Truth Telling in Education with Guest Writer Dr. Marcia Anderson

Facebook post from a participant in Women Warriors.

Our third guest writer in our truth-telling series identifies as Cree-Saulteaux, and grew up in the North End of Winnipeg, with family roots in Norway House Cree Nation and Peguis First Nation.

Dr. Marcia Anderson (Power of Mentorship profile featured below) currently practices both internal medicine and public health and is the Executive Director of Indigenous Academic Affairs in the Ongomiizwin Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba. She has 2 beautiful, intelligent, strong daughters currently in nursery school and Grade 2.

When one of the participants of Women Warriors posted this picture (above) on social media of a family history school assignment, I asked if I could discuss it in my newsletter. I posted it on Twitter where Dr. Anderson commented that the same type of questions had been given to her child and she had contacted the school with her concerns as an Indigenous parent.

Dr.  Anderson states in an email to the principle that “questions (like these) are written as if everyone who is in the class came from somewhere else. The underlying assumption could either be that there were no people here prior to European Settlers and other immigrants or that there are no Indigenous children in the class. Either way, this absence of recognition of Indigenous peoples starts insidiously very early in education. It can be damaging to both Indigenous children trying to understand their place in Canada or the class environment, and to the other children who are taught passively that there is not a story of First Peoples here by the absence of that as an option in the questions.”

She helps to revise the questions to reflect Indigenous Peoples history in Canada and asks that the questions “be recirculated because it is important that all of the children (and their parents) recognize the story of our families’ ancestors as Cree, Anishinaabe, and Dakota as equally valid stories of being that have led us to this point where our girls share a learning environment.”

Dr. Anderson further educates on the term “Turtle Island” by stating:
Turtle Island is a name commonly used by Indigenous peoples to refer to North America. Turtles are common in many Nation’s stories and teachings, for example carrying the teaching of truth which is the foundation of all other teachings. Some link the name Turtle Island to the Haudenosonee Creation Story where the continent was built on the back of a great turtle. It’s important to recognize that there were names for these lands and waters before they were called North America or Canada or the names we know today.

I want to thank Dr. Anderson for sharing her teachings with us in this newsletter. I want to draw awareness to the fact that teaching non-Indigenous peoples takes our time, energy and a certain degree of education. It is heavy lifting on our part and you can see why some Indigenous parents may be intimidated to contact their children’s school to discuss this type of systemic racism.

Connecting to the Past: Grandparent/Parent Interview

Person Interviewed (and their relationship to you, grandparent, great aunt, etc.)_________________________
Interviewer (student) _____________________________

  1. Did your family immigrate from elsewhere or are they from Turtle Island?
  2. If your family immigrated, when (about what year or decade) did your first family member come to Canada?
  3. Did he/she come alone or as a family?
  4. What was their relationship to me?
  5. If they came from another country, where did the first family member come from?
  • If they came from Turtle Island, which Nation/community are they from?
  1. Are there any family members still in your country or Nation of origin?
  2. If they moved from outside of Winnipeg/Canada, do they have a story they’d like to share of how they traveled to Winnipeg/Canada from their country or Nation of origin?
  3. Have you ever visited your country/Nation of origin? If so, what did you find particularly interesting
  4. Did you (grandparent/parent) earn a living when you were young? What was your first job?
  5. What were your favourite holidays? How did you celebrate? Did you have special holiday traditions or foods at family celebrations? Does someone still make these? Please feel free to attach a recipe, if you would like.
  6. What special traditions have you carried down through your family?
  7. Do you remember your bedroom? What was your neighbourhood like?
  8. What did you do for fun when you were young? Did you have a favourite toy?­­­­­­­­­
  9. Can you share a story about your country of origin? (Please draw a picture to go with your story).
  10. (For the student): I will be researching the country or Nation/Community on Turtle Island  ___________________________ for my “We Are Family” project.

If you would like a word document of the revised assignment for your classroom, please contact me (Shelley@womenwarriors.club) and I will email it to you.

Furthermore, I had an incident with another one of my participants this week in which three authority figures attempted to discourage her from enrolling her 5-year-old daughter in French immersion school. They made the assumption that because she looks Indigenous, she does not speak French, but what they failed to ask was her background information. She is Cree-Metis and many of her relatives speak French, as the Metis traditional language is Michif (a mixture of Cree & French).

What makes me angry about this situation is that the educator she spoke with and a community support agency assumed they knew best about where to place her child. While she explicitly stated she wanted her child to learn French, they discouraged her from registering her daughter in French immersion, and instead of supporting her request by offering resources, they automatically said no. They were robbing her of the opportunity for her child to learn French, part of their traditional language. (I’m happy to report that I gave her the contact information for the French immersion school (which my girls attend) and she’s taking a tour and meeting the kindergarten teacher this week).

The insidious nature of racism within our education system is something that we all must be aware of. I am not pointing fingers at any particular person or institution, but what I am highlighting is the ways in which whitewashing (privileging Western European settler knowledge over Indigenous knowledge) and racism (in the form of erasure of Indigenous history) is hidden in plain sight.

In an excerpt from my SOCI 288 essay, Reconciliation as a Social Movement, I discuss how we all must contribute to reconciliation:

Reconciliation is not only the responsibility of Indigenous peoples, and Justice Sinclair states in the CBC News, Politics article that, “’Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem — it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us’” (2015). According to the Statistic Canada website Indigenous peoples make-up only “4.3% of the total Canadian population” (2016), thereby revealing that the majority, 95% of the Canadian population are non-Indigenous. It is obvious that the power imbalance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is present in their population numbers. The heavy work that is the reconciliation social movement cannot be shouldered by only 4.3% of the population.

The end of the Commission did not mean the end of reconciliation, but the beginning of a long journey of educating Canadians about residential schools, understanding the role that the Canadian government played in the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples and taking collective responsibility to makes amends. On the Macleans.ca website, in his speech given at the closing ceremony, Chief Wilton Littlechild states, “I know that reconciliation will not occur in one lifetime. It will require future generation to know our story and take on the duty of reconciliation. We need to educate our youth, and create the tools and put them in place so that our children and our children’s children can use them…there are no easy answers, no magic wand to speed up the reconciliation process” (2015).

I assert that the education system is the first place that we need to enact reconciliation, and we need everyone to play a part. That means, teaching First Nations, Metis and Inuit perspective in your classroom even if you feel uncomfortable, as revealed by the non-Indigenous ally, and writer of our first post, Aleata Harty-Blank. She states, “we need to take the time to learn and perhaps even understand the stories, only then can humanity progress in a meaningful way.”


In 2016 Women Warriors was held at Jack Kemp Community School and I brought my three girls to a class. I loved having kids in the program and allowing them to exercise with their Moms. I would love to pursue a Jr. Warriors for girls ages 10-15 that includes free exercise classes, nutrition education and body positive messaging. I think our program is a natural fit with school programming.

Dr. Anderson spoke at a research conference I attended last year – Group for Research with Indigenous Peoples (GRIP) forum, University of Calgary, May 2017. Dr. Anderson presented on the University of Manitoba reconciliation initiative. She compared inequality (experienced by Indigenous people in many areas including health, housing, violence/safety) to poor quality soil in potted plants; plants in poor living conditions will not grow as strong and vibrant as those plants in high-quality soil.

Please watch Dr. Marcia Anderson’s TEDx Manitoba talk: Indigenous Knowledge to Close Gaps in Indigenous Health.
The Power of Mentorship
1. Who was the most important mentor in your life? 
My Grandma. She worked so hard to take care of her family. She loved hard. When it was time to have fun she would go for it- I have lots of memories of her dressing up in ridiculous costumes to make people laugh.
2. How did you find them or approach them to be your mentor?
She just was- she was our family matriarch. In other mentoring relationships that I’ve had it was more based on a connection, and being in spaces where I could observe how they navigated difficult situations.
3. What are your top three lessons learned from your mentor?
The first lesson from my Grandma was definitely to do everything the best I could whether it’s mothering my kids, taking time to be with my family, or being there to help people when they need me. A second lesson that’s been really important is from another mentor of mine, Dr. Barry Lavallee, who taught me how to hold an uncomfortable silence, to dig in and let people feel that discomfort so they can grow and learn. A third was from Maria Campbell who many years ago was doing a keynote and talked about believing that we have a right to the space we are in, to take it up and to own it. That last one was a gamechanger for me.
4. What qualities make a good mentee?
Being present and putting the effort in to learn from your mentor. Also recognizing how you also help or give back to your mentor by showing respect for their experience and knowledge and offering your own.
5. What benefits and/or rewards have you received from mentoring?
It’s energizing to see people I have mentored achieve something that was meaningful to them. I’ve shared a lot of laughs and sometimes tears. Fashion advice and lingo from the youth! Also- future colleagues that we already have shared values, approaches, passion, and commitment.
6. What personal development practices do you have?
I regularly work with a life/ leadership coach which has been really helpful. I read a lot and have taken a lot of leadership courses- these do help build skills but also help me reflect. I consistently try to emphasize my own self-care through nurturing my spirit and my body.
7. What book most impacted your life?
Great question. It’s hard to pick just one. The lessons in The Four Agreements, especially not taking anything personally, was really helpful for me. My Dad’s family are very strong Christians so I was shaped by some teachings from the Bible, like love and respect (and have let some of them go). My friend Katharena Vermette’s book The Break touched my heart and also inspired me. I find a lot of strength to keep going, to still rise, in the writing of Maya Angelou. I read a lot of Indigenous writers who help me view the world and shape my understanding of Indigenous peoples’ health. I love the work of Lawrence Hill and his themes of race, racism, and health – especially mental health. As someone who loves to read, I can’t pick just one!