Transformative Educational Leadership Journal | ISSUE: Fall 2022
In this intimate essay, Alice Jungclaus invites readers to walk alongside her in her return to herself and her country during this time of truth and reconciliation.
By Alice Jungclaus
“Justice Murray Sinclair once pointed out that while First Nations children were sitting in residential schools learning that their culture had no value or place in the modern world, the rest of Canadian children were receiving the same message about Indigenous people. This message is embedded into curricula, textbooks, lesson plans, and family conversations.”
-Jennifer Katz with Kevin Lamoureux, 2018
Awina niya / ᐊᐑᓇ ᓂᔭ / Who am I?
“I know who I am.”
~ my mother
Someone once told me that an expatriate educator is either running away from something or towards something. In 2002, in the school that I was teaching at, I encountered a resource identifying my Nêhiyaw (Cree) great-great-grandfather’s image along with an incomplete and biased story depicting him as a criminal guilty of treason. My insides raged. My truth in that moment was the culmination of an experience of what Buul et al. (2020) refer to as curriculum trauma regarding Indigenous histories. So, I left my homeland to teach elsewhere in the world.
My cognitive schema accompanied me on my journey abroad. I took my formal and informal socialization and educational experiences from British Columbia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan with me. I was accustomed to curricula in which Indigenous Peoples’ stories were absent, framed from non-Indigenous points of view and/or negatively stereotyped. The habit of self-oppressing my questions, my truths, and my cognitive dissonance were also tucked into my psyche. I knew full well it was not safe to reveal my Indigenous maternal identity which was phenotypically hidden from view.
My Indigeneity went unnoticed by observers because my father is an Igbo from Africa. My early years of Nêhiyaw language and cultural immersion in Saskatchewan was unnoticeable. I worked in fashion media, taught personal development courses, and eventually became a French teacher. My Black African phenotype is what folks noticed about me. My identity came to include an unseen, fearful, and voiceless Indigenous Nêhiyaw girl who eventually became a code-switching adult woman teacher in British Columbia. This went on for decades.
âpwênimâkêwin / ᐋᐯᐧᓂᒫᑫᐃᐧᐣ / Bringing the Truth of Things
“The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing and reconciliation. Therefore, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this Chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to Aboriginal peoples for Canada’s role in the Indian Residential Schools system.”
~ Prime Minister of Canada, Right Honourable Stephen Harper, June 11th, 2008
The streams of tears drizzling down the crevices between the knuckles of my wrinkled brown hands silently hit the computer keyboard in my classroom. It is 2008 and I am working after hours at a private international school in Hong Kong. Streaming the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news live through the internet is typically a comforting hum of background sounds connecting me to Canada. But in this moment the Canadian Prime Minister’s voice cuts through and his live, public apology surrounds me. He is talking about something I forbade myself from speaking about. The inter-generational wounds from Indian Residential Schools run too deep.
As the words of the Prime Minister’s apology sink in, I push the pile of marking aside, involuntarily compress my cheeks and wrinkled eyes with my palms to listen tearfully in disbelief, shock, and fear. Is this really happening? What does this mean for me? For my mother? For my Igbo father? For my First Nation? For my relations and communities? For schools? For Canada? Metacognition overload.
Truth and Reconciliation in Canada was not part of the national discourse when I chose to emigrate from my country in 2002 looking for a healthier place for someone like me to teach. I wanted a place where I would be free from the “ongoing psychological colonization of North American Indigenous People” (Fryberg et al., 2016).
I wanted to continue practicing the art and science of teaching, in countries where I could experience a sense of rest from negative narratives about Indigenous Peoples of Canada. This strategy worked for six years until painful history about what my mother and many of my relatives experienced reached me overseas in 2008 with that apology.
The Prime Minister’s public acknowledgement of the great harm caused by Indian Residential Schools cracked my heart open. It is also the moment I recognized a credible sign from powerful Settler Canadians that “inclusion safety” in schools was on the horizon. This part of my story is a very personal example of the First Peoples Principles of Learning: Learning involves patience and time (FNESC, 2007).
kwayaskâtisiwin / ᑲᐧᔭᐢᑳᑎᓯᐃᐧᐣ / Setting Things Straight
“In any social unit, inclusion safety can be granted, withheld, revoked, or partially or conditionally granted.”
~ Timothy R. Clark, 2020
Timothy R. Clark, a global leadership consultant, proposes a model of psychological safety that connects to the Western paradigm of the hierarchy of needs, specifically: security, belonging and fulfillment. He states, “once the basic physical needs of food and shelter are met, psychological safety becomes a priority” (Clark, 2020, p. 3). Clark defines psychological safety as a “a culture of rewarded vulnerability” (n.d.). It is an environmental condition. My inner wondering: was there ever a time in my educational experiences as a student in Canada when I experienced “a culture of rewarded vulnerability” as an Indigenous girl/woman?
In the years since The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada completed its mandate “to inform all Canadians about what happened in residential schools” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, n.d.) efforts to meet the Calls to Action in education have been ongoing. During my time abroad as an educator in Hong Kong and later as a teacher in Switzerland, I observed and researched the unfolding of what was happening in Canada’s “culture cycle” (Fryberg et al., 2016) regarding relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians in education. The culture cycle theory characterizes four features of a cultural cycle – individuals (the self), interactions (social exchanges), institutions (education and the media), and ideas (what is a good person) (Fryberg et al., 2016). Furthermore, according to Clark’s conception of inclusion safety, respect, permission, and social exchange are prerequisites to the first stage of psychological safety (Clark, 2020).
I saw that Canada was embarking on transformation at all system levels to reconcile the myriad harms of Indian Residential Schools on generations of Indigenous children and their families. This was the most personal education. I was not prepared to face this learning given my deliberate escape from harmful curricula and narratives connected to my identity as an Indigenous person. I found myself disclosing for the first time to my students and colleagues in Hong Kong and Switzerland that I was also Nêhiyaw and a member of Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. Testing the waters abroad felt like the safest way to share information I had previously kept private. Eventually, to further my inquiry into safety and wellbeing, I opened up about my Indigeneity in interviews, articles, and social media sharing that I was also an Indigenous Canadian. My metacognitive learnings can be summarized as: ready or not, abroad or not – you are now officially included in Truth and Reconciliation efforts in Canada.
Sohkeyimowin peweyimowin / ᓲᑫᔨᒧᐏᐣ ᑕᐸᐦᑌᔨᒥᓱᐏᐣ / strength humility
“Welcome back to the circle.”
~ my uncle, Elder Walter Bonaise
Both my Nêhiyaw maternal family and my Igbo paternal family value cultural models of Self as interdependent rather than independent. Some of the patterns of ideas and practices that speak to my family’s valuing of interdependence, and which uniquely align with characteristics valued in Indigenous learning include: “spiritually oriented”, “holistic”, and “communal activity, involving family, community and elders” (Battiste, 2013, p.181). Similarly, these values resonate in the First Peoples Principles of Learning written by Indigenous educators in British Columbia that state: “Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors” (FNESC, 2007). I continued to enjoy the private teachings from my mother and extended family members living in Saskatchewan during summer visits or over long-distance phone calls. However, it was a particular call with my Uncle Walter who explained our family history as it was told to him by nîmosom (my grandfather, Alex Bonaise) and my great-grandmother Harriet Favel. The teachings from that chat confirmed for me that I was on the right path in my learning development. I was becoming whole again through healing conversations about a Dream. Uncle personally welcomed me back to the circle.
Although I was hungry to learn more and feeling a pull to come home spiritually and psychologically, I was not confident that I would be able to thrive professionally in Canada due to the old curricula that had compelled me to move abroad to teach in the first place. However, in 2018 my curiosity grew further when I discovered that British Columbia’s K-12 redesigned curriculum had undergone significant curricular transformation. It now included Indigenous knowledge and perspectives integrated in all areas of learning. The second stage of psychological safety was becoming possible as learner safety allows us to feel safe in all aspects of the learning process (Clark, 2020). At this point, I wondered: Is it safe enough for me to return home to be included in efforts towards Reconciliation in education? Is the system ready for my contributions?
I packed my bags and this time, my cognitive schema contained over fifteen years of parenthood and teaching experience whilst living in East Asia and Europe. I felt ready to take a chance to return to my former school district in British Columbia and show up differently. Scary is an understatement; however, I had faith that my return would somehow be a piece to my healing journey with curricula vis à vis Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Two years before I surrendered my permanent residency in Switzerland, the Prime Minister of Canada made a public statement and appearance among my relations at Poundmaker First Nation that my great-great-grandfather, Chief Poundmaker, was exonerated of his charges of treason. This was a personally significant signal that it was both psychologically safe enough and the right time for me to return home.
nitâpwêwin / ᓂᑖᐻᐏᐣ / My Truth
“My elders say we dream ourselves into being.”
~ Richard Wagamese
Healing is part of Reconciliation. The origin of the word healing is from Old English hæling which figuratively means “restoration to wholeness”. For me it is also spiritual. Katz and Lamoureux (2021) put it more elegantly: “Our soul is the core of who we are, our humanity, our essence. Soulful education is about self-actualization – discovering who we are, where our passions lie, and what gives our lives meaning and purpose.” (p. 13). Margaret Kovach (2021) captures the essence of a return motivated by feelings and inquiry: “Story called me home” (p.175). Finding the courage to share my personal reconciliation experience of finding my way back to Canada during the age of Truth and Reconciliation is an example of some of the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FNESC, 2007):
- Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational.
- Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
- Learning involves exploration of one’s identity.
Today, as I learn alongside the diverse hearts and minds in a school situated on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations in British Columbia, we discover painful truths about Canada’s history. Simultaneously, students express the desire for more joy and hope in their learning about the past, present, and future for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. Clark (2020) proposes that “if learner safety is the stage of preparation, contributor safety is the stage of performance” (p. 67). To meet the TRC’s Calls to Action for education I am showing up as my full self this time around. I believe Chief Robert Joseph’s (Reconciliation Canada, 2021) words:
“Reconciliation starts with you.”
- Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Purich
- Buul, A. A., Turner, K. Q., & Tyree, E. (2020, July). Curriculum Trauma. Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. https://www.asccc.org/content/curriculum-trauma#:~:text=Curriculum%20Trauma%20(CT)%20is%20by,independent%20and%20healthy%20social%20agents
- Clark, T. (2020). The 4 stages of psychological safety: Defining the path to inclusion and innovation. Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
- First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC). (2007). First Peoples Principles of Learning. First Nations Education Steering Committee. http://www.fnesc.ca/first-peoples-principles-of-learning/
- Fryberg, S., Covarrubias, R., & Burack J. A. (2016). The ongoing psychological colonization of North American Indigenous people: Using social psychological theories to promote social justice. In P. L. Hammack (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Social Psychology and Social Justice, Oxford Library of Psychology. 113-128. (2018; online edn, Oxford Academic, 2 June 2016), https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199938735.013.35
- Harper, S. (2008, June 11). Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools. Government of Canada. https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100015644/1571589171655
- Katz, J., & Lamoureux, K. (2018). Ensouling our schools: A universally designed Framework for mental health, well-being, and reconciliation. Portage & Main Press.
- Kovach, M. (2021). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts (2nd ed.). University of Toronto Press.
- National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. (n.d.). History of the TRC: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation University of Manitoba. https://nctr.ca/about/history-of-the-trc/truth-and-reconciliation-commission-of-canada/
- Reconciliation Canada. (2021, December 1). We are one, we can work together, and this is how we’re going to move forward in this process of [Image attached] [Status update]. Facebook. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2138335872988214&substory_index=0&id=160630874092067
- Trudeau, J. (2019, May 23). Statement of exoneration for Chief Poundmaker. Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau. From https://pm.gc.ca/en/news/speeches/2019/05/23/statement-exoneration-chief-poundmaker
- Wagamese, R. (2021). Selected: What comes from spirit. Douglas & McIntyre.
- What is Psychological Safety? (n.d.). Leader Factor. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from https://www.leaderfactor.com/psychological-safety
Deep gratitude and appreciation to both Professor Solomon Ratt at First Nations University of Canada and Valerie Bonaise at Chief Little Pine School. Both are inspiring Cree language and culture teachers who have kindly helped me with the Cree syllabics in this essay and supported me in my reclamation of my maternal ancestral language.