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May 18

Chris Smeaton

Regaining culture, tradition and language

My mother’s parents came from the Ukraine. They spoke the language and I remember many of the Ukrainian traditions (especially the food) growing up while visiting them in the summer or at Christmas. Unfortunately, that is where the language, culture and most of the tradition ended, with my grandparents. I can assume that there were many reasons why they were not passed on to my own mother, but ultimately it was likely a choice at the time. Choice- remember that! I had a special bond with my maternal grandmother and so when I went to university I tried to learn Ukrainian. Although it was an introductory class, all of my fellow students spoke the language at home and without anybody around to practice with, my experience was far from successful. However, I did have the opportunity to learn. Opportunity- remember that!

While my grandparents had the choice to pass on their language, culture and tradition and I had the opportunity to learn it, the same was not afforded to our First Nations, Metis and Inuit population. Children were ripped away from their parents, whisked into residential schools and forced to abandoned only what they knew.

There was no choice and there was no opportunity!

And we wonder why there is bitterness, a sense of mistrust and ongoing poor relations. To add insult to injury we often say, “Why don’t you just get over it!”  Only ones with hardened hearts won’t feel a lump in their throats when they watch this short video entitled Justice for Aboriginal Peoples It’s time. I’m certainly not an expert on inter-generational trauma but it should not be difficult to understand the impact oppression has had on our aboriginal people.

Today, I live adjacent to the largest reserve in Canada. I’m in Blackfoot territory. I see the effects of this trauma where hope is often replaced with hopelessness. I see immense poverty, addiction and dysfunction. But if that is all that I see, I’m only looking on the surface, because I also see great pride and great success. I’m witness to those who hold on to their language, culture and tradition and succeed in the western world. They walk in both worlds and their transition is seamless.

Our education system must provide more support to ensure that our FNMI peoples have choice and opportunity. This must begin with the acknowledgment that our residential school history was often far from “christian.” That history, as brutal as it was, must be taught to educate our future generations. History is most often written by the victors and therefore is uni-perspective. Our students must understand multiple perspectives and it should begin though the eyes of our aboriginal peoples.

At the recent Truth and Reconciliation event in Edmonton, a statement was made that education is the new buffalo. We must all work together to meet that mandate. While we cannot offer all of the language, culture and tradition required in the school system, we can ensure the value of it. It is not an either/or world. Our aboriginal children can and should learn and practice their language, culture and tradition. Schools can assist by supporting this proud heritage and ensuring high quality education to all FNMI children. Aboriginal people should not be forced to walk in only one world- we have already experienced that with disastrous results. We should be able to create the ability to live in both worlds simultaneously. And to accomplish this we must remember that education is the new buffalo!

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