Education is key to healing wounds of the past

By Diane Hutchinson, Camrose Canadian Lifestyles Contributor

Do you know the full history of our Country? 


If you graduated from high school more than 10 years ago, you likely learned a version of Canada’s history that did not include much focus on this country’s First People. 

In my generation, for example, Social Studies classes included no reference to the government endorsed plans for “Indian Assimilation.” My education did not include learning such things as First Nations, Metis and Inuit people being relegated to small portions of land and not permitted to travel freely; children being forcibly removed from their homes, communities and cultures; or the mistreatment (and death) of members of two to three generations in residential schools. Somehow these things just never came up. 

Issues such as these are definitely receiving public attention now. As Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of confederation, it seems the time has finally arrived to acknowledge the First Peoples who were here long before the rest of us immigrants; those whose land we commandeered and whose way of life we changed forever. 

The federal government has been sharing information about the full history of Canada for more than a decade. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed a very detailed apology back in 2008, just as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began to really study the treatment of Indigenous People in Canada and find ways to provide restitution. 

Eleven of the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are related to education. They are focused on increasing the knowledge of Canada’s non-Aboriginal people about the mistreatment and intergenerational trauma suffered by Indigenous Canadians over a period of more than 200 years, as European explorers visited and then settled this country. The Alberta Government, the College of Alberta School Superintendents and the Alberta Teachers Association have all committed to being part of implementing these recommendations, in order to ensure the next generations of Canadians have the full story of their country’s history, in ways previous generations did not. 

Here in Battle River, we are working to help both staff and students understand the magnitude of the harm that was done in this earlier time. We share information about the difficult conditions Canada’s First Peoples faced. We encourage staff and students to learn more about ancient cultures and ways of life and a world view that might be different than their own. 

Sometimes we hear questions like “it’s a long time ago, why don’t people just get over it?” or “why does this apply to our school division?” 

Anyone who has experienced trauma can tell you that no one will ever “just get over it” until there is acknowledgement that a bad thing happened and people were harmed by it. In order to truly move forward, people who have been harmed need to see evidence that others have learned and will do things differently in the future.  

It does not matter whether there is a high population of First Nations, Inuit and Metis students in our school division or there are none. This process is not about pointing to students from that background, it is about helping everyone else develop a new attitude and approach, in order to ensure the future is different than the past. 

June 21 is National Aboriginal Day. Hundreds of BRSD students and staff will participate in activities marking Aboriginal culture and history. I encourage everyone to make the day an opportunity to enhance their own knowledge. If your education was anything like mine, there is a lot to learn! 


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