Today, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meet and greet with Phil Fontaine here at my university. Unfortunately, I walked in only half way. I regret missing the beginning of his talk.
I did walk in on something interest. He stated just minutes after I walked in relating to Canadian Aboriginal people’s past saying that we need to fill in the “missing chapters.” In question and answer period with the students, questions were asked. I asked a question relating to one of my essays I am working on pertaining to education and Aboriginal children. My essay’s hypothesis is: Aboriginal students’ confidence levels may increase if Aboriginal history and culture is taught. What I mean by Aboriginal history, is not just the horrible things that happened in the past but also the positive history stories.
Recently, I came up with the idea to put to use my talent of writing and drawing. I love to write and draw, and it’s always been a dream of mine to write a book–whether black and white print or a child’s book. I would really like to write a child’s book, and illustrate it as well. That would be my ultimate dream.
I presented to Phil Fontaine my idea and how I would like to write about the good things that Aboriginal people have done. After saying all this, I kind of felt frustrated because 1) I could not get my actual point across because of my emotions 2) He grew up in a different era than I. I know, not his fault.
I could not get my point across that yes. I acknowledge the past and I would like to write about the past, but what also needs to happen is the positive stories. Growing up, I had my family as my positive support and motivation. I was fortunate growing up because not all Aboriginal youth have this basic structure in their life: family. I looked up to my sisters, my mom and my dad. I remember watching my dad doing his essays for his university degree. I remember watching my mom as well. When I needed help with my school papers, my mom would always say, “Get your dad to edit your papers, he was really good at that.” I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like my dad and be good at writing. I wanted to be like my mom, in all her hard work she done as a student, a mother, a wife, and a community member. My mom and dad were great motivation because they gave us the freedom to pursue what we wanted, and together my parents, would provide the guidance and care as needed. My sisters were motivators because well, they were my first best friends and will always be my best friends.
However, I felt that I was most frustrated in that I could not say that when I was growing up and going to school, there was no motivation outside of school. I am thankful for my family for all the motivation they did provide, because where would I be without them? Phil Fontaine made a point that we need to acknowledge our history, and I acknowledge and appreciate where he is coming from as he is a residential school survivor. However, I wanted to make a point that we need to start young, and motivate young Aboriginal people to stay in school. I believe in my point, just as much as I appreciate his point and background. I believe in my point because if young Aboriginal people do not have the motivation or confidence to stay in school, where will the future of Aboriginal people’s be heading to (I say this as a frustrated young person: History doesn’t matter if you have no future).
The issue with Aboriginal young people is drugs, alcohol, suicide, gangs, violence, criminal activity, as Phil Fontaine presented. The bigger issue is not having the motivation or confidence to avoid those experiences. The issue is not being able to have outside motivators other than one’s own family. This is an issue because sometimes their family is not even a “family.”
If the education of Aboriginal history, both positive and negative experiences, begins at a younger age to both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, it will bring about a greater awareness to the situation of Aboriginals in Canada. That is my idea, a concern for the future. As these young people grow older, they will be more aware of what happened, and what is happening today (and maybe what the causes are of the present situation of Aboriginals). They will be better able to apply their knowledge to help provide for or at least attempt to provide for solutions to the Aboriginal people’s problems. They may know why there is a lot of substance abuse, and gangs, and violence, and why Aboriginal people are over-represented in the prison system. They may know what causes these multigenerational problems, like those of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, and why these problems still persist today.
After hearing his response to my question and my idea, I felt that there is still the issue of young versus old, past versus present. We need to bring those two together to realize that one without the other cannot exist: Aboriginal people need their history as much as they need their young, and their young need to know their history to help them realize that the issues in their hometown or community are not their fault–that is the issue today. Most importantly, the rest of Canada needs to know this history in order to help their young, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to grow and understand each other. That is the solution, in my opinion. Getting rid of the “versus.”