“We live in different worlds”: The perspectives of Manitoba educators on settler colonialism, Indigenous-settler relations, and reconciliation

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Tennent, Pauline
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The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission positions education as the “key to reconciliation.” Combining insights from settler colonialism and critical theory, this study embraces an ethnographic research design that seeks to explore how educators in Manitoba understand and experience Indigenous and settler relationships in Canada. Through in-depth interviews with settler and Indigenous educators working in the public school system in Manitoba, this study documents how educators understand settler colonialism and reconciliation, as well as some of the challenges they face in working towards education as reconciliation. Participants in this project describe their work within the education system to enact and embody education as reconciliation. Findings from this study demonstrate that for many educators, reconciliation is about addressing the inequities between Indigenous and settler students; creating/pushing/making space for Indigenous education in the education system; and centring Indigenous knowledges, cultures, and identities. However, multiple challenges exist. Findings from this study demonstrate that structural barriers such as neoliberalism, poverty, and anti-Indigenous racism, serve to exacerbate the gross inequities that exist between Indigenous and settler students. Within the education system, teacher education programs, curricula, and patterns of staffing and employment all serve as barriers to education. Perhaps the most challenging, however, is the everyday perceptions, actions, and practices of settlers that work to maintain the settler status quo. This includes a reluctance and/or refusal by settler educators to engage with Indigenous content, histories, cultures, and identity. The perpetuation of colonial knowledge relegates colonization to something of the past and fails to make the connections between historic and present-day harm and oppression. Patterns of settler ignorance, denial, and apathy are pervasive and work to sustain the conditions of settler colonial dominance. The education system must make a concerted effort to challenge this colonial knowledge, while working to address the inequities facing Indigenous children and youth in education, if it is to work towards reconciliation. This dissertation occurs in the context of the ongoing dispossession and oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada, alongside the more than 400 years of resistance by Indigenous peoples to that dispossession.
Settler colonialism, Education, Ethnography, Identity, Peace and Conflict Studies, Reconciliation, Transitional justice