On Saturday October 24th 2017, I got up super early, came to the University of Regina where I joined 400 other educators, university students, and professors to learn about the importance of Treaty Education and integrating it into our teachings. I had two roles throughout the day; the first was as a session leader, and the second was as a learner.
I came to the day, as I have for the past two years prepared to take notes, fill my twitter feed, and discuss. As I look back at my notes, I cannot help but notice that I have only a few lines written down, and none of them are exactly inventive or outstanding; but yet I feel as if I took away more this year as I have in past years. At some point I stopped recording what was being said, and just started to listen and internally reflect on what was being said.
Charlene Bearhead was the keynote speaker, and she did a fantastic job. Not only did she demonstrate her understanding of why Treaty Education in Saskatchewan is so important but she also gave a viewpoint of how the rest of Canada sees Saskatchewan in connection to Treaty Education. Saskatchewan is viewed as being a leader in teaching Treaty Education, I would have never thought this until is was stated by Charlene Bearhead, I will elaborate on this later from a rural Saskatchewan point of view. Other things that Charlene made a point of mentioning was how using the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Report to aid in our teaching, as well as to work with the whole community when teaching Treaty Education.
Since I have spent the past 6 years being a student at the University of Regina, I have a good understanding of how much emphasis there is on the importance of Treaty Education. I have also gotten to collaborate, and network with many fantastic and devoted teachers within the city of Regina who work hard to integrate Treaty Education into their teaching. However, I have spent my own primary and secondary education in rural Saskatchewan, as well as my internship and first teaching contract. In 2007, the Government of Saskatchewan mandated that Treaty Education be taught in all classes, to all grades. I was in Grade 6 when this was introduced, and yet it was not until my first year of university did I know that I lived on Treaty 4 land, I had no idea Residential Schools were a thing, and knew nothing about colonialism. It has been six years since I finished high school, yet the school I graduated from still has teachers who do not teach, or teach a limited amount of treaty education. The school I interned at did not have a large focus on treaty education. The thing is that this is not solely on the teachers, yes it is the teachers responsibility to teach treaty education, but where is the recognition of it being taught. There is no spot for Treaty ed on report cards, school divisions do not commonly have a treaty ed consulted like they do for literacy, math, other core subjects. I am sure there are many rural teachers who do teach treaty ed, who bring in Indigenous content, who focus on reconciliation, and I want to hear from them, to meet them, to collaborate with them. I am sure there are school divisions (for example Northern Lights School Division) has a variety of great resources for Treaty education, but how many teachers use them, is there ownership of where schools and teachers are integrating treaty education? I know there is more work to be done with Treaty ed, and I am excited to see where we will be in five or ten years with it, but I am also aware that change will not happen without the push from government, school divisions, and fellow teachers.
After the Keynote speaker completed her presentation, it was time for our first session. It was in the first session that I was scheduled to lead. When I was first approached about leading a session, I actually did not feel like I was the right person to be teaching others. I am not currently under a contract, and did not teach a lot of treaty education in my first contract. However, I did use a lot of it in internship. I turned my own experiences, of dealing with resistance in rural communities into my topic. I expected to have maybe five people attend, especially considering there were so many great presenters and topics; I was shocked when I had a full room of like forty people. I was even more shocked when I realized people did not come to the room by mistake, or leave because they were bored. I have no idea if it was the fact that I am a young teacher, or because so many others are also struggling with resistance. The feedback I got back made me realize that while the university has a solid understanding of treaty education, not all their students do. My focus was on community resistance, but I also included personal resistance and I think that resonated with more students as many of them did not get taught treaty education during their schooling experience. By teachers choosing to not teach treaty education, it adds to the generations on confusion and secrecy surrounding the treaties and treatment of Indigenous people.
The discussions I had with many educators and students allowed me to find some comfort in knowing that there is a pedagogical change occurring. Teachers want to aid in the reconciliation of the country/province but they need to have access to support from administration, provincial/federal governments, as well as colleagues.
Charlene Bearhead stated that the rest of Canada looks to Saskatchewan and Manitoba for leadership with Treaty education; this is a responsibility we need to take seriously. It is well known that a single teacher can change a child’s life, that a single teacher can make a difference. Responding to the TRC calls to action, encouraging others to respond, and fighting for equality/equity and fairness is one of the many responsibilities of the teaching profession.
At the end of the day, we were asked to reflect on how we were going to contribute to reconciliation. The truth is I do not have an answer, there are hundreds of things that need to be done, things that I can do, and things that I cannot do. But to achieve the difficult, I have to start with something manageable. I have to pay attention to how I react to the treatment of Treaty 4 land. I have to learn to be uncomfortable in my teachings, to challenge my beliefs, and to allow my future students to experience their learning journey at their own pace, with guidance, not force. I hope that the thousands of educators in Saskatchewan join me in this journey.