For Greenwood’s second annual Week of Reconciliatory Action, students and staff were privileged to hear from Janet Csontos, an educator and researcher of Canada’s colonial history.
Janet opened the presentation by greeting the audience in Ojibway and teaching us the Ojibway words for north, south, east and west, to acknowledge that we are living and learning on Ojibway territory. She asked the audience to think about the meaning and purpose behind land acknowledgements, and it helped us reflect on the territorial acknowledgement that our students read each Monday in place of O Canada.
Discussing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, Janet noted that though three years have passed since its release made the general Canadian public aware of the truth about residential schools, few Canadians can recall specific calls to action from the commission. While many Canadians see reconciliation as important, it’s often discussed in vague and general terms; few non-Indigenous people seem to have a clear picture of what can be done, and what their role in reconciliation is. Janet said that there is also a too-common assumption that residential schools are an isolated event from the past, without any bearing on the present.
Instead, according to Janet, residential schools “are part of a larger narrative of ongoing oppression.” She delved into the history of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, from early alliances, to the treaties, to discriminatory legislation including the Indian Act, to the residential school system. She described how the continuing impacts of this history are seen today in circumstances such as the continued neglect of treaty relationships, underfunding of Indigenous communities, and overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in the foster system. As Canadians, Janet said, it is our responsibility to break this pattern, and enter into a new type of relationship with Indigenous peoples.
For Janet, this new relationship is one that is based on the spirit and intent of the treaties. She talked to the Greenwood community about the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, and the three wampum belts
which were created to represent the agreements made, and the relationship of equal friendship between sovereign nations.
This new relationship means avoiding what she described as “stumbling blocks:” pity and lip service. Feeling bad about the situation, or guilty about the past doesn’t accomplish anything or help anyone, Janet said; apologies are meaningless if there is no action taken to rectify the situation. She encouraged students and staff to learn from Indigenous people and their perspectives. Subscribe to a podcast, read Indigenous literature, find out about Indigenous artists, and respect their positions. It is up to each of us, Janet explained, to stand with Indigenous people and create change.
Janet stayed after the assembly to speak with students and answer questions. Then, she joined the Grade 12 Interdisciplinary Studies class for an in-depth discussion of the issues she raised in her speech.
Thank you to Janet for the insightful presentation!