Education is Critical to Reconciliation

By Amie Nault

From The Catalyst, Summer 2016

It’s been just over a year since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) published its 94 calls to action. They appeal to all sectors of society to change, to improve, and to educate. The Commission calls on us to reconcile with this nations’ Indigenous Peoples so as to avoid repeating history.

I remember the day clearly. I had just started summer classes, and I was in a classroom in Saskatoon when my teacher came in with these little slips of paper in her hand. Most of us were confused, bewildered by these seemingly arbitrary numbers and statements on the page, as we each received a slip of paper. But slowly we began to understand what we were reading. She was calling us to act and effect positive change in our society. It is something that I, my classmates, and nearly everyone I know have strived to do in some fashion.

I doubt I am alone in eagerly waiting for how governments will respond, especially after the full report came out in December of last year. Recently, the Ontario government released a document titled “The Journey Together.” It is, in effect, their plan and response to the TRC calls to action. The document outlines 30 steps ranging from addressing issues in the justice system to commemorating those lost to the horrors of residential schools. Upon first look, I was more than pleased with the outline. It was not comprehensive, and I did not expect it to be. But there was one noticeable absence.

I admit to surprise that nowhere in the document did the Ontario government detail its plan to respond to call to action #62. This call asks governments to develop “curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada.” Ontario had quietly proposed to start addressing education back in mid-February. It was hidden almost as a footnote when the province announced that it would be implementing call to action #57 on Indigenous education for every employee in the Ontario Public Service. Since then, there has been no word on making changes to Ontario’s curriculum.

There are, of course, teachers and school boards across the country that are addressing the need for education on the history of Aboriginal Canadians. In the Durham District School Board, a portion of each professional development day is devoted to the TRC. They have produced a binder to help teachers include more Aboriginal history in their grade ten history class. Students of all ages across the country participate in such programs as Project of Heart, an artistic reminder of the victims of residential schools. And KAIROS uses its Blanket Exercise to teach the Indigenous history of Canada.

CPJ has expressed its support for KAIROS’ Winds of Change campaign. This campaign is rooted in call to action #62 and Senator Murray Sinclair’s statement that “education is what got us here, and education is what will get us out.” KAIROS has been circulating petitions, advocating for interactions with politicians, and hosting workshops for education. They have also prepared a report card and have given each province a grade on their progress in achieving reconciliation through education.

It seems that Canadians have realized the importance of education in the reconciliation process. But there still needs to be a response from the government to address the call for education so that the story of Indigenous peoples is told across the country.

We as Canadians have been doing good work; we have been changing, learning, and growing.

But there is still work left to do.

Reconciliation is a process that isn’t just a moment, or a handful of moments. It’s a journey that we all have to walk together. Education is such an important element of that journey. Without education, we will never understand the need to walk together. Without a widespread educational change, the next generation could make our mistakes again.

As my teacher told me last summer, “we have been called to act. The choice now, is ours.”

On March 30, CPJ released a statement in response to the TRC calls to action #48 and # 62. We dedicated our organization to build on our past actions and move to deepen our policy analysis, build relationships of solidarity, and promote Indigenous rights, particularly in the areas of poverty eradication and climate justice. 

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