Indigenous speakers discuss educating students and lifting stigma.
“It should no longer be accepted that people are made ignorant about the truth,” said Diane Labelle, Director of the First Nations Regional Adult Education Center. “It is the responsibility of education institutions to present truth and facts [about history].”
Labelle took the stage at the DB Clarke Theatre on Sept. 6 as part of Orientation Week, hosted by the Concordia Student Union (CSU). The purpose of the event was to show how education can be a tool to promote understanding and to alleviate the stigma around Indigenous communities in Canada.
Labelle outlined a number of suggestions for how Concordia could become indigenized. She called for mandatory sensitivity training related to Indigenous issues for all professors and personnel at the university. She hopes that these workshops will help them better educate their students about Indigenous communities. “Racism is born out of ignorance,” she said. “The omission of history overtime, related to the reality of our lives and who we are, have led to misconceptions that continue to this day.”
A push for an Indigenous studies certificate program at Concordia is currently underway. Labelle is currently working with Concordia’s administration to add the program to the curriculum for students who want to learn more about Indigenous people, their culture, and history.
Labelle wants teachers to add land acknowledgements to their syllabi, and to explain to students why it is being presented to them. They should not just be words that are said at Concordia events, Labelle added. She wants students to understand what lies behind those words. “The purpose of the land acknowledgement is to have people think about the fact that most of you are settlers,” she said. “Let’s all remember that we are guests on this land.”
Labelle hopes that, by reflecting on the land we stand on, people will learn to better appreciate earth’s resources and better address issues such as climate change and famine. “We are all mutually responsible in maintaining this land,” she said.
Labelle also said that schools should start sensitizing children at a young age by teaching them about the history of colonization and reconciliation, so that they grow up to understand Indigenous history. “Not only does it improve life for Indigenous people, but it improves education for every other nation and race,” she said.
Nakuset Sohkisiwin, Executive Director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, proposed to lift the stigma around Indigenous communities by having historical figures represented in course material instead of statistics related to death and substance abuse.
As a former Concordia student, Nakuset once took a sociology course where she could not identify with the content. “I did not recognize myself as one of the statistics for Indigenous people,” she said. “That’s not me. You can’t do that to us. You can’t put us in a box and say this is what we people are.” Nakuset said teaching about historical figures would change how we perceive Indigenous people today. “We are perceived as either the mighty warrior or the homeless individual,” she said.
Labelle said the word ‘indigenization’ is about having an education system where students are able to learn about any subject without competition or pressure. “In an indigenized framework, you don’t determine ahead of time what the learner is going to learn because learning is a personal, individualized, transformative process,” she said.
Decolonization is not about getting revenge, which is a common misconception, Labelle said. Instead, it’s about all people in Canada working together to acknowledge the historical context of our land, its settlers and being able to coexist in one nation. “It’s looking at the idea of ‘how do we change so that we get an interconnection with each other again?’” she said. “The purpose of an indigenized society, it’s about coming to a point of realization that we all belong to one nation and that’s the nation of human beings.”
Photo by Mackenzie Lad.