By: Marcel Robitaille
I recognize and accept my position as a person of Indigenous and European descent. As a youth, I was taken from my Indigenous family through the Crown Ward foster care system and placed within an Anglo-European family. As such, I recognize that the lens through which I’ve been accustomed to perceiving research, culture and society has habitually been through a Western perspective. I have striven to learn more about my roots, culture, Indigeneity and what it means to be a displaced person within Canada’s systemic institutionalized racial policies. That said, I’m a treaty 2 Anishinaabe and a proud Caldwell of Southwestern Ontario.
Honouring reconciliation is an act of community, support and uplifting from all peoples across Canada. Honouring reconciliation represents truths, it’s the wounds of history suffered by Indigenous peoples and a further guide on how to create a balm to heal and nourish a people. It is a commitment to acknowledging the truths of a people and it’s a commitment to repairing a bridge of friendship that has been systematically neglected. Between 2008 and 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) created a series of calls to action for government agencies, institutions, and communities to follow, in order to begin that healing process. It began with honouring survivors of the residential school system, the last of which closed in 1996. That commission grew to represent 94 separate calls to action. Many of these calls to action have been emplaced within cultural institutions, like museums, over the succeeding years. The TRC gave a voice to lost generations, it's our duty as Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals, to make sure that the voices of the generations yet to be born are heard, acknowledged and supported.
Two Row Wampum Covenant-Chain. Source.
A fundamental aspect of the Two Row Wampum Covenant-Chain is that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people operate as equals, fording the river of the human experience on separate vessels. Each perspective is valued, and those operating the vessels on either side of the river are able to offer a distinct worldview – neither are assimilated into the other. Etuaptmumk – a Mi’kmaw word for two-eyed seeing. It is, as Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall says, “learning to see from one eye with the best in the Indigenous ways of knowing and from the other eye with the best in the mainstream ways of knowing, and most importantly, learning to see with both eyes closed”. It is within the Western disciplinary framework that all things are knowable, especially when it comes to science and nature. In contrast, Indigenous knowledge is positional – knowledge and the natural world are tied to place, the body and spirit. Knowledge and learning become one and the same, knowledge is relational to place and people, knowledge is moral and ethical, and knowledge is ways of knowing passed from one generation to the next as a distinct equity. Two-eyed seeing, on the other hand, creates structures in which western knowledge can create the infrastructure through which Indigenous knowledge can interact with the community and becomes an interdisciplinary action that creates collaboration.
In order for institutions to create educational spaces for honouring reconciliation within the public sphere, education must represent Indigenous historical and contemporary contributions to Canada – whether it is through science, culture, technology, medicine or other avenues. It must approach on par with western knowledge, one is not more important or relevant than the other. Ways of knowing encompass family learning – an area of knowledge that has been sadly subverted over the centuries. When approaching family learning within the museum, heavy focus should be given to the role that the mother plays within the hierarchy of the family structure. Traditionally, western society has subverted the power that women held within matriarchal societies of Indigenous nations – placing women at the bottom of the social power structure rather than their traditional space as the heads of families. Although providing opportunities for all should be important, special attention should be given to Indigenous women in educational opportunities within the space – they are traditionally the caregivers and educators of the people. The Indian Act, residential schools and colonial policies were direct malicious attempts at subverting the family structure and stripping rights away from women and their roles. However, the mother’s partner and community have a direct role to play as well.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Bentwood Box, carved by Contemporary Coast Salish Artist Luke Marston. Source.
Parenting is a shared act between both parents, the community, Elders and kinships. The child is always under a watchful eye, as the family is an important element of Indigenous life to make sure the child always feels as though they belong to someone and a community. This itself is an important aspect of early childhood, one that family spaces in institutions can build off of – being is belonging, it’s a fundamental human need to be wanted, to belong to someone or a community. Family can represent kinships, people sharing the same household, they could be distant cousins. Family does not always mean a shared ancestor – family is a mindset of shared familial support. Indigenous children can always find support within family relationships, even if the mother or father’s attention is drawn elsewhere. Further, many Indigenous cultures observe childhood learning and support it through non-verbal learning styles rather than directly intervening – children are free to explore their environment as they wish. Organizations must work closely with parents, Elders and communities to provide an educational model that is culturally safe and equitable. Cree scholar and educator, Michael Hart, states that “it can be said that Indigenous knowledge is holistic, personal, social and highly dependent upon the local ecosystem.” He further adds: “it is also generational, incorporates the spiritual and physical, and heavily reliant on Elders to guide its development and transmission”.
Within play-based learning, knowledge must connect to history, land, language, and ancestral knowledge. Within some Indigenous families, many represent lower socio-economic households due to generational policies that have created more at-risk segments of the population– as such play is often focused on providing survival skills rather than leisure. Institutions need to be able to provide opportunities for families to play together. Further, family play needs to be supported, opportunities need to be given to parents to interact with their children in ways that build their creativity, resourcefulness and agency. Belonging to the land, the community and family needs to be an integral part of the Institutions commitment to understanding Indigenous pedagogies of play. Likewise, the TRC mandates that resource allocation should be given to provide opportunities in which Indigenous knowledge can be showcased. Western Knowledge limits the time spent in nature, nature itself is an educator - the birds, trees, wind and mud are as much of an educator as anyone else. Play within nature and storytelling offer education through strong indigenous practices.
Good story work practices are an essential part of facilitating play through “silence, storytelling and teasing”. Regardless of background, children are able to recognize the lessons and morals shared within stories. There is inclusivity in story work that expands beyond the confines of culture – even then, Indigenous story work provides children of non-Indigenous backgrounds insight into Indigenous education methods. Honouring reconciliation within the institution is allowing elders and educators to provide access to good story work. This becomes a means to understanding the self, an important aspect of Indigenous holism. Stories are built on seven fundamentals, respect, responsibility, reciprocity, reverence, holism, interrelatedness and synergy.
Orange Shirt Day, 2019. Source.
Storytelling is an act of resistance against colonialism. They are stories provided to us by the ancestors, stories which were suppressed by Anglo-European powers. Stories are passed down by the people who had the courage to remember them, teach them and facilitate their dissemination. Stories are integral to understanding the self, the land and community, they operate outside the confines of time – they become the past, present and future. Learning not only explores our identity but it is a sacred act given with permission, involving generational roles.
Honouring Reconciliation is a collaborative process, one that involves direct action with elders and communities. It is not a river travelled alone, is not about overtaking the other or veering into another’s lane. It is not performed because you expect a return or a reward. Honouring Reconciliation is not an easy path but it is the right path, the just path.
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About the Author: Marcel Robitaille
Marcel is a second-year MMSt student. Before he became involved in the MMSt program, he attended Athabasca University and earned a Bachelor of Arts in History. Before he was a student at Athabasca, Marcel acquired a diploma in radio broadcasting from Fanshawe College. Marcel is keenly interested in how media and interactable technologies can create visitor-led educational experiences within museums. During his free time, he can be found hiking the trails in and around Toronto and aimlessly walking through the city.