Reflecting on Race, Language, and Privilege

Posted on July 4, 2015. Filed under: cultural, First Nations, Masters, Privilege, Race |

Today in my summer institute Masters of Curriculum and Instruction course, I was sitting with a First Nations elder who was born and raised in Saskatchewan, but lives a couple hours away and another woman who teaches in Nunavut. Both these women are taking the same two classes with me this summer.

Today’s assignment for our curriculum development class was to answer the question “where are you?” My spring class brought up the question of “who are you?” but this professor wants us to see curriculum through the context of place and experience.  As we started talking about curriculum being shaped by place, these women started sharing some stories about language. They shared the struggle of what it feels like to lose a language and feel it slipping out of your hands.

The woman who is from Nunavut is fluent in Inuktitut, (the official Inuit language of Nunavut). She told me that she speaks her own language to friends and family, and tries to speak only Inuktitut at home, but that it is increasingly harder for her and her family to maintain the language.  She just put up a sign in her home last week that says (in Inuktitut and English) that she would like people entering her household to speak Inuktitut if possible. She told me that she has to remind her own parents to speak in Inuktitut to their grandchildren because sometimes it is just easier to speak English because the kids don’t always understand the directions in Inuktitut.

The elder, who is originally from Onion Lake Saskatchewan was sharing her similar struggle of how she is one of the only ones left in her family to speak Cree. She tries to speak Cree to her grandchildren, but their parents don’t seem too interested in learning and practicing their Cree.  Both women asked me my background and heritage. I explained to them that my family is originally from Germany, and both sets of grandparents spoke German but that German was lost with my parents and I.  I shared how in ’05, I lived in Germany for a year, and though I started to pick up bits and pieces of the language, I came back home and lost anything I did learn because I wasn’t immersed in it.

This is the point of the conversation that really hit home for me.  The elder sighed and said longingly, “I really wish there was a place that we could go to to be immersed in our language.” It was in that moment that everything I had been learning/reading about race, privilege and place hit home. When the early Canadian settlers took over the First Nation people’s lands, they didn’t just take their culture and language from them back then through unfair treaties and residential schools, they began a systematic, institutionalized racism that would steal the First Nation people’s future generation of culture and language.

truthandreconcilliation

As I move forward in this class, I am going to be reading the TRC report that came out not too long ago. If you haven’t heard of it, it is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is a document that outlines what can be done to try to reconcile the past harms that have been done to the First Nations people of Canada.  I encourage you to read it with me and think about what you and I can do as well.

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