Education is the path to healing

February 14, 2017
Bromley Chamberlain, ATA News Staff
Six professional development consultants hired to lead the Association’s Walking Together initiative will be appearing at every teachers’ convention this year, providing information at the ATA booth and conducting two workshops.
L-R: Hali Heavy Shield, Etienna Moostoos-Lafferty, Julia McDougall, Cheryl Devin, Terry Lynn Cook and Crystal Clark.

Reconciliation efforts to be featured at teachers’ conventions

Canada has had a long and dark history when it comes to the education of indigenous people, and the Alberta Teachers’ Association is working to bring light to the injustices experienced at residential schools in the province and across Canada.

Six professional development consultants hired to lead the Association’s Walking Together initiative will be appearing at every teachers’ convention this year, providing information at the ATA booth and conducting two workshops.

“It is our personal and professional obligation to honour the calls to action [of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission],” said Cheryl Devin, one of the six teachers leading the Walking Together project.

“I think, just as members of Canada, and being citizens of this country, it behooves us to know what the calls to action are. ... education was a tool of harm to indigenous people, and education has to be a way to heal.”

At each convention, Walking Together facilitators will present a blanket exercise and a workshop entitled Education for Reconciliation: Understanding the Legacy of Residential Schools.

“We are going to try to reach out to as many teachers as possible because we have the mandate of connecting and supporting all 42,000 teachers in the province,” Devin said.
Devin said teachers should attend the workshops to learn more about what they can do to help.

“Teachers need to come to our workshops as an obligation to their profession,” she said. “They need to see themselves as change agents and as important, integral parts of the reconciliation process and developing a relationship with indigenous people.”

The residential school workshop shares a dark part of Canadian history.

“We need to not only look at it but also then do something about it,” Devin explained. “We should make a commitment to make things better.”

The blanket exercise has been localized to each of the three treaty areas where teacher conventions are taking place.

“Depending on the convention, we will be presenting that to the teachers so they can see some local history from their treaty area,” Devin said. “Teachers will experience 500 years of Canadian history through  ...  a First Nations, Métis or Inuit person’s point of view.”

The exercise teaches how different policies or events in history have affected and shaped Canada’s relationship with indigenous people.

“One thing we have done with the blanket exercise is that we have tried to make sure that we emphasize at the end the resiliency of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people and how they are trying to take back their power and be an equal partner in our contemporary society,” Devin said.

“It is powerful to end on the ­message to teachers, and any participants, that there has always been resiliency and there has always been the desire to embrace and celebrate our cultures.”


What is Walking Together?

In June 2016, Alberta Education, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and four other education stakeholder organizations in Alberta signed the Joint Commitment to Action to ensure that all students learn about the histories, cultures and world views of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. The Alberta Teachers’ Association has begun to fulfill its commitment by establishing the Walking Together: Education for Reconciliation Professional Learning Project.

Walking Together responds to calls to action 57 and 62 from the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which call on all levels of government to provide education to public servants on the history of aboriginal peoples, and for age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools and indigenous history.