Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - —In­ter­view by A.P.

News from The Royal Cana­dian Geo­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety

C har­lene Bearhead has spent her ca­reer as an ed­u­ca­tor shar­ing the truth of Canada’s res­i­den­tial school sys­tem and its dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on gen­er­a­tions of First Na­tions, Métis and Inuit peo­ples. Now the ed­u­ca­tion co­or­di­na­tor for the Na­tional In­quiry of Mur­dered and Miss­ing In­dige­nous Women and Girls, Bearhead shares her thoughts on why it’s more im­por­tant than ever for Cana­di­ans to en­gage with the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process.

On res­i­den­tial schools and loss

There’s a line in the 1986 United Church apol­ogy that al­ways res­onates with me. It says, “We tried to make you be like us and in so do­ing we helped to de­stroy the vi­sion that made you what you were. As a re­sult, you, and we, are poorer.” Truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is also about ac­knowl­edg­ing the fact that ev­ery per­son in this coun­try is worse off be­cause of that in­ter­fer­ence with In­dige­nous knowl­edge — the very knowl­edge that kept this land well and vi­tal and the wa­ter drink­able and the air clean for thou­sands of years be­fore con­tact. We wouldn’t be in the state we’re in with our en­vi­ron­ment in this coun­try if it hadn’t been for that in­ter­fer­ence.

On res­i­den­tial schools in cur­ric­ula

Ev­ery prov­ince and ter­ri­tory is work­ing on that at one level or an­other. In Al­berta, for ex­am­ple, it’s cur­rently be­ing built into the pro­fes­sional prac­tices stan­dards for ev­ery teacher, su­per­in­ten­dent and school board trustee, and it’s also manda­tory in the cur­ricu­lum. The res­i­den­tial school ex­pe­ri­ence is just one part of the his­tory of col­o­niza­tion, so it’s crit­i­cally im­por­tant that we also teach First Na­tions, Métis and Inuit his­tory. Peo­ple look to the ter­ri­to­ries as the lead­ers in this be­cause they were the first to de­velop manda­tory north­ern stud­ies cour­ses for high school stu­dents.

On teach­ing about res­i­den­tial schools

In my view, it’s the most foun­da­tional in­jus­tice that’s hap­pened in what we now call Canada. There have been many in­jus­tices, but what could be more foun­da­tion­ally un­just than the tak­ing and hold­ing of chil­dren as a means of con­trol­ling their par­ents, as a means of land ac­qui­si­tion?

On bar­ri­ers to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion

There are many lay­ers to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and one is the na­tion-to-na­tion re­la­tion­ship. If we look within the treaties, the only en­tity that Canada can ac­tu­ally have a re­la­tion­ship with is an in­di­vid­ual First Na­tion, so rec­on­cil­i­a­tion means work­ing to en­sure eq­uity in fund­ing and the re­turn of the abil­ity for First Na­tions, Métis and Inuit peo­ple to gov­ern their own lives.

On ed­u­ca­tion as the key to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion

To me ev­ery­thing goes back to ed­u­ca­tion, be­cause that’s the one com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence that all Cana­di­ans have. No mat­ter what your cul­tural back­ground, ev­ery­body has to go to school. So if we do it right and we do it in a re­spect­ful way, it’s the best op­por­tu­nity we have to pro­vide ev­ery child with the truth and the chance to con­sider what makes a just so­ci­ety.

Charlene Bearhead is one of Canada’s top In­dige­nous ed­u­ca­tors.

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