Forget-me-nots along the Humber River, October 1, 2017.
My Principal agreed to let me speak for the first ninety minutes of the upcoming PD day. She was apprehensive, doubtful that a ninety minute presentation on the Niagara Treaty and Canada’s history of colonization would engage everyone. She thought there might be pushback. I assured her that I had done my research.
Forget-me-nots caught my eye while I walked along the Humber River foraging for a snack to share with teachers during my presentation. I served them smoked salmon with crushed berries and a variety of herbal teas, all from the Humber River. I wanted to orient ourselves and our learning to our surroundings in the natural world, like what Cajete talks about with tribal education and creating “a subjective experience tied to a place” (2015).
Remembering how settlers first made connections to this place enables us to identify harmful behaviours that Canadians keep replicating generation after generation; the learned behaviours that can be changed.
My Algonquin, Wendat, Penobscot, and Mi’kmaq grandmothers married French settlers at the time of contact and their descendants were labelled “Métis”. To tell this story alone would not be enough. My French ancestors were also the first settlers — carpenters and masons who literally built the colony of New France. They were Carignan Salieres soldiers who were granted homes on the perimeter of the settlements because they knew how to use weapons to protect their stolen land that kept growing as successive waves of settlers arrived to occupy territory for the colony. My French ancestors brought diseases that devastated Indigenous populations, making them vulnerable to Jesuit missionaries and French politicians who were quick to offer assistance and make alliances but only on the condition that they convert to Christianity. Like what Trudeau does now in terms of allocating equitable resources to First Nations children only if they become Canadians. (And remember where the resources are coming from: Indigenous territories.) Today, Indigenous communities with the highest rates of suicide are the ones that are least connected to their traditional spiritual practices (Chandler & Lalonde, 1998) and the ones where Christian churches have the most influence (McMahon, 2016). How did settlers who were looking for a good opportunity in a new place play a role in enabling spiritual violence and genocide to occur, and how are Canadians enabling this now by assuming the role of settlers in a colonial state? How do we break our complicity with it?
Kent Monkman said today: “You’re a Canadian, you have voting power, do something with that, why are you fighting land claims? Why is your country’s politicians spending millions, hundreds of millions of dollars fighting indigenous land claims when the land is ours?” (Moore, 2018).
Teachers have so much power to raise the political will for choosing responsible citizenship over settler colonialism. My desire to inspire teachers to take on this work is rooted in my need to dismantle the unequal system that was built by my French ancestors, and it is driven by my responsibility to defend what my Indigenous ancestors put their lives on the line for: sovereignty and maintaining a way of living that is rooted in respectful relationships.
 Mylan Tootoosis described colonial behaviours as learned behaviours that can be replaced in his presentation called A creation story of colonialism: Historical processes and their contemporary existence at the Think Indigenous conference in Saskatoon, in March 2016.
Cajete, G. (2005). American Indian Epistemologies. New Directions for Student Services, 109, Spring. 69-77. p.71.