Tansi, hello, my name is Meagan. I currently live and attend Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario which is on the traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg. I want to express my deepest gratitude to the First Nations for caring for this land that I have the privilege of standing on. I am in my fourth and final years of the Honors Bachelor of Indigenous Studies, with a minor in Gender and Social Justice Studies. This blog post is a part of my final assignment for my Activists and Activisms course. I will be talking about an online workshop that I attended recently where the topic was challenging stereotypes and biases that we may hold about Indigenous people in Canada.
As part of another course, I was required to participate in a workshop called “Just Get Over It” that was facilitated by members of the Indigenous Student services at my school. This workshop was meant to challenge some of the stereotypes or biases that some individuals may have about Indigenous people in Canada. In the past I have participated in similar exercises or workshops in the past that attempt to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions that people hold about Indigenous people. There was something about the “Just Get Over It” workshops that stood out compared to the rest. During this workshop we were able to hear personal stories from the facilitators about these stereotypes and how they have directly impacted their lives. You could do all of the reading and studying you possibly can about the treatment of Indigenous people in Canada, but you will not be truly impacted by this knowledge until you have heard these personal stories.
I had chills for most of the workshop just from listening to the stories told by our facilitators. Hearing about families being torn apart because children were forced to attend residential schools. At one point during the workshop, we were assigned the task of going into breakout rooms to discuss with each other the impacts of the workshops so far. After a few minutes of the students discussing among themselves, one of the facilitators joined in to listen to how we were currently feeling. Everyone went around and described some of the emotions that they were feeling, after we had all shared the facilitator spoke. She talked about her passion for participating in these workshops and being able to educate others. Then she disclosed to use that her reason for being a part of these workshops was because she herself had attended a residential school. The whole online room went silent as we tried to find the right words to say. Are we supposed to say, “I’m sorry”? Do we just nod our heads with a face that shows pity for her? I was almost in a shock like state and couldn’t bring myself to say anything.
As someone who is taking Indigenous Studies in university, I have become familiar with some of the major events throughout Canadian history that have had irreversible damage to Indigenous people and communities. Hearing firsthand the personal experiences of someone who had attended one of the many residential schools in Canada was something I had never experienced before and may not ever again. It was an experience I hold closely for the rest of my life. There is nothing more impactful than being able to listen to the lived experiences of others. I wish that anyone who is on a learning journey would be able to speak with those who have attended residential schools and are living proof that Indigenous people continue to resist colonial efforts.
Listening to this facilitator’s stories about her experiences in a residential school reminded me about the importance of having these difficult conversations with others. Along with participating in these conversations, it is also the responsibility of non-Indigenous people in Canada to make themselves more aware of the treatment of Indigenous people both historically and contemporarily. We cannot keep putting the blame on Indigenous people, saying it is their responsibility to get out of this situation. We also cannot continue to put the responsibility of having these difficult conversations on the shoulders of Indigenous people. It angers me that so many Canadians are uneducated or ignorant towards the history and relationship between Indigenous people and Canada.
Being able to share such difficult and important stories is often thought of as an act of living resistance for Indigenous people. Storytelling has always been a significant part of many Indigenous cultures; it is how creation stories and other traditional knowledge was passed between generations. Now some stories that are being shared hold different meanings. The new stories that are being shared by Indigenous people ae about sharing the truth with friends, family and the public. In an effort to create meaningful change between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, we need to tell more uncomfortable stories among each other (Kaomea, 2003, as cited in Sium and Ritske, 2013, p. 4). Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people need to come together and share the uncomfortable truth about what Indigenous people have had to endure since the arrival of settlers. Leanne Simpson shares that through storytelling we are able to challenge the colonial norms we are fraught to (2013, p. 282). Having difficult conversations with each other allows everyone to build relationships built on trust and honesty.
The most important lesson that I took away from participating in this workshop is that what we study in school about Indigenous people in Canada really did happen to real people. Some of whom are still living. This are not just case studies or statistics; these are people who have had to endure lifetimes of pain and suffering. We need to remember the faces of those who share their stories, and we need to support them in sharing these stories. This assignment and course have made me question almost everything I knew and understood about activism and solidarity. I leave this class with a sense of earning to figure out what these things mean to me, and how to put these meanings into action.
Works Cited Ritskes, E. & Sium, A. (2013). Speaking truth to power: Indigenous storytelling as an act of living resistance. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 2(1): I-X. Retrieved from https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/des/article/view/19626/16256
Simpson, L. & Manitowabi, E. (2013). Theorizing Resurgence from Within Nishnaabeg Thought. In Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World Through Stories. 279-293. Michigan State University Press. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.14321/j.ctt7ztcbn.24