Education as an Act of ReconciliACTION – Message from ‘The Earth Lodge’

Treaty 2 Territory – In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its final report, complete with 94 Calls to Action that included action on education for reconciliation. I wrote about the 94 Calls to Action in my previous blog so I thought that I should continue and talk about the action piece, more specifically addressed to parents and educators.

What is truth? What is reconciliation? What is ReconciliACTION?  It is a personal look at what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to do to move forward in a good way. It means we go beyond guilt, shame, and anger to create learning spaces and opportunities where our children and youth can grow together as healthy citizens. Truth and reconciliation in an educational context requires parents, educators, administrators, and organizations like FNT2T to make a concerted effort to ensure that our children, youth and communities thrive. It involves a lot of trust, humility and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of learning, by making earth-based teaching and learning a foundation of our programs and initiatives. Truth and reconciliation are necessary if we are to move forward and provide the best education possible for our children and youth and the many generations to follow. I will focus on background information on: Residential Schools, The Indian Act and Treaties.

Residential Schools and the Indian Act

Indian Residential Schools

Indian residential schools operated in Canada between the 1870s and the 1990s. The last Indian residential school closed in 1996 in Saskatchewan, so it really hasn’t been that long. Children between the ages of 4-16 attended Indian residential school. It is estimated that over 150,000 Indian, Inuit, and Métis children attended Indian residential school with very detrimental effects to our people.

One hundred percent of Indigenous peoples have been affected by the legacy of residential schools in some way, whether through loss of culture, loss of language, dislocation from families and communities, and/or being the subjects of racism. For some – and for far too many – these traumatic and  life-altering events manifested as long-term diseases best described as dysfunction, addiction, and/or chronic illness.

Each Indigenous family in Canada has a story to tell about the effects of residential schools and colonial history in their lives.  Our shared experiences of life, death, loss, hope, sadness, and happiness are among the many living stories revealed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) process. On June 3, 2015, when the TRC released its final report, I sat in my home relieved that the truth of what really happened to Indigenous children here in Canada was finally being heard.  It’s now time for that truth to be told, to understand the injustice and to heal as a people.

Fear and discomfort are the reasons educators and families cite most in their reluctance to teach about the history of Indian Residential Schools (IRS).  We are all concerned about the sensitive nature of the topic of residential schools and their effects. Having the appropriate resources and training to respond to the Call to Action and teach this topic in schools is critical. Although I am not a survivor of a residential school, I am a person who has experienced the intergenerational effects. This Call to Action would benefit from implementing school programs to share that history and by harnessing the power of story. It can connect us to the lives of these survivors by building a bridge that transcends history and time. I believe the voices of residential-school survivors are fundamental in guiding the way by telling their stories.

The Indian Act of 1876

The Indian Act of 1876 is a piece of legislation created for the purposes of subjugating Indigenous peoples (First Nations & Indigenous Studies, UBC 2017). It framed the way that non-Indigenous Canadians would ultimately view and treat the First Peoples of this land. Although it has undergone several amendments, its effects still resonate in negative ways in Indigenous communities today (Joseph 2017). It is a living document with systemic inequity, racism, and sexism built into it.

Among its many provisions, the Indian Act:

1-created reserves and then forced Indigenous peoples to get permission from the Indian Agent to leave those reserves.

2-enforced an unfair permit system on reserves for those who wanted to farm and sell their goods and regulated the cutting of firewood for home use.

3- ensured that reserve lands had no value, and that Indigenous peoples could not own the land, only occupy it, and therefore could not receive loans for development.

4- expropriated reserve lands for the use of non-Indigenous municipalities, businesses, and citizens. In some cases, whole communities were relocated as a result.

5- outlawed traditions, ceremonies, and languages, and introduced residential schools

6- forced those who wanted to go to university to enfranchise (or give up their status/identity/rights).

7- imposed divisive band council election systems and denied communities the right to form political organizations.

8- registered all those identified as “Indians” and Inuit by assigning European names (often French or British in origin).

9- denied Indigenous peoples the right to vote in provincial and federal elections.

10- took away First Nations status/identity/rights of Indigenous women who married non-Indigenous men but gave First Nations status/identity/rights to non-Indigenous women who married Indigenous men. This provision displaced entire generations of children and families.

If you notice, reserves are typically located away from towns and cities, often on lands of lower quality. This approach was highly intentional, isolating Indigenous peoples and making them invisible to the public. Meanwhile governments, corporations, and non-Indigenous Canadians retained the best lands and resources, enabling them to prosper over the last 140-plus years. According to the TRC’s final report, the Indian Act and its provisions creating reserves and their third world conditions were hurting entire generations of First Peoples (TRC 2015).

The negative effects of the Indian Act continue to be loss of language, culture, health, andvlife, along with lower educational attainment. For example, Indigenous peoples have the highest rates of diabetes, lower graduation rates and participation in STEM fields, and the highest rates of suicide and incarceration. The positive outcomes include the strengths of Indigenous peoples, whose resiliency resulted in newfound hope. For example, the Seven Fires Prophecies predicted that Indigenous youth would one day seek out traditions and lead us, as they are doing today. Spirituality and healing, in both the resurgence of traditional ceremonies and the legitimacy of traditional knowledge (including environmental knowledge) to understand and heal the Earth from climate change, are also sources of hope.


When I went to school and university, little or nothing was taught about who Indigenous peoples are, their history, teachings or the contributions to the world. Fast forward to today, some four decades later, I find myself witnessing a movement, a huge shift in thinking.  It is often overwhelming for me to think that all students (regardless of ancestry) are beginning to learn about the truth, diversity, and beauty of Indigenous nations. This learning has always been a crucial step in promoting understanding and building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. I am so moved by the fact that we all now will have the opportunity to stand proud when our contributions become common knowledge for all. The 94 Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) final report provide practical recommendations for education for ‘ReconciliACTION’.

Renée McGurry- Earth Lodge Development Helper

Visit the Earth Lodge Website: