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The Social Echoes: Learning to Unlearn

Addressing Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action

March 15, 2022

The following piece is a follow-up to a story FASS published in October 2021, “Listening and Unlearning from the Heart", in which SFU Criminology’s Brenda Morrison shared one of her approaches to acting in regard to reconciliation in her teaching practice: creating a meaningful “social echo.”

Morrison cited a Quechan parable of Dukdukdiya, a little hummingbird who, though she is small and cannot carry much water, still “does everything she can to put out a raging fire that threatens her forest home.” She says the story inspires her and others to “do what we can and not run from the work of reconciliation ahead; that single acts of courage and commitment create the embrace of a healing social echo.”

In November 2021, Brenda Morrison kindly invited me to sit in on the last three weeks of her course CRIM 416, “A National Crime: Governance, Justice and Indian Residential Schools,” wherein students spent the term learning about and processing the impact of the Indian Residential School System through the lens of rights, justice, and reconciliation. Through text, film, and guest speakers, Morrison’s course facilitated students’ understanding of how the Indian Residential School System affected the health, education, and well-being of entire generations of Indigenous children and families.

As a capstone to the course, Morrison’s students worked in groups to create their own “social echoes” on the topics of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), Culturally Appropriate Education, and Disproportional Representation. While I was unable to attend all three presentations, I did attend the social echo where Criminology doctoral student Soraya Janus and undergraduates Arianna Sihota, Emma Choat, Jasleen Sidhu, Macaela Bradley-Tse, Abby, and Selena Newman delivered a powerful presentation on MMIWG.

Top left to right: Jasleen Sidhu, Abby, Emma Choat, Brenda Morrison, Soraya Janus, Arianna Sihota. Bottom left to right: Macaela Bradley-Tse and Selena Newman.

The group members share photos and details on their social echo below, but I was particularly struck by their ability to not only share their learning on such topics as the Red Dress Project, Highway of Tears, and the National Inquiry on MMIWG, but also how they compelled listeners to be present and active throughout their presentation.

When I met with Soraya Janus, she shared that creating the social echo with groupmates who were equally committed was a powerful experience.

“Funnily enough, I had to get special permission to take this course as a graduate student. But it was an amazing class which was just as intensive—in some ways more intensive—than the graduate courses that I’ve taken. On top of that, it was great to work alongside and mentor undergraduate students. We still are in touch and I know the knowledge and learning will stay with us forever.”

Read more below about the group’s experiences putting themselves completely into the project of creating a social echo and how their learning continues.

~Christine Lyons

The Beginnings

We came together as a group of students looking to take a course on expanding our knowledge on Canada’s residential school system. We were strangers - students from mixed backgrounds and disciplines (undergraduate students and a graduate student), who shared an interest in the case of Gabby Petito, who made headlines around the world, and noted the prevalence of Missing White Woman Syndrome.

Why is it that everyone knew who Gabby was and what her case was about, but that no one knew any of the local cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls?

 

We recognized that we wanted to use our privilege and opportunity to amplify this position and give a voice to the voiceless.

Upon finding out that we were all passionate about the Missing and Murdered Women and Girls in Canada, we brainstormed ideas and jotted down notes, inspired to start creating and building our social echo. 

We are so proud of the way our social echo has come into fruition. We feel inspired that our project has reached so many people and how together we can bring more awareness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)’s 94 Calls to Action. We hope to continue encouraging others to delve into their own ontological securities and reflect on how to be a better ally to support Indigenous peoples and their communities.  

What unfolded was incredibly profound and meaningful for each of us. Together, we celebrated a project that, from start to finish, inspired us to do better and share newfound ways of enlightening our peers to do the same. 

Overview of Project

By incorporating each colour and quadrant of the Indigenous medicine wheel, we created poster boards that honoured Indigenous culture and traditions and acknowledged the Indigenous lands that SFU’s campuses occupy. By closely examining the TRC‘s 94 Calls to Action, our group opted to select calls to action that best represented our boards and the information we were hoping to convey to our audience. We have included these five calls to actions below.

Our presentation included six pieces:
Orange Table (centerpiece of our social echo)
White Board (North) səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nation
Yellow Board (East) q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie) Nation
Red Board (South) xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nation
Black Board (West) Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) Nation 
Red Dress Pinning Ceremony (closing of our social echo)

Each audience member received a personalized envelope. Inside the envelope we included pieces from each board that would assist with engagement during our small presentations. We included small red dresses (used during the “pinning ceremony”), photos of missing and murdered women and girls, and a QR code to native-land.ca to help anyone who would like to know what Indigenous land they are currently on. After each coloured board was presented, we asked our audience to thread the same-coloured bead on their safety pin; a takeaway from our presentation. 

We would like to offer a special thank you to the Squamish First Nation (our group member Selena’s Nation) for generously donating their red dresses to provide a meaningful visual representation for our social echo. 

By forming a circle to represent unity and inclusivity, we created a safe space for our audience to listen, learn, and engage with one another. Directly in the centre of our circle, we created the Orange Table to symbolize reconciliation, TRC Calls to Action, the famous parable of The Flight of the Hummingbird, and a small red dress. 

The Orange Table

The Orange Table - meaningfully placed in the centre of our circle. To begin our social echo, we used the small red dress as our talking piece, asking our audience to tangibly hold the weight of the dress and to express what the dress meant to them.

TRC Call to Action 80:
We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process. 

The White Board

The White Board was the first poster board to be presented. Encompassing the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the colour white represents the sky, stars, and ancestors. The material on this board focused on Indigenous cultures and traditions, including art from Ojibway artist Terry McCue. Passing around his artwork, we asked our audience to reflect on the meaning and symbolism of each painting which showcases a macabre scene of women wearing red dresses, or simply red dresses blowing in the wind.

TRC Call to Action 17:
We call upon all levels of government to enable residential school Survivors and their families to reclaim names changed by the residential school system by waiving administrative costs for a period of five years for the name-change process and the revision of official identity documents, such as birth certificates, passports, driver's licenses, health cards, status cards, and social insurance numbers.

The Yellow Table

The Yellow Board was next and focused on the Katzie First Nation. The colour yellow represents bravery, willingness to fight death, and healing methods. The material on this board focused on giving a voice and a name to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Sharing pictures with our audience, we asked each of them to read the names and ages aloud, one at a time. The board also explored how we can all be better allies.

TRC Call to Action 41:
We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal organizations, to appoint a public inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls. The inquiry’s mandate would include:

  1. Investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
  2. Links to the intergenerational legacy of residential schools.

The Red Table

The Red Board acknowledged the Musqueam First Nation. The colour red represents blood, fire, and energy. True to its colour, the red board educated our audience on the Red Dress Project, which highlights the epidemic of violence against Indigenous Women and Girls.

TRC Call to Action 72:
We call upon the federal government to allocate sufficient resources to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 

The Black Table

The Black Board acknowledged the Squamish Nation. The colour black represents resilience, equals, leaders, and mothers. We discussed B.C.’s notorious “Highway of Tears,” Highway 16, a stretch of highway that covers 724 km where an overrepresentation of Indigenous women and girls were murdered or went missing. There is still much debate over the exact number of missing and murdered. Think of someone who is important to you - what if they went missing?

TRC Call to Action 20:
In order to address the jurisdictional disputes concerning Aboriginal people who do not reside on reserves, we call upon the federal government to recognize, respect, and address the distinct health needs of the Métis, Inuit, and off-reserve Aboriginal peoples.

Red Dress Pinning - “The Pinning Ceremony”

Nearing the end of our presentation, we asked our audience to go into their personalized envelopes and take out a handful of red dresses. With a pen, we asked each person to write meaningful words and phrases on each dress before coming up to pin over a white dress to give a voice to all those who have been forgotten. 

We had 215 dresses on our cork boards to symbolize the unmarked graves of the 215 children found on the grounds of a former residential school on the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. 

Much like the parable, The Flight of the Hummingbird, through our presentation we hoped to echo the importance of “doing what you can” despite how little or insignificant you think it may be. We need to take a position where we listen to those who have been harmed, hear their voices, and act on all the remaining TRC Calls to Action. As of June 30, 2021, only 14 calls to action have been completed. We can do better, and together we must!

Where to see Social Echoes next

Partnering with the City of Burnaby and Simon Fraser University, the Social Echoes have received a grant to continue this work and bring awareness toward the process of truth and reconciliation and how to be a better ally.

This event will be hosted during the Burnaby Festival of Learning in 2022.

Join Social Echoes' online event, Addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action, on Friday May 6, 2022. It's free and everyone is invited.

Register

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