Yesterday I walked through an Ottawa that is now new to me.
As part of our Urban Communities Cohort experience at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, our group of first-year teacher candidates took part in one of the Ottawa Indigenous walks that are available throughout the city.
Ours took place around City Hall, the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument and Confederation Park. The tour was 90 minutes long and our group was led by Jennifer David (Chapleau Cree First Nation), a journalist and consultant who has an incredible depth of knowledge and a gift for story-telling.
It is amazing how a tour like this can take you through familiar places and at the same time open ones’ eyes to new perspectives.
Some snapshots – A memorial to the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. Indigenous peoples fought in this war and made significant contributions to the British side. Their hope was that a separate homeland would be carved out for them after the war. Considering the important role they played in the war’s outcome, this was a reasonable expectation.
Instead, no land was granted and they only received what they already had before the war.
Another stop – we finished our tour at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument. Here a reading that we did by Cynthia Chambers entitled “Where do I belong?” Canadian Curriculum as Passport Home resonated. In this article, Chambers writes a personal story about her journey to figure out her own Canadian identity. Her story intersects with the struggle of Canadian Indigenous People to establish their own narrative.
As we looked at the monument, I recalled a passage where she quotes George Erasmus on enfranchisement and the Indian Act. Looking at the war memorial, I was struck by the fact that the act of joining the Canadian military once resulted in people losing their status under the Indian Act:
When the option of enfranchisement, trading“Where do I belong?”
Indian status for voting rights, failed to attract
individuals, more coercive measures were enacted,
enfranchising Indians if they lived away from their
reserves, joined the military, obtained higher
education, or, in the case of women, if they married a
Canadian Curriculum as Passport Home
JAAACS: Journal of American Association for Advancement of Curriculum Studies
When you really start to think what it is like to teach in a Canadian school, experiences like the Indigenous Walk and the article by Chambers really are foundational. Chambers wrote this article in 2006 and already things have changed a great deal in this country. A walk of 90 minutes really does alter ones’ perspective on how we approach teaching in a Canadian context.
Walking, listening, reading, talking can change the way you look at the world. Learning can change behaviour, can begin to right wrongs that go back centuries. As we work with a new generation of teachers, it is so important that we take the necessary time to orient ourselves to an approach that focuses on justice and a new world view.
We walk and we learn. We begin to ask ourselves new questions. Where do I belong may take a lifetime to answer. For Chambers, this is a question that remains unresolved; it is a question that is a part of our character. It is a question that informs what we are doing as educators.