Scribe implores delegates to consider complete truth on path to reconciliation

May 22, 2020
By Ellen Whiteman, Manager, McDowell Foundation

Chris Scribe, founder and organizer of the Think Indigenous International Education Conference. - File Photo

Anyone who has organized a large-scale event has likely had this nightmare. Ninety minutes prior to opening, and with 1,400 delegates waiting expectantly for the morning keynote, the keynote is unable to appear.

For Chris Scribe, founder and organizer of the Think Indigenous International Education Conference, the circumstances around the mid-March outbreak of COVID-19 made the above scenario a reality for the 2020 conference held in Edmonton.

In typical Scribe fashion, he took what could have been a conference-ending cancellation over increased fears of the spread of the virus and turned it into an incredible opportunity to share, not only his passion for Indigenous Education, but also his gift of storytelling.

Scribe is Nakota/Nehiyaw (Assiniboine/Cree) from the Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation and is grounded in his Indigenous culture, language and tradition. Foundational to his worldview is the life teachings of his father and grandmother.

Scribe is well-known across Canada as an advocate for Indigenous knowledge in education. Currently the director of the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan, he founded Think Indigenous in 2015, and it has grown to become the largest grassroots Indigenous education conference in Canada. The aim of Think Indigenous is to bring together Indigenous thinkers from across “Turtle Island” to share innovations that support schools, communities and students.

In the absence of a keynote speaker, Scribe took the stage at his own event out of necessity. However, his message focused on the ongoing need for truth as part of the truth and reconciliation movement, which resonated with the audience of primarily educators, Elders and other leaders.

The core of Scribe’s message was that the truth being shared in Canada’s current era of truth and reconciliation is only a slice of the historical reality experienced by Indigenous people. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada focused on the stories of residential school survivors as well as the lost stories of the many children who perished in the schools and never returned home.

The work of the Commission and its 94 Calls to Action has meant that these stories are being increasingly taught within Canadian schools. While, admittedly, these are important steps on Canada’s path to reconciliation, Scribe maintained that the rest of the story and truth remains to be told.

Scribe raised the question: what was happening to the adults as the children were taken away? As generations of children were consigned to residential schools across the country, what were the stories of the families left behind? As examples, some unfortunate legacies of this shared history include the implementation of a pass system, the use of food shortages and food distribution to limit and control, the implementation of the Indian Act and other measures keeping First Nations people on reserve and under control.

According to Scribe, while the measures were primarily aimed at adults and were used to support compliance to the residential school system, they had devastating impacts on the entire Indigenous community. Further, and most important to fully understanding the continued impact of residential schools, including its accompanying legislation and practices on Indigenous culture, families and overall ways of life today, the complete truth must be told.

He indicated the complete truth must become part of both education systems and our shared discourse as Canadians. On a final note, Scribe challenged all in attendance to continue the work of ensuring that the stories are told and the complete truth is taught to children, youth and adults across our communities today.

The rest of the 2020 conference reinforced the importance of including Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous education in all areas of education. The first evening began with a screening of We Will Stand Up, a film focusing on the Boushie family as the trial unfolded and their subsequent quest for justice.

The breakout sessions continued on Day Two and focused on a wide range of topics including trauma-informed teaching, the importance of language and the value of Indigenous research methods in academic work.

Unfortunately, the threat of COVID-19 loomed for all three days of the conference with the Red Talks held on the final day being available only through live streaming. However, for me, the highlight of the conference was the unexpected keynote, generously offered by Scribe, and his call for the teaching of the complete truth on our path to reconciliation in Canada.