By Peggy Janicki, teacher, Mission
Dr. Nicola Campbell eloquently shared, “It is a sacred responsibility to witness, recount, reflect and carry knowledge embodied within Indigenous stories because they are alive and the voices and knowledge of our ancestors are embodied within them.”1 My view of Indigenous stories is informed by Dr. Campbell’s arguments that stories are medicine. I believe stories can be powerful forms of living medicines, specifically living medicines with directions. Stories push us all toward ethical purposes like justice, by way of truth telling, and decolonization. Stories also come with responsibilities.
Justice has had a paradigm shift after the foundational Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc press release in May 2021. Since that first press release, there have been many, many press releases sharing research findings from ground-penetrating radar. For that reason, many institutions have recentred their focus on documents like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report, and local policy and procedures.
Disappointingly, a group of Indian Residential School denialists have now created an anonymous “research group” that appears to have no credible experts among them and focuses on Indian Residential School denialism. With the rise in denialism, I feel the erasure, specifically, the erasure of my and my families’ lived experiences. To say that it is hurtful and harmful is an understatement. Now, more than ever, it is important to keep bringing Indigenous stories into classrooms, libraries, meetings, dialogues, and staffrooms.
For this reason, I feel justice means to keep sharing the truth, specifically, that Indian Residential Schools were a key component of genocide in Canada.
Another task that stories give is to decolonize: decolonize our professional spaces; decolonize our curriculum; decolonize our biases. A broad definition of decolonization intertwines two ideas: a time before colonization; and how we were colonized and what that means for our past, present, and future.2 But a specific definition, as it relates to curriculum, is to reveal Indigenous resistances.3 I have found that this is sometimes difficult to do because some of these stories are held by family or community and not widely shared in mainstream texts. Although, social media, news media, and publishers have shown amazing promise with regards to sharing these new-to-mainstream stories.
It’s also important to answer the call of story responsibilities. Campbell “maintains that the continued retelling of stories of despair perpetuates negative stereotypes about Indigenous people.”4 Therefore, it is our responsibility to ensure students have opportunities to engage with stories that depict the beauty, strength, and sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples.
We also have a responsibility to ensure that the resources we share and use in our classrooms are engaged in reciprocity. Reciprocity considers the following: Does the project/idea/approach have a two-way process for learning and research exchange with Indigenous Peoples? Is it co-creating with Indigenous Peoples? Are Indigenous Peoples also benefiting? How does this project give back to Indigenous Peoples or communities once it is complete? These questions are important to consider when evaluating and reviewing stories and resources.
I heard the weight of responsibility in Uncle Steven’s words, when I watched him online after the confirmation of the unmarked graves in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, saying:5
“You and I have an obligation to become the ambassadors and the voice for these children,” and, “[t]he story [of Indian Residential Schools and the children buried there] has to be too loud. The story has to be told over and over again. There needs to be a Mount Rushmore of monuments built to memorialize these children. Because … it should never have happened to begin with.”
To tell this story, I wrote a book titled The Secret Pocket. It is the true story of my mother, Mary, who attended Lejac Indian Residential School. The story begins with joy, love, and community where the main character, at age four, is cuddled and feels loved. It centres strength-based storytelling and highlights the resistance and ingenuity employed by children at residential schools. For example, the book highlights how my mother, along with other girls, used their ingenuity to design a system to secure their food supply to survive at Lejac Indian Residential School.
To prevent erasure and denialism, I use the word “genocide” in my book. This is important because we are all called to continue telling the truth about Canada’s history. As Dr. Sean Carlton says, “In heeding the calls of the TRC and Indigenous writers such as [Arthur] Manuel and [Lee] Maracle, I believe that we all have much to gain from continuing to put truth before reconciliation and learning to work toward justice, decolonization, and our future liberation.”6 Therefore, I encourage you all to acknowledge the power of stories and to hold space for truth in your classrooms.
Much like ceremonies that end on a happiness round, it is important to state, we [Indigenous Peoples] are still here.
I often think of a dear Uncle that reminded us that our responsibility is “to have a good life.” An idea reinforced by Uncle Steven’s words, “that we are here today after the impacts of colonialism.”7 We are still here. We. Are. Still. Here.
1 N. I. Campbell, “Indigenous storytelling and literary practices,” doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 2022, p.167: open.library.ubc.ca/soa/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0422505
2 L. Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies Research and Indigenous Peoples, 2nd ed., Zed Books, London, 2012.
3 J. Conrad, “The Big History Project and colonizing knowledges in world history curriculum,” Journal of Curriculum Studies, Vol. 51, No. 1, p. 1–20.
4 N. I. Campbell, “Indigenous storytelling and literary practices,” doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia, 2022, p.167.
5 S. Point, “Honouring Children Found in Unmarked Graves: Those that did not Survive Indian Residential School,” keynote address given at the National Gathering on Unmarked Burials: Affirming Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Community Control over Knowledge and Information, Toronto, Ontario: www.facebook.com/OSIBISinfo/videos/honouring-children-found-in-unmarked-graves-those-that-did-not-survive-indian-re/1395285451219659
6 S. Carleton, Lessons in Legitimacy: Colonialism, Capitalism, and the rise of State Schooling in British Columbia, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2022.
7 S. Point, “Honouring Children Found in Unmarked Graves: Those that did not Survive Indian Residential School,” keynote address given at the National Gathering on Unmarked Burials: Affirming Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Community Control over Knowledge and Information, Toronto, Ontario.