Ignorance is not bliss.
Benjamin Disraeli said “To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step to knowledge.”
Sixteen years ago The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People recommended the “publication of a general history of Aboriginal peoples of Canada” and to “pursue partnerships … to ensure broad support for and wide dissemination”, which should happen within 20 years.
This past year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission interim report recommended that curricula in Canada needed to include education on the effects of residential schools.
In New Zealand the hugely successful decision to teach age-appropriate Maori Studies from kindergarten to grade 8 has ensured that Maori history and culture is part of the identity of every New Zealander. It makes them proud.
Unfortunately, Canadians have generally not had the same opportunity to learn about our shared history with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. They don’t understand the commitment in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to share this land fairly via treaties. They don’t understand how the paternalism of the Indian Act has held back so many First Nations. They don’t understand the intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools. Until the revelation of the appalling conditions in Attawapiskat, they had no idea that many indigenous people in Canada still live in third world conditions.
Last year we began our Rx for Canada: Aboriginal Education for Non-Aboriginals. From Rotary Clubs across Canada to riding roundtables we have tried to present the facts that all Canadians need to understand if we are going to recommit to share the land fairly and deal with the greatest social injustice in Canada.
The Idle No More movement has begun to take on the monumental task of eradicating the ignorance of the 96 percent of Canadians not from Aboriginal descent. They started by explaining to all Canadians the risks that the omnibus bills present to our environment with the poignant image of a paddler and the caption “On Dec. 4, 2012, Canada had 2.5 million protected rivers and lakes. On Dec. 5, 2012, Canada has 98 protected rivers and lakes.” They want us to understand that whether we drink the water, or swim in it or paddle on it or fish in it, we all should be concerned with these omnibus bills.
Their peaceful, grassroots movement is inspirational.
Round dances, pamphlets and teach-ins have also been a part of the beginning of Aboriginal education for non-Aboriginals. This is a historic time. We have to eradicate the ignorance. We have to deal with the racism. We need to use this 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation to move forward on honouring the treaties that promised to share the land fairly. We need to begin the process of replacing the Indian Act. We need to ensure that First Peoples in Canada — the fastest growing part of the population — will have the equality of opportunity each of us deserves, victims no more.
Please join Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux and Suzanne Stewart on Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. at Sagatay, 26 Vaughan Rd. for our town hall on Aboriginal Education for Non-Aboriginals.
There is so much to learn so we can be ignorant no more.
About this article: