Poet, storyteller, longtime Aboriginal Awareness Consultant, and now retiree Garry Robson is the recipient of this year’s CTF Indigenous Elder Award.
As a member of the Turtle Clan of the Peguis Anishinaabe Nation in Manitoba, Robson fondly remembers the times when his own Elders were preparing him and his peers to take over.
“So we’d get up and we’d tell the story, and our legs would be shaking, and our voices would be kind of cracking. Then we sat down, and the next time we heard that story, we made sure we were listening because they were going to ask us again,” He later explains how, “a lot of those Elders that I’ve learned from have passed on, and I’m the one who is now telling the stories. I realized how important it was for me to listen to what they were saying, to what they were telling us.”
For Robson, the Elders not only bestowed oral knowledge, but they also played a fundamental role in shaping his self-image. Having survived ten years of Indian Residential School, Robson found solace in talks with his Elders who gave him pride in himself and a better understanding of who he was. They also emphasized the importance of education and its ability to allow survival in any environment.
As Robson admits, the educational system of today is quite different than the one he once knew. But education in itself and knowing oneself, especially for Indigenous children, are essential. He wishes he had known when he was young that Indigenous People had an education system before the coming of the Europeans. Robson recognizes a need for a better understanding from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous People, and this belief has followed him throughout his career.
For 28 years, Robson traveled extensively throughout Manitoba and Canada to deliver presentations to students, parents, educators, administrators, government departments and community agencies. He shared the teachings of the Anishinaabe Way of Life and the necessity of education for Indigenous People. In its letter of nomination for the CTF Award, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society praises Robson’s “real gift to tell the truth about history in a kind and gentle manner”.
Robson describes how he aimed in his presentations to “get children to see themselves as being a part of today and today’s society” and hoped they left with a better understanding of themselves that wasn’t founded on the stereotypes projected by others.
Robson has also served as an Elder/Advisor on dozens of policy and curriculum documents, and has written many poems about his life, friends, and the traditional way of life. Though he wishes he had written more, Robson says he is happy with all he’s accomplished during the years he’s worked with the Manitoba Education and Advanced Learning, Aboriginal Education Directorate.
Though he has been retired for seven years, Robson feels very fortunate to still be invited to deliver presentations. When asked about his future plans, he explains how he would do exactly what he’s been striving to do during all these years: create a better life for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren so they can survive in today’s society.
He also hopes to inspire the next generation the way he was inspired: “I’m hoping there are some young people that are listening. That they, too, will be inspired the way I was inspired by these Elders, and that, they too, will come and take the time to listen to the Elders, listen to the stories. They too will be able to retell the stories and retell the history.”