Colonialism in the classroom

Lori Deets

Let’s talk about it

I have written six articles now, but I have yet to write about the most important person in my life. I have almost mentioned him a few times but somehow he never ends up in the final draft. Today’s column will be different. Today, I will finally introduce you to my son, Alex.
My son is an amazingly vibrant and delightful child. He is handsome and well-mannered, but he does have a temper that goes from 0 to 60 is 5.2 seconds. Life is definitely interesting with him around. We have endured some tough times in his lifetime. We’ve faced a lot of struggles that many children do not have to face. Like most parents, I do the best that I can. But on some days, if he gets clean clothes and is fed: it’s a good day!
My son is learning traditional drumming and singing. We decided a few years back that we would grow his hair long so he could wear traditional braids. My son still has very child-like features, so when his hair is in a ponytail or a braid, people will often mistake him for a girl. He has had to learn to be very diplomatic and say, “I’m a boy and I’m First Nations that’s why I have long hair”. But, unfortunately there are other times he is not quite so polite. I am determined to stick it through, and I know because of the positive peers in his life that he will learn how to stand up for himself in a good way. I want him to learn a healthy self-image as an Indigenous person in Moose Jaw. I don’t want him to have the same shame-based beliefs that I had growing up.
My worry lately has been about school. My son will be attending a new school in the fall and although he is an incredibly outgoing child, I have some anxieties about how my son will fit in. When you have a son like mine, the strangest things can make or break a day, quite often before 8 a.m. in the morning.
School plays an important role in the beliefs we learn as children. I have been reading about treaty education, and I have been thinking about the different outlook my son has today about being an indigenous student. Whenever the topic comes up, my son will proudly announce that he is indigenous. This is very different from when I was his age. I remember a time when someone called my sister and I Indians. My sister denied it, saying that we had dark skin like our dad who was a hardworking farmer with very tanned skin, but not indigenous. We would never admit our true heritage.
My son’s outlook on being indigenous is very different than the one I had growing up. He knows a lot about residential schools and he knows about my past. It’s quite hard for him to imagine. He thinks the song It’s A Hard Knock Life is about me, because I told him I lived in an orphanage as a child.
He is saddened at times when he hears the stories I share with him, although he gets over it quite quickly. Colonialism and the effects of the residential school system have become normal to him. It’s not like many of us who have only just recently discovered this huge part of our history. Thankfully, our children will never sit in disbelief that this was happening all around them.
As he gets older, my son will learn more about the effects colonialism and the impact it has had on our lives. The effects of colonialism will be different for him than they were for me, and they will be different for his own children. We hope that each generation will show less signs of intergenerational trauma. That’s how healing works.
But, healing only happens if we talk about this. We can’t heal from what we don’t acknowledge. Healing is one of the many gifts we will receive with reconciliation. Through healing, each generation will carry a little less trauma than the next, and each generation will have more knowledge to pass on.
If you are a teacher or a parent wondering how to start teaching treaty education or indigenous history to your children, there are some great references out there. Ask your child’s teacher, the school administrators, or talk to the Wakamow Aboriginal Community Association. Think about doing a blanket exercise.
Just start, little by little. It may be uncomfortable at first, but that’s OK. The more we talk, the easier it gets, and the more healing that can occur.
The important thing is to start.