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Lee Silden's Story

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

OISE 2nd Year Teacher Candidate (Master of Teaching)

I chose to attend Natural Curiosity’s First Story Tour “Buried Waters: Storying Stolen Earth” in late October in hopes to further my personal work of decolonizing my teaching practice and self. As a second year Teacher Candidate at OISE, every day I get closer to engaging with youth in schools as an educator. Before I step into this role, I need to unpack my own misconceptions, undo my colonial thinking practices, and heal the wounds colonialism has created within me that separate my mind from my heart. “Buried Waters: Storying Stolen Earth” provided an amazing avenue for me to further this work, connecting future teachers, current educators, and interested members of the public with Indigenous storytellers who offered incredible teachings on the ways Toronto is embedded in colonial thought and practices.

We met in late October at Taddle Creek Park in downtown Toronto. It was a crisp but warm autumnal day; the sunlight filtered down through the orange, yellow, and red tree canopy as I joined the Natural Curiosity x First Story circle. Jill Carter and Trina Moyan, our wonderful guides, opened the circle by introducing themselves, their homeland, and their ancestors. Together, we then moved to the centre of the park where the buried creek flowed beneath us. Jill Carter began the tour here. She emphasized violence as language and secrecy and burials. Settlers have buried their role in perpetuating violence on Indigenous peoples and the land. Once Taddle Creek was befouled, it was buried. When the University of Toronto wished to fund the eugenics experiments and starvation of Indigenous children in residential schools, they funnelled the money through the United States; it too was buried. As we passed by Huron Street, we paused and Trina Moyan shared that the word Huron, which I have used many times in the spirit of honouring, unburying, and for directions, was used to delineate the Wendat as savages and as brutes. The history of this violent language has been buried as well, it has been kept secret. These teachings were incredibly valuable to me as a future teacher. It is our responsibility as settler educators to dig up these acts of violence and be open and honest about the contemporary processes of settler colonialism that work to bury these stories with our students. Jill Carter and Trina Moyan demonstrated through example how Unburying can function as a pedagogical framework - a framework that all Canadian teachers can carry with them.

Despite Jill Carter and Trina Moyan’s transparency about the violence of settler colonialism, I found myself with a much more positive view on the futurity of relations between settlers and the First Nation, Metis, and Inuit following our tour. My "education" on Canada's colonial past and present has historically been presented through a lens that centres violence. While it is incredibly important to shed light on the violence of settler colonialism, if we only tell stories of violence we risk painting a singular portrait of Indigenous people as victims. Jill Carter changed this for me. Her perspective on violence centred healing. Near the end of our tour in the learning garden outside of the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study School, while the Black Walnut’s yellowing leaves fell softly around us, Jill Carter emphasized the importance of coming together to wipe away the tears caused by settler colonialism's past and present. She used the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as an example: the original five nations (the Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas, Mohawks, and Cayugas) had a history of violent encounters and fractured relationships, yet through ceremony and conversations they were able to come together and heal. This teaching really resonated with me as a future settler teacher. Often, I hear talk of what "solutions" we settlers can come up with to heal the relationship between settlers and Indigenous nations in Canada. But solutions are not for settlers to come up with when the Haudenosaunee Confederacy has modelled these solutions so clearly to us. Going forward, us settlers must work within the framework of mutual responsibility to the land to enact healing, as we are responsible to do under the Dish with One Spoon Wampum, and pass on the importance of this responsibility to Canadian youth.

The wisdom, truth, strength, and humility that Trina Moyan and Jill Carter shared with us during the First Story x Natural Curiosity Tour has given me countless teachings on how to unbury local stories of colonial violence as a means to enact decolonial pedagogies. I am deeply grateful to Natural Curiosity, First Story, our wonderful guides, and all who came out to engage in this work together during this tour.

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