What will you do in your classroom for the September 30 National Day for Truth & Reconciliation?

— Steffanie Scott

Next Thursday, September 30, is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (also known as Orange Shirt Day), a federal statutory holiday declared in response to Call to Action 80 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which reads:

We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.

The Office of Indigenous Initiatives is hosting a number of related events this month, and there are things you can do in your classes or in your work—in any discipline—to use this day as an opportunity for reflection and/or action.

Truth & Reconciliation Calls to Action and universities

Two of the TRC calls to action most often referenced in relation to universities are numbers 62 and 65 (emphasis added):

62: We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to: […] Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.

65: We call upon the federal government, through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, post-secondary institutions and educators, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and its partner institutions, to establish a national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation.

In the absence of these Truth & Reconciliation Calls to Action being met by the government (alongside most of the other 92 calls), we as university instructors and faculty members can still do a lot to support them. As noted on the UW Indigenous Initiatives’ Truth and Reconciliation webpage, The TRC Calls to Action provide a platform for work to:

  • mobilize debate and discussion
  • create spaces to share knowledges and research
  • access resources of new and renewed disciplines, methodologies, and practices
  • acknowledge the heterogeneity of Indigenous peoples and pedagogies
  • work together toward decolonization

September 30 is an opportune moment to put this into practice in your classroom, especially if you have not already been doing so.

I hope many of you have been able to take part in the events organized at UW to provide some helpful context, especially for those who feel that they don’t have much awareness of Indigenous realities and histories in Canada. The important thing is to start somewhere, however small of a step it is for you.

What can you do in your classroom on September 30?

Some colleagues I’ve checked in with have said they will invite students to review the TRC Calls to Action and identify one or more calls that relate to their own research, learning, experiences, lives, etc.

For those in STEM fields, this paper (co-authored by Heidi Swanson in Biology at UW) would be a great read for you and your students alike:

Wong, C., Ballegooyen, K., Ignace, L., Johnson, M. J., & Swanson, H., 2020. Towards reconciliation: 10 calls to action to natural scientists working in Canada. Facets (Ottawa), 5(1), 769-783.

As these authors note, in Canada

reconciliation remains an elusive concept. Here we outline 10 Calls to Action to natural scientists to enable reconciliation in their work. We focus on natural scientists because a common connection to the land should tie the social license of natural scientists more closely to Indigenous communities than currently exists. The authors have witnessed examples where natural scientists treat Indigenous communities with blatant disrespect or with ignorance of Indigenous rights. These 10 Calls to Action challenge the scientific community to recognize that reconciliation requires a new way of conducting natural science, one that includes and respects Indigenous communities, rights, and knowledge, leading to better scientific and community outcomes.

There is also a webinar presentation (90 mins) of the above paper with some great storytelling by the Indigenous co-authors. An excerpt from this could be shared in your class to provoke discussion.

For those teaching in engineering, there are loads of relevant examples you could discuss, especially involving resource exploitation and land rights.

There are also examples of the abuse of Indigenous children in the name of ‘science,’ such as the nutritional experiments conducted in residential schools in the 40s and 50s. However, it’s also important to avoid trauma porn, which perpetuates a sense of hopelessness, and to instead uphold stories of Indigenous resurgence and achievement. Fortunately, there are also ample examples of this. In my food studies course, for example, there are Indigenous food sovereignty initiatives I could make students aware of.

Some FAUW members have committed to amplifying Indigenous voices (scholars, elders, activists, leaders) that are speaking about treaty, reconciliation, healing, decolonization, or land relations.

Another starting point can be to take time to think about why we do land acknowledgements (not like this example, but you could show this to catalyze discussion!). Share your own land acknowledgement at the beginning of class and discuss what makes it meaningful and not just performative.

You can share information about Six Nations Reserve. Ask if anyone has been there or knows where it is. Show students this map from The Haldimand Treaty of 1784. Explain that The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, is comprised of six member nations: Onondaga, Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, and Tuscarora. Share information on how students can learn more, visit, and support Six Nations. Students may have more ideas than you do!

There are some great resources available through the UW Indigenous Initiatives office, FAUW (and its newly renamed Indigenous Priorities Action Committee), and the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC).

Perhaps you can write a follow up blog for FAUW on how things turned out in your classroom! We’d be keen to hear from you.

Steffanie is a professor in the Department of Geography & Environmental Management and is serving as chair of the Indigenous Priorities Action Committee, Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo.

To support Orange Shirt Day the University of Waterloo bookstore is now selling orange shirts for $19.99. $10.00 from each t-shirt sold will go toward the Indigenous Student Success Fund which provides financial support to Indigenous students at UW in need.

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