Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Amidst the trauma, there is rising hope

By Margaret Lewis-John 1st Year MDP student

I am blessed to be currently doing my field placement at the Blue Quills First Nation College (BQFNC), in Alberta. The site of this college built in the 1930’s was a former residential school building. Coming here brought certain anticipated feelings to me, that of, being able to enter the premises of what I would have read and heard about in relation to the impact of residential schools on Indigenous Peoples in Canada.  It is significant for me since many of the persons in my region of the Caribbean are no longer alive to share their firsthand experience of colonisation of our Kalingo/Carib Peoples or of slavery of Africans almost 200 years ago.  I can see that after listening to many who spoke of their experience in residential school, that no matter if its 200 years or less the trauma manifests itself in many different forms hence the need to ensure social and economic development so we do not remain the same or ever allow this to happen again.

Since 1970, BQFNC is the only locally controlled Indigenous education college in Canada. At its present state instead of housing children taken from their parents it houses college and university programs for persons in the area and even as far as from the city of Edmonton 200 km southwest from the college. The College is fostering education for development the Indigenous way as a means of reclaiming their heritage and traditions. Hence in looking at the building it stands as a reminder of the trauma faced by the Indigenous people but the programs and interactions of the students demonstrates a rising hope for the future. 
From left to right BQFNC staff, James Lamouche (Director of Research and Indigenous Health Sciences Coordinator),Vivian Jenkins (Indigenous Language Resource Centre Coordinator), Sharon Jackson (Librarian), Higgs Murphy (Timber Frame, Coordinator), Ben White (IT Support), Anne Blower (IT Coordinator) in center Margaret Lewis-John (MDP student)
I was given a tour of the college by a former residential school survivor who recounted what happened to her as a child at the school and also by a first generation child who spoke of her parents, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews who were also affected. This tour gave me the opportunity to see the building and to hear the many stories still fresh in the minds of many. As I spoke with persons who visit the college, travel to the Saddle Lake community or attend a Pow wow in Beaver Lake the story is the same by those who were affected. The sentiments expressed were “if they want me to burn it down I will do it now’, for others “my uncle is waiting for the day when they will ask him to blow it up, he will be the first in line to agree” or it still is difficult for me to enter the building, but I see hope in the programs taught there”. These sentiments though hard at times for many are a guiding light to the team of teachers and administrators who offer college and university programs to the students by embracing all cultures and people. 
Not in Hawaii yet, but at Saddle Lake College graduation with Lisa Dixon (MDP student), Vince Steinhauer (President BQFNC) & Margaret Lewis-John (MDP student)

The programs offered by the college embrace the Indigenous traditions and it is not strange to see a class begin with a smudging ceremony and prayer. This is a means of reclaiming their traditions and beliefs. Additionally the Cree language is spoken freely by teachers and students and each day it gives me the opportunity to learn a new word or get an explanation as to what was said by someone in Cree. It is often said that if you have no language you have no culture or identity. Within the College there is a strong sense of pride and interest in all to speak the language and whereas through my readings residential schools did not allow the speaking of the language, there is no barrier now to its growth. Many second and third generation families especially among the women are ensuring that they teach their grandchildren the language as this is often expressed during a sharing circle or casual conversation. This certainly speaks hope. Also the use of and wearing of Indigenous craft is evident among many whether it’s through the wearing of earrings, ribbon shirts or skirts. These signify that there is hope and resilience among the people and this is fostered through the college education for development programs.         

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