I attended ICSEI, the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement last week. I listened to powerful keynotes by Russell Bishop, Charlene Bearhead, and Warren Simmons. These passionate and articulate educators from New Zealand, Canada and the United States shared themes of equity, caring and action for indigenous, black and latino students which resonated strongly with me.
This was on the heels of reading I’m Not Your Racial Confessor in Slate magazine, a conversation between Jamelle Bouie, Aisha Harris, Gene Demby and Tressie McMillan Cottom. (Thanks to Sherri Spelic, blogger and educator, for sharing). Everyone needs to read this. It reminded me not to be “wilfully ignorant” about the reality of systemic racism in our society.
Then yesterday, I read about an interview with Joseph Boyden where he attempted to explain the questions about his ancestry. When asked what Boyden’s role should be within the indigenous community, Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie said, “… behind First Nations, being a supporter, not white-splaining and being a spokesperson.”
So, here I am, a middle class white woman with a life of privilege. I do not know life as part of a minoritized or marginalized group, but I want to understand. I want to be a supporter. I can only do that by listening to learn without imagining that I have any answers. And I need to be prepared for difficult and honest conversations.
Just…listen and be honest.
“I value your participation.”
“What an interesting idea – let’s follow up on that.”
“What do you think?”
We all want to be noticed, valued and to belong. A big fanfare is not always needed, but those moments of quiet recognition that say, “I see you, and you are valued” are powerful.
When people feel as if no one cares they become disengaged and then cynical. That’s harmful for them and bad for the organizations they work for.
We all need to take responsibility to help others belong.
“I would like to recognize that today we are meeting on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe and acknowledge their contributions to our society.”
I was first introduced to the traditional territory greeting by Kim Pate, an incredible canadian activist who educates, advocates and fights on behalf of imprisoned women in Canada. She begins every workshop, every speech and welcome with a traditional territory greeting like the one above. While it was only part of how she honoured the aboriginal peoples, it was an education for me, little Scottish girl brought up in predominantly white schools in Ontario where no one really ever talked about the First Nations peoples of Canada except in stereotypes with a very narrow lens.
“Learning” by Benjamin Chee Chee http://www.whetung.com/chee.html
I read Joseph Boyden‘s The Orenda last year. It was easily one of the best novels I have read in a long time. The Orenda was identified as the essential novel that every canadian must read through the CBC’s annual Canada Reads competition. It helped me see the cultural clash between Wendat (Huron) and Haudenosaunee (Ojibway) and european people in the 17th century Ontario. It whetted my appetite to understand more about history but also our present and how aboriginal peoples form an integral and vital part of our culture today. John Ralston Saul‘s The Comeback is another book that educates me about the shift towards influence that is happening.
I am privileged to meet and work with many people, including the amazing Dr. Jenny Dupuis in our district. She has given of her time to educate me about what small steps I can take to honour all contributions and voices. Today, I have a better understanding of the cultural genocide that Canadians and the Canadian government perpetrated on all First Nations and the open wound of the residential school legacy. I am hopeful that it can be healed.
This year, I decided to begin formally honouring the peoples whose territories we now live and work on. It’s such a small thing. I used the traditional territory greeting at the graduations and farewell assemblies I attended. It felt right.
Does reconciliation matter to you?