“As part of my classes for my three week block I have picked up a Social Studies 30 course. This past week we have been discussing the concept of standard of living and looking at the different standards across Canada . I tried to introduce this concept from the perspective of the First Nations people of Canada and my class was very confused about the topic and in many cases made some racist remarks. I have tried to reintroduce the concept but they continue to treat it as a joke.
The teachers at this school are very lax on the topic of Treaty Education as well as First Nations ways of knowing. I have asked my Coop for advice on Treaty Education and she told me that she does not see the purpose of teaching it at this school because there are no First Nations students. I was wondering if you would have any ideas of how to approach this topic with my class or if you would have any resources to recommend.”
To whom it may concern,
I appreciate your efforts to work with your pre-intern class on Treaty Education. I am disappointed, although not surprised at the attitudes of your cooperating teacher, other faculty, and students towards this topic. Speaking from personal experience, Treaty Education was non-existent in my primary and secondary school career. Before university, I could probably have told you what treaty our settlement resides on, but I could not tell you anything else about it. For example, which Indigenous groups resides there, where the treaty was signed, who the treaty was signed by, or even what was promised in our treaty. In primary school, we were taught that before settlers came, Indigenous peoples resided in this place we now call home. They lived in teepees, ate buffalo meat, and “lived off the land”, and that was the only narrative we received for years. In grade 12 history we began to explore the history of Residential schools and in grade 11 and 12 English we began to explore Indigenous literature. That education was very brief, incomplete, and not well received because the foundation was not there. As Mike pointed out in his session with Claire Kreuger, this information is directly in our curriculum and to make a point of not teaching it is to make a point of not doing your job.
To be fair, these are probably not bad people. Whether they are intentionally racist or not, their abstention from taking a perspective does far more harm than good. More than likely, they were taught in a time where Treaty Education hadn’t been introduced or at least properly incorporated. Their apathy comes from the fact that they are not Indigenous, and the treaties that were forged years ago were created in their favour; therefore they have not had to consider the impact that treaties have had in their daily lives. Since they do not experience the after effects of treaties and Residential schools, and they don’t see Indigenous students in their midst, they don’t see why they need to take time out of their jam-packed day to educate their students on treaties. I would ask you to impress on them the importance of the phrase, “we are all treaty people”.
Whether you are Indigenous or not, your life and livelihood exists on the land of Indigenous people who did not consent to give up their land to us. They did not consent to the way their land has been exploited. They didn’t consent to be put in Residential schools. The horrors the Indigenous peoples have faced we will never be able to fully comprehend, but it’s our duty to make sure it never happens again. I think everyone can agree, Residential schools can never happen again. As Dwayne Donald says in his lecture (linked below), our sense of past, present, and future isn’t correct. We think that time is linear and what happens once will not come about again, even though this is clearly false. If you don’t believe that, consider the first World War. After the World War 1, everyone was horrified and defeated by the atrocities that happened and they promised never again; yet just 21 years later, history repeated itself. It’s important to know where we came from to understand where we are. Every aspect of our world and society as we know it is a direct result of colonialism. Everyone wants to eradicate racism, but assume that that is done by persecuting known white supremacist societies or people who directly use hate speech. Without taking time to consider colonialism, it’s impossible to consider why Indigenous students are not finishing or participating in school, why there is such a high Indigenous incarceration rate, and a high Indigenous suicide rate. Our job as teachers is to protect our students and give them a safe space to succeed. How are we expected to do that if we don’t acknowledge the foundational problems in our system? If we don’t acknowledge the traumatic past of our Indigenous students?
More importantly, as Claire points out, Treaty Education is not intended for the Indigenous students. They know what treaties are better than the teachers that teach it because they impact those students the most. They don’t need to be told their history, their Elders have passed those stories on to them. They don’t need to be told how Indigenous peoples continue to be oppressed in our society; they live it. To assume they need us, teachers, who are generally white, to teach them their history is racist in and of itself. It’s the children who were raised in a white family, where race isn’t openly discussed for fear of being labeled as racist, who need this the most. Indigenous students are constantly disadvantaged in our school systems and our white students (and teachers) need to understand why. If we are ever to consider achieving “reconciliation”, we all need to be educated on our past and why we don’t want to repeat it. Also as Mike points out, this issue is not going to go away for teachers. It’s only going to get bigger, and it’s only going to get louder. If they can’t find it in their hearts as teachers to educate their students so they can be better, more empathetic, understanding, and active… then I guess there’s not much anyone can do about that. Worst case, scenario, take the approach with them that this idea of Treaty Education isn’t going away and tell them to teach it to prepare their students for post-secondary school. They’ll have to listen to it here, where Indigenous studies courses are mandatory.
Mike & Claire Kreuger: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWY_X-ikmaw&feature=youtu.be
Dwayne Donald: https://vimeo.com/15264558