Panel aims to continue conversations on injustices faced by Indigenous peoples

An upcoming online panel intends to continue the process of decolonization and reconciliation by remembering the horrors of the past for more than one day a year.

After the Brock community participated in Orange Shirt Day and the University hosted a talk on the need to deliver equitable services to Indigenous children, youth and families in September, the Brock Decolonization Committee plans to make the historic and current injustices experienced by Indigenous children an ongoing discussion.

As a first step towards this goal, the committee will host the Intergenerational Impacts and Activist Responses online panel to discuss the legacy of residential schools as well as current discriminatory practices towards Indigenous children.

Held Friday, Oct. 30 from noon to 1 p.m., the virtual event will include several speakers from the Brock community.

Sandra Wong of Aboriginal Student Services will guide a discussion on residential schools, which forced about 150,000 Indigenous children to leave their parents, many experiencing physical and sexual abuse. More than 6,000 students did not survive.

Wong said continued discussion of residential schools and education of the community on injustices committed across the country are key steps towards reconciliation.

“If we are going to get to the root of many of the problems we have with Indigenous peoples, the community needs to understand where many of those problems come from,” she said. “The government forced children into residential schools and tried to kill our culture. Those learned behaviours and abuses have impacts that go far beyond the children who attended the schools.”

The intergenerational effects will also be discussed by Sherri Vansickle, lecturer in the Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education, who will share the ongoing impact felt more than 24 years after the last residential school closed.

To begin the healing process, Wong hopes Canadians will take time to properly educate themselves on residential schools.

“One of the first steps is acknowledging these things happened,” she said. “We need society to recognize these injustices and get the proper supports to go through this healing journey together. Education was the stem of that evil, and we need to amend that. We need to be able to trust education again.”

Alongside talks from Wong and Vansickle, participants will watch video of a recent Brock lecture given by renowned Indigenous child and youth advocate Cindy Blackstock, from the Gitxsan First Nation in British Columbia. As a McGill social work professor and Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, she has been a relentless moral voice for equitable treatment of all First Nations children and youth in Canada.

In her video, Blackstock will continue the theme of maintaining multi-systemic discussions to address institutional racism across Canada. To help accomplish this, Blackstock and the Caring Society have sent Brock University a small teddy bear, a symbolic invitation to participate in their Spirit Bear Reconciliation program. The Armbearrister program will guide Brock and the wider community through six steps that seek to make a difference for all First Nations, Aboriginal, Métis and Inuit children in Canada, and honour the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action.

Professor of Child and Youth Studies Richard Mitchell received the bear on behalf of the University and has asked the Decolonization Committee and Aboriginal Student Services to provide assistance in following guidelines for its use, which include consulting with Elders about how to name and clothe the bear, as well as committing to participate in initiatives that support Indigenous children and reconciliation.

In addition to introducing the Spirit Bear at the virtual panel event, Mitchell will share his ongoing efforts to ‘decolonize’ his teaching, research and service since joining Brock in 2004.

“As a non-Indigenous settler-educator and researcher, I make daily efforts to contribute to the transformative process the Calls to Action point towards,” he said. “We’ve all seen multiple issues of racism and even violence taking place across the country right now that result from our lack of understanding and respect for the promises made by 18th and 19th century Treaties — indeed we are all ‘treaty people.’ Of the TRC’s 94 recommendations, more than one-third pertain to educators at all levels.”

Mitchell said the responsibility to change the system is not to be taken lightly by educators.

“It’s baffling to me in a country as well-off as Canada that honouring the treaties has been ignored and their original voices silenced,” he said. “There are so many kids from First Nations communities and backgrounds not getting a fair shot in life as a result, and post-secondary educators have a significant role to play in transforming these inequities. For me, it started with a lack of knowledge of our shared history, culture and politics, and then figuring out how to ‘decolonize’ my own work here at Brock.”

Decolonization Committee Co-chair Lyn Trudeau said the group is preparing its next steps, which she hopes will lead to similar discussions throughout the Brock community.

“The committee will host two more similar events next term in the hopes of informing and engaging the Brock community with sensitive Indigenous matters,” she said. “There is a need to openly have dialogue on issues that have been around for decades and are still present today, as well as the inexcusable treatment still happening to our children.”

Click here to view the Intergenerational Impacts and Activist Responses panel on Friday, Oct. 30 from noon to 1 p.m. on Lifesize.

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