A Day with Inuvialuit Residential School Survivor – Steps to Reconciliation

Written by Denise Litke, IC and Fay Mascher, Teacher at Cayley School. Attended CRC Session – A Day with Inuvialuit Residential School Survivor Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and author of Fatty Legs, Christy Jordan- Fenton on Thursday, October 12, 2017

Be aware of not giving the impression that these are an oppressed people. We carry the huge responsibility of what we are giving people – hope and strength. This sentence is meaningful because it encompassed Christy and Margaret’s message of the day of not falling into a path of darkness, but rather reaching for the light and having hope.
“Conspiracy of silence” A provocative phrase which seemed to encompass the idea of the government’s plan to hide or to keep quiet about the harmful effects that residential schools had on Canada’s indigenous people.
Empathy A powerful word because in order for us to truly begin the journey of reconciliation we must step into the feelings and experiences that our indigenous people faced, and are still facing today, as a result of residential schooling.
There is a unique and strong relationship between mother-in-law Margaret Pokiak – Fenton (Olemaun) and her daughter-in-law Christy Pokiak – Fenton. Through this relationship, and Christy’s persistence to share her mother-in-law’s experiences, both at a residential school and her return home, four stories ended up being published: Fatty Legs, When I Was Eight, A Stranger at Home and Not My Daugher. The combination of Christy’s knowledge, and 81 year Margaret’s own telling of some of her experiences, allowed me to fulfill my goals for this session: learn more about residential schools, the impact it had on the lives of indigenous people, and how we can begin that journey of reconciliation.
So, what does reconciliation mean to you? This was a question asked of us early on in the session. People attending had a variety of answers, but perhaps the most passionate one came from Christy herself, “Reconciliation is not a word or an apology, it is an action that we take to build empathy and understanding. It is moving forward with this knowledge.”
Christy then went on to share with us how we could use her stories to start building empathy and understanding. Using the story of Fatty Legs, she modelled how she would use analogies from the lives of students in order to build empathy. One example was, “When Olemaun went to the residential school, she ate cabbage soup and oatmeal and she never got to eat the whale meat that she loved and was used to. How would it feel if you were at a school where you never got to eat pizza or popcorn?” She compared it to going to a mermaid school, or going to Hogwarts. “Olemaun arrived at school and was told she could no longer speak her language. How would you feel if you went to your school and they said you could not speak English but you had to speak Arabic?” After some lesson discussions, the afternoon continued with looking at resources, looking at some of the challenges to teaching residential school history and ideas for reconciliation projects.
Here are some of her suggested resources:Annick Press – go to Book Talks – Fatty Legs and A Stranger at Home Dreaming in Indian – poetry, short stories – Grade 6 + – edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth LeatherdaleNot Your Princess – high school – Jessica MitzelI am not a Number – Picture Book – Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy KacerThey Called Me Number One – Chief Bev SellarsSpeaking My Truth – selection of reflections (Truth and Reconciliation resource) – compiled by Shelagh Rogers, Mike DeGagne, Jonathon DewarThe Night Wanderer (Novel and graphic novel)– high school book clubs – also a vampire storyResidential Schools: With the Words and Images of Survivors – Larry Loyie – Grade 7 to adultThe Country of Wolves – teach legends – older elementary – Neil Christopher, Louise Flaherty When We Were Alone & resource book – any age – highly recommended – David Alexander Robertson and, Julie Flett (Illustrations) The Inuit Thought of It – part of a series They Came for the Children – Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada The Marrow Thieves – Cherie Dimaline – high school and above – dystopian society – futuristic Finally we wrapped up the afternoon with some suggestions for Projects/Exercises for Reconciliation:Blanket ExerciseHold a Reconciliation Tea – invite elders and serve themProjects of HeartShannen’s Dream – Cree girl – died in a vehicle crashWrite a politicianWork with a local artist to create an art installation, or write a songWrite a letter to an elderLearn about the treaties – How did they change? Begin a protocol of acknowledging the territory you live in, each morning. Greet guests to your school in the traditional language of that territory.Start a Pen Pal program.
As I reflected on the day, the question I had for myself was “Now what?” So, now that I have this information, where do I go from here? What are MY next steps? What’s MY action? Here’s what I decided . . . I am going to become more informed about the history of the indigenous people in Canada, or maybe just Alberta, reflect on my own values and beliefs around this topic, and be open to or be involved in a reconciliation project. My question for you is “What are YOUR next steps to reconciliation?”

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