According to Jennifer Brennan, reconciliation starts with listening and understanding.
Brennan, a nationally recognized policy advisor, spoke to a packed auditorium filled with Bachelor of Education students on Aug. 28 about Canada’s long history of racism, colonialism, genocide and the potential problems Indigenous people face in the education system as a result..
“Residential schools have been so devastating and it needs to be controlled within our community. We need to resume the role that we always have in the lives of our children to ensure that they have the skills for moving forward,” said Brennan at the lecture.
Brennan has worked to address challenges in Indigenous education, led negotiations on behalf of Indigenous nations and has served key roles in the Assembly of First Nations. She was at STU to inform B.Ed students of their role and responsibility to work together with Indigenous communities to improve the future of Indigenous education.
Brennan said the deficits Indigenous students face in the school system today have branched the historical deliberate attempt to segregate and assimilate the First Nations peoples.
“It’s a pretty stark, very racist view of the settler society that really viewed the path forward, one of having to ‘deal with the Indian problem,’ move it out of the way, assimilate it,” said Brennan.
Brennan explained the historical context behind why today’s educators need to step up.
In 1867, the Government of Canada took over Indigenous rights and Indigenous land with the Indians and Lands reserved for Indians Act. This led to the creation of residential schools, a government-run school system where children were forcibly removed from their families and made to abandon their culture. Many children were killed and abused.
The federal government recognized and apologized for their role in the residential school system on June 11, 2008.
Even though the last residential school in Canada closed in 1996, the impacts from a system based on “aggressive assimilation through segregation” remain, said Brennan.
Today, Brennan said, Indigenous students are at a deficit when compared to the rest of Canadian students. Brennan said the education outcomes on reserves are below Canadian level, and Indigenous students attain less education when compared to the rest of Canadians. She said this is because there’s no laws to govern on-reserve education.
“For First Nations on reserve, there’s no system, there’s isolated band council systems that receive various insufficient resources. So, we get vast funding and support inequities, we get massive teacher training and retention challenges and significant infrastructure challenges.”
Brennan said youth have inherited this failed system, designed by the laws and policy of Canada’s Indian Act. She said it’s important to understand these issues are the root of the problem, and that future educators are responsible to work together with Indigenous communities to understand the past and overcome it.
Brennan said some steps for moving forward include connecting on-reserve schools and Indigenous students to support and opportunity.
“I think it’s through beginning with some deep listening with community and engaging directly with community that we start to build that kind of understanding and awareness, understanding where we’ve been and where we need to go,” said Brennan.
Brennan said STU’s B.Ed students will play a central role in co-creation moving forward.
“Being willing to take on co-creation is so important to then enable really meaningful partnership to emerge in the future.”