The need to transcend the 'West knows best' model when reconciling with indigenous communities
Genocide. When we think of that word does our excessively polite country come to mind? I, like many other Settlers, call Canada home. Remember those history lectures in high school where you had to learn about the history of Canada, who enjoyed those? We just seemed like a boring nation known for its peacekeeping and acceptance of multi-culturalism, right? What I am sure many of our textbooks left out was the cultural genocide of hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal children. Rarely do people remember the time we forcibly took children from their homes to abuse their culture out of them so they could be more like us. Well, Indigenous communities do. And not only are they still feeling the intergenerational effects in their communities, but very little is being done to remedy this situation.
Residential schools were basically the federal government’s way of assimilating aboriginal children by taking them away from their community and placing them in boarding schools where they were often sexually and physically abused. If you think that this is just a distant memory for a handful of elders, it's not. The last one closed just 20 years ago, and only recently has the federal government taken any meaningful strides to reconcile for the past.
In 2008, Harper officially apologized to the Indigenous communities in Canada and made promises for reconciliation. Out of this came the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the TRC): a 6 volume report which details residential school survivor testimony and 94 Calls to Action which are aimed at creating new strides towards reconciliation. The Calls to Action range from teaching about residential schools in elementary schools across the country to implementing Indigenous language courses into universities.
This past summer my research partner Devann Sylvester and I worked in Antigonish and neighbouring Mi’kmaq communities to try and understand public perceptions of the TRC and reconciliation. The result of the research suggested that the majority of people simply just don’t know about the TRC, but fortunately are willing to learn. Education (or lack thereof) is a huge factor that is impeding the process of redress. As Settlers and Indigenous alike it is our duty as Canadians to educate ourselves on our past so we can learn from it and not repeat it. Although people are willing to learn and accept the past, more than just will is needed. Motivation and actual action in our school system across every discipline will not only bring Settler and Indigenous knowledge closer together, it will allow us to reconcile with the past.
An elder by the name of Albert Marshal from Eskasoni First Nations proposed the concept of ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’. Etuaptmumk, or Two-Eyed -Seeing, is a holistic and trans-disciplinary way of understanding the world through both an Indigenous and Settler perspective. This means that whatever we may be studying, whether it's sociology, biology, nutrition, or physics, we should understand it from both a western and Indigenous perspectives.
Often as Settlers we only see the world through a kind of ‘west knows best’ model. We don’t take other knowledge into consideration, or any healing methods that don’t involve scientific proof. We accept the inherent colonial legacy across institutions around the country, and we often consider our epistemology as the only legitimate way to understand and learn about the world. What better way of reconciling for our past than incorporating Indigenous teachings in our classrooms across all disciplines?
The unceded Mi’kmaq territory our school sits on should not be acknowledged for one month a year. It is an ongoing process that should be directly addressed every day of the year. The Canadian and StFX flags fly all year around, why shouldn’t the Mi’kmaq flag? We claim to be an inclusive school which accepts people of all sexualities, ethnicities, and backgrounds, but we fail in coming together to accept our colonial impact and make changes for reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission made its final report in December of 2015, that was almost a year ago. Have you seen any significant changes this past year?