Supporting First Nations, Métis, & Inuit Education: How do we maintain momentum that is driving us toward change?

 

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       I am Not a Number, a children’s book written by Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer. Illustrated by Gillian Newland.

As we get ready for a new start to the school year, we look back on some of the most important issues to cover, and learn more about how to support educators and students to reflect on some of the best practices for supporting their own growth of understanding the world around them. Equitable pedagogical practices and culturally responsive teaching happens with intentionality and purpose. So it’s important to be mindful of focusing on marginalized issues that we rarely hear about and discuss in the classroom and schools. With that, I am honoured to interview Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis to discuss ways to support aspects of Indigenous learning in the education system, and how we can each make an impact through knowledge and action on First Nations, Métis and Inuit issues.

  • How do you view the term ‘reconciliation’? What question(s) should we be asking ourselves when it comes to supporting reconciliation?

Nearly eight months after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) Final Report was shared, organizations across Canada are looking for meaningful, authentic ways to support Sections 62 to 65 of the report which focuses on areas of education and reconciliation. Although we talk about the concept of reconciliation between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous Canadians, we need to make an enduring commitment to go beyond ‘just talking’ about reconciliation. We need to seek out authentic opportunities to respectfully listen to and understand the complexities of histories (“community memories”) and how it has impacted today’s generation, so that as citizens and caring school-community leaders, we may have the opportunity to move towards action-oriented change and fulfill reconciliation in a meaningful way.  

As a matter of principle, we need Indigenous voices at the forefront to help others understand the accuracy of details and the authenticity of values. For many years, Indigenous people’s voices were silenced due to the impacts of assimilation policies. Considering this, we need to ensure that Indigenous people have a place where their voices are at the centre of this conversation.

So the questions that we perhaps need to ask ourselves include: (1) “How do we respectfully maintain the momentum that is driving us towards change?”; (2) “How can we all make a conscious, genuine effort to ensure there are spaces and places for Indigenous peoples to be part of this change?”

  • How has your life experiences influenced your work as an author-educator focusing on the field of Indigenous Studies?

It was an easy, yet challenging decision for me to pursue interests in the field of Indigenous education. I first engaged with Indigenous political issues 20 years ago as an Indigenous youth at a time when little attention was given to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in most school-based programming. Since then I have come to better understand my community’s stories and how my family has been directly affected by policies like the Indian Act. My grandmother was a residential school survivor who had been forced to leave her home community of Nipissing First Nation to attend Spanish Residential School in Northern Ontario; and myself, I was not granted Indian Status until 2011, when there was an amendment to the Indian Act (known as Bill C-3) that ensured all eligible grandchildren of women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Status men become entitled to registration. Prior to the amendment, myself and thousands of other Indigenous children and youth across Canada grew up uncertain about our First Nation’s identity. At the time, we did not have any hope of having a long-lasting connection to our First Nation’s community because we were not classified as Registered Indians.

It is through these experiences that I have come to appreciate that we must not limit ourselves to breaking apart Indigenous histories into small, separate segments, but make a concentrated effort to explore how past, present, and future issues are in fact broken strands firmly weaved together. Topics like identity, voice, representation, justice, consultation, and even appropriation need to be reflected upon and thoughtfully discussed.

  • What are the some online resources that you feel may inspire others to look inwards and assess their own own biases, prejudice, and preconceived stereotypes?
  1. I’m Not the Indian You had in Mind is a short film that illustrates a powerful poem written by Thomas King and challenges the stereotypes of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.  
  2. The American Indians in Children’s Literature provides a critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books. Debbie Reese (the site’s author) offers a growing list of book reviews that focus on Indigenous authors with tips for authentic voice, appropriate terminology, and imaging.
  3. Unreserved is an Indigenous radio program that profiles top trending Indigenous stories.
  4. CBC – 8th Fire is four-part series that looks at Canada’s 500-year relationship with Indigenous peoples through discussions of prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural reclamation.
  5. APTN National News, CBC News Aboriginal, and Nationtalk and online magazines like Muskrat Magazine are essential news and information sites that provide daily updates on Indigenous issues and stories of high interest.
  6. Digging Roots released a new song “AK-47” that shares a powerful message “…about opening fire on hate, oppression and violence. Not with bullets and guns; but with the full force of love.”  The musicians’ explain, “…This song is about peace and courage and the idea that it’s time to change the whole paradigm. Stop the violence, against each other, ourselves, against the land.”
  7. Deepening Knowledge Project, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education’s (OISE’s) Aboriginal Peoples Curricula Database offers a large selection of links to curriculum resources, media and literature, lesson plans, and class/field trip ideas.
  8. Also consider following Twitter accounts to stay-up-to-date on what’s happening. Some of my personal favorites include @APTN, @CBC_Aboriginal, @MuskratMagazine, @AnishNation, @NativeApprops, @debreese, and @NDNLit
  • What are you working on now to support aspects of social change and reconciliation?

I’m releasing my first children’s book in September 2016. The title of the book, co-written with Kathy Kacer, is I Am Not a Number. It is the story of my granny, who was taken from Nipissing First Nation reserve at a young age to live at a residential school in 1928. The story reflects an important part of Canada’s history where over 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students’ cultural identities were suppressed. In my granny’s case, she tries to find ways to hold onto her identity. My hope is that the children’s picture book will be used to spark a young reader’s interest in culturally authentic literature, invite them to ask questions about Indigenous issues, as well as engage in meaningful conversations about voice, power relationships, cultural identity, and the impacts of history. The book can be pre-ordered from a favourite bookstore and online from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, and Indigo.  

I also recently published a research article, “Fostering Remembrance and Reconciliation Through an Arts-Based Response” in collaboration with Dr. Kristen Ferguson. The study focuses on answering a timely question, “What are the significant learning outcomes for students and teachers of an arts-based reconciliation project about the Canadian Indian Residential School System?” The results of this study may be helpful to educators and grassroots community groups who are interested in learning more about an arts-based planning model that honours, respects, and recognizes Canada’s residential school survivors and their families.

Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis is of Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, researcher, artist, and speaker who works full-time supporting the advancement of Indigenous education. Jenny’s interest in her family’s past and her commitment to teaching about Indigenous issues through literature drew her to co-write I Am Not a Number, her first children’s book. She lives in Toronto.

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