not have the best interests of the population in their actions. Standing up to malfeasance and legislated tyranny is the right and a responsibility of all educators. 
  3. Mental health matters more than marks. Students/educators who struggle will not miraculously get better after a call to a helpline or a conversation with a social worker/psychologist. It is a process that takes time and patience before progress. I learned that there is much more to learn in this area to better support students, colleagues, and myself. 
    Remember that no matter how many times people tell you to take care of yourself first, there have to be reasonable boundaries and supports to make that happen. An encouraging message from admin, a Board Director’s email blast, or the Minister of Ed is not going to suffice. Set your boundaries. Do what you can do within them. Take time to be still. The work can and will wait. 
  4. Equity in schools needs to go way beyond a single day in the classroom, Orange/Pink/Purple shirt days are great starting points, but most not become performative events, but rather actionable beginnings to build on everyday in classrooms. There are so many amazing inclusion and equity resources being shared via school boards and social media for educators committed to allyship and activism in areas of Truth and Reconciliation, anti-black racism, LGBTQ2+, and culturally responsive relevant pedagogy. I learned that words in a classroom mean very little if they are not accompanied by opportunities to critically engage learners to become agents of change. 
  5. I learned not all educators are ready to confront their privilege and unearned advantage. I also learned that acknowledging my own privilege comes with the responsibility to examine my pedagogy and practice. It is a chance to unlearn, learn, and then teach. 
  6. If you are going to move into emergency distance learning within a short period of time, take it slow and make sure you have an ergonomic work space for those extended hours of screen time ahead. I learned that not all students have the same amounts of available space or bandwidth required for virtual school. I also had to accept that some students checked out the moment learning became asynchronous. 
  7. Rethink, question, iterate, bend, blend, and break everything you have done in the past to teach. Say goodbye to “we’ve always done it this way thinking”. Reimagine your reading lists, your math instruction, your use of worksheets, your classroom management, and your assessment approaches. This will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Embrace the discomfort. Learn from it, and then teach forward knowing 2020 taught us all so much. 

Thank you for a wonderful year at the speed of education. Please feel free to add what 2020 taught you in the comments below. Cheers to you all, and to a safe trip around the sun in 2021. 

*  There is comfort in the knowledge that the quote above is attributed to a Nobel Prize winning thinker because before checking, I thought the words above were mined straight out of my mind. Needless to say, I am happy to share a common thought in esteemed company. Searching out the source of the quote also allowed me to discover some of Smith’s other vast body of work in economics.

 

Engaging with Indigenous Knowledge as a Non-Indigenous Educator

Over my teaching career I have been fortunate to teach in schools with high populations of Indigenous students and to learn from the knowledge keepers and elders in the communities that our schools served.  Admittedly, I haven’t always said or done the right things but I have learned from those mistakes.  As a non-Indigenous educator, I know that I will continuously be on a professional and personal learning journey.  I acknowledge that it is my responsibility to do this learning.  There are resources that I have used along the way and I hope that by drawing attention to the following resources, I can assist others in their learning journey.

In order to avoid cultural appropriation, to honour and respect Indigenous culture and history as a non-Indigenous teacher, it is important to have the appropriate resources. We can’t avoid teaching about residential schools because we don’t feel comfortable.  It is a part of the Ontario Curriculum.  It isn’t just about “history” either.  Current events draw attention to the pervasive issues faced by Indigenous peoples.  These are teachable moments that are authentic and relevant to students.  Students will be asking questions and forming opinions. As educators we have a responsibility to assist students to find accurate and culturally respectful information.

If you are looking for a place to begin in your learning journey, visit ETFO’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education website.  It is filled with cultural protocols, resources and Ministry Documents.  It is a treasure trove of information on treaties, land acknowledgements and avoiding cultural appropriation.  Throughout the literature are hyperlinks for explanations of concepts and lexicon.  Through ShopETFO you can purchase the FNMI Engaging Learners Through Play  resource created for elementary educators which provides play based activities that engage all students.

A quick resource can be found on code.on.ca (The Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators). This resource provides a quick chart of protocols on what to do, what to avoid, why to avoid and what to try in order to bring learning about Indigenous culture and history into your classroom.  This document also provides links to videos about Indigenous Arts Protocols, and a quick reference guide for what to think about before engaging with Indigenous Knowledge.

The website helpingourmotherearth.com is filled with tools and resources for educators including videos of Indigenous Knowledge Keepers telling their stories.  There are free educational resource kits with lesson plans for primary, junior and intermediate students.  In addition, you could sign up for professional learning or a workshop on the site.

Like me, you might make mistakes.  However, my Indigenous educator friends have coached me that the worst mistake that non-Indigenous educators can make is to do nothing.  I hope that highlighting these resources will help you along your professional learning journey.

We didn’t “celebrate” Orange Shirt Day

This tweet hit me square in the brain. It was neither confrontational nor rude. It was simply a sublimely and sage sentence that stuck. I said it over and over again while researching, reading, and reflecting while preparing to teach about Residential Schools on September 30th.

“We don’t “celebrate” #OrangeShirtDay.” A simple reminder to all educators and learners.

So before we started our learning today, I told my 2 grade 4/5 English classes that “this was not a celebration.” Today was meant for reflection.

I did compliment them on their numerous orange shirts, and then we were off. The first question was “Why are we wearing these shirts today?” The responses were varied and honest. One student shared how a little girl had her orange shirt taken from her. Another few recalled bits of what they had learned last year, while others seemed like this was all new to them. We went from there?

My next question was, “Have you ever heard of residential schools?” followed by, “What do you know about them?” These two questions led to some solid conversation around the institution of school as we know it compared to the residential schools where First Nations, Metis and Inuit students were forced to attend. I shared about the living conditions, the daily routines, and the terrible food. I added that they could only speak English and would be punished when they didn’t or for a litany of other things for that matter. I wanted to guide students to the understanding that something was wrong with residential schools. They got it.

I could see their eyes and minds opening after explaining how the children were scooped up and taken away for 300 days at a time, far from home, and separated from the only family they knew. Students also learned that the RCMP would arrest families who resisted. And then the question I was hoping for;
“Why were kids taken to residential schools?” Why would they do this?

This became a pivotal point because it led us to a discussion about who “they” were? Putting the brakes on for a moment, I changed they to “colonizers”. The phrase European settlers came up too since we were talking about it. This led to the point where students found out that the government was also part of the “colonizers(they)”, and that their plans included wiping out First Nations, Metis, and Inuit culture through laws and enforcement of racist colonizer policies. The word discrimination came next, followed by a call of racism.

We talked and listened a lot. I shared some connections about how the government tried to label all First Nations as uncivilized savages in order to justify its desire to separate them from their land, their culture, and their dignity.

We talked about the importance of hearing the truth, and that there was more to learn. We promised to continue beyond Orange Shirt Day, and we sat quiet watching this video without sound and then with sound. https://www.nfb.ca/playlists/orange-shirt-day-edu/playback/#2 It was a powerful moment for students to see the images life in a residential school and then to reflect on why we were learning about it.

There were no tacky culturally appropriated mis-interpretations. Orange Shirt Day will not become a seasonal event like Halloween or Valentine’s Day in our schools. We will remember and continue exploring the truth about the legislated genocide attempted by the Canadian government on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit. We will also continue to examine how we continue to benefit from those inhuman actions to this day.

Today was not a day of celebration. September 30th was a day to listen, to become informed, and to reflect on the way that Canada has mistreated the First Nations, Metis and Inuit. We didn’t “celebrate” Orange Shirt Day. We inquired about it. We wrestled with it. We saw residential schools for the terrible places that they were to so many people. We sought to know more of its truth. We wore orange to respectfully remember.

Additional resources:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PlV8jUd2WtxcxrTHJK_HtZimP2Usng9k/view