As an adult, I find it’s pretty easy to know what the right thing to do is. I’ve got a firm grasp on the things that I feel strongly about, the things I believe in. Age and experiences have shaped my worldview and my personal views. I know my “why” and generally feel confident in the decisions and actions I take.
Except in one area, especially as an educator, where I am constantly questioning and second-guessing myself. An area that I am very self-conscious about, particularly about doing something incorrectly. An area that makes me feel compelled to speak out, yet fearful of speaking out of turn. That area for me is indigenous issues.
This weekend, I finally had a chance to watch the three-part series “First Contact” online at APTN (Aboriginal People’s Television Network.) I had followed the reaction to the series on Twitter for over a week and a half, as it had aired on TV earlier in the month. Reading about it, at first I was excited at the premise: ‘average’ Canadians with very stereotypical (aka racist) beliefs toward First Nations people, spending a month sharing and learning about indigenous culture, as well as the historical injustices they have faced, and coming out of the experience with changed views.
Disney couldn’t have made a better feel-good idea for me as a Canadian.
Looking at the trailer, I knew these white Canadians. I’d heard every single one of their comments in real life before. Every. Single. One. The fact that any of them reversed course? What a feat!
Then I started to read Twitter threads, recognized I’d been viewing it through maple-leaf-red-colored glasses, and I realized, again, that perspective is a hard thing to set aside.
It was also a good reminder that even though it was produced by APTN, not all indigenous people agreed with the basis of the show. One thread in particular was very critical of the way that “you cart them around to communities and in front of Indigenous Peoples, and you make the Indigenous Peoples and communities prove their worth. That they aren’t the stereotype. That they are human beings who have been impacted by the historical trauma this country has levelled on them…we never did anything wrong, so why do we have to prove our worth to you? And why on a nationally televised reality program?” And because I had done reading before I watched the series, I could totally see it. At one point, one of the women makes a comment about wanting to get back to civilization - and isn’t that the crux of it right there.
So I alternated nodding with the honest and patient indigenous participants as they detailed their personal, and often traumatic, experiences, and wanting to punch the old racist guy in his glasses. (He did NOT change his views despite wanting ‘evidence’ and being provided with it in spades.) In fact, I wish that I could have watched it with a director’s commentary like some movies have, because I know that I would have learned even more. I could see the problems inherent in this reality-tv approach, but couldn’t quite articulate why. As someone much smarter than me explained, “because it’s still a Eurocentric exercise. Part of reconciliation needs to be about combatting those attitudes, but if we’re not also making space for Indigenous perspectives, then it’s not really changing anything.”
But there’s also the starfish effect: like the story, getting tossed back into the ocean made a difference for that one. I’d like to think that for every person who watches this show, and struggles with a little cognitive dissonance, that it might make a difference. I also think back to many First Nation presenters over the years who encourage us (as educators, in particular) to start. Just start. Wherever you may be in your own personal understanding, we can’t wait anymore. And so even if we make mistakes (I’ll never forget one presenter’s story about kids making tortilla tipis…yikes) we need to work toward education, truth, and reconciliation.
So although I am sometimes almost incapacitated with fear of screwing up, I will keep learning and keep trying. I agree with the Twitter commenter that “there are better, and more productive ways. For me, I will concentrate on the youth. These attitudes will age out. The youth will change this country.” And he is right. Even in our rural setting, in the last week, I read a student’s writing about dancing in pow wow; I heard music from A Tribe Called Red played at a volleyball practice; I had a student ask questions about the Metis flag hanging in my classroom; I heard grade 8 students insightfully discuss effects of colonization; and I know that student planning has started to recognize Orange Shirt Day next Monday.
Just like we are all Treaty People, we all need to be involved in Reconciliation. For our students, knowledge is the best way forward, toward a day of mutual respect when a reality tv show isn’t needed to educate Canadians.
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
p.s. the Twitter thread was by @DaveAlexRoberts or lots of discussion on @FirstContactTV
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