History Underground: The Road to Reconciliation

Researcher: Denee Repski
December 2020

This idea was born out of profound restlessness – a sense in our classrooms that we as non-Indigenous teachers were attempting to engage a classroom of largely non-Indigenous students in learning around the history of residential schools and a lingering sense of tokenism seemed to colour each experience. 

We began to recognize this as “residential school fatigue” – that inevitable point in each class in each semester where students are introduced into the Indigenous unit. Eye rolls often ensue as students feel that they have heard it already, and essentially, they have. They have heard the bullet points of residential school atrocities and any impact of a true experience that continues to affect the relationship between settlers and Indigenous people is lost in translation.

After having taught in urban community schools for nine and 11 years respectively in diverse socio-economic classrooms with a significant Indigenous population, we were really attempting to meaningfully engage our current students with the weighted question of what reconciliation genuinely means. This was the place where our motivation began. 

A brief hallway meeting where our shared sentiment of the desire to find a way to avoid the “residential school fatigue” and invite students into a more authentic learning experience. It was through this lens, as settlers and educators seeking to reconcile our own experiences and walk out a personal journey to reconciliation, that we began to imagine whose voice needed to be heard, what land needed to be walked, and which relationships needed to be established. 

The next step was to move beyond the traditional classroom space and dynamic and to begin to meet and listen to Elders, Knowledge Keepers, community agencies, advocates, and those with personal experiences and connections that encompass our shared history from an authentic Indigenous perspective. These voices and by extension the relationships that were developed became the foundation of our project.