Today, Wednesday September 18, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will take place on unceded Coast Salish territories at the Pacific National Exhibition to gather testimony from survivors of Canada’s Residential School System. The University of British Columbia has suspended classes for the the occasion and will host its own events at the Belkin Art Gallery, the First Nations Longhouse, and the Museum of Anthropology. The Executive of CUPE 2278 would like to encourage all members to take part in the day’s activities, either at the PNE or at smaller events held on campus.
The Indian Residential School system—active from 1875 to as recenty as 1996—constituted a major part of Canada’s colonialist project. Canadian officials forcibly removed Aboriginal children from their families and moved them to boarding schools in remote locations. In most cases, the schools forbade use of traditional languages and cultural expressions. Sexual, physical and cultural abuse was rampant—the full extent of the trauma suffered by Canada’s first peoples has not yet come to light. The residential schools were infamously studied by South Africa’s Afrikaner National Party and used as a model for apartheid.
The consequences of the schools have been horrific and massive in scope. Entire generations of Aboriginal children, stolen from their parents from as young as five, were robbed of their cultural patrimony and traditional knowledges by the Canadian government. The legacies of abuse persist in communities across Turtle Island: the missing and murdered women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the Highway of Tears are overwhelmingly Aboriginal, the suicide and incarceration rates in Aboriginal communities are disproportionately high, and indigenous land claims to traditional territories, both treaty and non-treaty, continue to languish in Federal courts.
The TRC hopes to bear witness to the full implications of the schools, decide how best to educate Canadian citizens of this shameful history, and work towards reconciliation between Aboriginal peoples and wider Canadian society.
As educators, our members, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, bear special responsibility to hear these stories and silenced survivor voices. We all have Aboriginal students in our classes and UBC’s historical place on Musqueam traditional territories means that the reverberations of Canada’s colonial past and present should inform our teaching whenever possible. It is our hope that participation in TRC events will add sensitivity, understanding and generosity to our work.
Please join your union executive at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission today.
CUPE 2278 will be promoting a number of pedagogy and instructional skills workshops over the coming year to assist our members in anti-oppression and inclusive pedagogies. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for updates.
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