The truth about Indigenous school experience
For the second day of Humber’s annual Indigenous Knowledge Gathering, the focus remained on education, but the lens through which we view it changed.
With Humber alumnus Christian Quequish and VICELAND’s Sarain Fox as the morning’s keynote speakers, the three-day event shifted to Indigenous youth’s perspective of education.
“High school was…. rough for me,” said Quequish, a 2013 Anishinaabe Oji-Cree graduate of Humber’s journalism program, who talked about his time in high school in Northern Ontario.
“I was the only Indigenous person in the majority of my university [prep] classes. That can sometimes be a huge factor in determining your future, especially if you’re dealing with racism in the classroom,” he said.
Quequish, who is now a Recruitment and Admissions Officer at McGill University, had to endure painful interactions not only with fellow students but with those on the other side of the classroom: his teachers.
“I’ll never forget having to listen to the same high school history teacher tell his class how unfair it was for Indigenous people to pursue post-secondary education for free,” Quequish said. “It made high school a lonely place to be.”
Quequish’s encounters with education resonated with Fox, an Anishinaabe activist, dancer, choreographer and television host. “When I entered Grade 1 as a really proud Anishinaabe girl, the things that I was most proud of weren’t things I could talk about,” she said.
“I was put in my place very quickly. I was never allowed to be who I was.”
Though Quequish and Fox have many harrowing memories, they wanted to bring hope to Indigenous youth by sharing some of their breakthrough moments as well. “I’m proud to say Humber College has been a place of growth and decolonization for me,” Quequish said.
“People at Humber taught me to be proud of being Anishinaabe Oji-Cree.”
Fox believes Canada’s education system is on the verge of a breakthrough. “The programs that are happening here at Humber, at Trent, all across the country, they are finally starting to do one important thing,” Fox said, “believing that [Indigenous knowledge] is just as important as any other knowledge.”
Though improving education for Indigenous peoples and implementing their knowledge into Canada’s educational system may seem daunting, Fox reminded those interested in taking part to always go back to the primary objective: nurturing today’s youth.
“I’ve learned so much from youth, and I think the best educational approach is to ask them what they need and to be flexible,” Fox said.
“That’s where the magic is. To follow the young people.”
To learn more about Humber’s 2018 Indigenous Knowledge Gathering, click here.