Speaker series invites viewers to engage in ‘true history of Canada’

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter Gabriola Sounder

Wednesday, January 20 2021

Stephanie Johnson believes it is vital for all Canadians to learn about the Indigenous stories and history of Canada. It’s part of what inspires her work within Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools, including as the organizer of the Learning with Syeyutsus Speaker Series.

The 12-part series is one of the ways NLPS is enacting Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s fifty-seventh call to action: that all governments “provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples” through “skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.”

“When we look at TRC 57, it’s a call to action for all Canadians to engage in the true history of Canada,” said Johnson. “It’s looking at our biases and belief systems about Indigenous people, it’s pedagogies, self-determination, land resurgence” and the “essence” and “intention of those original treaties.

“It’s looking at our settler Canadians whose forefathers signed those original treaties. What do we as Canadians need to do to honour those treaties today to fulfill our obligations of being a good relative on these lands?”

The speaker series was borne out of the broader work of the Syeyutsus Family, an advisory committee comprised of members and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers from Snaw-Naw-As, Snuneymuxw, and Stz’uminus, on whose lands NLPS work and learning take place, and the Mid-Island Métis Nation; senior school district staff and trustees; and union and parent advisory council representatives. Johnson has the role of Syeyutsus Saays’um, one that does the work to support walking together.

Syeyutsus (say-YA-yut-sus) is a Hul’q’umi’num expression meaning “walking in two worlds.”

“We’re walking in two worlds, the settler worldview and the Coast Salish worldview of the land that we live upon,” Johnson said. “So how do we bring those closer together is what we are looking at, and how do we, in relationship to the lands that we live on, that our school sites are on, how do we walk in this territory as good relatives.”

It is an invitation for settlers to also take up walking in both worlds, Johnson said, and understanding what that embodies involves unlearning and relearning.

“I switch between my Indigenous eye and my western eye, and in our western world we often are taught to be singular, individual. In an Indigenous worldview we see all as being interconnected and interrelated.”

The school district has embedded the Syeyutsus Reconciliation Framework, which includes providing learning opportunities for school populations and the community, into their current strategic plan and has had a board goal of truth and reconciliation since 2017.

For the learning series, NLPS partnered with UBC Press to offer a diverse collection of speakers including Sakej Youngblood Henderson, who helped draft the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and former Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould. Some non-Indigenous speakers will share their stories as allies, like Paulette Regan, the former research director for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

“All we’re doing is planting a seed,” Johnson said. “I think it’s the moral imperative of all Canadians to engage in the TRC calls to action. I would hope from this, that seed that’s planted, that you’ll go away and dive deeper into the concepts that you heard.”

For access to the series, go to www.trc57speakerseries.ca