“Lighting each others fires”: Teachers and staff visit several students’ home communities for National Truth and Reconciliation Day
- NC Raine | October 19, 2022
A simple yet charged idea motivated the North East School Division’s (NESD) plans for Truth and Reconciliation Day: Give teachers a direct insight into life and culture in Indigenous communities.
“I think that sometimes our students, who have grown up in First Nation communities, might feel like their teachers might not understand them, because they’ve never been to their communities,” said Stacy Lair, Director of Education at NESD.
“So making that connection, seeing their teachers in their home communities, will be significant.”
On September 30, the teachers and staff from the NESD — some 330 individuals — travelled in groups to one of four neighbouring First Nation or Métis communities to learn about their culture, their history, and their contemporary lives.
It was an experience dreamed up by Sharon Meyer, NESD First Nation, Métis, and Inuit education consultant, and member of Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation, as a way for teachers to become more intimately familiar with their Indigenous students.
“I had the mindset, why are we trying to bring people to us all the time? Why don’t we take these teachers to the First Nation communities because many of them have never been on a reserve yet and we’re trying to teach about reserves,” said Meyer.
The four Indigenous communities that participated by hosting NESD teachers were Cumberland House Métis Nation, Kinistin Saulteaux Nation, One Arrow First Nation, and Muskoday First Nation.
Each community, or school within that community, planned their own events for the visiting teachers. At Cumberland House, a Residential School Survivor shared her story, speaking on healing and hope, before a video was screened that captured the natural beauty of the entire reserve from aerial footage. Finally, the teachers went hiking in a historic area in Cumberland House that’s not even open to tourists.
At Kinistin Saulteaux, teachers listened to talks about First Nation education, then went through workshops that students often do in their School in the Bush program. Finally, they hosted a round dance for the teachers.
At One Arrow, they held a mini powwow then listened to speakers, including the youth entrepreneurs who are part of the popular Fireweed Artisan Boxes.
And at Muskoday, the teachers rotated through workshops about ribbon skirts and how colours are used; how Elders participate in schools and lessons; and a drum group presenting on their craft. Then, a special film created by Meyer and the Muskoday community was screened.
The film is a five-part, 36-minute film on contemporary life at Muskoday. Meyer produced the film through a grant from the Ministry of Education.
“Students are supposed to learn about Indigenous life and culture, but it’s hard to find material,” said Meyer.
“People talk about First Nations like they are in the past. We made this film to make people aware that First Nations are contemporary. We live modern life.”
The five chapters of the film consist of explorations into: Chief and Council decision making; the role of a Chief; influence of the Treaties; Muskoday Community School; and Muskoday traditional lifestyle. The film is curriculum-length and will be made available to all educators who want to use it.
Meyer said the goal of this film and Truth and Reconciliation Day alike is to be immersed in educational experiences that increase our understanding of our neighbours.
“I don’t want Orange Shirt Day to be about colouring an orange shirt in class. I want to build powerhouse relationships,” she said. “I think we are really doing something. We’re lighting each other’s fires.”
Similarity, Lair hopes that the 300 plus teachers who participated in these neighbourly community visits have returned with knowledge and enthusiasm that rubs off on the young minds in their classrooms.
“Any time we have the chance to dip our toe in someone else’s world, that opens our eyes to new perspectives and broader worldviews,” said Lair. “The students will then hopefully feel and experience that through conversations with their teachers.”