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Truth and Reconciliation Day: Important Reminders for Educators

8 reminders to help you talk with your students about Truth and Reconciliation in a culturally safe way.

Written by the Moms Against Racism Education Advocacy Team, with the guidance of Indigenous educators and knowledge keepers.

Hello Educators!

It’s September and the back-to-school rush is in full swing. Educators are frantically trying to figure out who their new students are and what gifts and challenges the new school year might bring.

Getting to know our students and families is one of the main things that happens in the first month of school. With National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th*, educators have a great opportunity, and responsibility, of teaching the truth in ways that are sensitive and responsive to the learners in front of them.

Here are some important reminders to help you do this in a culturally safe way:

  1. Get to know your class. Find out who your students and families are, in particular if any of them are Indigenous. The approach that you are going to take may differ depending on the students in your classroom. A more thoughtful and sensitive approach needs to be taken when you are sharing information about Truth and Reconciliation when Indigenous students are present.

  2. Build a relationship with the Indigenous Education Department at your school or in your district. These people are connected to Indigenous community, families and Elders. They are the knowledge keepers and play critical roles in the community. These people will be able to connect you with resources that will be culturally and age appropriate.

  3. Build relationships with Indigenous community members. It takes time to build these important relationships. If you have not yet taken the time to build relationships with community members, September is not the time to ask them for their labor or support. A way of demonstrating your commitment to building authentic relationships is by doing things like attending community events. Be authentic, and humble. Show up when invited to an event. This will start to build trust and relationship. If there are events going on in September led by the Indigenous communities in your area, attend these and share event info with your school community when permitted.

  4. Start by sharing stories of Indigenous strength both historical and present-day. Usually educators have some stories, read-alouds, or short videos they use for Language Arts or Social Studies in September. Why not start the year with some beautiful stories like A Day with Yayah by Nicola I. Campbell (Primary), Go Show the World by Wab Kinew (Intermediate), or This Place: 150 Years Retold an anthology with many authors (also a podcast) (Middle School/High School). It is important to share these kinds of stories that show strength, love, success, and humanity all throughout the year and not get stuck in the trauma narrative.

  5. Teach the truth in trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate, and culturally responsive ways. For example, if there are students in your class that have intergenerational connections to residential schools, let them know you will be talking about the topic before you do, and give them the choice to step out of this lesson to take care of themselves. Some of this information can be really triggering and we need to ensure that as educators we are holding space for feelings and emotions that arise. This may mean arranging a safe alternative space for students to go with a caring adult. Communicate with school counselors so they can be ready to support students.

  6. Critically examine the words truth and reconciliation. Many Indigenous people believe that Canada is not yet ready to engage in reconciliation. Truth needs to come before reconciliation. As educators we need to be very conscious about the way we move forward so that our lessons are not glossing over or minimizing the truth. We must also be mindful that we are sharing the truth in age-appropriate ways. What is the truth about reconciling a relationship? Ask yourself and your students, what would real reconciliation look like? Is there something the school community could do that goes beyond the performative, that would be a meaningful step towards reconciliation? This conversation needs to include decolonization. If you do not know what decolonization means, start by educating yourself.

  7. Bring it back to the TRC Calls to Action. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action #80, which called for a federal statutory day of commemoration. There is a youth-friendly version of the TRC Calls to Action published by the First Nations Caring Society, Spirit Bear’s Guide to the TRC Call’s to Action is found free online.

  8. Show solidarity by wearing your orange shirt. Check in with your staff and students to ensure they have orange shirts leading up to September 30th. Talk with your students about the significance of this shirt through teaching Phyllis Webstad’s story. Make sure your family, friends, students and colleagues know the importance of obtaining an orange shirt from a source that gives its profits to agencies that provide support to residential school survivors and their families. If they do not have an orange shirt, encourage them to show solidarity in other ways - Example: displaying Every Child Matters posters, attending community events, donating to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society

Teaching about truth and reconciliation as an educator requires us to be extra thoughtful and sensitive in our lessons. We need to be prepared and we need to take care of our students, our school community, and ourselves.

How you handle the lead up to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will send a message to your students and families about the importance of these issues and how we can ensure more equity and justice for all students going forward. We encourage you to take action. This may mean revising your lessons from last year, creating something new, or building upon what you already have. Starting small is better than not starting at all.

In solidarity,

MAR Education Advocacy Team

* September 30th will mark the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — an annual commemoration honouring the children who died while attending residential schools and the survivors, families and communities still affected by the legacy of the residential school system. The creation of the new federal statutory holiday was approved by Parliament on June 3, 2021, days after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed the discovery of roughly 200 potential burial sites, likely of children, on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Both the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day take place on September 30.

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