Before attending the witness blanket display I has very little experience with residential schools. In my elementary and high school years, I was taught very little about residential school. When I started at the U of R I was thrown into a world where the topic is brought up frequently especially in the faculty of education. In my first indigenous studies class in university, I became more aware of the impact that residential schools had on First Nations people in Canada. Until I watched the documentary, Muffins For Granny by Nadia McLaren, I was not aware of how toxic these schools were to the individuals who attended as well as the effect that it had on their families.
When I viewed the witness blanket, I was blown away at the assortment of items that were collected and preserved to be a part of the display. It took me two visits to the display to realize that each on of these items has a story to at least one person. Many of these items would likely bring up stories and memories for survivors and those who were told about residential school experiences. I learned more about how greatly the First Nations children were forcibly molded into becoming more white. This reminds me of one of the items that resonates with me, which is a picture of a young boy before and after he entered residential school. At first he was dressed in his traditional clothing and his hair was long and braided. The after picture shows the same boy in a short haircut, with pants and a button up shirt on. Below is the two pictures that are located on the display.
After viewing the display a few times, we were given the opportunity to be a volunteer facilitator for the witness blanket as over 400 students from grades 5-12 will be coming to view the artifacts. I was quick to take hold of this opportunity, as I want to be a teacher who is able to push themselves out of their comfort zone. For me, this is a great moment as I have little formal education about residential schools and First Nations culture. I attended a training session for being a facilitator and this opened by eyes even further. I learnt the story about the boy pictured above. His name was Thomas Moore and attended the residential in Regina that was located on site of the current Dojack Youth Center. Something very interesting that I learnt about Moore was that this photo is extremely popular when discussing forced First Nations assimilation, but in fact, few know that Moore died fairly soon after this photo was taken due to poor conditions. This photo resonated more with me after learning the Moore’s name. At first, I was sad to see that the boy was ripped of his culture and identity, but I felt sorrow and pain when I realized that the second pictures was within Moore’s last few months of life. Something that I will take away from this experience is that I want to teach my future students that this happened in Canada and it is our job to make sure that something like this never happens again.
Teaching students about residential schools and how the Truth and Reconciliation committee is trying to make up for the wrongs that were done must be an essential part of formal education. I know that as a future teacher, I want to discuss the experiences that these children went through and hear the voices who attended and were impacted by the schools. In my future classrooms, I envision a curriculum where treaty education is involved in all formal education as it is important to realize the connection our learning has. I can see myself bringing in elders and residential school survivors to tell their stories and help students understand the First Nations worldview. I believe that through understanding you gain respect and I want my students understand to a point that they respect the culture and traditions of First Nations people. In doing this, I believe that I will be doing my part in the reconciliation process.
As I am working towards my degree in elementary education, I believe it is important to think about how I will share this in an early childhood or early elementary classroom. At a young age, children start to compare and contrast items, people, places. Using this knowledge, I would have students list what their experience or school is like. From here I would introduce comparable and contrasting facts about the residential schools. The degree of depth that I would go into would depend on the age group. I strongly believe that children are a lot smarter and more competent learners then we give them credit for and therefore I want to challenge them to think outside their experience and develop empathy towards others.
I look forward to reflecting on journey to teaching about residential schools in a month, year or decade from now.
Until next time!