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A New Lens: Don’t Read the Comments

| Human rights, Indigenous Education

When I was in Grade 6, I told my mother I was having trouble seeing the blackboard at school so off I went to the optometrist for an eye exam. Imagine my dismay, as someone who really wanted to get glasses, when the optometrist poked his fingers through the open lens holes to demonstrate that I didn’t need glasses at all. In fact, my eyesight was nearly perfect! How well we ‘see’, without unnecessary lenses, is critically important!

Over the past several years, I have been given the opportunity to edit many papers as our daughter earned her undergrad history and museum studies degrees. This was an opportunity because it was through reading her papers, and through subsequent reading, that I learned histories that were new to me. I now look at ‘my Canada’ and the world through a very different lens.

I learned of events in Canadian history of which I never knew, and of which I am not proud, such as the Chinese head tax (1885-1923) and exclusion of Chinese immigrants (1923-1947), the internment of Japanese and Italian Canadians during World War II, the refusal to accept both Indian immigrants from the Komagata Maru on the eve of WW I and Jewish refugees from the transatlantic liner St. Louis during WWII and the relocation of Inuit families to the High Arctic in the 1950s. The Canadian government has issued official apologies in each of these cases.

Just as my optometrist offers me new and improved lenses for my glasses, I offer you such lenses through which to see and a challenge to improve the lenses of others. In the words of Elliott Erwitt who advised people to “[be] sure to take the lens cap off before photographing”, we need to ensure we open our minds, take off our lens cap, as we learn the truth about Canadian residential schools, recognize the motivation for an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and understand the realities of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people living on and off reserves. It is so easy and comfortable to keep our ‘lens cap’ on rather than seek to understand why today’s realities are as they are; we need to walk a mile in another’s shoes so to speak.

I was honored to have been invited to the launch of the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, held the first week of November. While I did hear first-hand stories of life in a residential school, I also saw the determination of these survivors to move forward, to build a better life for their children and grandchildren. I was heartened to hear it stated multiple times, by various speakers, that education is the key and to hear the optimism in their voices that perhaps wasn’t there when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was released in June.

It is our responsibility, as teachers, not only to learn the truth of the residential schools but to ensure the facts of these events in Canadian history are included in the curriculum of each province and territory. I made a commitment in Winnipeg in November, on behalf of the 200,000 teachers in the CTF, to continue to advocate for and collaborate with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people as they seek reconciliation and the realization of commitments made by the new federal government.

As I sit writing this in late November, I am also hopeful that by the time this issue of Perspectives is posted, Syrian refugees have started arriving in Canada. As this issue has human rights as its focus, I can think of no other topic so relevant. However, I have stopped reading the comments section on anything posted online, either mainstream media reports or Facebook and Twitter posts, because I was beginning to lose faith in Canadians. So many have their ‘lens cap’ on so tight, are so myopic, that they are turning inward rather than reaching out to those with needs so much greater than our own.

I have been told that for every negative comment there are ten positive ones that weren’t written; they are that silent majority. Rather than complain and whine online about the acceptance of refugees into Canada, this silent majority has sprung to action all over Canada to learn how they can sponsor Syrian refugees. Canadians, individually and in groups, are pledging donations to charities that can receive matching funds from the federal government. Canadians are donating online to crowdfunding and fundraising websites and people are flooding the helplines and asking what they can do to contribute.

I have made a commitment to move forward with my ‘lens cap’ off and I leave you with this article by Remzi Cej, which was recently published in the Globe and Mail. Remzi is one of the 12 Canadian Defenders of Human Rights in the teacher resource Speak Truth to Power Canada. The Canada he speaks of is ‘my’ Canada!

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