Ahh siem’n’ siyuyu siem’n’i’ mustimuxw
Hayce:pe qu’i’ kwuns mi tecul tuna kweyul
i cun pe hiluqw’I’kwuns mi tecul
Hayce:pe qu’i’ kwuns mi squqip tun u kqeyul
’een’thu Anne Tenning. tun’ni’ tsun ’utl’ Stz’uminus
This is the first time I've introduced myself in my Hul'qumi'num language. I'd like to thank language teacher Mandy Jones back at home in Nanaimo for teaching me. (audience applause)
My grandmother was fluent in our language and the language was lost in my family through the residential school process.
My respected friends, respected people, thank you for being here today. I'm very happy to be here.
My name is Anne Tenning. I'm a member of the Stz’uminus First Nation on Vancouver Island.
I'm very honoured to be here, joining this esteemed panel of speakers in addressing the essential topic of teaching and communicating Indigenous history. There is no field more important to be to be discussing reconciliation than education.
I would like to also acknowledge that we are on the unceded ancestral territories of the Algonquin people.
I'd like to start by dedicating my presentation to my guest of honour, my mother Elizabeth Tenning. My mom is here with me today. It is her strength and resilience that has inspired each day of my work in the K-12 education system for the past 17 years.
My mom attended Cooper Island residential school. This history is still very fresh for my family as it is for thousands of Indigenous families across Canada.
In 2008, at my mother's residential school settlement hearing, I heard in detail for the first time what my mother's experience was like when she was a child at that school.
By the end of the hearing, I felt sickened, heartbroken, and outraged that such atrocious abuse and cultural genocide could be targeted at my mother and generations of other Indigenous children in the name of education.
In a very short amount of time, we have seen tremendous changes in the education system for students of Indigenous ancestry. In British Columbia, the graduation rate for students of Indigenous ancestry rose above fifty percent for the first time only seven years ago. The rate has continued to climb each year since. This is very promising and there is reason for cautious optimism.
I have witnessed the tremendous determination it takes graduates of Indigenous ancestry to navigate their way through what is, in many ways, still a very challenging system. That the graduation rate is going up confirms that what is happening in our schools and classrooms is improving.
But, these rates are still far from acceptable. What about the almost forty percent of students of Indigenous ancestry who do not complete their K-12 educational journey.
They have not failed. The education system has failed them.
True reconciliation and education will see students of Indigenous ancestry graduate from a K-12 system that is culturally safe, meaningful, and inclusive of Indigenous knowledge.
Given the tenuous relationship that my family has with the education system. It is somewhat ironic that I
chose education for my career, but I have come to realize that as destructive and damaging as education has been for Indigenous people, it can be equally as empowering and healing
I was once debating with someone about Indigenous issues when he said to me, "I'm surprised that you're not more of an activist," and I responded, "I can't think of a form of activism more influential than infiltrating the education system itself and challenging and changing perspectives from within and that's how I looked when I said it.
The way that I experienced history as a subject when I was in school was far from inspirational.
History was largely a lifeless entity encapsulated and grossly biased textbooks that perpetuated stereotypes and portrayed us as a conquered people whose culture only existed in the distant past. I couldn't help but to feel somewhat embarrassed when it was time for the Indian unit in Social Studies.
When I became a teacher, I vowed that I would I would work to help change that. For many years, I had the privilege of teaching a course that is still my favourite called BC First Nations Studies 12.
I ensured that my students experienced history as something living, experiential, and thought-provoking. That history did not start with the arrival of explorers, fur traders, and settlers but with the myriad of complex and sophisticated Indigenous societies that have occupied these lands since time immemorial.
That the history of Indigenous people can be learned from a strength-based perspective, highlighting the Indigenous resistance and resilience that have been a mainstay throughout the eras, but I also had to prepare my students that what they were learning would likely bump up against what many adults had been taught about Indigenous people and that they could use the innocuous power of knowledge to dismantle ignorance and challenge stereotypes and racism.
A father of one of my students once good-naturedly exclaimed to me, "I don't know what you're doing in this class but do we ever get into some interesting arguments around the dinner table these days."
"Good," I replied, "I hope she's teaching you something new."
The teacher that inspired me to graduate and go into teaching was a non-Indigenous teacher who taught in the First Nations resource room when I was in elementary school. Her name is Karen Clark and she is still a dear friend of mine.
All of us kids loved Mrs. Clark, because she genuinely cared about us, treated us with respect, found ways to make learning fun, and she wove in aspects of our local culture.
It did not matter to us that she was non-Indigenous. Mrs. Clark embodied the spirit of reconciliation decades before that word came to represent what it does today. Mrs. Clark helped me to believe that I could do anything.
The work of indigenizing education and working towards the goal of reconciliation cannot be achieved by Indigenous educators alone. It must be a system wide commitment.
Moving forward will require some unlearning first and recognizing our own prejudices. What many of us learned back when we went to school was inaccurate and biased. It fed the intolerance and racism born during colonialism that can still be seen to this day anytime Indigenous people assert their rights
and values, but history can be relearned by making space for local Indigenous nations to share their perspectives, knowledge, and experiences.
There is also a plethora of incredible authentic Indigenous resources to assist with this relearning. Reconciliation and education is going to require that relationships are strengthened with Indigenous people.
This is not always going to be easy. The wounds of history are still bleeding. As evidenced not only in Indigenous graduation rates but in other devastating realities that can no longer be ignored including the number of Indigenous children who are in care, our families who are still living in poverty, the ongoing cycles of violence and addiction, and the rate at which our youth are taking their own lives through suicide, just to name a few.
Many individuals, families, and communities have made tremendous strides in their healing. That reconciliation will not be accomplished until it reaches all of those who are still suffering. It is not just education but all systems that must be a part of this commitment.
Truly understanding the history of Indigenous people must be done at an emotional not intellectual level. You should feel anguish, anger, and loss, because that is the reality of this history and this has nothing to do with blame. But it is through experiencing this history at an emotional level that will bring transformative change and create the momentum necessary for reconciliation to move forward.
Such learning requires vulnerability and risk-taking. Educators cannot opt out of teaching this history for fear of doing it wrong.
Indigenous people must be willing, in turn, to be supportive, encouraging, and leaders in the unlearning and relearning of the Indigenous historical discourse.
Now more so than ever before, there is a genuine appetite to make things right regarding Indigenous history and education, but we must be mindful of pace. Building trust, relationship, and understanding takes time. We cannot rush forward to quickly. We must get to know each others' stories. We all have them.
Bringing Indigenous community members and Elders into our classes must be done with special attention to protocol and respect.
Having an emotional response to this history is essential, but it should not be traumatic for our guests or our students.
In the past few months, Canada witnessed the dedication of one man's reconciliation efforts at a grand scale level. I'm speaking of course about Gord Downie, lead singer of my all-time favorite band The Tragically Hip. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer only a year ago, Downie's legacy will be his work in the honouring of Chanie Wenjack, one of at least 6,000 children who died as a result of Canada's residential school system, and we were each graciously gifted a copy of this book in our packages.
Very few people have this degree of influence, but every single one of us does possess a degree of influence that we too can leverage to make a meaningful difference in reconciliation. Whether you are a teacher, an educational assistant, a parent, a custodian, an administrator, a student, or a bus driver, you absolutely can contribute to truth and reconciliation.
Start by asking yourself, "what can I do to increase my level of Indigenous understandings? What can I do to help make the education system a safer, more welcoming, and more relevant experience for students and families of Indigenous ancestry. What can I do to weave Indigenous knowledge into what I teach?
Many of us are already doing these things. But until we see one hundred percent of students of Indigenous ancestry experience success in the education system, there will still be work that needs to be done, and it is up to each of us to do it.
In the Coast Salish culture that I am from, we hold our hands up to those we wish to welcome or to show gratitude and respect. In this spirit, I hold my hands up to all of you in education for your commitment to
I have experienced the life-changing difference that just one teacher can make. I know many of you are doing and will continue to do the same. I have tremendous hope for the future of Indigenous history and education.
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