September 30th is Orange Shirt Day. It began in legacy of St. Joseph Mission in B.C. At her first day of residential school, six-year old Phyllis (Jack) Webstad wore a shiny new orange shirt, bought for her by her grandmother. That shirt was taken from her that first day. Orange Shirt Day commemorates the residential school experience and honours survivors and their families. Many Nations, schools, and communities come together every year on September 30th to honour residential school survivors including those who didn’t make it home. It is an important day, but as second and third generations of residential schools, it is important for everyone to remember every day.
As schools, teachers, and caregivers support students in their learning during this unprecedented time, FNT2T Life Long learning is sharing a few resources that can support those teaching the history of residential schools. It’s been said by some that First Nations (Indigenous) peoples should “move on” when it comes to residential schools. As a country, we are told and taught to remember historical events such as wars, heroes, and tragedies because they have shaped Canada. This is true of residential schools for First Nations (Indigenous) peoples. Despite their tragic history, it is important that we remember their legacy because residential schools have informed the present. We need to understand the ripple effects. This isn’t “focusing on the negative”. It is remembering a significant era in our history that allows us to learn about and to understand intergenerational trauma while at the same time coming to know our ancestors’ great resiliency and strength; as well as, the importance of reclaiming and revitalizing our identity, language, and culture.
When teaching the history of residential schools, there are those who tend to take the approach of teaching students about the “positive side of residential schools.” We must remain cognizant that these schools were based on the ideology that First Nations (Indigenous) peoples needed to assimilate into dominant society. We know that many students lost their families, identity, language, and culture. We know that the education was sub-standard. And we know that students were separated from their families and communities. If we envision ourselves today walking in their shoes as mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, and uncles, we would not stand for our children being taken away from our homes or communities; thus, we must teach the truth about residential schools. We must not minimize or undercut the significance of residential schools, survivors, or impacts. Approaching this history with humility and respect is so important because it is a sensitive history that is very real to many. An approach that is respectful may consist of focusing on the strength and resiliency of the character or person in a residential school story; and perhaps, having learners determine their own strengths and demonstrations of resiliency.
Educators (which includes parents, grandparents, caregivers, and teachers) may want to ensure they “check-in” with students ensuring mental and emotional health supports are available if needed. Conducting a short debrief with students upon closing a discussion, reading or lesson is recommended. Utilize open-ended questions to do these check-ins (eg. “How do you feel after today’s lesson” versus “Are you sad?”). This allows for students to choose and use their own words.
A few key terms to become familiar with prior to teaching this important history include colonization, cognitive dissonance, assimilation, indoctrination, and manifest destiny. This list is certainly not comprehensive, there are many terms to know regarding First Nations (Indigenous) history and contemporary, but these terms will support a path to deeper understanding when it comes to professional development. A few reliable sources for further teacher learning include Celia Haig-Brown’s, Resistance and Renewal; Legacy of Hope Foundation (website); Where Are the Children? (website); John Milloy’s, A National Crime; National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (website); Paulette Regan’s, Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling & Reconciliation in Canada, UBC Press, 2010.
Early Years – When We Were Alone by David Robertson (Cree), HighWater Press, 2016; Shi-Shi-Etko & Shin-Chi’s Canoe by Nicola Campell (Salish & Métis), Groundwood Books *These can also be used in Middle Years+
Middle Years – I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer (Ojibwe, Anishinaabe), Second Story Press, 2016; These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens by Ruby Slipperjack (Ojibwe, Anishinaabe), Scholastic Canada, 2016; Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Inuvialuit), Annick Press, 2010; My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling (Salish), Groundwood Books, 1992 *These can also be used in High School+
High School – My Name is Masak by Alice French (Inuit), Peguis Publishers, 1972; Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (Ojibwe, Anishinaabe), D & M Publishers Inc, 2012
Of course, there are more stories. This is just a starting list. There are short videos and films available on the National Film Board (Indigenous films). There are also maps available online that show all of the residential schools and day schools across Canada and provinces. What is important to remember is to self-care. This is an important history to learn and know but it is one that is very real for many so please remember to self-care.
InTaking Back Our Spirits, Jo-Ann Episkenew shares that Indigenous autobiography can entail not only telling truths about colonization but telling stories of resilience that may inspire listeners and readers to tell their own stories and seek social justice through social change (pp. 74 & 75). Of course, Indigenous stories are also beautifully aesthetic in how storytellers and/or writers choose to tell or write them too.
The attached map of residential schools in Treaty 2 Territory was drafted by Shawn Gurke, Mapping/GIS Specialist (Helper, FNT2T). It is a work in progress and it will be updated to include Day Schools.
Take care, be well, and stay safe. Miigwetch! Renew and Revitalize.