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Letter to the Editor: Response to racist posters

To our UNB community:

We are a group of pre-service elementary school teachers—and their instructor—who would like to respond to the racist letter that was distributed on campus on Jan. 16 and the subsequent letter on Jan. 19, 2018. After reading the letters, we believe we should come together and consider the ways these messages may impact our community.

As Social Studies educators, we have decided to respond to the understanding of history that was presented in the letter with the invitation to the UNB community—and the letter writers—to engage with the open and public reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) (TRCC). The TRCC was established in 2008 to understand the legacy of the residential-school system and in 2015, 94 calls to action were published. As educators, we believe that it is important to really listen to survivors’ testimonials, and respond to the calls to action together in order to move forward with care.

From Chelsea Vowel’s Indigenous Writes, which draws on the findings from the TRC, we have learned that residential schools operated for 150 years and 6000 Indigenous students died while in the system, that is 4 per cent of the population that attended residential schools (2016, p. 171). The TRC highlighted 7000 interviews with survivors that described emotional, spiritual, sexual, and mental abuse. We continue to hear these stories today, and think together about their repercussions.

We reject the claim that Indigenous peoples are beneficiaries of settler colonialism, and suggest reading the article, “We Built a Life from Nothing: White Settler Colonialism and the Myth of White Meritocracy” by Sheelah McLean (2017). One particular quote that stands out for us from McLean’s piece is that, “[Canadian] nation building practices have advanced the social and economic power of white settlers, in particular those who were male and own property, while dispossessing Indigenous peoples and subjugating groups marked as outsiders” (p. 33). We acknowledge our complicity in “the violence that national myths commit is to delegitimize the very real pain that is the legacy of abuse and oppression” (Vowel, 2016, p.121). As social studies educators, we see our role in disrupting nation building practices that put forth a narrow and uncomplicated vision of Canadian history, and seek to do better.

We reject the claim that there is an enemy to Canada that is “fomenting contention” between Europeans and Indigenous peoples.

In closing, with an eye on our future elementary classrooms, we have included a few resources that discuss the nature, intention, and experience of Residential Schools as well as their legacies, which continue to affect Indigenous peoples today:

In the spirit of reconciliation,

Casey Burkholder & Elementary Pre-Service Teachers

UNB, Faculty of Education


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