October 3rd, 2018, 9:15 A.M. – 9:35 A.M.
Airlane Hotel & Conference Centre, Tiberio Room
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Boozhoo. Good morning, Elders, Chiefs, educators and students, youth, ladies and gentlemen.
I want to acknowledge that we are in the Robinson-Superior treaty area and gathered on the traditional territory of the Fort William First Nation.
My name is Lance Copegog. I am here today as a Youth Representative of the Ontario First Nations Young Peoples Council.
It is a pleasure for me to be here in Thunder Bay to discuss education and this year’s topic with you: “trauma, mental health, and drug-related issues.” I look forward to bringing the knowledge that I have gained back to my community.
In 1867, the Government of Canada instituted a policy of assimilation, with the aim to “kill the Indian in the child.”
Parents were forced – under the threat of prosecution – to send their children to residential schools.
We all know that in these schools, children were forbidden from speaking their language, observing their culture and beliefs, and did not see family members for long periods of time. In some cases, children in these schools did not see their families for years.
…I also want to acknowledge residential school survivors, who may be in the audience today. I thank you for your courage, and for being here with us today.
The impacts of the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop have been intergenerational.
Parents, who were forced to send their children to these schools or who had their children taken from them, had to deal with the devastating impacts of separation.
Many children in these schools were abused. Many survivors have carried the physical and emotional scars of their experience with them.
Because the impacts of Canada’s policies of assimilation are intergenerational, many of us have been born into families and communities that have struggled with these impacts for many years.
The impacts of intergenerational trauma have been heightened by the racism that has permeated our society today.
We see intergenerational trauma in many ways:
…At the community level, it’s increased rates of suicide, a sense of apathy or dependency, or our loss of connectedness.
…In our families, it’s unresolved grief, lack of parenting skills, or a broken family unit.
…For many individuals, it’s shame, internalized racism, a fear of authority, or self-destructive behaviours.
Intergenerational trauma was the subject of Lost in Transmission: Studies of Trauma Across Generations, a collection of essays that looked at this topic.
What is overwhelming and unnameable is passed on to those we are closest to. Our loved ones carry what we cannot. And we do the same.
Unfortunately, our youth are the ones who are suffering today.
All of this ties into the theme of this forum: trauma, mental health, drug-related issues.
What is wrong with our communities can be traced back to intergenerational trauma.
But there is hope.
Senator Murray Sinclair, as Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said: “Education is what got us into this mess and education is what is going to get us out.”
We need to collectively find ways to innovate our education systems to ensure that our young people build a strong personal and cultural identity, receive the best education that they can, and gain the tools to succeed in their community and elsewhere.
One of the most important things that can be done is recognizing that each student is their own person.
Each student has a story, has a personality and different characteristics, and different gifts.
Students must have a sense of belonging in their schools.
Schools must be a safe place in which students can learn, grow, and thrive.
A student’s family life is absolutely critical. It contributes to a student’s success or struggle.
This is why a holistic, whole-of-community approach is such an important aspect in healing our communities and building capacity.
As part of moving beyond intergenerational trauma towards collective healing, we must also begin the process of decolonizing our places of learning.
This is moving from pedagogy to “Indigegogy.”
…Reclaiming education and making it our own, consistent with the beliefs, culture, tradition, and history of our Nations.
As First Nations people, we know that our ways of learning and teaching are inherent to the success of students.
Learning by observing, doing, and experiencing.
Learning through enjoyment, not through standardized tests or memorizing textbooks.
We know today that the colonial way of learning simply does not work for our students.
Our students can learn science by cleaning a fish, tanning the hide of a deer, or paddling their canoe in the wind.
Ensuring that our students can grow and learn in an environment that is consistent with their cultural and traditional beliefs is the way – if not, the key – to moving beyond intergenerational trauma and reforming our education system.
Just last year, the Anishinabek Nation ratified the Anishinabek Education System. In fact, just yesterday, the Kinomaadizwin Education Body had the grand opening of its headquarters, marking the official launch of AES.
The Anishinabek Education System is our way of moving out from under the Indian Act towards a brighter future – a future where we are the ones who determine what our young people learn and how they learn it. This is Anishinabek taking control of Anishinabek education.
I, for one, am excited to see where the future leads us in this regard.
But we have a lot to do.
First Nations in Ontario must not consent to top-down solutions anymore, especially when it comes to the future of our Nations.
We must move forward in genuine partnership with Canada and ensure that Canada and Canadians are fully living up to the spirit and intent of truth and reconciliation.
With Senator Sinclair’s words in mind and that of Chief Sitting Bull – who described the “best of both worlds” – we must get to work.
Our students must be able to live and thrive within their Nations and also be successful and remain rooted in their culture and communities in mainstream society.
This is how we will move beyond intergenerational trauma.
In closing, I want to especially thank the principals, teachers, and school staff who play such a pivotal role in shaping the lives of students. You impact the lives of your students in innumerable ways and the teachings that you impart will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I am grateful for all that educators do in all of our communities.
With your help, we can and will create the Indigenous pedagogy that we envision and that our students deserve. I look forward to our work together.