Fostering Reconciliation through Relationship Building
Reconciliation requires attention to rebuilding trusting relationships between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples by actively focusing on engaging with Indigenous communities and Nations. It is an ongoing process of reestablishing and maintaining mutually respectful connections towards the creation of a more equitable and inclusive society. Supporting Indigenous Education, affirming our historical agreements, and understanding Indigenous context, history and contributions to society are important ways to redress the wrongs of the past.
Why is this important for Mohawk College?
The Indigenous population is growing rapidly
Indigenous youth make up the highest growing demographic with a 39% increase in youth aged 15 to 34 compared to just over 6% of their non-Indigenous youth counterparts between the years 2006 to 2016. In the coming years, these youth will become major contributors to the work force.
We are geographically close to the largest populated Indigenous reservation within Canada
Mohawk College is the closest community college to the largest populated Indigenous Reservation in all of North America. The Six Nations Indian Reserve #40 (legal name) is only a little over a 20 minute drive from Mohawk College which is on traditional Haudensosaunne and Anishnawbe territory. The Haudenousaunne people are originally from the area that is now known as upstate New York but after the 7 years war, in 1784, we were granted a plot of territory carved out of the original territory of the Mississauga Nation. From the 1700s to the 1800s, the Mississauga of the Credit River and Toronto area were under increasing pressure by the new colonists who were aggressively restricting their hunting, fishing and food procurement rights. In 1848, the Mississauga of the Credit River accepted the offer from the Six Nations to establish a new settlement, coming home to their original tract of land, on the southwest portion of the Six Nations Reserve. Thus, the largest populated reserve consists of the union of many different Indigenous Nations who are joined together in a relationship of peace, sharing and supportive cohabitation. The Mississaugas of the Credit has a total population of 2,564 people, with 951 residing on the reserve. The Six Nations has a total population of 27,559, with 12,892 residing on the reserve. Mohawk College is therefore, the closest community college servicing an Indigenous community of over 30,123 Indigenous peoples from multiple Nations.
The Name of the College comes from the Mohawk Nation
The Six Nations refers to a union of five original individual nations that occurred on August 22, 1142. The oral traditions talk about this union of peace coinciding with a solar eclipse, which is how Indigenous scholars were able to predict that the union occurred on this date. In 1722, the Tuscarora nation joined into this union of peace to become and make the Six Nations. Currently, these Six Nations are united under what is referred to as the Haudenosaunee confederacy. The birth of the Haudenosaunee confederacy marks the very first system of democracy, a system mimicked and modified by the new colonies coming to Turtle Island (now known as North America). The Six Nations remain united in their covenant of peace, power and righteousness for the health and long-term well-being of the people. The individual nations include the Mohawk Nation, the Oneida Nation, the Onondaga Nation, the Cayuga Nation, the Seneca Nation and the Tuscarora Nation. Any new nations coming to this territory are reminded of this union of peace and the need to conduct themselves according to these laws.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Belt
Mohawk College was named after the Mohawk Nation without consultation or consent. At the time, it was fashionable for community colleges to be named using Indigenous names. On October 17, 1966 the College’s Board of Governors decided that “Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology” was an appropriate new name, as it reflected, and they felt, honoured the monumental role that Joseph Brant, a Mohawk Nation Chief, had established with the former British Colony. Some Indigenous people do not feel honoured by this and feel that this name choice minimizes the importance of their Nationhood and the requirement for consultation. Some feel that because there was no consultation, the use of this name perpetuates an imbalanced power relationship and advertises permission to appropriate culture. Reconciliation will require that we welcome discussion surrounding this controversy and promote continued efforts to consult and seek consent as well as uphold and honour “Mohawk Nation” values, belonging and participation at this institution.
We are committed to being leaders in Indigenous Education, to redress Canada’s legacy of supporting cultural genocide
One of the reasons it’s difficult for Indigenous peoples to feel honoured by the college appropriating an Indigenous Nation’s name is because historically, institutions of education have been used to aggressively assimilate Indigenous peoples into a social and cultural system much different from their own. Residential schools, run by churches and endorsed by the Canadian and American governments, promoted the idea of “killing the Indian in the child to save the man” due to the very flawed assumption that Indigenous peoples would be better off if they were “civilized” and the land would be better used if it was “developed”. There are currently no Mohawk language courses and only a handful of Indigenous courses sharing Indigenous history and perspectives at Mohawk College, however, things are changing. On Monday November 2nd, 2015 Mohawk College signed the Indigenous Education Protocol guaranteeing their commitment to make Indigenous Education a priority. We have slowly been moving forward together learning what this means from an Indigenous perspective, embracing Indigenous belonging, including Indigenous curriculum and ways of knowing, and reconciling our relationships with the local Indigenous community. We still have a long way to go but are dedicated to inclusive change!
Understanding requires that we contextualize the perceived gaps that continuously position Indigenous peoples as inferior
Indigenous students, community members and faculty are constantly navigating stereotypes and assumptions that position us as inferior or working at a deficit. Continuously having to hear superficial gap focused statistics is harmful to our sense of belonging and our esteem. Indigenous education is required in order to contextualize rather than erase the history of relationships of imbalanced power. These dysfunctional relationships are at the foundation of why circumstances for Indigenous peoples seem so dismal. For example, just knowing that prior to 1959, the Indian Act legislated Compulsory Enfranchisement for any Indigenous person who achieved a College or University degree changes our understanding and interpretation of existing gaps in Indigenous education achievement. Compulsory Enfranchisement meant that if an Indigenous person sought formal education, they would no longer be able to identify as “Indian” and would relinquish not only their identity, but also their right to live on the reserve connected to their culture, family, and collective community. Compulsory Enfranchisement was a major disincentive for Indigenous peoples, deterring us from achieving and valuing higher education. Compulsory enfranchisement was tactically enacted as a means of either forcing Indigenous assimilation, or oppressing those who did not assimilate. We need to be reminded that this was not abolished until 1959 in order to fully comprehend and empathize with Indigenous peoples when we evaluate the gaps in education and impacts on socio-economic well-being.
Healing our relationship requires that we teach the truth about the legacy of the Residential school system and actively combat continued institutionalized oppression
Canada’s residential school system was created for the expressed purpose of indoctrinating Indigenous children into “Canadian” society. The idea was that children separated from their families would weaken cultural linkages, community and family ties. Relatives of children apprehended were less likely to revolt as the country pushed for the exploitation, “development” and theft of Indigenous territory for fear of the consequences bestowed upon the children they were no longer able to protect. At these schools, the children were abused mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually and sexually. They were deprived of the basic needs for survival, experimented on illegally, and consequently died in numbers that would NEVER have been tolerated or accepted in any other school system in Canada or in the world. This system of aggressive cultural genocide persisted for well over 100 years and was hidden for most of Canada’s history. This truth is difficult for most people to hear about. People are often shocked and traumatized when learning about the inhumane treatment of children at these church run, government sponsored institutions. It is so difficult because it goes against what we believe to be true about Canada’s reputation as a pinnacle of kindness, inclusivity, peace and democracy. For years Indigenous voices have been suppressed until survivors were finally able to rise up and find the courage, strength and support to have their experiences heard. Ultimately, a class-action lawsuit lead to the Truth and Reconciliation commission created by the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. Part of this agreement is that the institutionalized oppression of this history and the continued oppression of Indigenous contributions, knowledge and ways of knowing, being and participating be reconciled. The truth and reconciliation commission published 94 calls to action in 2015. These calls to action summarize the requirements that institutions and individuals must take to combat the systemic and institutional oppression of Indigenous peoples on their own territory. These actions promote ways to support improved acceptance of Indigenous voices, our belonging and our participation in healthy systems of education for the creation of safe and equitable relationships and societies of peace.
Five Easy ways to Increase Indigenous belonging
- Land Acknowledgment
- Articulate unifying values
- Recognize your own context and connection to Turtle Island
- Illuminate Indigenous contributions
- Advocate for equitable human rights
For more information and support, please contact:
Johanne McCarthy ND
Teaching & Learning Consultant- Indigenous Education
johanne.mccarthy [at] mohawkcollege.ca