Universities and schools must recognize how colonial education reproduced anti-Indigenous racism

As September 30 approaches, many schools and universities will be talking about observing the new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Many schools once observed this day as Orange Shirt Day recognize the intergenerational impacts of the residential school system – but September 30 has now been declared a statutory holiday by the federal government in response to calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

When it comes to all of our institutions – and educational institutions in particular – it is essential to go well beyond a single day of commemoration.



Read more: Federal election: Canada’s next government should move from reconciliation to decolonization and Indigenous self-determination


We are educational researchers who seek to understand how teacher education programs address and do not address truth and reconciliation education. Reconciliation in education begins by recognizing how education systems – in particular, our the universities, teacher training programs and study programs – having reproduced systemic anti-native racism across Canada.

There are many groups led by First Nations, Inuit and Métis grassroots social justice activities and campaigns teachers can undertake during and after September 30. It will be important to reconsider how respectful relationships and the honest review and sharing of our stories might guide the educational work that awaits us this school year.

Dismantling the myths

A Persistent Misconception About the Residential School System is the myth of his beneficial and benevolent intentions.

This myth that continues to be advanced by some Canadian settlers avoids acknowledging the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. He also denies that the residential schools were part of a larger colonial settler system.



Read more: Truth Before Reconciliation: 8 Ways to Identify and Address Residential School Denial


This colonial system of settlers was led by the expropriation of land and institutionalized genocide designed, as Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs (1913-1932), underlined, “get rid of the indian problem. “It was a way to land seizure and securing for the expansion of a Commonwealth Empire.

As a political commentator and journalist John McGrath writes: “Residential schools were as much a part of the Canadian national project as railways, medicare or the fighting in the two world wars.

“Restore” the colonial heritage of the settlers

A broader and specific understanding of who designed, administered, and taught in these institutions is needed to help people understand the specific ways in which we can become more responsible to right their wrongs.

For example, two of the authors of this story are researching and teaching at the University of Ottawa. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic order in France, founded the educational institution which later became our university. The Oblates ran to at least 34 percent of residential schools in Canada, including the Kamloops Residential School, where the remains of 215 children were discovered in May.

Land of the current University of Ottawa seen around 1920.
(Flickr / BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives / Department of the Interior. Library and Archives Canada, PA-034331), CC BY

Last September, on the lawn of the University of Ottawa’s main building, Tabaret Hall, representatives of the Algonquin First Nations and Elder Peter Decontie lit a ceremonial fire. This occasion had been named Pinzibìwin | Friendship | Friendship and sought to recognize and renew our relationships to move forward together in the right direction.

At the Faculty of Education of the University of Ottawa, one way of meeting the responsibilities incumbent upon us is to maintain the spirit of Pinzibìwin is by seeking to understand the interconnections between the role that the Oblate religious order played in the founding of the University of Ottawa and in the operation of residential schools. More information is needed to move forward towards deeper understanding and accountability, especially as we seek to teach teachers to stand in classrooms and discuss truth and reconciliation.

The past is present

Teachers and educational institution leaders must continue to question and examine how teacher education programs, as well as provincial programs, continue to be largely regulated by settlers. colonial worldviews, histories and perspectives.

Normal schools were 19th century institutions designed to train teachers in the one-classroom model education. At the turn of the 20th century, normal schools participated in the advancement racialized accounts of the colonial progress of the settlers.

Dwayne donald, Cree researcher Papaschase at the University of Alberta, points out how the myths of the settlers in the curricula continue to deny Canadian and Indigenous Relations and to have “divide and damage“effects. These myths of the settlers, he notes, deny Canadian and Indigenous Relations. Donald urges educators to think of new stories that mend these “colonial divisions”.

Dwayne Donald talks about “forgetful curriculum” at an event at the University of Alberta.


Read more: Leaked Alberta school curriculum urgently needs to be guided by teachings of Indigenous wisdom


Every story holds the power

What children and young people learn in school and what future teachers learn in university can provoke thoughts and feelings that cannot be realized. denial of the settlers, but also facilitate new stories.

In preparation for this school year, more than 200 educators attended the Spirit Bear Retreat for Professional Teacher Learning organized by the Faculty of Education of the University of Ottawa in collaboration with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. These educators have responded to calls to action to “restore” (restore and create new stories about) our past, present and future relationships.

Reeta Koostachin, Attawapiskat and Fort Albany First Nations and University of Ottawa student, reminded participants:

“I’m sitting in white classrooms right now, attending college, and at the same time, I’ll never forget my roots. My stash is my home, but the truth is… (in) modern Canada I come from poverty. Many reservations are places where basic human rights are not promised, and yes, I am… proud of where I come from, and I refuse to be considered one of the lucky ones who got away with it, because I strive to find ways to improve the lives of my people at home, every day.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis-led learning

Teachers, schools and educators can tap into many resources as they yearn for ongoing, daily commitments to a common future.

These included Truth and Reconciliation Week, various Orange Jersey Day events, the Heart project Curriculum guides for the 6th, 8th and 10th years. In Ottawa, people can learn more about the next National Day for Truth and Reconciliation at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, and the Remember Me Ceremony, Spiritwalk and Performance.

Let’s commit to reinvent, restore and renew our past, present and future relationships.

If you are a residential school survivor or have been affected by the residential school system and need assistance, you can contact the 24 hour residential school crisis line: 1-866-925-4419



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