September 30 is Orange Shirt Day. During the last week of September many PHPS schools will be encouraging students to wear orange as part of a growing movement of reconciliation and learning of the impact of residential schools. The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) Walking Together project describes how Orange Shirt Day grew out of a former student’s account of having her brand new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school.

Wearing an Orange Shirt is meant to recognize the harm done to residential school students, and show a commitment to the principle that every child matters. A date in September was chosen because it is the time of year when children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.

Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools, and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.

Our school board and staff will continue to take steps to increase understanding about First Nations, Métis and Inuit history and culture. Some steps taken so far include:

  • PHPS teachers were honored to have an Elder open some of our Professional Development days
  • Trustees start Board meetings with an Acknowledgment statement
  • Many staff have experienced a Blanket Exercise as a way to learn about the impact of government policies and residential schools on Canada’s Indigenous people
  • At a PD Day, an Indigenous guest speaker retold the history of Canada, from colonization to now, from the perspective of Indigenous people
  • Most staff have experienced a PD session about treaties that impact Albertans

Why is all this happening?
There are many reasons and most are based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

“The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS).” This is important to all Canadians because “Indian Residential Schools are a part of our shared history, a history that is not well understood by many. Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal people has suffered as a result of the IRS system. Healing and repairing that relationship will require education, awareness, and increased understanding of the legacy and the impacts still being felt for everyone involved in that relationship.”

The Commission’s work began in 2008. Then in June 2015, they released findings which included 94 Calls to Action. Among these Calls to Action are items specifically aimed at Education. This is the main reason why Pembina Hills has increased attention on understanding our Indigenous peoples’ experiences and perspectives. It is a responsibility of all Canadians to do so.

One of the Calls to Action seeks to have “age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students” (Call to Action #62). Alberta’s Ministry of Education and the ATA have worked together to honor this during the process of new curriculum development. They have also included an expectation that all teachers learn and apply “Foundational Knowledge about First Nations, Mètis and Inuit” as a part of the Teacher Quality Standard (TQS). In other words, this will be a part of the curriculum. It is also a condition of being an educator in Alberta. These reasons add to why Pembina Hills is increasing its focus on Indigenous culture and perspectives.

Most Canadian adults were not taught the things that we hope to teach the next generation. It will take time for us to comprehend how the experiences of Canada’s Indigenous people continues to impact their lives today. Learning about this may be unsettling for some but that’s not reason enough to ignore the truth about the past.

Pembina Hills began this learning journey with a focus on our educators. Most of our first steps have been intended to introduce and remind staff of Canada’s historical treatment of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. Our staff has begun to ask for resources and support for sharing this knowledge with our students. Provincial and Canadian organizations, publishers and teachers across Canada are creating products for teachers to “provide opportunities for all students to develop a knowledge and understanding of, and respect for, the histories, cultures, languages, contributions, perspectives, experiences and contemporary contexts of First Nations, Métis and Inuit.” (TQS).

Another expectation of the TQS is that “A teacher builds positive and productive relationships with students, parents/guardians, peers and others in the school and local community to support student learning.” This enables teachers to invite members of the Indigenous community into their classrooms. It seems simple, but in order to honor culture and to promote intercultural understanding, we must take steps to ensure respect for traditions and status. For this purpose, PHPS is finalizing a procedural guideline for teachers to follow should they wish to engage local Elders to provide learning experiences in our classrooms. The Indigenous Elder Protocol is currently in draft form but will become official in the next few months.

Where to learn more
We are all part of a change in the way Canadians view their past and understand the people in our communities. We encourage parents and all members of the community to learn more about Truth and Reconciliation. The following websites provide a wealth of information.

  • The Alberta Teachers’ Association
    In June 2016, Alberta Education, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and four other education stakeholder organizations in Alberta signed the Joint Commitment to Action to ensure that all students learn about the histories, cultures and world views of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. The Alberta Teachers’ Association has begun to fulfill its commitment by establishing Walking Together: Education for Reconciliation.
  • EMPOWERING THE SPIRIT Educational Resources to Support Reconciliation
    This website provides support for all levels within school jurisdictions to increase awareness, understanding and application of First Nations, Métis and Inuit histories, perspectives and ways of knowing for the purpose of implementing treaty and residential schools education and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action for education.
  • Government of Canada – Delivering on Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action
    Learn how the Government of Canada is responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.
  • University of Alberta Libraries – First Nations, Métis and Inuit Contexts in Education
    First Nations, Metis and Inuit Teacher Resources
  • Beyond 94, CBC
    A resource that identifies and measures progress on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action across Canada. This comprehensive website contains valuable videos, resources and much more.
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Atlas of Canada
    The Royal Canadian Geographical Society continues to collaborate with Indigenous stakeholders to develop a new educational resource; Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada. This resource contains information on treaties and languages across Canada.

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