MUSKRAT Magazine: What inspired you to share this story?
Jenny Kay Dupuis: My grandmother told me her story about the residential school system when I was in my early teens. She shared it with me and my sister. It was at a time when our community was silent when it came to the residential school system and most of our history. We didn’t talk about what had happened overall in history. It was right before Christmas dinner, when my grandmother shared her story with us. It was to help us understand the truth of what happened at the schools. I never really thought about it again until I was a bit older and started teaching and working in the education system.
Over five years ago people began talking about the Residential School System but the people in the education system didn’t know a lot about it and I started thinking that it was really important to start sharing truth. Three years ago, the publisher, Second Story Press approached me and gave me the opportunity to write the story. We put the story together to share the history for all people in general, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, to better understand the issues about the injustices that took place.
MM: How did you learn about the residential school system growing up?
JKD: I was in grade 4 and my teacher showed us a film. I think it was called, “Where the Spirit Lives”, I think CBC aired it. What was interesting is that the film was shot in my home community. When they shared it in my class, we never had an opportunity to talk about what residential school was or why this girl was taken from her home community? It wasn’t set up in terms of us understanding that assimilation was taking place; that there was somebody who wanted to take away our culture and our language; that there were injustices taking place; that there was something buried in the Indian Act that stated that children of a certain age and up would be taken from their homes and relocated to live in one of the 132+ residential schools. That was never told to us in school and I simply just saw this film and then later on through my grandmother’s story, I heard a little bit more about it.
As a child, the history was never taught to me both in my community or within the school system. I think it is something that is relatively new and our communities are now talking about it. I think it’s very difficult for them to talk about it still. I think its difficult for us to understand how to piece it all together because its not just the residential school experience but there’s also key words to attach to it: colonization, genocide, differences and injustices. It has opened up my eyes to understand that we need to understand the history and we need to understand the current issues that impact us today as well.
MM: In what ways can parents and teachers support children in learning about residential schools and Truth and Reconciliation in Canada?
JKD: Families, whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, can access a lot of good literature and a lot of good media resources too. It is an opportunity for them to learn together by reading the books, looking at the front cover of the book, look at the titles, the pictures, to ask questions together and then to read the story to start digging deeper. When parents and teachers are choosing their resources it’s really important that they choose good quality, authentic resources. Stories that are written by people in our communities that understand and are truly committed to expressing community voices.
There’s not only literature or media to go to, but [parents and teachers] can also bring in community people to share their [lived] experiences as well. Especially when we are talking about reconciliation; we should make sure we give opportunities to our Indigenous community people to share their experiences. Most importantly, we should recognize that history didn’t stop at a certain period of time; it has an impact on us today. What happened to our families in the past impacted the intergenerational survivors; it impacted the children, their great-grandchildren. It impacted us in a way that there was a lot lost. But in sharing those resources it is recognizing that there is hope out there as well. For some of our students and for some of our children, they want to learn the language again; they want to learn about the culture; they want to learn about the history. So we make sure there are opportunities for them to learn in a safe way.
Teachers especially need to realize that when we’re talking about the Residential School System or when we’re talking about any kind of injustice, whether its Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the Sixties Scoop etc…that it impacts us emotionally. When I say a safe space, I mean we need to consider the need for supports, whether it’s guidance counsellors or community counsellors, Elders and people we can talk to a bit further if students are feeling impacted by what they’re hearing.
Dr. Dupuis’ Recommended Online Resources for Indigenous Education
- I’m Not the Indian You had in Mind is a short film that illustrates a powerful poem written by Thomas King and challenges the stereotypes of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.
- The American Indians in Children’s Literature provides a critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books. Debbie Reese (the site’s author) offers a growing list of book reviews that focus on Indigenous authors with tips for authentic voice, appropriate terminology, and imaging.
- Unreserved is an Indigenous radio program that profiles top trending Indigenous stories.
- CBC – 8th Fire is four-part series that looks at Canada’s 500-year relationship with Indigenous peoples through discussions of prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural reclamation.
- APTN National News, CBC News Indigenous, and Nationtalk and online magazines like MUSKRAT Magazine are essential news and information sites that provide daily updates on Indigenous issues and stories of high interest
- The Witness Blanket stands as a national monument to recognise the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era, honour the children, and symbolise ongoing reconciliation.
- Digging Roots released a new song “AK-47” that shares a powerful message “…about opening fire on hate, oppression and violence. Not with bullets and guns; but with the full force of love.” The musicians’ explain, “…This song is about peace and courage and the idea that it’s time to change the whole paradigm. Stop the violence, against each other, ourselves, against the land.”
- Deepening Knowledge Project, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education’s (OISE’s) Aboriginal Peoples Curricula Database offers a large selection of links to curriculum resources, media and literature, lesson plans, and class/field trip ideas.
- Also consider following Twitter accounts to stay-up-to-date on what’s happening. Some of my personal favorites include @APTN, @CBC_Aboriginal, @MuskratMagazine, @AnishNation, @NativeApprops, @debreese, and @NDNLit
Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis is of Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, researcher, artist, and speaker who works full-time supporting the advancement of Indigenous education. Jenny’s interest in her family’s past and her commitment to teaching about Indigenous issues through literature drew her to co-write I Am Not a Number, her first children’s book. She lives in Toronto.
More info online at www.jennykaydupuis.com and Follow @jennykaydupuis on Twitter