Section IV: The Importance of Education

Ms. McGonogal led an art class in the garden, where she also discussed how Indigenous communities are connected to their environment. Photo taken by Ms. Chin.

Mr. Vander Meulen, the Native Studies teacher at WCI, while discussing what significance the Indigenous medicinal garden would have towards the larger goal of reconciliation, explained that “Reconciliation is about correcting a relationship that went bad at some point, and it didn’t start off entirely negative.”

He continued by saying that when colonists first arrived in North America, it was a nation-to-nation relationship, and there was a recognition of the value that the Indigenous population had to those who came to North America and tried to survive on the land. European settlers also had value to the Indigenous population, so partnerships were created, and it was a more lateral relationship.

He explained, “That goes south a little bit when Europeans start to outnumber Indigenous peoples, when they don’t perhaps see the same usefulness that Indigenous peoples had before,” especially when they started being able to survive on their own: establishing cities and towns, and industrializing.

It is then that the relationship becomes one where one group dominates the other, which, in this case, led to residential schools, the Sixties Scoop—a practice in the 1950s-1980s where Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in foster homes or adoption—and other colonial practices.

“Reconciliation is sort of that next phase,” he continued, “we’re really just starting to re-tip that relationship. If it was lateral before, and it became one of domination, we’re really starting to skew it back to a point where we can say it’s once again a lateral relationship.”

Ms. Robinson, the Equity and Inclusion Officer with an Indigenous Focus at the WRDSB, explained the significance of education in the work towards reconciliation, saying, “You can’t reconcile with something you don’t know anything about […] There is so much to learn about what happened in the past. We need to know the full truth of the past.”

Ms. Chin, the principal creator of the medicinal garden, and a teacher in charge of the ISA, emphasized that when it comes to the spreading of awareness of Indigenous issues, “I believe it starts at school […] It has to be us, it has to be the teachers, it has to be the educators. Because the truth is there, it can be found, but there’s a lot of noise […] for every truth, there could be ten false stories.”

She continued by saying that not only should teachers be the change makers, but they have a responsibility to be: “It’s too late when you’re 21, unless you come to some epiphany on your own, or you’re maybe reading a book about it, it’s really hard to change when you’re later in life.” She explained that if awareness of Indigenous issues is taught early on, it will stick, regardless of the noise.

Malak M., a leadership student and member of the ISA, spoke to what needs to happen for the past to be reconciled, saying, “When we no longer try to sugarcoat the horrors of residential schools, and we don’t have numerous First Nations without clean water, and we have Indigenous people who can be proud of their culture and heritage without facing discrimination, and when are whole country […] takes measures, and they actually take action, and maybe then, we can say that we have repaired the past, and our reparations have been completed.”

Retired history teacher, Mr. Witmer also addressed this, saying that oftentimes, when it comes to addressing important topics like Indigenous issues, it is common to think that just one initiative or project is enough. And although what has been done already are good things, “If we think, ‘Okay, we’ve now done our part, and we’ve done enough,’ no. we need to do that, and so much more.”

He continued by saying that this acknowledgement and awareness should not only be part of the high school experience, “but this needs to be part of our social understanding from day one.” He said that it should not only be a part of schools, but also a part of our everyday lives.

When it comes to having these discussions about these issues, Marina mentioned the importance of having everyone be a part of those discussions, regardless of whether or not they are Indigenous: “In order to truly achieve equality and equity between groups, you can’t just have one group speaking for themselves, because then they’re still not reaching equality, even inside the movement.”

While Chin has been working with teachers to help them incorporate Indigenous content into their classes, she has observed that along with teachers not having the time, or not knowing where to start, they have been feeling afraid or apprehensive that they are culturally appropriating the information.

It is for this reason that she believes in the importance of having Indigenous leaders be guest speakers, as a way to alleviate that fear.

She remarked that she has been told several times that “It’s not the way you do it […] You might do it the wrong way, but it’s the intent. As long as you have good intentions in your heart, that you’re trying: ‘this is my way to reconcile, this is my step towards reconciliation for me, and to help my school, and to help, ultimately, the Indigenous communities’.”

Featured photo was taken by Ms. Chin.