Burm: Education conference explores legacy of residential schools

Illustration by Frank Neufeld

More than 130 residential schools operated across Canada. More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children attended these schools with the last residential school closing its door in 1996. The intent of the residential school system was to educate, assimilate and integrate indigenous peoples into European-Canadian society.

Two residential schools, Mount Elgin Industrial Institute and the Mohawk Institute, operated not far from London. Despite the doors of these schools having closed many years ago, the ongoing impact of residential school continues to be felt throughout generations and throughout our local communities.

On March 10-11, the London Area Truth and Reconciliation Committee, in collaboration with local indigenous and non-indigenous educational and community partners, will be hosting a conference entitled It Matters to Us: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools at the Faculty of Education. The organization of this conference will bring together approximately 250 people from all over the province. While many of the expected attendees work in education-related fields, many participants work in non-education related fields such as health, correctional services and child and family services.

The purpose of this conference is to strengthen relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples throughout our local communities, so together we can raise awareness about the legacy of residential schools and its continued impact on how we live and understand one another. A history of a systemic attempt to eradicate Indigenous peoples, their cultures, perspectives and knowledge has been embedded in our national history and its effects are ongoing.

This can’t be ignored or denied.

To move forward means understanding this oppression, how it came about, how it continues to be held in place and what it means to raise consciousness and promote opportunities for healing.

Through this conference, we seek to increase knowledge, enhance self-awareness and strengthen the skills of those who work both directly and indirectly with indigenous peoples. We see this conference further developing individual competencies and promoting positive partnerships that foster dialogue, reconciliation, and relationship building between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

More importantly, however, we want this conference to serve as a vehicle for promoting and exemplifying what it means to understand ourselves as contributors to the telling of a new story, one based on mutual respect and reciprocity.

In organizing this conference, a lot of the work we have done has been relational. For all of us involved, it has been important there be opportunities to learn from and reflect upon how we come to relate to, and with, one another. The planning of this conference has involved many, many people, who bring to the table experiences, knowledge and expertise that collectively has led us to this exciting moment in time.

This conference is our interpretation of what truth and reconciliation can look like here in London.

Nevertheless, the challenge in doing this kind of work is charting the journey: Why does truth and reconciliation matter? What does moving forward look like? How does a culture change the story they have been telling/living? What is my role in doing this work?

The answers to these questions are different for everyone involved.

For some, moving forward is validation, knowing your story or experience is being heard and recognized. For others, it is equitable treatment and access to support services that foster deeper, substantive opportunities for healing and wellness.

This conference encourages individuals to seek out their own answers to these questions.

It is up to you, the reader, to decide why this should matter. However difficult the journey may be, trust the answers to such questions will come to light for each individual in their own time, in their own way.

Patience and trust become important in one’s journey for truth and reconciliation.

Sarah Burm is a PhD candidate in Curriculum Studies in the Faculty of Education.