Residential Schools

The remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at Kamloops Indian Residential School this past week. Every child found was a brother, sister, daughter, son, grandchild, and important member of their family. Every child found loved and was loved by their family. Every child found was taken from their home and stripped of their culture and dignity. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is working with the coroner’s office to determine the causes and timings of their deaths, which is currently unknown. What is known, is that no one from the school, community or government documented these deaths. It is a grave reminder that many people knew the horrors of abuse and disease that was going on at residential schools across Canada and no one stopped it. Not a member of the community, the government, a chief medical officer, a teacher or mayor stepped in to stop this horrifying situation for 150, 000 innocent children and their families. It is imperative that we share these stories so every student in Ontario knows this history and can become an advocate for Indigenous rights in Canada.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting at an outdoor theatre with my aunt watching Charlottetown’s Confederation “Centre Young Company” perform a musical that told stories from all around Canada. At the conclusion of the performance, my aunt turned to me with a surprised look on her face and said, “I didn’t know that happened.” She was referring to the powerful song, written and performed by a very talented young man from Nunavut who spoke of the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. I was incredibly surprised that my aunt had not been aware of the cultural genocide that happened at residential schools but soon realized that through conversation that she was never taught it in school and had never heard about it in other areas of her life. As our conversation continued, I saw the transformation in thoughts about our Indigenous peoples as education and the arts can do.

As educators, it is imperative that we do not have more children graduate from our schools not knowing the harm that was caused by residential schools and the history of Colonialism which is still very much ingrained in our current educational and child welfare systems in Canada.

To support teaching about residential schools, there is a Bookstore in Toronto called GoodMinds. This bookstore is First Nations owned and operated. Below, I have highlighted different books that can introduce and continue to tell the horrific history of residential schools in Canada. It is important as educators that we are teaching our students that as settlers, we all have a responsibility to learn the history and advocate for our Indigenous peoples.


Primary:

When We Were Alone/Quand on était seuls by David A. Robertson and Julie Flett

This book is a very gentle introduction to the concept of residential schools that can be read to children as young as Kindergarten. The young girl asks her grandmother, Kokum,  about her brightly coloured dresses, long braided hair, Cree language, and about the times when she was a young girl. Kokum tells her about her experiences attending a residential school for a number of years as a child in a way that her granddaughter can understand.

Shi-Shi-etko/Shi-Shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell

Shi-shi-etko is a picture book about an Interior Salish child with just four more days at home until she goes to residential school. She takes time to explore her environment and spends quality time with her family. The illustrations are beautiful and conveys the connection to one’s community. Although the book is the final days at home before departing, residential schools are only mentioned on the introductory page.

Junior:

I am Not a Number/Je ne suis pas un numéro by Jenny Kay Dupuis (Ojibwe) and Kathy Kacer

This is a dual language book in English or French and Nibisiing.  Nibisiing was the language that Irene was not allowed to speak at the residential school where she was forcibly sent by the “Indian agent”. The book I am Not a Number tells the story of Irene Couchie Dupuis and her horrible and frightening experiences of being in the residential school system. The book is written by her granddaughter Jenny Kay Dupuis.

The Orange Shirt Story/L’histoire du chandail orange by Phyllis Webstad (Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band)

The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad explains the truth behind Orange Shirt Day held each September 30th. This book describes the sadness Phyllis experienced being away from her family and the cruelty she experienced in the residential school system in Canada.

Intermediate:

Residential School. With The Words and Images of Survivors by Larry Loyie(Cree)

This book honours the survivors, the former students, who attended residential schools. It offers a first-person perspective of the residential school system in Canada, as it shares the memories of more than 70 survivors from across Canada.


The trauma inflicted by residential schools is still very much a part of the lives of many of our Indigenous peoples across Canada. Below is a plea from Kelly Fraser, an outstanding Inuk musician, who spoke about the call to action for all Canadians before her tragic passing in 2019.

“Both my mothers are residential school survivors, both their father’s dogs were taken away and killed so they couldn’t go dog sledding to get their food to feed their family. TB/influenza caused our people to convert to Christianity and let go of their culture (drum dancing, tattooing, throat singing, shamanism…etc)  because the priests were the only ones with the medicine and I’m not here to say being a Christian is not right, I believe in the freedom of believing what you want to and I respect ALL religions. The Mounties were sent by the government to take away our kayaks and made my family walk thousands of kilometers to a new settlement where they were told there would be houses when there weren’t any. I believe we can rise above what has happened to us by telling each other to please find healing and help by elders, mental health workers, there’s the internet where we can learn to meditate, learn about our culture and reach out and help each other heal. Its time for us ALL people to also call onto the federal/provincial/territorial/municipal governments to give us food that is affordable, programs that will help us heal, proper housing, proper education that allows us to go straight to college after grade 12 and proper healthcare by writing to them and calling them up, this is up to ALL Canadians too!!”

Calls to Action for Educators: Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls

As part of the 2019 Final Report on the Inquiry of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, there was a list of calls to action created. As elementary educators our call to action is very clear:

We call upon all elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions and education authorities to educate and provide awareness to the public about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and about the issues and root causes of violence they experience. All curriculum development and programming should be done in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. Such education and awareness must include historical and current truths about the genocide against Indigenous Peoples through state laws, policies, and colonial practices. It should include, but not be limited to, teaching Indigenous history, law, and practices from Indigenous perspectives and the use of Their Voices Will Guide Us with children and youth.

Here are three resources to use in your classroom in 2021 to teach your students about the tragedy of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls:

If I Go Missing by Ojibwe author Brianna Jonnie is an incredible adaptation from a letter that Ms. Jonnie wrote when she was 14 years old to the Winnepeg Police Service. At the time of the letter, Ms. Jonnie implored with the police to “do better” when investigating cases of missing Indigenous peoples. It uses a graphic novel format with incredible artwork by Nshannacappo. The artwork combined with the poignant text tell a very impactful story, especially for those students in the intermediate grades.  The book is also incredibly powerful as it challenges the common narratives of Indigenous girls and the messaging about them in the media.

 

 

We are More Than Murdered and Missing is an important TED Talk by Tamara Bernard. She shares her personal story of the intergenerational impact of her great grandmother being taken and the legacy of trauma that it had on her family. She also speaks about the portrayal in the media of Indigenous women and girls and how that shapes the self perception of many young Indigenous girls.  Ms. Bernard touches on some of the historical policies that created a system for Indigenous women to be devalued. This TED Talk would be valuable as an educator tool or for use in an intermediate classroom.

 

 

Their Voices Will Guide Us is an education initiative of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This Resource is for educators to begin to embed lessons in their program about the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls in order to take collectively responsibility for their safety. If you are an educator who has wanted to begin to introduce these kinds of lessons but have been hesitant because of lack of knowledge this is an amazing resource for you. It clearly speaks to the need for all educators to continue learning and to not let fear or not knowing everything be a deterrent of starting to introduce this very important topic to your classroom. The educator section is extensive and will provide you with many avenues to continue your learning. The resource also has sections for grades K-4, 5-8 and high school. In each section there are a list of themes that you may want to focus on in your lessons and a list of resources to support your instruction.

Goodbye Kelly Fraser

My music classes and I had the good fortune to discover Kelly Fraser’s music when she was nominated for a Juno in 2018. We spent much of January and February that year listening to and analyzing the amazing music created by the artists in the Indigenous Music Album of The Year category and we cast our votes in school for our favourite artist before the Junos aired in March. The Juno was officially awarded to Buffy Sainte-Marie that year but if my students had been on the selection committee the Juno would have been handed to Ms. Kelly Fraser for her album Sedna.

My students were interested in her at first because they recognized songs that she was covering like Rihanna’s Diamonds. But as we looked deeper into her music, we delved into conversations about music as a way to protest or covey messages and music as a way for people to connect. We all found power in her openness and honesty and I personally was moved by her message of hope.

Therefore, I was very saddened by the news that Kelly Fraser passed away at the age of 26 on Christmas eve in Winnipeg. A true Canadian treasure was lost.

Kelly Fraser taught my students and I so many things over the past two years. I have used her name repeatedly in conversations with other teachers about the power of her message and her ability to explain the generational impact of the residential school system. She shared that “when you grow up witnessing trauma and pain, you have scars too.” CBC did a short documentary a year and a half ago that tells part of Kelly’s story and her experience being Inuit. It is a great starting place for a conversation in your classroom about residential schools.

Kelly also fearlessly shared her experiences on social media about her own journey and that of her mother and stepmother.

“Both my mothers are residential school survivors, both their father’s dogs were taken away and killed so they couldn’t go dog sledding to get their food to feed their family. TB/influenza caused our people to convert to Christianity and let go of their culture (drum dancing, tattooing, throat singing, shamanism…etc)  because the priests were the only ones with the medicine and I’m not here to say being a Christian is not right, I believe in the freedom of believing what you want to and I respect ALL religions. The Mounties were sent by the government to take away our kayaks and made my family walk thousands of kilometers to a new settlement where they were told there would be houses when there weren’t any. I believe we can rise above what has happened to us by telling each other to please find healing and help by elders, mental health workers, there’s the internet where we can learn to meditate, learn about our culture and reach out and help each other heal. Its time for us ALL people to also call onto the federal/provincial/territorial/municipal governments to give us food that is affordable, programs that will help us heal, proper housing, proper education that allows us to go straight to college after grade 12 and proper healthcare by writing to them and calling them up, this is up to ALL Canadians too!!”

As a young, fashionable, brilliant, creative young women, my students connected to her and really listened to her story. This was not from some history book about things that happened in the past, she explained things through a medium that my students related to and brought the impacts of history to the present.

She also gave us some insight into modern Inuit music, art and culture. She spoke with pride about her Inuit culture consistently and took every opportunity to share other talented Indigenous creators. She introduced me to Nuvuja9, Rannva and InukChic and their fabulous designs. She also introduced me to an amazing cosmetic company called Cheekbone Beauty, where I ordered many items of Swag for our Women’s Dinner this year. I’m sure she was a fashion designers dream. Beautiful inside and out.

She also was a writer and her poetry was moving and told history from the voice of a young women trying to overcome her story.

I am beautiful
I am native
I am Inuk
I am made out of seal
With strength like steel
With land of impossible beauty that stretches so far on this earth.
I am a byproduct of colonization
Yet my tongue remembers a language my mother fought to keep in residential school, she fought assimilation.
Even when my grandfathers dogs were killed and kayaks sliced by the RCMP for infiltration
We still love the huskies
We still love the Qajaq
We survived the Canadian apartheid
We still think fondly of how our people survived.
We are survivors of genocide

 

I invite you to share Kelly’s story, music and love for her culture. Share it with your students who are going to be the next policy makers in Canada. Help them to have compassion and caring when they are making decisions that challenge us to really address some of the systemic problems that exist in Canada. Help them to understand the long-lasting impacts of residential schools. Although the last door may have closed, the trauma of being ripped from your home, abused and your identity taken is impacting an entire group of people. And will continue to have impact for generations to come. Help them to help our young Indigenous creators like Kelly find support, so that suicide is not the only way to stop the pain.

Goodbye Kelly. I will miss you.

 

Introducing Indigenous Music through the Junos

3 weeks. 6 days. 23 hours. 5 minutes and 6 seconds.

As of the writing of this blog, that is exactly how much time there is until the unveiling of the 2018  Junos.

In preparation for this monumental event, my grade four classes and I have been focusing on one particular category. We will be taking on the role of “judge” and making our own decisions about who we think should win the Juno in the category of Indigenous Music Album of The Year.

For those who are unfamiliar with this category at the Juno, to win the award, 50% of your album music must include either traditional forms, hand drums/flutes, Inuit throat singing or Métis and other fiddling. The nominees may also fuse contemporary music with traditional styles and/or reflect the aboriginal experience in Canada through words or music.

There is an incredibly musically diverse group of nominees this year in this category. The nominees are fantastic examples of a variety of musical genres, diverse instruments and singing styles.

I have focused on two curriculum expectations when introducing the music:

C2.1 express detailed personal responses to musical performances in a variety of ways
C3.2 demonstrate an awareness, through listening, of the characteristics of musical forms and traditions of diverse times, places, and communities
In each class, we have listened to one piece of music for each performer and the students have had a choice to draw, write or orally share their thoughts about the music. I have given them some guiding questions for them to think about during their response: “How does this performance make you feel?” “What do you think is the message of this song?” “Why do you think the composer wrote this piece?” “Describe the music elements that you are hearing.” “How do the elements help create the mood of the music?”  I also stress with them the idea that their personal response must be detailed and the phrase “I like the music” is not enough.
After we have shared our responses, I introduce one aspect about the characteristics of indigenous music that no one shared in the class. Some examples include explanations about PowWow music, historical context for some of the lyrics, singing style, or instruments included.  Below are the five nominees for this year’s Juno awards, the music videos I used in class, and a bit of information and links to get you started in preparing your class for a fun Indigenous music exploration.
Kelly Fraser      Album: Sedna
Kelly Fraser rose to fame in my world with the viral video of her singing a cover of Rihanna’s Diamonds in Inuktitut. Learn more in the article Kelly Fraser-Revitalizing Inuktitut by singing Rihanna

She has been nominated this year for the album “Sedna” that includes the track “Fight for the Right”. The song is a combination of English and Inuktitut. This song has a direct message against land ownership. This was a song written in May 2016 to encourage people to vote “No” against the referendum happening in Nunavut that asked the question “Do you want the municipality of (city or hamlet name) to be able to sell municipal lands?”

Some additional resources for information about Kelly Fraser

Kelly Fraser

Kelly Fraser-Facebook page

 

DJ Shub    Album-PowWow Step

DJ Shub has just started a solo career. He used to perform with the talented group a “Tribe Called Red” that fuses hip hop and electronic music with traditional drums and voice. DJ Shub has continued that tradition, and his video for Indomitable ft. Northern Cree Singers is a celebration of culture and community. An article with DJ Shub can be found at DJ Shub PowWow Step.

dj Shub’s Website

 

Buffy Sainte-Marie     Album: Medicine Songs

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album is full of old and new songs that will encourage any young person to become an activist. Her new song “You Got To Run” from her Medicine Songs album has an amazing message about believing in one’s own power. Medicine Songs Article, Medicine Songs Article CBC

Buffy’s Website

IsKwé    Album: The Fight Within

Iskwe is Cree and Irish, and the word “Iskwe” means “woman”. Iskwe has created her music to counter the stereotypes people have and push back against the idea that indigenous people won’t or can’t succeed.

Influences behind “The Fight Within”

Indian City  Album: Here and Now

Indian City is a band that has performed all over North America. The band uses dancers, musicians and imagery to represent the vibrant indigenous culture in Canada.

Indian City’s Website

Honouring Indigenous Veterans

We are busy getting ready to observe Remembrance Day at my school. In the past, this ceremony has been a simple one with a wreath procession, a small performance and a moment of reflection after singing the national anthem.

This year, a teacher new to our school had a different idea of what our Remembrance Day ceremony could look like. He suggested that we add a section of our ceremony to honour our indigenous veterans. I welcomed the idea and I can already feel how impactful that suggestion was to both the students and me.

In order to prepare meaningful presentations, first the students and I needed to do some research. The Veterans Affairs Canada website was a great starting point for us. Under the Veterans Affairs Canada website, there is a section that provides videos, audio clips and a lot of information about the contributions of Indigenous veterans. Below, see some links for teachers and students to get you started with your preparations.

  • Short video about the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument

  • Veterans Affairs Canada Page about Indigenous Veterans

http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/indigenous-veterans

But what made this preparation so impactful was helping students understand the context in which this sacrifice was made. Learning about residential schools was very emotional for the students. To help the students understand what residential schools were and the impact of them on our indigenous community we used the websites “100 years of loss” http://100yearsofloss.ca/en/ and “Where are the Children?” http://wherearethechildren.ca/en/. The students openly discussed how angry they would be at Canada if that happened to them. The also stated how sad the children’s parents must have been and how they couldn’t believe that the veterans went to fight for this country that treated them so poorly. We also have been looking at some of the other contexts at this time such as “The Enfranchisement of Aboriginal Canadians: Virtual Exhibition from the Diefenbaker Canada Centre” https://www.usask.ca/diefenbaker/the-enfranchisement-of-canadas-aboriginal-peoples/13.php Because of the limited amount of rights given to indigenous people, many didn’t receive the same support that non-indigenous people did after their service.

This is just the beginning of my learning journey and I am looking forward to sharing the experiences of me and my students while we deepen our knowledge about our indigenous people of Canada.

On November 8th, it is National Aboriginal Veteran’s day in Canada. I encourage you to watch the news and newspapers in order to share the country’s activities with your students in honouring this day.