Residential school workshops open eyes

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For Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, education on the history of residential schools ties to all aspects of her role.

photo courtesy of the Department of Education, Culture and Employment
John Stewart, director of teaching and learning for the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, said mandatory residential school workshops for ECE employees and teachers in the territory are showing a positive impact on people’s education in the history.

“It really brings back to every file you work in in this office, whether it be economics, business development, culture and heritage, language, self-government, everything,” she said.

Greenland-Morgan took part in a day-long residential school workshop hosted by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment in Inuvik earlier this summer.

The Beaufort Delta Education Council requested the workshop from ECE, which since 2015 has made it mandatory for all teachers in the territory and employees of the government. Since 2012, the public school curriculum has also included a Grade 10 unit on the history of residential schools.

“We call it awareness training,” said John Stewart, director of teaching and learning with ECE.

The workshop includes survivors of residential school and uses props to convey what happened to people in that generation.

Greenland-Morgan attended Grollier Hall herself, but she said her experience was positive. She only had to attend at age 14 and was allowed regular contact with her family.

One survivor during the workshop shared a story of being only seven when taken to school in Inuvik. That story hit Greenland-Morgan particularly hard, as her own daughter had just turned eight.

“I couldn’t imagine any authority coming to me today and saying sorry, but we’re taking your daughter,” she said.

She relayed that participants were given a baby doll to hold during the workshop, which someone dressed as a nun then took away from them. During another exercises, the workshop showed how the connections between Indigenous people were broken down through colonization and residential school.

Greenland-Morgan said the survivors’ stories are very important to the young generation.

“It not only helps us to understand the big picture of why the youth today are having the struggles they are, but it also helps our youth to understand why our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents are the way they are, knowing their story, knowing what they’ve been through, knowing what our people have been through,” she said.

It’s a story all Canadians need to be familiar with, she added.

Stewart said the NWT is unique in the country in being able to have frank conversations on the subject, including the fact that not everyone’s experience at residential school was bad.

“To have integrity, that whole range of stories is important for people to be aware of and feel free to share,” he said, adding that he doubts few people would argue residential schools were a great thing.

His department doesn’t have the capacity to expand the workshop to everyone, but going forward, he hopes ECE can help groups develop their own training for employees. He added that it’s important the subject be handled by people at a local level and include those who actually went through that part of history.

Greenland-Morgan said she is encouraged that the subject is being tackled in public school now.

“There’s something wrong when many Canadians don’t know about it,” she said.