Truth and reconciliation: One classroom at a time

“I guide their questions to allow their understanding of reconciliation, rather than residential schools.”

Kevin Kaiser

“Talking about reconciliation is still tough,” says Kevin Kaiser.

He’s a member of the Stellat’en First Nation, and is a teacher and aboriginal education consultant with School District 23 in the Central Okanagan.

He’s leading a discussion on education and reconciliation at the Rotary Centre for the Arts tonight, Dec. 9.

Kaiser’s mother and grandmother were sent away to residential schools when they were children. He was spared that attempt at cultural genocide imposed on First Nations families throughout most of the 20th century.

He listened to his grandmother’s stories growing up.

“I always say ‘I did not go to residential school, residential school came home to me,'” Kaiser says about his grandmothers tales.

They weren’t easy stories to tell, but she never shied away from telling them.

“My grandmother raised me very culturally. She said she’s OK now, but it’s still not super easy.

“I don’t think it ever will be.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission addressed the damage caused to First Nations and last December made 94 “calls to action.”

An entire section of the commission’s report addresses education, with seven specific calls to action.

education materialsKaiser personifies those calls to action. He’s the resource person for teachers in the local school district as they learn new course material on the history of First Nations the good and the bad.

Kaiser visits classrooms from kindergarten to Grade 12.

The new B.C. curriculum is being implemented this year for kindergarten to Grade 9. Next year, Grades 10 through 12 will be taught the new curriculum.

He said getting the information across to the students is not so much about what is presented, but how.

“Setting the tone in the classroom is key. Every grade has age-appropriate books and lessons.”

Books by Nicola Campbell have proven to be invaluable resources for the younger students.

“She has really nice stories about before the kids go to residential school how they lived.

education materialsIn the books the little girl character gathers items from her life in a memory bag. Here, “the teachers get the kids to collect a memory bag. They get to know their neighbourhood.”

Only later does a gentle introduction to residential schools begin.

“I guide their questions to allow their understanding of reconciliation, rather than residential schools,” Kaiser says.

“The first Grade 5 class I had last year, at the end of the unit a boy said, ‘Reconciliation is talking to and about each other with respect.’ I use that line to teach all the time.

“I just love the way they are free to ask questions and the teachers just answer the questions they are able to.

“The kids get a better understanding (of reconciliation) than the adults.”

Kaiser will lead the discussion which starts at 7 p.m. tonight, Dec. 9, in the Salloum rehearsal hall at the Rotary Centre, 421 Cawston Ave.

It is part of UBCO’s AlterKnowledge Discussion Series.