In advance of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, we asked our undergraduate students to reflect on Indigenous history, settler-colonialism, decolonization, and Truth and Reconciliation in the classroom. The below pieces discuss the importance of confronting Canada's colonial past, amplifying the voices of Indigenous peoples, and creating educational spaces that are safe for all students.
As a fourth year history student here at Queen’s University, I have taken numerous history courses. Most of these dive deep into the history of specific times and specific places around the world. Yet, those courses concerning Canada and its history provide the unique opportunity to teach students about the place, society, and culture that they are currently experiencing. In my opinion, this unique opportunity comes with a bigger responsibility than other history courses. Canada’s schooling system has historically failed to properly educate students on Canada’s history involving Indigenous communities and issues. This reality means that actively including Truth and Reconciliation in our courses is vital. These courses are important to counter this history of misinformation and to teach students how to use this historical knowledge in our everyday lives. As a non-Indigenous student, this learning is even more important as I actively benefit from a society that my ancestors created out of the trauma and pain of Indigenous communities. Truth and Reconciliation connects our country’s history to our present day lives and reminds us that this history was not that long ago and is nowhere near over. Every classroom in Canada needs to make the effort to create space for Indigenous students in what they teach. However, it is essential that all students work from a place of shared understanding. It is my belief that comprehensive education on Truth and Reconciliation is that place of shared understanding, and is just the beginning for creating safe spaces for Indigenous people in Canadian classrooms.
Kieryn Mounsey, Fourth-year History student
It was not until very recently that Indigenous history and the more in-depth study of Indigenous cultures and languages became more mainstream in academia. With these changes, universities, students, and professors have a greater responsibility to disseminate the truth, which can then inform positive change. As someone who is not Indigenous, I felt conflicted when I was asked to write this reflection. On one hand, I was excited to be able to share my views and opinions and what I had learned so far. On the other hand, I felt it was important to highlight the fact that I was not Indigenous and that therefore there were certain difficulties that came with speaking about Indigenous issues. Unfortunately, Truth and Reconciliation is still a contentious topic. I am of the opinion that it is important to attempt to make amends. I also believe that many organizations do not do enough and only make token gestures towards Indigenous peoples, such as the many apologies and acknowledgments issued by the government and other institutions.
While these gestures are meant to demonstrate a more progressive image, many Indigenous communities are still without clean drinking water and basic necessities, suffering from a lack of accessible health care, or are still trying to have their rights and privileges acknowledged as the original people of this land we call Canada. And this is not to paint all communities under the same brush. One thing I have learned while studying Indigenous history at Queen’s University is that Indigenous peoples are not just one homogenous group; they all have differing languages, practices, cultures, and beliefs. This is another reason why discussing Truth and Reconciliation is so difficult, I am not qualified to speak for all people. It is evident to me that the most important thing that we can do to make Truth and Reconciliation a reality is to amplify Indigenous voices.
I want to use my privilege to highlight what I believe to be the most important thing the many Indigenous history classes I have taken have taught me: while we study many groups and historical figures, they do not only exist in history. To forget that fact is to willfully ignore the many hardships they have faced and still face. What I found very shocking to learn is how purposefully neglectful and malicious the government of Canada acted and continue to act towards Indigenous groups since colonization. From forcing them onto reservations to make more room for the growing number of settlers, to the starving of many plains’ nations after decimating the buffalo herds, and more. The influence of these events on contemporary Indigenous issues cannot be overstated. The importance of Indigenous groups in the history of the world is often downplayed. I sincerely hope that this will continue to change for the better, and that we all start to hear and amplify Indigenous voices. I would also like to recognize a professor who has helped to re-educate myself and many other young students in regard to Indigenous history, Dr. Scott Berthelette.
Isra Henson, Third-year History student
After my general first-year courses, I was excited to focus on early settler-Indigenous relations in HIST 242: Issues in Canadian History - Indigenous Peoples and New France. This course played a pivotal role in my understanding of the settler-colonial founding of our country because of the linear transparency Professor Berthelette brought to the course content. With this, we followed Jacques Cartier's initial landing in Gaspé Harbour in 1534 until the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and how relationship dynamics shifted throughout these periods. The transparency of these retold histories stemmed from the many perspectives and lasting impacts felt by Indigenous peoples. I truly appreciated the space where I could openly question these challenging histories and engage in conversation with my peers to build a fuller understanding of the complex settler-colonial foundation of Canada.
These grounding conversations inspired me to take HIST 242-001: Indigenous History in Film the following semester, also led by Professor Berthelette, which examined early settler-Indigenous relations through film. This course especially vocalized how colonial-based stereotypes have bled into popular culture. This course, paired with the background set in Indigenous and New France Relations, prompted thoughtful conversations surrounding Truth and Reconciliation. By tracing these cracked Indigenous-settler relations, these courses showcase legacies of colonialism felt by Indigenous peoples in Canada and the individualized experiences of each respective community, which together, form a dark pattern of similarities. Collectively, our class discussed how to end these patterns and how non-Indigenous people can be better allies and advocates for Indigenous communities.
Personally, after each of these class lectures, I found myself taking a long way home to re-evaluate my understanding of the land beneath Kingston's limestone buildings and cobblestone streets. I reflect on the horrors the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat endured for these amenities to exist after they thrived, safeguarded, and loved Katarokwi's untouched land for thousands of years. My perspective on Canadian history shifted after taking Professor Berthelette's Indigenous history courses as I questioned the world around me and sought out the histories left unwritten or unvoiced. For me, this September 30th serves as a reminder to amplify the voices of Indigenous peoples in truthfully learning their stories, to remember the history of the land on which I walk, and to continuously advocate for reconciliation.
Patricia Roussel, Third-year History student
Submissions have been edited for clarity and length.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation:
The Office of Indigenous Initiatives has also put forward a call to the Queen's community to pledge commitment to learn more about the experiences of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and to take responsibility for action that will foster reconciliation and inclusivity. Make your commitment here.