In a recent conversation with Tanina Williams, I wrote this down in HUGE letters on my notepad – her words:
OUR CHLDREN ARE STRONG AND BRAVE.
THEY GET IT.
Tanina Williams shares Líl̓wat cultural knowledge in schools throughout the Sea-to-Sky – including at Signal Hill Elementary. This cultural education fulfils a government mandate for Indigenous ways of knowing and being, and helps Indigenous students connect to their identity, culture, and families. It’s also shared with all kids, regardless of their ancestry – it is something about my son’s experience at Signal Hill Elementary that I’m extremely grateful for.
She’s also a key part of helping all our kids navigate learnings about the residential school system – which is acknowledged on September 30, as Orange Shirt Day.
Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in the spring of 2013.
It grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s account of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the Mission, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually.
The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.
These are heavy truths. Understanding what First Nations people experience and have endured is a heavy thing to hold, and Tanina says, honestly, not many people can really do that.
But don’t underestimate the kids.
Tanina says, we are all Indigenous. We all come from somewhere that has culture, born of landscape and born of people. And as we are all Indigenous people, we all walk forward on this healing path.
What if we make “belonging” our base assumption? I belong. You belong. There’s no more or less. There’s no cancelling each other out. When we start from a place of belonging – in our bodies, in our communities, in this moment, in our relationships with each other, imagine what we could do together? And maybe all that it requires is a change of preposition – instead of belonging in something, what if we belong to something… I belong to the land, I belong to this school community, I belong to you. We belong to each other. Suddenly, we’re embedded in relationship with each other. Suddenly, we remember, what happens to one of us, happens to all of us. Suddenly, we ask, how do we hold these stories together? How do we hold each other? How do we walk this healing journey together?
One step at a time.
As the poet Machado wrote: