Here’s how to talk to kids about Orange Shirt Day, according to Indigenous educators – National

When Phyllis Webstad was six, her grandmother got her a new orange tie-front t-shirt to wear to school. But on her first day at St. Joseph Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, BC, Webstad’s new orange shirt was taken away from her.

The color orange has always reminded Webstad of her experience at boarding school — how her feelings didn’t matter and nobody cared about crying little kids, Websatd says on the Orange Shirt Society’s website.

Her story later became a symbol of the annual Orange Shirt Day on September 30th.

In 2021, the day was officially recognized by the federal government as National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, a public holiday for federal employees and state regulated workplaces.

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In light of National Truth and Reconciliation Day, parents and teachers must teach children that colonialism is not a historical problem — it still affects many Indigenous children, Indigenous educators told Global News.

Last January, the Williams Lake First Nation discovered 93 possible burial sites on the grounds of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School.

“It’s not something that happened in the distant past. This affects our generations,” said Johanna Sam, an assistant professor in the Department of Education at the University of British Columbia and a member of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation.

Sam said there are age-appropriate ways to talk to children about the impact of boarding school, such as children’s books.

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“Phyllis has a series of books related to Orange Shirt Day,” Sam said.

Sam added that the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Committee has also hosted Truth and Reconciliation Week, a series of free educational programs and resources for students from 1st through 12th grade.


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High school students work with Indigenous elders to create a show that promotes reconciliation


High school students work with Indigenous elders to create a show that promotes reconciliation

Sam said teachers should try to talk about issues affecting tribal peoples in their local communities.

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“For example, one thing I see is that a number of educators are saying that when they are in Vancouver, instead of talking about the Musqueam, they are teaching the students about the Inuit in the far north,” Sam said. “I encourage everyone to think about whose territory you are in and engage with those in the know.”

Sam also encourages families and teachers to find out which boarding schools with children existed in their area using an interactive map showing all past boarding school locations in Canada.

Sam said when non-Indigenous teachers are working with a diverse class, it could be beneficial for children to find ways to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into the curriculum.

Yvonne Poitras Pratt, associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education, said reconciliation should not be viewed as “a goal” to be achieved, but as “a set of practices that we engage in every day.”

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“If we can think about reconciliation when designing reconciliation practices, I think it really helps us to think beyond the political framework and the idea that this is way too big for me to even try,” said Poitras Pratt, who is a card-carrying member of the Métis Nation of Alberta.

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Educators, parents and institutions must first understand the material before teaching children about boarding schools, Poitras Pratt said.

“We have to start with our teachers,” she said. “We have to make them aware of the dark truths. Because you can’t teach what you don’t know.”

She added that it is also important for teachers to understand how they are involved in Canada’s colonial history.

Poitras Pratt gave the example of what she described as incoherent and inconsistent inclusion of Indigenous content in Alberta’s 2021 K-6 draft curriculum, specifically its narrow colonial portrayal of Métis history.

She said it was important for the teachersRespectfully include Indigenous perspectives in their teaching, adding that she and other Métis educators have created learning resources, including a series of digital stories from those impacted by the Fishing Lake Métis settlement in northeast Alberta and stories from survivors of a Métis school in a Métis memories wall mosaic project.

“We make our teaching materials really easy for teachers to download and use right away. So you don’t have to worry about misinterpreting things, these stories come straight from the Métis community,” said Poitras Pratt.


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Métis scholar on how to continue the conversation on truth and reconciliation after September 30th


Métis scholar on how to continue the conversation on truth and reconciliation after September 30th
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She also said that tribal peoples schooled in a “colonial curriculum” were “divorced from their own truths.”

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“What we often find is that our own community members are unaware of colonial history,” Poitras Pratt said.

This makes education about the impact of boarding schools more important, since many don’t have the privilege of studying in college to understand how colonialism has affected their own families and community members, Poitras Pratt said.

“The need for parenting workshops and information sessions for our own indigenous community members is absolutely paramount as we suffer the consequences of many of the racist attitudes of others because of the colonial curriculum,” she said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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