I didn’t learn about the real history of Indigenous Peoples until taking an Indigenous Studies course at university – last year. The truth about Indigenous history, culture, and government oppression and control was certainly not taught when I was in elementary and high school. I first heard about Indian Residential Schools in 2008 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a cold and insincere apology to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and proudly claimed that there was no history of colonialism in Canada. Even so,11 years went by before I decided to be intentional about exploring my culture and learned exactly what has been happening to Indigenous People – my people – for centuries.
Growing Up “White” and Trying to Fit In
My mother is Anishnaabe, originally from Matachewan First Nation, Ontario. My father is British from Manchester, England, and immigrated to Canada at the age of 23. We lived in Toronto where my sisters and I grew up “white”; trying to fit into a predominantly white neighbourhood in the suburbs. My mother never talked to us about being Indian. We didn’t hear stories about our culture, traditional teachings, or all the contributions that Indigenous people make to society, the economy, the arts, business, and more. I saw that my mother felt embarrassed about her people and where she was born, so as a child, I became embarrassed to be Indian too. I denied my Indigenous heritage when asked because I had unintentionally learned that it was not something to be proud of. The only exposure I had to our culture was when we would visit my grandmother for the summer. We would eat bannock, have fish fries, and I would listen to my mother and grandmother laughing and speaking in their Ojibway language.
I have struggled with my Indigenous identity for as long as I can remember. I queried my mother throughout the years about her childhood and what life was like for her when she was growing up. She would talk about some things, but there was also much she wasn’t willing or able to share. As a result of my mother’s struggle with her own Indigenous identity, I did not have a close relationship with my uncles or aunties; but that is all changing now.
Beginning the Journey by Finding Roots
When I began Indigenous Studies courses at university in 2019, I decided that I was going to reclaim my Indigeneity. I decided to learn everything possible about our history, no matter how difficult or painful. I intend to learn about medicinal and traditional teachings; how to live the good life from the Indigenous perspective; and to learn my traditional language. I know now that these things are definitely worth being proud of and are intrinsic to who I am.
Photo credit: Angela Bellegarde
While working at Our Kids Network as the Indigenous Reconciliation Initiative summer student, I had the pleasure of participating in a virtual webinar, part of National Indigenous History month activities. The webinar touched on various topics such as the Canadian Indian Act, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Terra Nullius and Indian Residential Schools.
Participating in the webinar reinforced for me what I need to do to explore and understand my culture. I have already begun my journey by reconnecting with my mother’s family to learn more about our family history. It is a journey that I am starting later in my life, but I am determined to reclaim and embrace what has been taken from my family for generations: our pride, culture, traditions, language and more.
By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre
As a child, I frequently watched the children’s television show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Of course, I never met Mr. Rogers, but like many children I felt that I knew him and that, somehow, he knew me. Now, as an adult, I remember his stories and advice and have a deeper appreciation for the lessons he taught. “Be kind, smile, be a helper, and look for the good in yourself and others,” he told us. These are simple and meaningful messages that stand the test of time.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.”
Our shared experiences over the past year with our families, neighbours, communities, and indeed the world, have united us. This is one of the unexpected benefits that the pandemic has offered us for the taking. In this time of continued uncertainty, stress, and change, I suggest that there is no better way to respond than with Fred Rogers’ lessons of empathy, connection, and the opportunity to help others. I believe that this is the real work of humanity and that it preserves and heals the soul.
Family Day 2021: Hello Neighbour!
As we look to Family Day 2021, we can take some of these lessons to heart and act on them. We can find inspiration and inner-strength in Mr. Rogers’ example, and extend our family to include our neighbours, friends and even strangers along our path.
While we continue to maintain physical distance for everyone’s health, each of us still has the opportunity to make a difference for others. As we continue to spend most of our time with family in our own homes, let’s think about how we can become helpers and better neighbours.
Family Day 2021 Challenge!
In previous blogs, I’ve sent out a challenge to readers and here’s one for 2021! On Family Day, this Monday, February 15 (and every day), be a helper! Try some of the suggestions below and see how the people you come in contact with (either within 6 feet or virtually, of course) feel cared for and connected. I hope you’ll find these ideas useful and share them with your families as well as the ones you support in your work.
Make cards to share. With your family members, create cards. Encourage your children to join in with their own pictures and messages. Deliver the notes to your neighbours; perhaps a local senior’s residence or hospital. Hand them out to strangers you see on your travels. Imagine the lasting impact of this simple gesture.
Share in a project. Many groups are already rallying friends and neighbours to share in common projects and activities. Capture your outdoor adventures on video or in photos, create a community time capsule, or build birdhouses to keep our feathered friends sheltered from the cold February days. Connect on a virtual platform like Zoom to share your ideas and progress.
Take a walk and SMILE at everyone you see. Smiles are contagious and make everyone feel better.
“Be a helper” coupons. Handing out coupons for helping with everyday tasks like shoveling driveways, preparing a meal, or reading a story together will surely lift spirits – the coupon recipients and yours. Be creative.
Commit to regular check-in calls with those who may be alone and lonely.
Plan a virtual games night with family, friends and neighbours. There are lots of apps and ideas online for virtual all-ages fun.
Welcome to the neighbourhood! Come on in!
One of our collective tasks in raising the next generation is to create an understanding of what it feels like to have empathy, compassion, and to care for those around us – in good times and in bad. Let’s make an effort to share generously the good in ourselves and our families, and see the good in others.
By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
What do Orange Shirt Day and shiny new shoes have in common?
For many of us, pandemic or not, the beginning of a new school year is marked with the ritual of purchasing new clothes. Phyllis Webstad is the founder of Orange Shirt Day. Her grandmother bought her a new orange shirt to wear on her first day of Indian residential school. For my aunt, the excitement of wearing shiny new shoes to school was only eclipsed by finally being in school with her big brothers and sister. The thrill of starting school in new clothes didn’t last long. The children had their new clothes taken away as soon as they arrived for their very first day of school.
I often identify myself as a fourth generation Residential School Survivor.
A stretch in some people’s eyes, given I didn’t actually attend residential school. In a recent conversation with one of my aunts, I was reminded that my Mooshum, my great grandfather, was identified as the twelfth person to be enrolled at Lebret Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. My grandparents and my father attended that same school, and I have had the privilege to learn first-hand about residential school from two generations before me. Our family has a long history with the Residential School System and I am still coming to terms with the long-term effects of this as I parent my own children. I guess this is why the impact of the residential school experience is called “intergenerational trauma”. It doesn’t skip a generation.
If you think about it we all tend to parent in the way we were parented. I grew up in a fairly rigid household. My father wasn’t parented by his parents for most of his life. He was raised in a system that denied him his identity and culture. I was raised with similar rigidity and values. Rules had to be followed or punishment ensued. Being on time meant being at least ten minutes early. My sister and I had many rules about how we could dress and how long our hair could be. We had to play sports – team sports preferred – and there was no getting out of it. While other kids were enjoying Easter break, my sister and I were at softball camp getting ready for the season, but only after we had attended all the religious ceremonies associated with Easter. As a parent, I now look back on my childhood and can understand why following rules was so important to my father.
But I didn’t always get it. I think about the way my father always walked with his toes up in the air. It looked odd. He told me it was because the floors were cold at residential school and you had to walk with as little of your foot on the ground as possible. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe his stories.
Stop and think about the children in your life for a minute.
Can you imagine the government taking them away from you, often with the threat of incarceration if you did not let them go to a school that might be days away? My auntie was so excited to be with her siblings. When pressed to discuss though, she explained that she was able to see her big sister in the halls once in a while, and sometimes her brothers on Sundays after mass, if there was a sporting event. She shared a dormitory with many other little girls away from their parents for the first time. She told me with a sad smile, “Reality set in that first night, but that was the way it was. You didn’t question it.”
So maybe you too can see why I didn’t get it. I We simply cannot imagine our children not being able to share in the rituals of bedtime stories and cuddles, or not having their siblings at their side to comfort them. The Residential School System was an implement of the Canadian government which was determined to methodically “take the Indian out of the child”. This seems unbelievable to us today. We cannot imagine not having the right to question government policy and the elected officials who represent us in Ottawa.
And in some ways the system worked. My father’s and my family do not speak our mother-tongue language, Cree. The same is true with spiritual practices, but we are revitalizing this aspect of our lives as best we can.
I am sharing with you the TRUTH in Truth and Reconciliation. Perhaps you are thinking the same thing I did when I listened to my father’s residential school stories. Everyone has a ”I had to walk to school and back in 40 degree below weather uphill both ways” story. I began to understand the scope of the atrocities of Canada’s Residential School System right around the time I took my first Indigenous Studies course in university. I was in my twenties before I really began to comprehend my own family’s long history with Canada’s education system. I apologized to my father. I knew then that his stories were true and I regret that I only came to this realization after learning about the traumatic impact of residential schools in a Euro-centric institution of higher learning.
I have come to realize that my family primarily shares fond memories of their time at Lebret Indian Residential School.
They are reluctant to speak about the difficult times. My aunts and uncles talk about how they learned to play musical instruments, the championships won in hockey and basketball, and that they were able to wear their own clothes on Sundays. It is astounding to me that all of my dad’s siblings went on to post-secondary education. Indeed, many of the graduates of Lebret Indian Residential School went on to varied and interesting careers such as NHL scouts and actors in some of Hollywood’s biggest films.
Upon reflection of my family’s experiences, I realize that in order to survive at residential school, and to cope with the awful memories, it helps to look on the bright side of things. The positive stories I hear mask their unfathomable painful experiences. Going too much beyond fond memories takes gentle and careful prodding. Laughter is used to nudge those difficult memories to the surface.
Playing team sports was required, but it also meant it might be the only time you could interact with a sibling. Being on a team meant you belonged and had support of team mates in the classroom and dormitories. If you learned that your little brother was being bullied, you took care of it on the ice or the field. Being part of the choir meant you might be able to leave the school premises to sing at a neighbouring church. If you were deemed intelligent enough, the priest could arrange for you to further your education. It is clear from these stories that Indigenous people did not have control over their own lives. Some would argue, we still don’t.
Without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.
All Canadians bear the burden of the truth of the harm and trauma caused by Canada’s Residential School System. If you don’t think it affects you because you are not Indigenous, I encourage you to continue learning about Truth and Reconciliation. There are excellent, free courses available such as the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada program.
We are all interconnected in some way. Reconciliation is important for all Canadians and without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.
On Sept 30, wear an orange shirt. This is a day to be a good ally, remember those who were taken by the Residential School System and commit to learning more about the truth. Help carry the burden and build a better future for Canada.
By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre
In the middle of March, as I was closing my office up for what I thought would be a couple of weeks, I saved this picture as my screensaver.
Little did I know at the time, that six months later, we would still be living in this seemingly alternate universe. It feels like a lifetime ago. The picture of this little girl and her chick is still on my computer and each day when I look at it, I am reminded of what is really important during this time of stress and uncertainty.
As children, families, and teachers contemplate the return to school and academic learning, I have been listening closely to parents about what they both feel – and fear. For many, finding nuggets of hope and optimism strengthens their resiliency and ability to carry on. For others, the worry and fear overwhelms them and the reptilian brain takes control creating a propensity for instinctive fight, flight, or freeze responses. Fear and anxiety want comfort and certainty, and we know when it comes to COVID-19 there is no certainty. We can, however, find comfort and support in each other, maintain our sense of optimism, take hold of what we can control, and attempt to let go of what does not aid us.
So how do we take back our sense of control? How do we find our courage, our creativity, and soft hearts in order to protect and guide our children?
First and foremost, we cannot project adult fears and mindsets that negatively influence our children’s view of the world and their healthy growth and development. We must avoid righteous indignation and judgment and find a way to work together with compassion, tolerance, and a collaborative spirit. Our children need us to do this. And they need to watch us do this.
I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Hiam Ginott, teacher, child psychologist, psychotherapist, author, and parent educator.
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
Every day parents and teachers have the opportunity to get up, take a few breaths, find gratitude, and make a conscious choice to create a healthy and nurturing environment for the children in their lives; to create a warm, sunny day out of the rain and cold.
I believe that this school year will not be about academics. I believe that it will be about the chance to strengthen our resiliency and relationships, and build deep, nurturing interdependence. Now more than ever, we understand how interconnected and reliant we are on each other – in our families, in our communities, and on a global level.
Finally, as I look for the silver lining in all this, I hope it will be the opportunity for parents and professionals to realign their relationships with children in the way nature intended. To restore the adult’s rightful place – in charge and with the responsibility and wisdom to lead our children through this pandemic. Now is the time to show them that they can depend on us and trust us to do what is best for them.
Collectively we can do this. When this pandemic has ended, what will stand out most in our memories is how we treated each other.
By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
On Sunday, many of us will be celebrating Father’s Day. Some of you will be enjoying a beautiful day reading a great book, by an Indigenous author, of course (#Indigenousreads). For Indigenous people in Canada, June 21 is a very special day: National Indigenous Peoples Day.
National Indigenous Peoples Day has been a long time coming and is now a day devoted to celebrating the unique and distinct culture and heritage of Indigenous people all across Canada. June 21 is also the Summer Solstice and, as such, is a traditional day of spiritual ceremony and celebration for Indigenous peoples.
This year coming together to celebrate will look very different for us. Rather than feeling the beat of the pow wow drum deep in my heart, I will have to celebrate with virtual and televised events. For me, it will also be a day of reflection on how far National Indigenous Peoples Day has come as a significant day of observance and celebration in Canadian culture.
I look back fondly to the late 1990s, when my sister and her husband were living in a very non-Indigenous suburb of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan! This particular neighbourhood was newly developed and had expensive homes backing onto a large lake with walking trails. It was the central gathering spot for the community.
My brother-in-law decided that June 21 would be a great day to introduce his family to the neighbours. He arranged to have a tipi erected by the lake and ensured there was bannock and jam for us to share. He welcomed their non-Indigenous neighbours, and we relaxed and talked together all evening. It was wonderful! Everyone was so inquisitive and grateful for the opportunity to enter an actual tipi, and the questions were respectful and genuine.
I never let this special day go by without a celebration (even a quiet one) of some kind. This year, in addition to all the events happening on the internet, I intend to take a walk (physically distancing of course), on the Moccasin Trail in the Town of Oakville and give thanks for being Indigenous.
By Melissa Graves, Health Promoter, Halton Region; Our Kids Network Early Years Mental Health Committee Member
Along with all the fun of trading Valentine cards, paper hearts, and enjoying treats, Valentine’s Day is also a great opportunity to think about and celebrate what we love, appreciate, and value in the important relationships in our lives. It can also bring to mind how those relationships develop.
It All Starts in the Early Years
Developing skills for healthy and strong relationships begins in the early years, by laying the foundation for expressing a range of emotions and healthy social-emotional development.
The foundations of social competence that develop in the first six years of life are linked to emotional well-being and affect a child’s ability to form successful relationships throughout life. As a child develops into adulthood, these same social skills are essential for lasting friendships; healthy intimate relationships; effective parenting; the ability to have successful relationships in the workplace; and to contribute to the well being of the community. (Centre on the Developing Child Harvard University, 2004)
Early Experiences are Important to Mental Health
Research has also shown that early experiences shape the developing brain and underpin an individual’s mental health and well-being. The social-emotional skills developed in the first six years of a child’s life are linked to their later success in school, work and ability to form healthy relationships.
Watch this video by the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University about serve-and-return interactions. It illustrates how to use this strategy to strengthen positive interactions between caregivers and children, and shows how caregivers can use everyday moments to build relationships that also foster social competence.