Opinion: In back to school and everywhere, let’s take back our spaces
- Alyson Bear | October 17, 2018
Back to school this year for me means seeing familiar faces and places I have not seen for a while. This year I have made the choice to become more involved at school. I am now in my second year of Law school and the Vice President of Indigenous Relations. This means taking on more responsibilities and attending meetings for both the Law Student Association (LSA) and the Indigenous Law Students Association (ILSA) and doing my best to bridge Indigenous and non-indigenous students. As well as being the Indigenous voice in the LSA meetings where I am the only Indigenous student representing and able to be vocal when and where it is necessary when it comes to educating other students on Indigenous matters and creating more inclusive events this year.
I think it is important as an Indigenous student that we are taking back our spaces in these Colleges and not just in schools but everywhere in society. At one point, it was illegal for an Indigenous person to even hire legal representation, never mind actually becoming a lawyer. These institutions are still very much a colonial setting, the cases and decisions that been made, the policies and legislatures that are created derive from a colonial mindset and there has been very little involvement from Indigenous voices. That is something that needs to continue to evolve as we take back our space on our own land.
The thing I think people need to realize is that Indigenous peoples have been here since time immemorial and we are not going anywhere. Also, the fact that the settlers who have come here and identify as Canadians are probably not going anywhere either, as well as the people who have come to Canada from different countries for better opportunities. We are all here and it does not seem that anyone is going anywhere so the best thing we can all do is learn how to get along and help one another. This does start with education.
People who have come here or even people who are born here still have no clue about all the different nations that have been here since time immemorial and always called these lands home. This should be being taught and not forgotten and left out of history and the contributions that were made by so many Indigenous peoples and nations is something that should be acknowledged and remembered.
That even goes for many of our own people, being raised in a colonial education system and society for many years the truth of our people has been left out forgetting and losing our own identities. Indigenous peoples have been labelled and stigmatized with negative stereotypes and this mindset lives on it has been internalized in society and internalized in our justice, and political systems. This needs to be acknowledged so we can begin changing these cycles and narratives in our society, institutions that continue to oppress our people.
This year the College of Law has a new class that is mandatory for all the first years to take. This class I called, Kwayeskastasowin which is a Cree word that means, setting things right. This course will include the history and ongoing legacy of residential schools and discuss the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP recognizes and affirms our inherited rights as Indigenous peoples with more context. The class will discuss Treaties which is important for everyone to know and understand how we are all treaty people, because if it was not for treaties no settlers would have been settling and putting their roots down and “owning” land to pass down to their families. The class also discusses Indigenous law, Aboriginal-Crown relations and this will provide training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, and human rights. Which is extremely important for up and coming lawyers to understand especially when many have never learned the true history of this country and how and why Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and other areas. The fact that Indigenous law is progressing fast throughout the country when it comes to addressing historical wrongs as well as emerging economic development and infrastructure on First Nations. All those areas need good respectful, educated legal representation to make real change for the generations to come.
I also wanted to bring awareness to mental health and back to school, making sure to ask for help when needed and checking in on your friends and classmates is important. School brings extra stresses into life with a lot of added pressure, and bullying that can cause social anxiety. According to Statistics Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst youth. We need to be doing our best to make sure our children feel heard, safe, loved and not hopeless.