Reconciliation through Education: Walking this Path Together
Updated: Mar 25, 2019
In 2015 the TRC established 94 #callstoaction for Canada to work towards #reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Among these calls was the need to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into the classroom and to validate Indigenous ways of knowing not just as an alternative, but as an #equal and partner to Western knowledge systems. Moreover, Justice Murray Sinclair stated “It is our view that in broad terms education has brought us to the current state of poor relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. But it is also our view that #education holds the key to making things better”.
As a Western university, SFU chose to answer the calls to action through the creation of ARC (SFU’s Aboriginal Reconciliation Council) and the Aboriginal Strategic Plan (2013-2018). ARC has pledged to make SFU grounds a space where #settlers can #learn to respect and support Indigenous peoples and to acknowledge, respect, and incorporate Aboriginal people’s values and traditions into university programs. In 2018 ARC published the report #WalkThisPathWithUs, which named #Indigenization as a primary goal and noted that “ARC heard that many faculty members wish to Indigenize their courses, but do not know how to do this or what resources are available to them”. Moreover, ARC noted that “non-Aboriginals know very little about Aboriginal history, languages, and cultures”.
As a MA student and a novice educator in one of my MA classes I decided to do a class project surrounding: What does the process of #Indigenizing and #decolonizing the curricula of existing courses at SFU look like? I absolutely recognize that my university and discipline are very much in the early stages of this movement and that there is not full acceptance. At the same time, I watch students in the classes I TA for as well as my own fellow classmates coming in more informed and wanting to know how to start working towards reconciliation. I see real concern and self-educating going on and it is a huge change from when I began university in 2011. For example- and I will better explain myself in another blog post- on one of the criminology exams I graded I had a first year settler student speak to the fact that the academy was a means of colonisation and the role Western law played in this (rather than simply giving me the sadly routine answer of “Indigenous people are over-represented in all stages of the criminal justice system”. I actually sat there and cried (half sad/ half happy/ half excited tears) with my roommate/bestfriend half laughing/half crying with me when I held up the exam for her. I then proceeded to call my parents to try to in some way explain how much hope I had for change (keep in mind their disbelief at my feelings when this is “only” one student). I then called the instructor to try to figure out what we managed to do well that helped a student come to this answer and how we can do this work better. At the same time, I see the same sense of nervousness and fear of wanting to do this work right and not cause more harm throughout settler educators and students. I feel this same sentiment myself as I stumble my way down this path.
During this project I came across three pieces of work that have stuck with me (and that I still pull out nearly daily). In this post I will speak to the first two of these pieces as I feel like they match this initiative quite well. The first time I heard reference to a welcome belt or the original treaty was on October 24, 2018 at the 2018 BC Society of Transition Housing (BCSTH) Annual Training Forum & AGM: Nevertheless We Persisted October when Beverly Jacob took the stage for her keynote presentation. Jacob described the original treaty as an embodiment of the #originalrelationship between Indigenous peoples and settlers, one based on “#truthtrustpeaceandfriendship”. She used the treaty as a reminder that and until Canada “admits its perpetrator role…[in] violating this treaty over and over” reconciliation is a pretense (Jacobs, 2018). Jacob (2018) closed her address with discussion around “what is your #understanding of your #relationship with Indigenous peoples?” I am still working through my answer to this question daily and I encourage students, family, and friends to do the same.
When I dug further into the #originaltreaty I found the work of Richard Hill & Daniel Coleman (2018) titled “The Two Row Wampum-Covenant Chain Tradition as a Guide for Indigenous-University Research Partnerships”. I cannot adequately put into words how much this piece and its incredibly storytelling added to my journey and my own tentative understanding of what #truereconciliation might be. The story of the #TwoRowWampum is absolutely enthralling and I hope (if it is not something you have already read) that you find this a good starting read. My favourite line is that the fringes of the belt indicate that the relationship is unending and we shall “remain brothers as long as the earth lasts” (Hill & Coleman, 2018, p.11). It is a beautiful reminder that reconciliation requires setters to “shake the dust from and repolish” the covenant chains (Hill & Coleman, 2018, p.2).
Alongside the work of Hill & Coleman I was immersed in an article by Margaret Kovach (who has so many incredible works) that brought my understanding of treaty and education together and is a large piece of my ongoing hope. What if post-secondary institutions recognized that #treaty is not a ‘thing’ or a “dead document of history (Kovach, 2013, p.112)”? What if institutions recognized that these treaties are “#nation-to-nation dialogues…that recognize that Indigenous peoples are not the enemies of Canadian civilization, but are…essential to its very possibility” (Ermine, 2007, p.201)? Educators [can] “move beyond teaching treaty as a historical artifact to that of a #livingprotocol for how to exist in a world that is honourable, just, and caring of each other…[or] they can stay safe by limiting themselves to re-inscribing a colonial cultural standard” (Kovach, 2013, p.116). We as educators can make a choice. What if “we taught as if treaty mattered? (Kovach, 2013, p.116)”
Ermine, W. (2007). The Ethical Space of Engagement. Indigenous Law Journal, 6(1), 193-
203. Retrieved from: https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/17129/1/ILJ-6.1-
Hill, R., & Coleman, D. (2018). The Two Row Wampum-Covenant Chain Tradition as a
Guide for Indigenous-University Research Partnerships. Cultural Studies ↔ Critical
Methodologies,1-21. doi 10.1177/1532708618809138
Kovach, M. (2013). Treaties, Truths, and Transgressive Pedagogies: Re-Imagining
Indigenous Presence in the Classroom. Socialist Studies: The Journal of Socialist Studies,
9(1), 109-127. doi 10.18740/S4KS36
Simon Fraser University: Office for Aboriginal Peoples (January. 27, 2018). Abriginal Strategic
Plan 2013-2018. Retrieved from: //www.sfu.ca/content/dam/sfu/aboriginalpeoples/127303—
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015). Calls to Action. Retrieved from