Come September 2017, the school day of every public school student in HRM will begin with the singing of O Canada and the reading of an acknowledgment of Nova Scotia’s treaty with Indigenous peoples: We acknowledge that we are in Mi’kma’ki, which is the traditional ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq people.
This is turning me into an activist, says the gentleman who calls me to register his disapproval. He’s a senior, a history buff, who’s raised his own children and now has school-aged grandchildren. I don’t want them used in this way, he says. He’s unhappy. You’re aware this is part of a much larger undertaking, I say, the Truth and Reconciliation process begun at the federal level and producing calls to action across all sectors and at all levels of Canadian society. Education has a role to play. This acknowledgment is just the beginning, it will be supported by lessons in every grade. He’s not comforted by this news, not impressed. It’s turning me into an activist, he says again.
It’s only later that both the paradox and the contradiction in what he says reveal themselves. He doesn’t want children used in this way. Does that mean he’s content with having them used in the teaching of half-truths? Settler truths? Anyone alive and raised in the Canadian public school system has been on the receiving end of half-truths their entire life. To apply his logic, we should all feel badly used. This acknowledgment merely begins to set the record straight.
The contradiction inherent in not wanting children “used in this way” is that the acknowledgment addresses, at least in part, the actual ill use of children in another school system. As TRC Justice Murray Sinclair said, referencing the residential school system, Education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it. In that sense and borrowing again from the caller’s words, “using” children is surely more appropriately done in the upholding of truth than in the perpetuating of lies and oppression.