What is reconciliation?

The discussion has been going on in Canada since 2015, when the TRC released its final report.

While I celebrate this step for Indigenous people in Canada, I have struggled with many questions around Truth and Reconciliation in my professional role.

I have discussed in previous posts that my own heritage is broken. I am Metis, yet I know almost nothing of my roots. I have a thirst to learn more, but it feels overwhelming to begin the journey of discovery. It is a daunting task to redefine what you think you already know, and learn how much you don’t know about your own genetic history. It feels frightening, as though the new-found knowledge causes you to touch threads you thought were securely sewn into place, only to feel them fray in your fingers and fall away, leaving pinpricks in the fabric of life. What fills those holes, if all you have is questions?

Much of what was focused on in my education process around the TRC was the need for bringing indigenous history and learning into our classrooms. I needed to choose goals around how I would explore bringing first nations learning into my practice as a practicum student. While I worked through those, I still felt resistance to incorporating the TRC into my practice. I finished my final practicum and wiped it from my list of priorities… like all the other assignments, I was done and dusted, and emotionally drained from post-secondary learning. I placed the TRC onto the back burner of my mind.

However… as I worked towards opening my new classroom months later, it was a topic which kept churning in the back of my mind. It wouldn’t leave. I looked at my classroom and chose books with purpose. I chose building materials with purpose. The colours. The fabrics. The furniture. Everything was purposeful. The more I built my classroom, the more I began to recognize where there were gaps in my philosophy, and where I needed to add more materials or take some away. I began to experiment with different aboriginal materials, think more about how I was going to present materials and concepts. Still, the idea of approaching reconciliation was worrisome. I danced around the concept but couldn’t look it full in the face.

Leadership homework brought me back to the TRC again, and this time, it was inescapable. I was given the task of finding an article which challenged my practice, and finding a key message about that topic. That ‘key message’ needed to be presented to families in my practice.

This is the article which struck me. I couldn’t choose another one, hard as I tried. I was being honest with myself, and knew that I needed to finally address this topic, and find a way to accept the invitation to explore what reconciliation means for me as an educator.

It would be disingenuous for me to deny I have questions about how to bring the discussion of residential schools into my workplace. How do I approach the topic of indigenous genocide with young children? How could I approach families about the topic of the TRC, especially in the rapidly polarizing political climate? How to weave indigenous teachings into my practice without misappropriating culture?

I talked with my mentor about this, and they acknowledged that they too, had similar questions. They said the questions I was asking were thoughtful, and they didn’t have the answers, just as I did not. Then they said “Maybe what’s important is to live your questions?”

To live my questions. What a poignant phrase. And how freeing… to be able to live in the uncertainty, and be open to possibility.

Not easy, if you are someone who likes to have the answers. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized “not knowing” is important. Crucial, even. Letting go of control is a painful, albeit necessary process. It has been a long process for me, one which is ongoing. I like control, and being unable to answer questions is a distinct lack of control.

But, mentally resistant as I felt, I decided to live my questions. To stay open with my whole heart to the possibilities which could present themselves.

And as a result, I did find an answer. The children were the ones who showed me the way we would live reconciliation in our space.

I sat observing a child one day not long after my discussion with my mentor, and as I watched them, they began to use loose parts and materials to tell a story. A small group had been focused on storytelling in a variety of mediums all week, and this child sat alone, telling their story aloud to the room. No one in particular was listening, but that didn’t seem to affect the child at all. They continued on, retelling a story I had done the day before, but they added in details and descriptive words, making the story their own.

That’s when I realized how we could approach reconciliation in an authentic way, unique to our classroom culture. A blossoming realization that the children had shown me the path to redefining my fears around exploring reconciliation. I recognized, in that moment, that…

We are all storytellers.

I had goosebumps all over my arms as I realized how complex and beautiful and devastatingly simple the answer had been the entire time. All I had needed to do was listen and accept that the way forward with reconciliation was to tell the truth, and to do so in the oral traditions which have been a part of all cultures since the dawn of time.

And, we didn’t need to stop with oral storytelling. We could explore as a class what it meant to tell stories with music, art, physical movement…. every language which the human body knows was our canvas. We just needed to begin.

I drafted a Call to Action for our classroom. It states, in part: “Reconciliation means saying sorry and showing we mean our words by changing our actions. Reconciliation is learning how to be kind to others and to have empathy for other’s experiences. It is learning what it is to be human, and celebrating our individuality within our community. Reconciliation is having courage to speak the truth in the language which feels most comfortable to us. […] We will live reconciliation by honoring storytellers and the truth they tell. We will remember that everyone is a storyteller in our space. Some stories are as old as time, some are still being told, and many more will be told long after we are gone from this space. We will listen to each other’s stories with our whole heart, and celebrate what makes each of us unique.”

Our Call to Action is framed in our room, alongside our sacred wiingashk (sweetgrass). It is displayed prominently for all visitors and families to see. We have begun an exciting journey together, exploring our humanity and our stories. I am ready now to take the plunge into telling the stories of indigenous truth. Stories which reflect the resiliency of the human spirit, which connect us to the earth and the land. Stories which will inspire a new generation of citizens to live uprightly, with honor, unafraid to speak their truth.

“Mohkahasiw” The blue heron appears to be surfacing, emerging from the water. 

As I await the arrival of my blue heron drum next week, I am reminded of this article. The Way of the Heron is an Algonquin teaching, and one which I want to strive to follow more closely, as my interest now has been piqued. The heron is a creature of great patience and resolution, and has a deep spiritual meaning across indigenous cultures world-wide. Indeed, it is an animal which I feel closely reflects my own personality and resolve.

I am excited to discover how my drum will weave it’s own stories in my practice. What truth will it speak?

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