Workshop helps Windsor-Essex teachers learn from Indigenous people

Helping Indigenous people in Canada move from "silenced" to "safe" in the education system was one focus of the two-day Allies In Reconciliation workshop attended by 100 people representing schools from across the Greater Essex County District School Board.

'Everyone should care about this'

Isaiah Menear-El, left, and his father Jeff Menear, attended the two-day Allies In Reconciliation workshop hosted by the GECDSB to help teachers learn from Indigenous students and parents. (Melissa Nakhavoly/CBC)

When Jeff Menear was in high school he says he was kicked out of class for objecting to a text book he felt was racist toward Indigenous people.

On Tuesday as he sat and watched as his son, Isaiah Menear-El, addressed a room full of teachers who volunteered to dedicate two days to learn about reconciliation through education, he said a lot has changed.

"He can express himself and show something is affecting him in a  negative way and he's not going to be treated as a criminal or a thug for not going along with the status quo," he explained. "I think that's huge, because he feels safe, I didn't."

From silenced to safe

Helping Indigenous people in Canada move from "silenced" to "safe" in the education system was one focus of the two-day Allies In Reconciliation workshop attended by 100 people representing schools from across the Greater Essex County District School Board.

"We need to listen and learn and build relationships with Indigenous people so when we do move forward we do it in a way that respects what they want, not what we think should happen," said Tina Decastro who works with the board and helped organize the event in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee's call to action in education.

The event is just the first of its kind, but more will follow with the goal of creating "culturally safe environments where Indigenous students can learn," she added.

Menear-El was one of the event panelists who took questions from school staff. The Grade 12 student from Kennedy Collegiate Institute said he doesn't see much Indigenous representation in education.

 "We kind of have to represent it ourselves," he explained. It doesn't make me mad or anything, but I think there's something that can be done."

Menear attended the event along with his son, partly to see how the experience of current high school students compares to what he went through years ago.

"The fact that these teachers are volunteering to come here really shows they have a true intention of trying ot change the social order … to improve the order so everyone feels equal and included."

Just the beginning

John Flynn has taught history at Northwood Public School, but said he's long wanted to learn about First Nations from the perspective of Indigenous peoples themselves.

"I think there's a ways to go, there's not really much in Windsor I can see that reflects the languages and cultures of First Nations People," he explained, but added he's noticed that starting to change.

Flynn said he left the workshop with ideas for how to introduce different topics in his classroom.

"Canada is a beautiful country, a wonderful country, but we have our problems in the past," he said. "Students and adults should know."

Menear-El is eager to take part in future events and conversations about what it's like to be Indigenous in Canada.

"This is just the beginning. I think the solution lies in people. We all live together and we all affect each other," he said. "Everyone should care about this."