Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) National Leaders Conference 2019


Images courtesy of CAIS Canadian Accredited Independent Schools. 

The theme of this conference was Connected by Complexity and Design.  It was fitting for the topics of Indigenizing Education and Breaking Through Barriers that Isaac and I would be sharing with Accredited Independent School leaders across Canada.  Our goal was to address how Canadians are connected to Indigenous citizens and their lands through complex histories and designs (colonialism) that are dangerous to Indigenous communities and the environment, and that need to be interrupted and replaced through visionary educational practices.

As keynote speaker Jesse Wente spoke about disrupting systems I contemplated how to get Isaac onstage to announce his last-minute plan to fundraise for his Ojibwe language camp.  Would the Executive Director take Wente’s talk to heart and actually embrace a spontaneous addition to the day’s schedule of events?


I scanned the room for Patti MacDonald as Jesse talked about disruptors and maximizing fidelity.  I thought about how our disruption would model a legitimate form of land acknowledgement as it would provide participants with an opportunity to purchase an Onaman Collective print while funding an Indigenous-led Ojibwe language revitalization initiative.  By the time Jesse finished his speech to a standing ovation, I found Patti and she complied with our request.






In the afternoon I met with a group of forward thinking leaders who were drawn to the topic of Indigenizing Education – First Steps, which entails learning the truth about how Canada came to be here, the legacy and ongoing impacts of Canada’s colonial history, and how Canadians can break their complicity with this.


It may seem ironic, but the first step to Indigenizing education is to actually learn more about Canada.  How is it that Canada came to be on Indigenous lands?   Treaties were made under dubious circumstances that allowed settlement on some of the land.  The conditions of the treaties that were never recorded in Canada’s written history are worth learning about now because they hold the protocols and the Natural Laws for living in balance on this land.  We are in a paradigm shift.  This generation is tasked with a great endeavour to reverse climate change and to begin living here in a respectful and sustainable way.  This entails giving back stolen land and maintaining economic stability as equal partners with First Nations.  Reading texts by Art Manuel and Winona LaDuke would be helpful in this journey.

The impacts of colonization (e.g. missing and murdered women, lack of access to clean water, overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care) are commonly referred to as “Indigenous Issues” but they are really Canadian issues, because Canada is causing them.  Colonial oppression is maintained by regular Canadians like police officers who don’t investigate the murders of thousands of Indigenous women, jury members who condone the murders of Indigenous youth (e.g. acquitals of Peter Khill, Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier), and government employees who maintain a discriminatory funding model for social services and infrastructure in hundreds of First Nation communities.  It is regular Canadians “following the rules” when they commit heinous crimes against Indigenous people such as nurses and doctors sterilizing hundreds of Indigenous women against their will in Canadian hospitals and social workers with police officers apprehending newborn babies in hospitals from hundreds of families who are capable of raising their children.  Racist stereotypes that dehumanize First Nations cloud the minds of regular Canadians who commit these criminal actions which they would never want happening to themselves, and which, by law, constitute genocide.   School leaders need to get strategic about breaking down the ways of thinking that allow such a system to exist.


Following this session we joined Isaac Murdoch upstairs for his talk entitled Breaking Through Barriers.  Backed by his ancestors, he explained how his family has been battling colonial forces for the past two centuries.

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