Critically-acclaimed Ojibway author Richard Wagamese spoke to a full audience in the Irving K. Barber Centre on Jan. 20 to give his thoughts on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and what we as Canadians could be doing to move forward in the process of reconciliation.
The Ontario-born Aboriginal author has visited TRU before and has even received an honorary degree from the university for his award-winning career as an author. In February 2015, Wagamese attended the Storytellers Gala and gave a presentation on the importance of storytelling.
This time around however, he spoke to an audience on a topic much more serious, one that affects all Canadians.
In his talk, which was co-hosted by the Kamloops United Church and TRU’s Aboriginal Education department, Wagamese stressed the importance of adopting a new narrative of how we see ourselves as Canadians in regards to the process of reconciliation.
Crucial to the process of reconciling the damage done by the Indian residential schools and the cultural genocide of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples is adopting the notion that Canada’s history began long before the arrival of European settlers, Wagamese said.
“We need to change the nature of the story we believe, and if we believe that the history of Canada started with the arrival of settler people, then we aren’t going to get anywhere because we are just going to be reclaiming the old narrative,” Wagamese said. “There was a history long before settler people joined us. We need to reclaim that narrative.”
But in order for a change in the narrative of Canadian history to happen, Wagamese believes all Canadians must become engaged in order for the process of reconciliation to be successful. He thinks this starts with what we teach in our schools and universities.
In a follow-up interview, Wagamese said that these teachings need to start at levels as low as kindergarten, where the national curriculum could adapt to giving young children “digestible bits” of information on Canada’s history before European settlement. In addition to this, Wagamese believes that Aboriginal stories and story books should also be incorporated in the reading curriculum at low levels of primary education.
Yet the education on the Aboriginal way of life and Aboriginal society doesn’t need to end just with history.
“It starts with history, but there is also a huge wellspring of information about indigenous science and indigenous cosmetology,” Wagamese said. “If people don’t understand that the Aboriginal people that they call their neighbours had all this stuff in place before European settlement, then they are missing out on a great big palette of information that colours their neighbours in a whole different way than they are used to.”
What Wagamese spoke of is also in line with what TRU’s Aboriginal Education department is hoping to achieve. In a previous interview, Aboriginal Education executive director Paul Michel said that the university needs a curriculum that includes Aboriginal history and teachings.
This starts with making some aspects of Aboriginal history mandatory in university. Though few changes are in place, within the next few years TRU may offer law courses in Aboriginal human rights, nursing courses in traditional Aboriginal medicine and science courses in Aboriginal environmental studies.
Yet for this to happen and be successful, all Canadians must come to an understanding that we are one people, Wagamese said.
“We are all supposed to exist as family,” he said. “Aboriginal teachings say that unity cannot happen when exclusion occurs.”