Submitted by Susan Fisher
An eight-week course recently offered in Perth was so popular “that we had to turn a lot of people away,” said Ramsey Hart, member of Lanark County Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation. “Clearly there is a strong desire for this information.” In fact, response to the program, Understanding Canada’s Indigenous Histories, was so enthusiastic that it will be offered a second time early in the New Year.
The Lanark County group, which sponsored the course, is made up of residents who, through regular events and information networks, foster better understanding and support for Indigenous rights and justice in this area and beyond.
The two hour weekly classes were taught by Robert Lovelace, Queen’s professor in global development with a focus on Aboriginal Studies. Lovelace is a former Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and a social justice activist. He is also the recent winner of the prestigious Principal’s Award for Education and Leadership.
Lovelace said he wanted to contribute something positive for Canada’s 150th anniversary, instead of giving way to his first response of cynicism. “This is critical stuff for people to know. So often folks are left in the dark when it comes to understanding the Aboriginal experience in Canada. Because they don’t learn much about it in school, they are left socially and politically unprepared to take part in this important national discussion.”
Lovelace added, “The greatest compliment I get from students is that they feel they are much better Canadians after taking my course.”
He offered the teachings for free, and even declined student donations when a hat was passed around during the last class. Instead, more than $1,000 in donations was turned over to next year’s Ardoch Algonquin Culture Camp.
Students of the class were touched, outraged and saddened by what they learned, but deeply grateful for finally learning the facts.
Dr. John Coombs pointed out that Canada prides itself on welcoming refugees and immigrants, but “forgets how poorly we have treated — and continue to treat — the first peoples of this land. Our record is a disheartening tale of dishonesty, theft and repression. These facts need to be known.”
Francine Desjardins, a Mohawk participant, said “many seeds of understanding” were planted regarding the harsh effects of colonialism. “My hope is that these truths will ripple throughout the community.” She particularly enjoyed Lovelace’s delivery of some of the rich Algonquin (Omamìwìnini) stories, which traditionally and today, are used to guide the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual aspects of Indigenous peoples.
Perth area resident, Andy Fisher, said that two highlights stood out in particular for him. First was learning the details of “the betrayal and rapid displacement of Algonquin people by settlers right here in Eastern Ontario.”
The second was hearing about how the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation is still trying to claim its place here in a way that deeply respects the land.
Understanding Canada’s Indigenous Histories which was held in Perth at Algonquin College (a classroom was offered free of charge) covered a broad spectrum of how geography, climate, ecology and politics have influenced the cultural and physical development of Canada’s Indigenous peoples from the 1400s to present day.
For further information on Lanark County Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation, you can follow the group’s Facebook page, or contact Ramsey Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org or Maureen Bostock at email@example.com For more details on the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation go to www.aafna.ca