Conversations about Roads to ReconciliACTION

On March 26, Education students from Audrey Aamodt’s Treaties in the Classroom (ECCU 400) section overcame their own discomfort to engage in conversations with peers and profs in the hallways at the University of Regina about the many ways of taking action towards reconciliation. Aamodt says, “Students decided to host these conversations in the halls of the University to remind themselves/us that they not only belong, and have a responsibility, to the more intimate Faculty of Education, but are also part of this larger learning community and beyond.”

Bert Fox High School students and their teacher Sheena Koops, as regular facilitators of the Blanket Exercise, travelled from Fort Qu’Appelle to join the conversations, to raise awareness about the Blanket Exercise, which is an activity in which “participants take on the roles of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Standing on blankets that represent the land, they walk through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance ” (Source).

SUNTEP students and their instructors Brenna Pacholko and Russell Fayant visited the stations, and offered, in instructor Aamodt’s words, “critical and courageous conversations with students and myself.” Aamodt adds, “We extend gratitude for their generosity, wisdom, and patience with us.”

Regarding what the students learned, Aamodt says, “I think the most important overall learning that could potentially come out of this experience for us was that listening to and reflecting on critiques takes practice and is necessary. Treaty Education, along with potentially associated reconciliation, decolonization, indigenization, and social justice efforts should always be submitted to critical reflection and none are without tension. So, we ask who benefited from this event and if it was truly ‘action.’ Perhaps it didn’t amount to anything of significance, except to make us feel good. Then, we reminded one another about Pam Palmater’s claim that “if it feels good, it’s not reconciliation.”

As for her own learning, Aamodt adds, ” I have learned how I might better invite students to consider who might be the right people to talk about particular issues, some of the problems with being perceived as positioning ourselves (settler-Canadians) as experts about MMIW, residential school legacies & intergenerational trauma, FNMI identities-histories-cultures-communities, FNMI languages, reconciliation, decolonization, indigenization, and even treaties.”

Below are student comments about what they were doing, and what they thought about its importance.

100 Years of Loss Exhibit: Jalyssa Woloshyn says, “We are making people aware of the past and what has happened — and making sure we understand the past and are not turning a blind eye to it. At some points it is uncomfortable to be learning this, but if you are uncomfortable you’re learning more because you are embracing the stuff that you don’t know. … I came into university knowing none of this. It’s not taught much, so getting this out here now for other people that aren’t in the Education Faculty is important.” Megan Dobson says, “The class itself is helping us search for our limits; so many of us that don’t know, or have a lot of ignorance, don’t understand the intergenerational trauma…make assumptions because we don’t know.”  Kerri Aikman says, “Today we’re trying to start the conversation with people outside of our Faculty.”
Taking Action Cookies (and selfies): This group of students offered cookies labelled with one of the 150 Acts of Reconciliation intended to suggest reconciliatory actions, even small ones, such as learning the land acknowledgement. For all the stations, those who took selfies and posted them to social media with #ReconciliAction were eligible to win a Roads to ReconciliAction t-shirt. Donations made were going to Justice for our Stolen Children. Zach Renwick said, “It may just be one small thing you can do, but it builds towards having an understanding of where you stand in society. One person may look at this list and say, ‘you know, I can do a couple of these things.'” Allison Entem adds, “It is important to recognize your position in society and learn what your biases are because you can reflect on what it is you know and what you are wanting to learn, especially for us, and what we want to pass on to the kids we will be teaching.” Zach says, “We need to face these controversial topics, different ideologies, and I need to step out of my own comfort zone to talk about it.” http://activehistory.ca/2017/08/150-acts-of-reconciliation-for-the-last-150-days-of-canadas-150/
Red Dress Exhibit: No more Stolen Sisters in Regina. Cassidy Hanna explains, “This is an installation of the REDress Project started by Jamie Black. The red dresses symbolize each of the women from Regina that are missing or murdered. We have 16 missing or murdered women from Regina exhibited here, and only two have been resolved. We are trying to bring awareness to the fact that Aboriginal women are more likely to be victims of violence, and if murdered, are three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be murdered by a stranger. The solve rate for the murders of Indigenous women is around 53% and the national rate is 84% so there is a huge disparity in the solving of the cases. So we are trying to bring awareness of this and also to the the MMIWG inquiry.” The significance of the class for Logan Schmidt was “huge!” She says, “I started four years ago at the University, and I had no First Nations classes and no idea about any of this. My four-year degree has really opened my eyes to how many inequalities there are between First Nations and us settlers. It’s disturbing to say the least. As we did this project, and as we went through Saskatchewan, the number of missing people…there are hundreds and hundreds, and you just look at the cases and the rulings, like they may be investigated for two days and ruled a suicide. You read more about the background of it, and you think about how do you come to the justification of it all. Our biggest goal today is to open this information up to more people. Being first, second or third year and still not knowing about this, it’s not okay.” Tristan Badger responded to the question about the helpfulness of this class saying, “Being First Nation, I’ve always been afraid to use my voice. So, this class has made me feel more empowered to use it, and not be afraid of being put down because of my colour. This class has made me be more activist for First Nations and Indigenous people.” Karlee Gordon adds, “This class has covered many different topics; it’s pretty eye-opening! Audrey took this topic of being White, which I felt uncomfortable discussing because I didn’t feel I had the right to teach about it–Audrey opened us up and we talked about them, so now I can feel comfortable standing here and educating other people who are the same age or older than I am, about a topic that so many people still feel uncomfortable talking about.” http://www.theredressproject.org/
Linking relationships: Chastity Peigan and Erin Schmidt were located in the busy Riddell Centre, so they chose an activity that would be quick and not hold people up. Passersby were invited to write something on a piece of construction paper that was then added as a link in the chain, a visual about ” building relationships or connecting with one another…just something simple. You might simply go to the other stations as your action.” Chastity and Erin were hoping to influence people to become interested in bettering relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Road to Métis Identities: Kendell Porter says, “We wanted to focus our exhibit on Métis people, on the four main communities in Treaty 4 (Lebret, Lestock, Willow Bunch, and Fort Qu’Appelle). Métis people are often left out of the conversation, and we also wanted to address some of the myths and stereotypes people believe about the Métis.” Payton Kuster says, “I’ve learned a lot over the past four years. Doing this event emphasizes to us and to others how important it is to break down stereotypes, such as ones about what it is to be Métis. … We want to be allies and work alongside in addressing misconceptions.”
Being a Treaty Person (Kelsey Hintze, Daicy Vance, and Kaitlin Corbin):  Kaitlin Corbin says, “We mapped out the prairie provinces and then the Treaty areas. We have a game to see if you can put the treaty numbers down on the map.”  Kelsey Hintze says, “The biggest thing is just for people to understand that everyone who lives in these provinces is a treaty person: everyone lives within numbered treaties, and its interesting knowing where you are within the provincial boundaries. People will …have trouble seeing the provinces when the string is outlining the treaties. We are taking away that generalized view that everyone is used to, and making them think a little bit harder about where they actually are.” Kaitlin Corbin says, “I’m still anxious about teaching about treaty, but I am a lot more ready than I used to be. This wasn’t part of my education growing up, so coming here…it’s a lot more useful.” What does it mean to be a treaty person? Kelsey Hintze replies, “It’s complicated and everyone has a different perspective on it as well.”
Telling the Truth about Residential Schools: Hailie Logan and Kate Paidel wanted to raise awareness about Indian residential schools, and the importance of adding resources, such as I am not a Number, which can be used with Grade 3 students, into the curriculum throughout the grades and subject areas. Kate says, ” I have learned way more that I thought I ever could. I know taking this into the classroom is still going to be uncomfortable for me, but I know I am not going to stop…It’s important to me.” Hailie says, “For me it is important for my students to feel represented. I want all of my students to feel that they matter, and that they have a place on this earth and in my classroom.”
Road to connecting languages (photo includes Instructor Audrey Aamodt). Zakk Tylor and Amy Arnal set up a guessing game to promote languages. Amy says “Our table is about making relationships between Settler Canadians and Indigenous people through languages. On our campus, we have three towers named Kīšik (Saulteaux word for sky) Paskwāw (Cree word for prairie) Wakpá (Dakota word for river). Zakk explains, “We see people taking these names for granted and they don’t know what they mean. The three names reflect the three aspects on the Treaty 4 flag that remind that the Treaty lasts as long as the grass grows, the sun shines, and the rivers flow.” In terms of their education with the Faculty of Education, Amy says she is “keeping the growth mindset and always learning. We’re not pretending to be experts, but we do feel equipped to teach about reconciliation.” Zakk says, “The biggest thing is the relationship aspect. Relationships in First Nations culture is the prime thing. They have a relationship with everything and that is what we need to strive for.”
It was Shelby Vandewoestyne’s job to hand out maps to the Roads to ReconciliACTION and “entice people” to visit the booths. From her experience, Shelby says, “I was able to see different perspectives at the University: people who are really interested and people who aren’t. This shows me that there is going to be resistance going into schools in the future. In the spaces we will be working, we will need to create inclusivity and work to break down those barriers.”
Getting coffee and Timbits, setting up stations, and handing out maps: this crew of organizers, Ashlyn Paidel, Keigan Duczek, and Jessica Weber, were holding this event together while promoting conversations about reconciliation. Jessica says, “We are trying to spark conversations.” Keigan says, “So by doing this we are coming out of our box and making ourselves uncomfortable.” Ashlyn says, “The hope is for the discussion to at least be started about reconciliation and what our aim, reconciliAction is all about.” Keigan adds, “We’ve been promoting the hashtag #reconciliAction just to keep the conversation going after today.”
Blanket Exercise. Sheena Koops and several students from Bert Fox High School came to talk about the Blanket Exercise. Sheena Koops says, “We’ve been invited here today as people who facilitate the Blanket Exercise regularly, to have conversations about the Blanket Exercise. Our booth is called Complicating the Canadian Story: Conversations with the Oski-pimohatahtamawak, a name given to us by Elder Alma Poitras.”

Blanket Exercise: Ask me something that is on your heart. Michael Starr-Desmonie (L) has been leading the Blanket Exercise for almost a year. “I love doing this. I love doing the Blanket Exercise, so people can understand what my people actually went through…I do this for my elders. Last year someone said, ‘Your people are invisible these days.’ I said, “I’m going to prove you wrong.” People went through a rough time at residential schools, sexual abuse, physical abuse…they didn’t eat normal food; they ate leftovers. They were tired, starving…My family went through that same stuff. [Residential school] put impacts on our history, as kids growing up…what we went through as children made us stronger, made us who we are today. I’m very proud and honoured to do [the Blanket Exercise] each and every time, and speak my heart out to people. These are gifts one of my ancestors told me through ceremony. I’ve done the Blanket Exercise about 20 times; it’s emotional. Each exercise, we have a talking circle. The circle means a lot to us. It’s a comfort zone. All around you, the circle of life, a big family that supports you. It takes lots of guts and strength, and lots of heart as well. I gain a lot of respect these days. I’m also a writer and blog the most in my class.”  Shandan Peigan (R) says, “We want to share our history, get it out there because no one really learns about it in highschool. I think we should get it in our education system by Grade 9 or end of Grade 8, so people know where they come from and know what happened in the past. We can’t do anything about it, but we can talk about it and learn from it. It feels good leading it, but it’s not just me leading: we are a team. We all have something to do. A lot of people say good things about what we are doing. We’ve been told that that they are proud of us because we are young and we are making an impact on people.”
There were three sections of ECCU 400 this semester and all three hosted events: Evelyn Poitras’ class held a Talking Circle on April 5, and that night, Vivian Gauvin’s class held a “Treaty Walk in the Village” off-campus. Also, Ed student Brandy Burns has posted a blog reflection about the Treaty Walk in the Village posted at https://brandyjburns.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/respectful-relationships/