Overall, I think that the SAFE (Social Justice & Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Forum On Education) Conference at the University of Regina on October 21st, was very beneficial for me. I found the sessions to be very valuable and informative. Though, this conference also challenged me on what I thought about reconciliation. What I got out of the key note speaker, Chelsea Vowel, was that we need to start doing something about reconciliation. We need to be allies who are sympathetic towards Indigenous people and want to humbly help them, BUT if we ask if they need help and they don’t need it, then we need to step back or “go away!” as Keynote speaker Chelsea Vowel said. Vowel also said that we as future teachers need to be activists. We need to be the change, be the front line workers in schools, and help make generational change happen in our schools.
The first session that I went to at the SAFE Conference was called “Race, Space and the Two Spirit Place” with James McNinch. I found this session to be very interesting because I never really knew what ‘Two Spirited’ meant. I found out from the speaker McNinch, that it is like the Ying and Yang – two parts made whole in one person. So, ‘two spirited’ is when a person has both male and female attributes and they feel they are whole with themselves. Some people who are two spirited may feel more masculine one day and then more feminine the next. McNinch also made me realize that gender is about roles and the way a person acts. He also shared that First Nation’s people saw two spirited people or gender diversity as rare encounters, like seeing a white buffalo, and they were respected for having different roles or attributes. I found this to be very interesting because I think that we should celebrate diversity, rather than try to separate people by gender. I also liked how McNinch said that everything we wear should be considered a ‘drag performance’ because you dress differently for many occasions like: Halloween, at home, at work, at school, even for sports or dance clubs, etc. Some people may even use costumes to cover up who they really are, but I think that school should be a safe place for students to be able to express themselves in whatever way they feel comfortable.
Another session that I enjoyed at the SAFE Conference was with Chauntel Baudu, who was my professor in my ECS 110 class. I chose to go to this class because I loved her teaching style and I grew so much in her class. Chauntel has really opened my eyes in the past to see my white privileges and be more aware of how I may be causing oppression because of the dominant groups that I am from. So I was very excited to see what she had to say in her session called, “Reconcili-Action: Affecting Change through Anti-Oppressive Education”. In this session, I was reminded that we need to create an anti-oppressive space to eliminate hegemonic practices, segregation and biased curriculum in our classrooms. I was also reminded that I need to move from apathy to action and do some more soul work by disrupting normative ideologies that I have been taught. I need to remember who I am and what I am bringing into the classroom before I teach others. I also need to be able to name the issue (racism, classism, sexism, ableism, etc.) before I can address it through action.
Overall, I took a lot of practical things away from this session. I know that I should create a classroom language that is anti-oppressive and teach my students the terms, such as: oppression, colorblind, white privilege, diversity, etc. I need to also name and recognize the issues with critical engagement with differences, which can then become anti-oppressive education. I need to teach students to critically engage in what they read, to disrupt their ways of knowing, and ask questions as to what the writer’s motives were while they wrote. I also need to invite my students into reflection by asking them to reflect on themselves, their stories, and their actions towards others. Lastly, it would be beneficial for my students to reflect further by writing an autobiography. This would give them an opportunity to reflect and understand how their own education has affected them. It also encourages students to question their assumptions or ideologies that have been taught to them. There were so many things to take away from this session, but I really enjoyed the last line in Baudu’s presentation, which I find also sums up the SAFE conference for me. She said, “when we KNOW better, we can DO better!” So in closing, now that I am a little bit further on my journey to KNOWING better, I hope that I can DO better when it comes to reconciliation with the First Nations people!