In a keynote address Sunday that brought tears to the eyes of many at the BC Teachers’ Federation Annual General Meeting, Mi’kmaq lawyer and comedian Candy Palmater described the powerful and enduring legacy of teachers who encouraged her to overcome significant obstacles in her life.
“They could have seen me as the kid of an illiterate drunk father, a kid whose brother was in jail, but they didn’t. They saw a spark in me and fanned it,” Palmater said.
Her father, who overcame his alcoholism, her mother, and her siblings all raised Palmater in an atmosphere of unconditional love and support. That, combined with the influence of some inspired and dedicated teachers, enabled her to become a champion athlete, graduate as class valedictorian from Dalhousie Law School, and go on to create her own television show, now in its fourth season on national prime time.
Palmater assured the 700 teachers present that their influence on students endures. “Long after you are dust, they will be doing things that have your mark on it,” she said. “It is possible for one person, when that person believes in inclusion and the force of positive reinforcement, to change the world for kids.”
Later Sunday afternoon delegates unanimously passed a motion that the BCTF should support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and call on the federal government to act upon its recommendations. These include:
- Acknowledging the need for comprehensive education on the legacy of residential schools;
- Providing ongoing support for survivors;
- Exploring the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians; and
- Involving governments, educational institutions and churches in creating commemoration projects to honour the survivors, as well as the children who died in residential schools.
BCTF President Susan Lambert said she is proud of the initiatives brought forward by BC teachers to support Aboriginal teachers and learners, and to begin to heal the historical legacy of colonialism.
“As teachers we see the impact of racism in our schools and communities every day,” Lambert said. “The legacy of the residential school experience continues to play out in our classrooms and hurts the life chances of Aboriginal children even today. As a society it’s our responsibility to acknowledge this history and remedy the legacy.”
The BCTF AGM continues throughout Monday, with resolutions on the health and welfare of teachers and students on the agenda as well as elections for table officers in the evening.