From the Editors’ Desk
Muses from the North (MFTN) is honoured to have received a grant from The Small Research Grants Fund by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) to release two special issues on the topic of Truth and Reconciliation based on the perspectives of students at the University College of the North (UCN). The majority of contributors to MFTN publications is Indigenous students in the northern communities that are situated in the geographical area covered by UCN. Before receiving the NCTR small grant, MFTN had only scratched the surface on the subject of Truth and Reconciliation in almost every issue. However, with the NCTR grant, MFTN is able to directly beam the spotlight on stories and interviews on the topic. Student contributors are using the platform which MFTN provides to disseminate the result of their search for the truth about the residential school system. The major way by which the student writers achieved their quest was by reaching out to survivors and victims of both residential and day schools in order to get a first-hand account of their experiences.
This very first issue of the proposed twin issues features ten submissions from one UCN Faculty member, and six current and recently graduated UCN students who share their works, stories, experiences and researches on Truth and Reconciliation. The central theme that runs in the published works is the truth about the residential school system and its effect on the contibutors, their interviewees and their community. The submissions come from genres including story and interview, poetry, play, art, and research paper.
This current issue opens with a research paper by Dr. Jennie Wastesicoot, a residential school survivor, who reflects on her work on truth and reconciliation at UCN as well as her students’ response to her teaching on TRCC. Using her own experience to overcome trauma, Jennie points out the importance of moving forward towards healing and reconciliation. One of Dr. Wastesicoot’s students, Jefferson Cook, conducted an interview with Elder Kelsey Bighetty as one of the assignments for the course “Philosophy and Culture.” The content of Cook’s interview includes discussions about Indigenous philosophy, traditions and practices. Also, the ways of knowing, and how Indigenous traditions and practices connect to spirituality and the land.
Madison Gurniak, who has just graduated from UCN is a regular contributor to MFTN. She has two submissions in this issue. Her first is an exploration of poems on reconciliation “Poetry and Reconciliation.” Gurniak draws inspiration from the works of Indigenous poets to express her hope in the reconciliation process in her own poem, “The Song of Peace.” As a non-Indigenous student, Madison shares her pain and sorrow with the poets and also envisions the future of reconciliation. Her parody “Residential Schools: Survivors” is a reflection of some residential school survivors’ childhood experiences which was ladened with humiliation and degradation as well as their bitter experiences in the healing process. Her second submission is a research paper, “The Power of Indigenous Women.” This is a literary research paper on novels by some Indigenous writers whose works she read in the course “Indigenous Women and Literature.” Her research paper demonstrates how Indigenous women play key roles in reconciliation despite their traumas from the colonial era.
Alicia Stensgard from South Indian Lake creates a one-act play, “Residential School Days.” The play is one of the assignments in the course “Contemporary Aboriginal Literature: Poetry and Drama.” The short play comes from the author’s research on some of the stories about Canada’s residential schools. Although the play is fictional, it spotlights the truth about residential schools during its era.
Nateshia Constant from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation conducted two interviews for this issue: “From an Experiencer’s Perspective: The Story of a Saskatchewan Day School Survivor” and “Healing Involves more than Drum Making: An Interview with Robert Lathlin.” The former tells the story of Little Ms. (anonymous name), an Indian girl who attended an elementary school in Shoal Lake and a high school in Red Earth. Little Ms. was bullied for simply asking to use the washroom. Her teachers and peers made her the laughing stock at school. Her problems were further compounded by her parents choosing to side with the school rather than listen to their daughter. Little Ms. had every reason to believe that her parents’ dismissal of her plight was a result of their own sad experience as survivors of residential school. The latter tells about Robert Lathlin’s day school experience which made him lose interest in learning anything from the instructors there, and he also suffered from the ongoing issues of his parents who were forced to go to residential schools. The intergenerational trauma has stayed with them and it is very difficult to overcome the troubling cycles. Nateshia’s second entry which is a poem titled, “We are not Numbers” is her effort to challenge everyone in her Indigenous community to enlist in the frontlines to contend against stereotypes that make her people an object of attack by vestiges of the colonial powers.
Jasyn Lucas, a local Indigenous artist as well as a 60’s scoop survivors, uses both art and narrative to illustrate “A Long Healing Process for My People.” His art works vividly express Indigenous teaching, Indigenous critiques of the society they live in, and their battles for survival. His narrative offers a deeper understanding of the artist and his works.
Kelly Laybolt’s article, which is one of the three research papers in this issue has the title, “The Environmental Impact of Over-harvesting in the Fur Trade.” Kelly explores the important role of “protectors of the environment” which Indigenous people play, against the apparent misconception that Indigenous people are solely responsible for the ecological degradation of fur bearing species due to over-harvesting. Kelly concludes by making the case that a re-evaluation of our understanding of historic events is an integral part of the truth and reconciliation process because Eurocentric prejudices towards Indigenous people have either vilified them or left them out of history completely.
Taylor Flett, a Cree woman from Tataskweyak Cree Nation, uses poetry to describe her frustrating feelings and her search for healing and reconciliation. In her “An Indian Girl’s Search,” readers can see and feel how an Indian girl is searching for a model in the long journey of healing and reconciliation. The symbolic meaning of hair in “Our Hair” represents the loss of the Indigenous culture and tradition as well as the bond of their blood and history. In “This Girl Called Hope,” the Indian girl “gambles her future on hope, not on lotto.”
On a final note, we at MFTN would like to express our gratitude to NCTR for making this small grant available to us for the production of two special issues of MFTN on the subject of truth and reconciliation. We are also using this medium to congratulate all our student contributors to this first of two issues for a job well done. To our teeming readers and followers, we encourage you to be on the lookout for the release of the second special issue.