Roberta Jamieson

Converge 2017

The path to Canada’s future: Education and reconciliation

Keynote address

Roberta Jamieson is president and CEO of Indspire.

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Transcript

Roberta Jamieson, president and CEO of Indspire:

Text on screen: [Canada 150 logo]

Text on screen: [Converge 2017
Bright Minds. Bright Future.]

Text on screen: [Carrefour 2017
De l’esprit de l’avenir.]

Text on screen: [What kind of Canada do we want in the next 50 years?
Quel avenir souhaitons-nous pour le Canada d’ici 50 ans?]

Text on screen: [February 6-7, 2017
6 et 7 février 2017
Ottawa]

Well, good afternoon everyone.  Bonjour.  (Native language) and many other greetings.  English, French, my language, Mohawk and the language of many First Nations.  And I begin by paying my respects to the indigenous people on whose territory we have gathered.  This, these languages, I’m sure you could answer me in 100 and that’s really the kind of Canada I want to talk about today.

First I want to thank whoever’s bright idea it was for me to follow the Prime Minister.  (laughter)  I can think of other places one would want to be.  What a privilege and what an honour and I thanked him personally for that honour.

This is a very exciting and pretty amazing event.  It’s really an opportunity for all of you to get revitalized and redirected and recommitted to meet all of the challenges that really were talked about this morning in the town hall.  This time around, this beginning of the next 150 years I’m excited about because we don’t have to accept a future shaped from what I would call – and you will find I’m very direct – a rigid mold of settler circumstance and colonial custom.

For the next 150 years, we don’t have to carry the burden of Canada’s evolution of being subjects of a colonial past into its present role of being colonizers in its own right, colonizing indigenous peoples.  We don’t have to also be a Canada overburdened by a colonized indigenous reality which refuses to disappear and just keeps making demands.

We individually and collectively, have the power and I believe the strength, to design solutions and to implement them.  And maybe just maybe, making reconciliation between Canadians at large and Indigenous people happen in our time.  (applause)  While it won’t be easy, but this time around, we must become a Canada focused on our future, which realizes what I’m going to name as the original Indigenous dream:  a pluralistic Canada focused on its pluralistic future, celebrating our next 150 years together, all Canada’s people.

Well yeah, let’s talk about that today, and the reconciliation that’s necessary to make it happen.  It’s so important when we talk about reconciliation that we stop and we think and we be serious that we don’t, in fact, that we wake ourselves up, out of the denial, that we don’t just utter the slogan – and this worries me the most about this year 2017 – that will kind of be the flavour of the month and the theme of the year.  We can’t let that happen and just let reconciliation be a slogan and carry on as usual.

Reconciliation is not a noun, it is not an event.  It’s a verb.  Claudette Commanda would say reconciliaction.  It requires constant action, daily maintenance, initiative, perseverance and a state of mind for all occasions.  This conference offers all of you a wonderful opportunity to talk about these things.  What does it mean?  You’ve got an ambitious and courageous agenda, congratulations, with some terrific speakers.  And what a vital role you have as universities, as educators, in changing things for the future.

How far we have already come.  Universities Canada, AUCC in those days in 2010, we had the honour of co-hosting a summit on what do we need to do together to change the picture of Indigenous people in universities.  And you have come a distance since then.  Congratulations.  Many of you are leading the way.

Murray Sinclair said education’s what got us into this mess.  It’s education that’s going to get us out.  And I think that is so true.  My own educational journey at Six Nations of the Grand River, I learned all about the stereotype my people had in the curriculum.  I had a teacher who said to me this is what I have to teach cause we’re an Indian Affairs school.  Columbus discovered America and so on.  And now I’m going to tell you the truth.  And so she taught me, thank goodness, about critical thinking, having the courage to speak truth to power and so many other things.  She taught me most importantly, the importance of staying grounded in who I am as a Mohawk, as an Indigenous person, as a woman.

And there were those of us who went to residential school.  We had a residential school in my, on our land called the Mush Hole, quite aptly.  For those of us who didn’t go there, we nonetheless still live in communities – I know I do, I still live there – with an intergenerational legacy which has not yet run out.  And it won’t run out anytime soon.

Adults who didn’t know what it meant to be raised up in a family, people who never knew what parents are supposed to do, who never experienced being parented, so they didn’t acquire those skills.  Students who became adults who fear showing emotion and people who lost their language and lost the ability to communicate with their grandparents; lost their pride, their confidence, children and youth taught to turn against their culture, to hate themselves and their people.

While I think about these things, and we heard a lot about these things in the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, I think about these things as I see our young people today.  For me, my vision, what I want to see as a reality is for our young people to have all those things many didn’t have in those days.  Primarily an opportunity for an educational experience that includes our history, which predates 1867, our languages, our values, our science and so on.

I’ve always thought that, and people told me when I was a kid I kind of had an attitude problem, that I shouldn’t try and do some of the things I wanted to do, that I should accept, you know, the way things were and the role of the, the word of the Indian agent, and I grew up with an Indian agent sitting above our people on a platform.  Our people weren’t allowed to meet without him, and so on.  This is my world as a kid.  But I knew that my people had a proud history.

In fact, the Haudenosaunee people were founders of democracy in the western world.  And I’ve worked all my life to live the values of my Mohawk culture and identity.  The importance of keeping a good mind, no matter what; be constructive.  The imperative to measure decisions today by the impact of those decisions on the seventh generation whose faces we can still see coming towards us.  Those are some of our values.  And I was determined to create space so that I could find my role to contribute to this country and my people as a Mohawk woman.  And I have been blessed to see a great deal of change in my lifetime, all steps on the road to reconciliation.

I’ve seen constitutional recognition of our rights.  I’ve seen the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People adopted, and I’ve seen the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action, and we’re working, all of us, I think to our best of our ability – we certainly are at Indspire – to bring those into reality.  Yet, there is much more that remains to be done.  And universities have a critical role and perhaps a role in areas you might not have thought about.

Let me give you an example:  150 years ago, on the even of confederation, there were at least 80 thriving Indigenous languages in Canada.  Scores of these have already become extinct as history drily puts it, swept aside by the path of progress and failing to know that this is obviously the result of the case when children were prevented from learning their languages.  Of the remaining languages, the date of extinction can be calculated.

In the past, Canadian universities were funded.  Their linguists were funded to write the obituaries to be filed away in the archives for the preservation of our knowledge.  And now, the federal government is committed to the passage of the Indigenous Languages Act.  And many are already lining up with their funding applications.  It’s going to be very important to see what indigenous nations themselves want to say about how they will go about rebuilding a language and culture and system of knowledge and protocols and all that goes with it.

Shouldn’t it be universities now coming forward in the name of reconciliation, offering these nations support and assistance, rather than reconfiguring an old colonial relationship in a new garb of reconciliation?  Nations in reconstruction may prefer their own indigenous approaches.  Indeed, they will.  They’ve been teaching their languages to new generations much longer than universities.

When the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Languages Act is introduced in Parliament, I hope the committee hearings are swamped with submissions from universities who are bringing Indigenous witnesses to support not only the bill, but that they see to it that full financial support is provided so that within the next decade, all Canada’s Indigenous languages will be off the danger of extinction list and back on their way to full health.

Will universities partner with our people in making that happen?  Will you partner with Aboriginal postsecondary institutions who are well capable of granting degrees in indigenous culture and language.  Are you doing it today?

A second example you may not have thought about, of the opportunity to create reconciliation:  Indigenous law.  For much of my life, I’ve been very interested in the contribution Indigenous ways of dispute resolution might contribute to alternatives available in Canada.  You know, there was a knowledge keeper’s forum in 2014 and the Mi’kmaq elder, Steven Augustine, spoke about the Mi’kmaq concept for making things right.

He shared a metaphor about an overturned canoe in the river.  He said we’ll make the canoe right and keep it in the water so it doesn’t bump on the rocks or hit the shore.  When we tip a canoe, we may lose some of our possessions, but eventually we’ll regain our possessions but they won’t be the same as the old ones.  In conflict resolution, making things right implies that sometimes a remedy might not allow us to recapture what was lost.  But maybe we can create something new as we journey forward.

I provide that example because there’s a notion, you see, that Indigenous knowledge or Indigenous education is all about the past.  Learning about my culture or how to make mukluks.  Something about not being part of an innovation agenda.  I say to you that is not true.  The reality is that true Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous ways of knowing are live contributions.  They’re available to enrich Canada’s future.  This too is about reconciliation.

Look at the live wire activities you’re going to hear about from some of the speakers at this conference.  Jason Edward Lewis, he’s in the high tech and he investigates how Indigenous people use digital media to understand their past, engage with the present and shape their future.  I certainly applaud those universities who are supporting such thinking.  The ones that are prepared to shake off old colonial ideas of cultural superiority and have stopped thinking that they possess Canadian knowledge while we are artifacts.  And those universities, I applaud you as we take our place in Canada’s future as Indigenous people with your support.

Yes, there’s much to be done on the road to reconciliation.  As Canadians, it’s very interesting to me to hear the Prime Minister and what he said in answer to one of the questions.  I’m going to talk about this a little bit.  As Canadians, our problem is focusing our minds on that topic of reconciliation.  However, we’re challenged to address simultaneously two different fronts.  There are immediate needs, the young courageous woman who spoke about them this morning.  Immediate crises, serious threatening problems that aren’t going to wait while we make the necessary foundational changes.

The newspapers are full of them.  Legal battles relentless distressing front page stories about murdered and missing Indigenous women.  Crises, housing, drinking water, you name it.  But we all (inaudible – technical difficulties) Indian Affairs in my time.  So yes, there are two fronts on which we must focus:  the immediate crises and the underlying causes.  And we’re not going to succeed at either unless we succeed at both.

In meeting both challenges, keeping ourselves honest, both individually and as a nation is pretty essential.  Now, why do I have to bring up that problem with being honest?  Well, the truth is Canada still has very deeply embedded tendencies to deny the problem exists, or that in fact, things are getting so much better, aren’t they?  Or to mistake the cause of the problem for the cure, and to continue to apply it despite failure after failure and growing costs.

It’s not easy for Canada to admit that the special kind of racism it reserves for Indigenous peoples is a significant factor that both contributes to the problems and is also a factor in our failure to find the right solutions.  There are still those attitudes about our people that rest on exclusion, superiority and ownership, attitudes that make it, well, unnecessary to address fundamental questions of land and resources.

And there are still those attitudes – I run into them every day – that blame the victims of racism for the trauma that they suffer from it.  Collectively, we as Canadians have a lot more personal baggage to deal with than we ever imagined.  Still today, it seems permissible in some quarters to hold attitudes about Indigenous people which would be the subject of outrage if they were directed at any other group.  It’s quite permissible for us to be the subject of a vile virulence, sort of oh well, that’s the way they are kind of attitude.  Get a job, eh?

We’re the only people who are expected a cute cameo role as snapshots in Canada’s history, too often.  In other words, being forced to occupy a less than human face in someone else’s culture.  Well, of course, we still live with the Indian Act in the 21st century.  Enough said.  But it goes beyond racism and it has to do with historic dispossession of Indigenous people from land and resources, which has been a part of Canada since confederation.

But we have not gone away.  Somebody said resilience, oh yes.  The sister of reconciliaction, I think.  And we’re not going away and we’re the fastest growing demographic group.  Can’t have babies any faster than anybody else.  Lord knows we try.  (laughter)  But we do still have more.

The settler narrative of establish a Canadian in their own image, a Canada which would not include indigenous peoples is today having to confront a Canada which does include Indigenous peoples.  Indeed, which wants to embrace Indigenous peoples.  This question what are we going to do with these Indians has been a continuing feature of Canada’s public agenda as long as I can remember.

The ability to treat Indigenous peoples  in ways no other people in Canada are subjected to is an unconscious part of our public culture, the unconscious backbone of bureaucratic decisions passed automatically from one government to the next, despite the best of intentions.  We see it in the inability or the failure or the disinterest of well intended decent people to create the political will to make change happen.

I believe there is a role for the university sector in changing these facts of life, but there is also much – and we don’t talk about this enough – much for Indigenous people to do.  For me, the internal violence is still with us as a continuing historic legacy.  It too often still defines our situation in Canada today.  And I believe any discourse about reconciliation has to talk about this.  Our own people have to talk about this.

Having been and being colonized is traumatic.  It turns ourselves into people who hate ourselves or abuse ourselves or others, treating others the way we have been treated.  We lose hope.  So many of our youth still are deciding they have no reason to live, and they’re taking their lives in contagious epidemics of suicide.  Children not even teenagers hanging themselves.

Well I’m  here to say as we set our sights on the next 50 years, or 150 years, we can deal with these things.  We must deal with it, and we will, if Canadians and our own people are going to be able to move forward.  And I invite universities to join in this discourse.  No advance planning required.  Why?  I think it’s obvious.  This is a country we can build together and we should and we must.  I am one of those who focus – I acknowledge our history, the challenges we’re left with, but I’m about let’s see what we can build together for the future.

Our young people have incredible potential and when they realize that they’re in a society that offers them a strong affirming sense of their identity, and that’s what’s missing.  Our kids don’t lack confidence, they lack validation.  They need to see themselves in society, in books, on TV, at the front of the classroom, at the head of the university, in the boardroom table.

Once they see that, they have reason to believe they are persons of value, knowing they’re part of a positive history, women into the  history of Canada, realizing they have talent, potential, intelligence and when they’re treated with respect by teachers who also expect to be respected, when they have access and support for an education that others take for granted, there is a magical transformation that takes place.  Not just of individuals, but of entire communities.

I know that from my own personal experience.  That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing right now.  For me, there’s no mystery.  Education is the key element in simultaneously dealing with the crises and dealing with the root causes of those crises.  And when I say education, I’m speaking both of education of Canadians about Indigenous peoples and our shared history of Kanata (ph), and providing opportunities for an enriched education for our youth so they can realize their potential.

This is something we do at Indspire.  That was the preview of what I was going to talk to you about, and I will.  This charity, Indigenous and inspiration, that’s where the word, the name comes from.  It’s all about supporting our young people to achieve their highest potential.  But we don’t do it alone.  We do it with the support of all of our  – we’re a charity so we rely on donors, supporters, Canadians increasingly.  And our job is to help our young people have access to curriculum that values them, teachers they can understand and relate to, languages, culture in the classroom, change the outcome from high school level, and when they go and they aspire to go to postsecondary, that they have that support to get there.

Four out of 10 of our kids still First Nations only, graduate from high school.  I think if they achieve that, we should be there to support them.  I’m very proud of the work that we’re doing.  Last year, $12.2 million, 3,800 bursaries to students, 127 engineering students, 128 MDs, 284 scientists, 353 nurses, 409 in business, 463 in education and on it goes.  This is a glimpse of what is possible.  So when I talk about the challenges – and there are enough statistics to fill my bookcase, you know, the tragic statistics.

I’m here to say to you there is hope.  The change is achievable and we can do it in partnership in our lives.  We work very hard with colleagues, with partners at universities, at high schools and throughout the country to transform education into a culturally appropriate engine where our young people can excel.  And we also provide Canadians with a different view of history for use in the classrooms.  We create, provide them access to living role models who dispel the myths and stereotypes.

Our, our tag line is indigenous education, Canada’s future.  And we know that every successful student is a change agent, and they will change their families, their communities, their region and this country.  Not only, I spend a lot of my time talking to the corporate sector and many Canadians about why this is important to do.  And there are also enough studies to go around.

The last one, last autumn, the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board said that if we close the gap, there’d be an annual $28 billion boost to Canada’s GDP.  There are many such studies.  McCarver (ph) did one, the Centre for the Study on Learning, it’s multiple billions of dollars that would come into the country.  We’re very proud at Indspire of being a registered charity on the Financial Post Top 25 list of charities in Canada.  And we’re very proud of the partnerships that we’ve had with many of you in this room.

We’re also painfully conscious that we’re not meeting the needs.  Last year, $12.2 million, I’ve told you, we’re only meeting 11% of the needs of the students who come to us.  So there is much more work to be done.  I’m proud to say though that 93% of the students we support graduate.  Did someone say deliverology?  (applause)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, one of its main themes, was education, and it invited all of us to insist that the Government of Canada put serious and sustained investment into Indigenous postsecondary education.  This is critical.  They are the change agents.  Not to do it will impact negatively our economic productivity as a nation.  And I really don’t understand it.  I don’t understand why we’re not, but I am waiting with bated breath for the new budget.  Worn out a couple of pairs of shoes across the street on this subject.  (laughter)

I don’t understand why we’re not doing it.  I know any Canadian would agree that if an Indigenous child were refused admittance to university because he or she was an Indian, everybody would say well, that’s outrageous.  As a country though, we don’t get too upset when there are thousands of Indigenous youth who are fully qualified to obtain a university education or trades training, but they can’t do it because they don’t have the financial support and that is their biggest barrier.  The end result, folks, is the same.

So I invite you to join with us in demanding that there is increased government support for Indigenous education of Indigenous people at all levels so that we can play our role in the Canada of the future.  This is the way we can create the outcome of reconciliation.  We will be a powerful force in propelling Canada across the threshold into a new era of true reconciliation, and Canada will be the richer for it.

I said earlier that much has happened in Canada in my lifetime on the road to reconciliation.  I am so pleased to see University of Winnipeg and others making courses in Indigenous issues mandatory.  I am so pleased to see so many universities who have created gathering spaces for our students who have counselling, who have dedicated housing, who have daycare – we need more daycare – (laughter) who have elders, who have transition programs, who are working in deeds to change things.  We need more.  We need more and we need it yesterday.

So I encourage you and I challenge you at the same time.  I also challenge you not to be in the same lineup for the same dollars as First Nations communities.  I have many I’ve spoken to over the years who want to create a centre or who want to do this or who want to do that, but they’re sitting outside the door of the Minister of Indigenous Affairs beside Chiefs and leaders who don’t have potable water.  That’s a what not to do.

There are many of your own supporters who I am certain – I talked to a university president earlier today about his marvelous new First Nations Centre and my first question was who paid for it?  The best possible answer, a donor and the university itself.  It took 15 years, but they did it, dedicated, determined, it’s happened.  That is what to do.

At Indspire, we have vital partnerships with York University, U of T, Athabasca, and with others.  We’re developing them.  Together, we are doubling the funds available for bursaries for Indigenous students.  If you’re interested, come and see me afterwards, cause I have a special program which doubles your funds that you’re willing to put on the table for Indigenous students.

Other ways that you can change, make it clear that your idea of reconciliation contains commitments to decolonize your university.  I was so pleased to see David Barnard here, who said that is the only way that Indigenous knowledge, perspectives and world views will be integrated into curricula, programs and services, the only way there will be consciousness raising and provision of relevant training for those teaching and interacting with students.  He said also real change will occur not only within the institution, but within the many areas of society that we reach.

Let’s not forget that brave heroic leadership took place in 2011.  Wow!  And that the University of Manitoba became the first postsecondary institution in Canada to offer a formal statement of apology and reconciliation, and a commitment to influence through think tanks and all the other ways that universities act to change policy.  I urge everyone here to reread Dr. Barnard’s commitment and evaluate your own commitment and redouble your efforts.

Just last month, I was thrilled to see January, U of T committee released a 125-page report with 34 recommendations in response to the 2015 call to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  That’s reconciliation with resonance.  These are all good beginnings, but I want to suggest a reconciliation that was, that is within our grasps, a true reconciliation that is worth of a Canada in 2017 and 2067.

Remember, it was the residential school system and all those other policies, their focus was to not educate Indigenous children.  It was to transform Indigenous children into non-Indigenous children.  Education has been used in this country to make us disappear.  It’s a double-edge sword.  It can be.  Educate us with the same curriculum that Canadian kids are educated with and don’t educate us in our own values, culture, world view and language.  We must not only have reconciliation then, we must have reconstruction, renewal, rebuilding of indigenous cultures and languages that were deliberately suppressed and in some cases, destroyed.

And universities must play a central role in the success of this kind of in the trenches reconciliation.  That is the challenge.  How do we offer an approach, one that leads an Indigenous student, for example, into being a super specialist in systems management and at the same time, is rebuilding an Indigenous nation’s ways of knowing, way of thinking and being, in its own language so that it can confer with Dr. Leroy Little Bear at the University of Lethbridge, in the Blackfoot language about what he likes to talk about: new theories of quantum physics.

Well, I am here to say it is all possible and imperative.  I’m witnessing today in Canada something I didn’t, I hoped for, but wasn’t sure I’d ever see:  an appetite on the part of Canadians to learn more, to learn directly from our people about Indigenous values and culture, and contributions.  And a sincere desire not only to learn, but to take action to create a different Canada for the future, one in which Indigenous people play a rightful role.  Universities can and should be leaders in this movement beyond 2017 to 2020, 2025, 2067 and beyond.

Fifty years from now, my granddaughter will be my age, and I hope that she will look out and see Indigenous people and values embraced and reflected in Canada’s institutions.  I’m hoping she will see thriving Indigenous cultures and languages and sustainable Indigenous communities.  And I’m hoping that she will be able to look into the eyes of her granddaughter and be able to answer the questions that Senator Murray Sinclair so beautifully puts them.  He says that all children,  that we have a sacred responsibility to make sure that all children, regardless of their heritage, are able to think about four key questions throughout their education:  where do I come from?  Where am I going?  Why am I here?  And most importantly, who am I?

Indigenous education, I hope, for her will have been appropriately designed so that our children can answer those very basic yet profound questions.  And my hope is that universities will use their power to make this key element of reconciliation take place.  Reconciliation, you see, is not something Canada is doing for Indigenous people.  It’s something we all must do together.

I hope over the next couple of days, you have a fantastic provocative, thoughtful, engaging experience.  What an amazing group of powerful women and men are in this room.  Unique cultures, experiences, approaches and insights and we need all of you.  I can tell you Indspire stands ready to partner with anyone who wants to work with us, to make the vision of Canada 2067 and for the next 100 years beyond that a Canada that embraces Indigenous people and that supports our young people in their educational journey.

I hope that you will enjoy your time, find satisfaction in your own life and find yourselves with health and peace and tranquility in your minds, strong in purpose, determined to achieve your goals, surrounded with family and community and seeing beauty wherever you go.  Empower each other, support each other and that’s my wish for you, that you find the strength to carry on your tasks and I say (Native language).  Thank you so very much for listening to my words today.

Text on screen: [February 6-7, 2017 6 et 7 février 2017 Ottawa]

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“Reconciliation is not just a noun, it is also a verb.”

Highlights of presentation

“Reconciliation can’t be just a slogan for Canada’s 150th, and then we move on.” Ms. Jamieson warned against allowing reconciliation to be the “flavour of the month” during Canada’s sesquicentennial.

“Education has been used in this country to make us disappear…We must not only have reconciliation then, we must have reconstruction, renewal, rebuilding of Indigenous cultures and languages. And universities must play a central role in this kind of in-the-trenches reconciliation.” The president of Indspire encouraged universities to support the efforts of Indigenous leaders and communities in building a better future, including language preservation.

“There is hope. Change is achievable and we can achieve that change in our lives.” Despite the challenges, Ms. Jamieson spoke optimistically about Canada’s potential to advance reconciliation.

Key points of presentation:

  • Every successful Indigenous student is a change agent. They change their lives, their families, their communities.
  • More financial support for Indigenous education will empower Indigenous youth to play an important role in Canada’s future. This is how we achieve reconciliation.
  • University commitments to reconciliation must include a commitment to decolonize the university.
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