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All Children and Youth Thrive!

Building Indigenous Literacy Through Credible Resources

By Wendy Einwechter, Our Kids Network Indigenous Reconciliation initiative summer student


Introduction by Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous lead

Our curated website section, Increase Your Indigenous Literacy, can be a first step on your journey to learn the Truth, making Reconciliation actions more meaningful. OKN staff are committed to ensuring that the information provided for Halton professionals is relevant and beneficial, from documentary videos on political relationships such as Dancing Around the Table Part 1 and Part 2 to suggestions on how you can write your own evocative Territorial Acknowledgement, and much more.

In her blog about researching content for the website, OKN Indigenous Reconciliation Initiative summer student, Wendy Einwechter, writes about the plethora of misinformation about Indigenous culture, history and traditions found on the internet and how the facts often must be uncovered and verified. She shares useful approaches and tips to ensure credibility and integrity when searching content online.

Buried Treasure-The Challenges of Online Research

As the OKN Indigenous Reconciliation initiative summer student, one of my responsibilities was to search online for credible, verifiable Indigenous resources for the OKN website Indigenous Literacy section. While doing my research, I was reminded of the “Telephone Game” that we all played as children, where as a phrase is whispered from person to person it becomes more and more distorted to the point of being completely different when it reaches the last person.  I wasn’t surprised at discovering biased and opinionated information and misinformation in my research, but what did surprise me was just how much there is on the topics of Indigenous culture, history and education. I could see that finding reliable sources would be challenging, so I approached this work with a critical and Indigenous viewpoint.

Mining for Integrity

I worked closely with Angela Bellegarde, OKN’s Indigenous lead to develop criteria and an approach to ensure that any new content would meet the standards of the OKN Indigenous literacy website section.  When I found information that I thought was relevant, I would spend time digging deeper into that resource. This sometimes  was very time-consuming depending on the media source or social channels such as You Tube or Instagram.  After viewing the resource, I would then research the person or organization for verification.

When researching a person or organization, I looked for credentials and proof of their expertise on the topic. I would also look for other published work or contributions that they may have made elsewhere. Often, I would mine their own resources to understand how and where they arrived at their conclusions. I also considered whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous and their specific ties to the Indigenous community.

Personal, Professional, Unconscious Biases can Throw Research off the Path

I was mindful of being overly critical and of my own personal and professional, or even unconscious, biases that could inhibit decisions on which content to accept or reject. Achieving a discerning balance considering source, verification, and credentials was the key to finding the “treasure” often buried in unlikely content.

This work spanned June to the end of August and the results are now being reviewed and edited. The content will be added to the OKN website in late fall. While the website is a resource for all Halton professionals who work with children, youth and families, these new resources may most greatly benefit non-Indigenous people who are looking for information that may help them on their journey to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

OKN Indigenous Literacy Resources

Through Laughter and Leadership, Indigenous Women Guide Us All Forward

By Bonnie Leask, Relationship Lead, Watershed Partners, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Reposted with permission from eaglefeathernews.com. “The March 2021 edition of Eagle Feather News was dedicated to Indigenous women. We asked several Indigenous women to write about Indigenous women. This is one of those stories.” John Lagimodiere, Editor/Publisher, Eagle Feather News

What a year it’s been. After 12 months of surviving a pandemic, just like many others I am trying to stay afloat and find a way to the other side of this hardship.

Personally, I manage difficulty through laughter. I love to have big belly laughs with my people. Laughter isn’t only a release, it creates a space for vulnerability, friendship, and kinship. Sharing laughter means that we share our experiences and provides a real opportunity to open up, learn, collaborate, and act. I am grateful to have had many incredible laughs with inspirational women from all around the world, but there’s nothing like a good laugh with First Nation, Métis, and Inuit women. Our laughter is threaded with shared and individual histories, culture, tradition, and colonial experiences. Sometimes we laugh at serious things that we shouldn’t laugh at. But what else are we going to do?

Our laughter is a seed for our kinship and brings us together during moments of joy and sadness. It gives us strength to work together to make better lives and set examples for our families, our communities, and our people.

Throughout the pandemic, I have thought about the things my grandmother, Alpha Lafond, and her generation faced. She was a residential school survivor, entered adulthood post-World War II, lived through a global call for civil rights and justice, and saw the rise of Indigenous pride in the face of colonial violence.

She faced history while bringing joy into our home and into our lives. In these times of change, women just like my grandmother played an undeniable role in collectively guiding our communities forward. And they often did so outside of formal institutions or leadership roles.

Bonnie Leask Alpha Lafond

Alphonsine Lafond, elected Chief of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in 1960, is a role model for her granddaughter Bonnie Leask. Here she is with four of her children on election day from left, Al, George, Robert and Carol. Missing are Judy and Albert Dean.

Indigenous women have always led change. Despite their exclusion from formal institutions and leadership roles after colonization, Indigenous women led in their own ways, charging ahead with humility, respect, kindness, courage, wisdom, honesty—and yes, humour. And it’s because of these values that Indigenous women were, and continue to be, the best collaborators and leaders I have ever met.

I want to share some stories of true collaborative leaders who make change for our people without being elected into political positions. Women such as Priscilla Settee, who educates countless young people through her work in food security and governance at the university level, influenced by kinship and our cultures and traditions. She collaborates every day with people in service of building a better earth, a better Nation, and a better community. And she has a really good kokum laugh, too.

I think of Tasha Hubbard, an award-winning filmmaker, who educates people on the long-term impacts of continued colonialism. She’s relentless in her push for justice, inclusion, and honesty. She grounds her films in a holistic truth and mobilizes action by kickstarting uncomfortable conversations that engage both non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples. Of course, she showcases some solid First Nations humour along the way.

There are so many other Indigenous women I admire, such as the late Carole Sanderson, Sylvia McAdam, Bev Lafond, Jade Tootoosis, Debbie Baptiste, Eekwol, to name a few. I admire them because of their ability to shake up the status quo and hold up a mirror of responsibility to ourselves, our Nations, and our Earth. These women lead through their values rooted in our cultures, languages, and traditions, and deeply understand that when we work together, we are stronger.

Yet so often people in our communities subscribe to a false idea that one needs to be an elected leader to be a legitimate leader. Or a serious, solemn leader. Each of these women, and many others, have meaningfully pursued change not only for themselves, but for those to come, across sectors and spaces without a formal title. Indigenous women talk. We listen. We observe. We learn. And we communicate what works and what definitely doesn’t work. We rely on each other. We share laughter while we share wisdom.

The large-scale challenges the entire world is experiencing right now are testing colonial systems that have long governed our people, community, and institutions. And guess what? Under these pressures, many of these systems are failing. This isn’t surprising, because they’ve always been at odds with our traditions, our culture, and our language.

They aren’t designed to support joy, laughter, or kinship. Instead, they enforce rigid processes and present barriers to shared progress. Being thrust into uncertainty is difficult and sometimes scary, but it also provides an opportunity for us to make real change.

And now more than ever, we need better systems. We need Indigenous women’s vocal, vulnerable, and values-driven style of leadership to get us there. And along the way, we’ll have some seriously good laughs, too—the kind of laughter that feeds the soul and makes your belly ache.

A Reflection on My Journey for Truth

By Sandy Palinski, Director, Children’s Services, Social & Community Services, Halton Region

I was 40 years-old when I first learned about Residential Schools. I remember the moment clearly. I was reading a draft learning document intended to support staff with an understanding of Indigenous people in Canada. I remember feeling disbelief and not understanding. The next day I approached the author of the document and asked if these events had really happened. Yes, I did that…it just didn’t seem possible to me.  The author assured me that the events had occurred and offered me the contact name of an Indigenous staff member who could verify the accuracy and give me another perspective on the document. I called. The events were verified and the accuracy of the document was confirmed. I just sat there at my desk – shocked, appalled, and confused.

I later attended an all-day learning program led by a local Indigenous woman who shared our horrific history in Canada. I learned more about the Sixties Scoop, the assimilation and abuse of Indigenous children in Residential Schools across Canada, and the inhuman treatment of people in Indian hospitals. I’m not even sure then if the gravity of our tragic history had sunk in for me.

It was later when I read a report outlining an Indigenous youth’s path to crime, drugs, and violence; and the story of grandparents and parents who couldn’t love, and who lived their own lives of drugs and abuse to get away from their memories of Residential Schools, that I really started to reflect on the impact of our history. That report, a personal account of a youth’s life, showed me how the various forms of abuse and neglect at Residential Schools have impacted Indigenous people, their children and grandchildren. It left me with a feeling of intense sadness, grief, and responsibility.

Throughout my career as I have worked with different Indigenous communities, I’ve learned much, and I keep learning. I had the privilege of supporting the designation of three Indigenous communities to set up children’s aid societies, and it was a powerful and moving experience to see them take back authority to care for their children.  As I write this, I know it is contentious work, but it is important to restore child welfare authority to Indigenous peoples. As part of that work, I remember working with one community who asked a colleague and me to meet with their Band Council. We were discussing their model of service and looking for them to make changes.  A member of the Band Council clearly reminded me that if we forced this community to change their model, we were repeating the ways of colonization. That comment took the wind out of me. I had to catch my breath. I remember sitting by the lake reflecting on my actions and our interactions. I came back to the table and re-engaged with them in a new relationship, respecting them as a nation with the ability to make their own decisions aligned with their culture and beliefs. Their model of service remained unchanged. Instead, I changed the way we did business.

Picture of rocky lake shoreline
Photo credit: Angela Bellegarde

I have had the privilege of working with various Indigenous people who have shared with me teachings of their cultures, have shown me generosity, kindness, and love. I have learned from Elders who have taught me about the Seven Grandfather Teachings and the four Traditional Medicines. I marvel at their generosity in sharing their teachings with me, given our history. I have so much appreciation for the calm wisdom Elders bring and place these learning opportunities as my highest learning experiences. I have tried to bring these teachings into my own life.

As I reflect on the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School, I am saddened by the loss and send my deepest sympathy to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation. I am further saddened by the thought of more children across our nation who need to be found and mourned.  I am reminded of the importance of continuing my learning and supporting others to learn; of my responsibility to do things differently; and of being an ally. National Indigenous History Month provides us with an opportunity to honour the history, heritage, and diversity of Indigenous people in Canada, but our responsibilities to learn the Truth and engage in meaningful Reconciliation are ongoing.  We all have a role.