First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies AQ – Response #3 – Misconceptions and your Backpack

This week in our course we discussed three types of information: that which you know through experience (your backpack), that which you hear through the media (often misconceptions), and that which is the truth.

Backpack

We began our class with a Backpack activity, shared with us by an educator who has used the activity to reveal what our students carry with them. By writing with a white crayon, and then painting over with a wash, hidden information is revealed. She talked about how some students chose to participate in the full activity, while others chose not to reveal what they are carrying with them. However, the process of writing served to validate, and focus their reflection. I could see this being a valuable minds-on activity, to set the tone for subsequent activities that might be triggering.

Media Misconceptions and the Truth

There are many misconceptions that are spread via the media, and then continued socially.  We listened to Wab Kinew’s “Soap Box” video from 2016, where he shared five stereotypes (the first five in the following table), and then examined many other sources of the following misconceptions.:

MisconceptionTruth
Alcohol as a Social IllThis issue is not unique to indigenous communities. It is when it is combined with poverty that it becomes visible to all.
Need to “Get Over It”You can be “over” something, and still need to remember it. In the case of Residential Schools, there is multi-generational trauma which must be addressed.
Long HairLong hair is worn by Indigenous people as a symbol of cultural pride. However not all indigenous hair matches the stereotypical long, straight ideal, so short hair does NOT indicate a lack of pride.
“7 Billion Dollars”The “7 Billion Dollars” that flows from Indian Affairs is less per capita than that provided to the citizens of New Brunswick.
TaxesStatus Indians pay taxes, except on property on their reserve. Those who qualify are only about 314,000 people, of which the employment rate is only 55%, so this represents a tiny portion of our tax revenues. Less than 1% are exempt from any tax at all.
First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples have similar systems of government.First Nations peoples are sovereign nations, who have never surrendered their right or title, and possess distinc tlaws and governance systems, language, culture, economic systems and social structures. The Indian Act establishes a limit form of local administration, and constrains movement towards self-governance.

The Métis Nation of Ontario has a democratic, province-wide governance structure.

Inuit peoples have united under the Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on the Sovereignty in the Arctic.
Post-secondary education is Free for all First Nations studentsOnly “status Indians” qualify, and they must apply for funding from their home community. The demand often exceeds the money that bands receive, with more than half of applicants turned away.
Education is funded equally to allThe Band-Operated Funding Formula came into effect in 1988, and is capped at an annual 2% increase, with few increases even approaching this cap. As a result current schools are now significantly underfunded.
Indigenous peoples are free to hunt and fishWhile these rights are inherent Treaty rights protected in the Canadian Constitution, confirmed in court cases, and articulated in the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, they continue to be challenged by commercial enterprises. And a BC court ruled that governments have the power to declare moratoriums on hunting and fishing based upon conservation needs.
Band homes are not cared for by those in the communityBand housing is administered from Ottawa, with no local control. Bands cannot also use their own revenues to apply to housing. Those living off reserve, in search of better housing, face poverty and racism, and so are disproportionately affected.
Health care on reserve is equivalentFirst Nation citizens face high rates of chronic and communicable diseases, and are exposed to greater health risks because of poor housing, higher unemployment, contaminated water, and limited access to healthy foods. (Fact Sheet) Because of the complexity with federal, provincial, municipal and Aboriginal governments all playing a role, the system is difficult to navigate, with many roadblocks. Health Canada does not pay for palliative care or rehab therapies, and there is a shortage of mental health services.
There is plenty of reserve land0.2% of land in Canada is reserve land. 20% of the Indigenous population live on this 0.2% of the land. Of this land, coastal and tidal lands are not included, so access to waterways and fishing grounds are not included.
“Vanishing Indian”While goal of assimilation was to have Indigenous peoples “vanish”, they are now the fastest growing segment of the population.
Indigenous peoples have a lot of moneyThere is a significant gap in median income, even among highly educated Indigenous people.

Reflection

We require significant revision to our Ontario curriculum, to begin to address the misconceptions held within our population.  Some are addressed within the compulsory curriculum, but only in a narrow sense. The Grade 6 Social Studies curriculum suggests consideration of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, as part of the strand on Canada and International Cooperation. In Grade 7 and 8 the perspectives of Aboriginal peoples are considered with respect to land development and the preservation of natural resources. And issues such as Residential Schools are now core to the Grade 10 History program.

The revised (2018) Canadian and World Studies document explicitly addresses the need to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action numbers 62 and 63, and emphasizes the need for cultural safety in terms of their cultural heritage. This need for sensitivity has, in my experience, led many teachers in the past to avoid issues, for fear of being unable to adequately support their students. This choice “not to go there” has resulted in inadequate attention within the limited curriculum expectations.

We must continue to educate our teachers, so that they can educate our students. I believe that students become better able to consider such issues in their senior years in school, where there are unfortunately fewer explicit expectations of Indigenous content within the remaining compulsory courses.  This is why the move to replace ENG3U/3C/3E with NBE3U/3C/3E (English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices) is such a positive move. I would also like to see more offerings of NDW4M (Issues of Indigenous Peoples in a Global Context) in our schools, to challenge students with contemporary issues at a point in their lives where they are considering their roles as adult citizens of Canada.

It is only an educated population who can counter these misconceptions with the truth, and lighten the backpack for our Indigenous friends.

 

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