During the month of January, I took hold of an opportunity to listen to a new voice discussing the impacts of Residential Schools. This new voice was that of Daniella Zalcman, a documentary photographer from New York, NY: USA. For myself as a Canadian Settler, I feel that her voice is powerful because she is someone from another country, looking into Canada and reminding us that we need to admit that we have a past that many refuse to recognize still to this day, furthermore that we need to listen to the stories of those who have survived and initiate their Calls to Action. Daniella came to the U of R on two separate occasions, the first was to discuss her research and the making of her book, Signs of your Identity, and the second was to engage with several Residential School survivors in hopes to share some knowledge of what faculty members, teachers and pre-service teachers can do as a part of Reconcili-Action.
The first presentation took place on January 26th. During this time Daniella introduced herself as well as the book that she had just released entitled Signs of Your Identity. I appreciated that Daniella reminded us that she did not intentionally come looking for stories of residential school survivors, but was actually doing a research piece on the high HIV rates among Indigenous populations in Regina. After working with a family for multiple weeks, Daniella returned back to the US and did not publish her work as she realized that it was missing pieces and if this work was published the way it was, it would portray a negative view of these Indigenous peoples what she grew close with. Daniella returned at a later date and learned about Residential Schools and the experiences that occurred with in their or because of inter-generational trauma. This created the basis of her book which involved creating images that had an overlay of two images, one of a survivor, that was accompanied from an excerpt of the conversation that they had with Daniella. The next picture was that same portrait of the survivor with an overlay of a picture that represented something in their story. I found that these images were very powerful as it speaks to how trauma has an affect on who you are and the way that you live your life. I believe that every educator should look at these images to get a different perspective of how Residential Schools impacted and changed the lives of those who attended as well as the families of those who attended.
If you would like to see some of Daniella’s work from this book or would like to purchase this books, please take a look at her website linked here. This website also includes access to lesson plans and other educational resources for educators or anyone to access and use.
The second presentation by Daniella Zalcman took place on January 30th. Faculty, students and teachers gathered together at the U of R to listen to and ask question to a panel of Residential School survivors. I greatly appreciated that this panel was not focused on explicitly discussing what happened in Residential Schools, although that inherently came up, but instead it was focused on what can educators do to as a part of reconcili-action, referring to reconciliation, but actually doing something. This was a powerful experience for myself on my treaty walk as it allowed an opportunity to listen to authentic stories regarding residential schools and think about what actions I can take as an educator.
This panel was filled with 5 women who had endured so much throughout their lives. Their stories told about the inter-generational trauma that they had ensured or that they watched their families endure as well. A powerful quote that one of the women stated was, “People did not choose to live the way they do on the streets.” It stuck with me as it reminded me of the racism that many settlers speak of in Canada about how ‘indigenous peoples choose to live the way they do’. I know that this is not true and in fact that if white settlers had gone through the trauma of residential schools and the mistreatments since contact, that they too would be fighting a battle that is bigger than themselves. As an educator, I want to make sure that my students are educated on the real history of Canada from an early age, in hopes that they can develop an understanding for why many Indigenous peoples in Canada are faced with living on the streets or the poor conditions of reservations. I am also aware that my past statement leaves out those Indigenous peoples whom live in other conditions. I hope that our future generation will come to understand and respect all Indigenous people and those of other cultures as well.
Now to bring myself back to the discussion from the panel on January 30th. I was humbled by the fact that these five women who had experienced great trauma in their lives, were able to show such resiliency and positivity towards their future. On woman in particular was discussing the current issues for Indigenous peoples and she brought up that many children are still being taken away from their families and instead of being put into residential schools as they use to be, now they are being put into foster care. I had no realized that this was a large of an issue as it is until now. I can understand that the Government may think that they are protecting these children by taking them away from their families, but I wish they would take a moment and realize that this is another tool being used to assimilate and continue to perpetuate the impacts of inter-generational trauma onto another generation. By taking children away, we are causing them to lose their culture and their family connections. I don’t know how, but I strongly believe that the government needs to create a new structure where families can live together as a whole and receive the support they need to break this inter-generational trauma that we continue by taking children away.
For Learning: I plan to research more information about children who are taken away from their families today and the impact that this is having on them as the next generation.
Treaty Walk Realization: This will always be an ongoing part of my life. I can never start learning, because treaty relations will always exists as long as the sun shines, water flows and grasses grow.
Until Next Time,