JACQUELINE CLEAVE: Thank you so much and it is an honour to be here in such an amazingly intimidating room. I am humbled to be counted amongst all the educators and and to be celebrating their work here and to have the elders and knowledge keepers to share in this moment.
Education is as we've heard Murray Sinclair said before, what got us into this mess, at least education as it was used in the residential schools, and he said that education is the key to reconciliation.
Laura Secord School is part of the Manitoba UNESCO Schools Network, and when the TRC report was released we chose the road to reconciliation as our theme. I'm horrible with technology so I'm just going to take a minute to see what I have to do. Okay.
Senator Sinclair's words were a challenge that we felt we could not ignore, and so Chantelle Cotton was a school division consultant at the time and she said, "if we're going to do this we need the words of the calls to action to be accessible to our students."
And she checked with Niigaan Sinclair, who's Murray's son, about whether or not that was going to happen and as far as we could find out it wasn't in the works. So, Chantelle and I talked about it and I, perhaps in a foolish moment of rash optimism, said, "Sure my grade four-five-six students and I could do that. Why don't we do it next fall."
So, that began what turned out to be a two-year process and it was one of incredible learning for myself and I think also for my students, and they'll speak for themselves in a moment.
As two white people working with a predominantly white student body we knew we needed to test our ideas, so Chantelle contacted Niigaan again — who was a classmate of hers but also happened to be a dad of one of our students at Laura Secord School — and he graciously agreed to help us out in this endeavour.
So, now we had Niigaan, we had myself quickly realizing that I couldn't do this on my own — not with 94 calls to action. So, I called on my teammates who were teaching 4-5-6 as well at my school. Stefanie Jones and Jill Joanette graciously agreed: "Why not? We'll come on board."
So, the three teachers, with Chantelle coaching us in the background from the school division, and Niigaan set off on this journey and fortunately we brought with us a whole whack of kids to take on this incredible task — 74 of them in all.
And we set out to figure out how we can make the 94 calls to action not only accessible to kids but hopefully to some other members of the community who might find the legal and political language of the original document a little bit daunting.
Let me think what was come next. So, we knew that we had to start with an understanding of what was lost in colonization, and I don't think this sort of zooms out like it did in my original Powerpoint.
But, these are images of a project that we started with the kids where they explored pre-contact cultures in an attempt to have them really understand what was here on Turtle Island before the colonizers arrived.
And they did their research the three different classrooms explored communities from across the country. And then they created a museum display and each of the classes toured each other's museums and got a chance to compare and understand the diversity and the amazing accomplishments of the Indigenous communities that we had an opportunity to study.
So, this is just some of their work, getting ready their displays to share with each other about pre-contact life here on Turtle Island. Oh, it is going to...I should have known it was going to do that. I should have just clicked that while I was talking, I apologize.
They built lodgings, they built loads of transportation, they built landscapes, and clothing, and everything they could think of to help create the sense of the different communities in their classrooms.
So, we went from a classroom that looked like British Columbia to a classroom that looked like Nova Scotia to one that was rooted in the Haudenosaunee of central...well we don't consider it central here. I was raised in Ontario. I still call it central Canada, I apologize. And they got to explore what was there.
Then we came to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and one of the things we did was take part in the blanket activity that was referenced earlier today. And for many of our students it was really the first exposure they'd had to the horrors of colonization and after the experience of the blanket activity there was lots of anger, there was shame, there was disbelief and surprise.
And we welcomed all those emotions and we said to the kids, "Okay so this is fair, this is legitimate to feel this way about our country's past but what we have to do now is decide what we're going to do with that, how can we channel that energy to make a difference and make a different story be part of Canada's history going forward."
So, we invited Niigaan to come and talk to the kids — here we go — he explained the history of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He walked us through its structure.
We had the kids do a Laura Secord Peace Commission to experience what it would have been like, at some level, to be participants in that process and to have them understand where the stories that inspired the calls to action came from.
And then we had them jump into the calls themselves. The first thing we asked them to do was just swim around in the language and the words. Find out what words popped out to them.
What words made no sense whatsoever to them. They highlighted what they thought were the key ideas or the key words in the pages that they were exploring and then did some illustrations of them.
And this is just a few of them. I know you can't read from where you are, but you can see the work that the kids went through to do work on their rough drafts of the sections of the calls that they were working on.
After we got through that part of it, it was winter break, and I went, "Oh my goodness, we were going to be done by now and we haven't even really started to do the rewording."
So, we took a break and obviously when you come back, as all educators know, when you come back after Christmas to resurrect something you were working on before — isn't all that easy. We decided the way to go about that was to say, okay, we're looking at creating instruction book for how can we do reconciliation in Canada.
So, we did this little project which had them building space shuttles, because space was our theme in science, out of toothpicks and marshmallows and the different groups had different levels of instructions.
Some of them really easy to understand with pictures and diagrams and one of them was just wingdings. You know when you just have nonsense coming out of the computer with no illustrations whatsoever. Just the general instruction, "Okay, we want you to make a space shuttle."
And through this process when we all got together and compared what had happened in the different rooms. We were hoping — I should look to the kids whether or not we succeeded — we were hoping to help them understand how critical it is that everybody understands the instructions that they've been offered.
If we're going to come up with the same thing in the end, and ideally if we're all going to take this journey of reconciliation together, we need to all be on the same page or we're not going to end up at the same destination.
So, with that in hand we got down to the task of what we thought was going to be the project. It was, I think, by now mid-February. Each classroom did it slightly differently and unlike Nathan's group we didn't get them off the hook with the writing piece.
We had them pull out their pencils and they worked really, really, really hard. Each classroom, as you can imagine, was dealing with incredibly complicated language for kids who are 10-11-12 years old, and they spent a whole lot of time exploring trying to understand these words and why they were in there and the issues that were behind them all.
In the end, we figured out that part of what had to be clear to the kids is why this call to action existed. If you don't realize what the problem is that the call is addressing then the call makes no sense.
So, again, we checked with Niigaan, sort of had him check with Murray, would it be really, really offensive if we added to this rewording of the calls by specifying what the problem was? And the answer we got back was that no, that made absolute sense, so we thought good, because that's going to make our job easier.
And so we started working with the kids to say okay, here's call number four. Why is this call here? What do we have to understand about Canadian culture? So, then we got talking about, you know, why is fetal alcohol syndrome addressed in the calls to action. What does that have to do with Indigenous people?
Isn't it a condition that can exist for everybody? And we had lots of amazing conversations. Why do we still have to talk about keeping families together? I thought residential schools were all closed?
And so then we got to talk about the child welfare system and the reality is that lots of Indigenous communities don't have high schools. So, kids have to leave home if they're going to finish high school. And how difficult that is as an ongoing reality in Canada today.
So, we ended up with...figure out what the problem is and then we spent the rest of the year working on figuring out how to make the language a little more accessible, and I think that they did an amazing job myself.
We ended up producing this book which was in large measure funded by support from the UNESCO — CCUNESCO — which is the Canadian Commission for UNESCO in Ottawa. And the kids did good copies of their illustrations.
The poetry that they had outlined as the keywords when they first started swimming around in the calls shows up here. And then on the page itself there's the original call to action, the problem that's identified, and the rewording of the call in language that we hope is — well it's absolutely more accessible — but we hope is accessible even to young children who are looking to work with us.
But, since it was really important to have kids working on this to make sure it was actually something the kids were going to use, I brought along two of my amazing former students. Unfortunately, they are former students now. This project took a while and it's in the past that they were working with me.
But, they agreed to come and talk to you and share their exploration of the calls to action, so I'm incredibly grateful they gave up their Sunday, or sunny afternoon, to come and be here and I'm going to ask — I think Sawyer you said you'd go first? — so ask Sawyer to come and share with us.
SAWYER HILLAND: A lot of teachers huh? Okay. I'm both grateful and proud to be to stand before everyone here today. After three years of radio silence from this project I'm so glad to be here today and see the heights that it has reached.
When Jackie first told our class that we were taking on this project our initial reaction was one of confusion. Not a one of us had heard of a residential school, but we would soon learn of the atrocities the Canadian government had done. Even with parts of testimonies from survivors censored out our class was still infuriated. It shook us to the core.
But, looking in hindsight we were the lucky ones because we didn't have to attend residential schools. Yet it still affected the world around us. Through our 10 to 12 year old eyes we felt helpless, hopeless, and lost.
There were so many questions in our heads. What are we supposed to do? Why isn't the Canadian government doing anything? Why did this happen? There would be no shortage of just as difficult to answer questions hurled at Jackie over the next two years.
But, by some miracle Jackie and many other teachers helped us focus that energy on our work. Looking back at it now this project doesn't seem as daunting as it was in the fifth and sixth grade.
All I have to say to the Government of Canada is, "If the children of your nation are taking larger steps than you towards reconciliation you should take a good hard look at your policies and the way your government functions, because in no world should children be forced to attend such a place as residential schools and in no world should children have to outcry about it before you take action."
JACQUELINE CLEAVE: Thanks Sawyer, and now I'll call Taylor Williamson up to share. Taylor was in grade five when we started? Grade four. She was 10 years old when she took this on.
TAYLOR WILLIAMSON: Hello, I have to say the hardest part of writing the book was trying to understand what the original's words meant. I remember when I started the book I was in grade four.
So, I had a very hard time understanding, but we looked them up we studied what the words meant and all made sense. When I started I had no idea what the TRC was or anything like that. I didn't know what the 94 calls to action were, so I think I was just surprised about the whole 94 calls to action.
How the book made me change how I think about Canada is just how we had residential schools. It's crazy. How people took children out of their homes and made them go to school and forget about their languages. It just made me reflect on what happened.
Depending on whom you talk to between 11 to 17 of the 94 calls to action have been completed to date. To me that is mind-boggling that the calls came out in 2015, almost seven years ago, and we don't even have one fourth of them completed.
I feel like we put a lot of time and effort into creating this book, and I think it paid off. Teachers can use this to teach young youths like myself and learn what we learned.
As I said we put a lot of work in it and some days it was just emotionally draining, but some days it could be fun and I've loved hearing everyone's different opinion on it.
But, overall I had a great experience with working with everyone, thank you.
JACQUELINE CLEAVE: Thank you, Taylor.
As I say it's been an incredible honour to have the chance to work on this book and our hope...well it started out thinking it would be this small thing we'd photocopy a few pieces and send it home with the kids but the grant from CCUNESCO allowed us to actually produce this wonderful book.
And it gave us the opportunity to share it with other educators. I know it's it's been widely distributed here in Winnipeg.
And one of my most rewarding pieces has been to have people come up and talk about how they're using it going forward in their classrooms, and my own class certainly over the years.
We explore every year what call we're going to act on and how we're going to do reconciliACTION as we also refer to it in our time. And we also look at the rate of how successfully we are meeting the calls to action or answering the calls to action.
I know that the Canada's History organization has made these copies, gotten copies of this, for all of the people here that have been presenting today and they are going to be sent out to you so that you don't have to take them back on the airplanes or stuff them into overflow suitcases.
Winnipeg School Division did do a second run after our initial bit, so these are still available. And to explain one piece of it the cost of the book is 45 dollars. They're a little expensive, but the decision was made that they wanted them to be able to be shipped throughout the country for the same cost.
So that somebody buying the book here in Winnipeg would in some ways be subsidizing this book getting all the way up to the north or to the far coasts of our country. Which they felt was a fitting step of reconciliation in itself.
So, again, I've been incredibly grateful to have been here and couldn't have done this project without all the people that supported us. From Niigaan right through to the kids, obviously, who did the lion's share of all this work. And my fellow teachers Jill and Stefanie. Without them it would never have happened.
So, I hope that you get some value out of having the book and I am thoroughly inspired by all the work that I've heard about going on today and I can't wait to go home and and ponder it all and figure out how I'm going to share it with my kids in my classroom.
So, thank you all. I appreciate it.
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