September 17, 2016 - 2:30 PM
ENDERBY - The Chief of the Spatsin First Nation recalls being name-called and ridiculed by other students as he walked home from school in Enderby as a young boy.
“The walk from school to home was like running the gauntlet," Chief Kukpi7 Wunuxtsin Wayne Christian says of the racism he endured. "I actually figured out ways to go around on the mountain so I wouldn’t be assaulted."
Christian spoke about his personal experiences with the public school system today at an educational session for teachers and administration in the North Okanagan-Shuswap school district. The event focussed on the renewed B.C. curriculum, which emphasizes the incorporation of First Nations principles of learning.
“It was emotional at times,” Christian says of the event, which was held at the new Splatsin Community Centre. “You couldn’t even talk about it when I grew up, but the system is changing.”
Christian went to M.V. Beattie and Ashton Creek Elementary as a boy, and attended high school in Armstrong. He doesn’t remember learning anything about First Nations history or residential schools in the classroom.
“Even at university, the Canadian history they were teaching was unbelievable. I argued with the teacher all the time, saying that’s not true, because it did not depict history as I knew it,” he says. “Back in the day it was very minimal in terms of what they taught about our people at all.”
But things are changing, and the new curriculum marks a big step forward. First Nations content is now being integrated throughout the curriculum in everything from math to science.
“From Kindergarten to Grade 12 they will get a sense of the values we hold close to our heart,” Christian says. “These are our values, but also the values we want to instil in all students — the importance of family and land and animals.”
He notes that teachers played a huge role in his life — including ones who stood up for him when he was taunted by other students in elementary school.
It was a great honour to speak in front of teachers and educators about First Nations values and knowledge, Christian says. To go from being ridiculed for his culture as a child to being respected for it today was a moment he won't soon forget.
Residential schools may have torn apart families, wiped out languages, and eroded traditional knowledge, but it’s in the classroom that much of the healing will take place, he says.
“I told the teachers, in their hands our future lies,” Christian says.
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