Reframing #Canada150 in the Context of Truth and Reconciliation

I had the privilege of hearing Charlene Bearhead speak at an international education conference in Ottawa earlier this year. She blew me away, and frankly the whole audience, too. She challenged and enlightened me and I’ve harkened back to her message many times. As we’ve been thinking and learning about Canada 150, we asked Charlene to share her thoughts. Take a look at her guest blog post below. – Amy Coupal, CE

canada 150 charlene bearhead

In my career as one of many working for change in education, social justice, public education, truth seeking, and reconciliation, the question foremost in my mind in 2017 is: “What do we have to celebrate?”  After time spent as an educator (in coordinating the Education Days with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, as the Education Lead for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and even now as the Education Coordinator for the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls), it is still shocking to me to see the number of people who actually see 2017 as a year of celebration rather than a year of learning.

Think about it. Has it really been 150 years of progress and development of a Nation?  Aren’t we missing some zeros?  Maybe we should be honouring over 15,000 years of multiple flourishing Nations, of systems of laws, governance, health care, childcare, land management, and so much more.  If we were to recognize that as our baseline, perhaps we would be calling this year’s celebrations “Canada: 150 years of hard lessons learned.”  If we are really living in a time of truth, perhaps this is our year to stop and reflect upon the damage done and the lessons learned when human beings, driven by greed for land and resources rather than value for human life, human rights, and human dignity, chose to purposefully and strategically engage with others of like mind in an attempt to destroy or consume all existing Nations in the pursuit of recreating something bound by the limits of their own narrow understanding.

Perhaps our focus in 2017 could be to reflect upon the past 150 years as a “country” and truly acknowledge all of the mistakes made. Perhaps we could turn those reflections into lessons learned about how the treatment of people, the land, the water, and all of creation impacts everyone.  We might then look back further to seek the knowledge that sustained this land, the people, and all that has lived for thousands of years. If we could only humble ourselves, there is so much that is here for us to learn and (no thanks to the government and their associates over the past 150 years) the people who carry that knowledge still walk among us and are – incredibly – still willing to share their knowledge for the benefit of us all.  If we look closely enough, we can even find examples of the good that resulted when Indigenous and non-Indigenous people came together in a good way and did things right. If you’re not sure where to start looking for these examples, ask the Metis.

In my view, we have more to learn than to celebrate for “Canada 150.” It is time to create a new history so that there is something real to celebrate in 2167.  I suggest exploring the 7 Sacred Teachings–love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth–which can be used as a framework to guide us over the next 150 years–or perhaps the next 15,000.

I call upon all educators to model learning and open-mindedness in your own learning.  Model courage in confronting inaccurate and incomplete history, knowledge, and educational approaches in our school systems. Challenge your colleagues to take action for reconciliation.  Take a leadership role in your schools, institutions, and communities in acknowledging territory, Indigenous knowledge, and our own societal ignorance.

Let’s examine our lessons learned on July 1, 2017 so we can mark July 2 as the first day of the next 150 years.

By Charlene Bearhead


Charlene Bearhead is a mother, grandmother, experienced educator and education innovator with 30 years of regional, national and international experience. Charlene currently serves as the Education Coordinator for the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and volunteers as the co-chair of the Downie-Wenjack Fund Board of Directors. She is also a member of the Pathways to Education Canada Indigenous Education Advisory Circle and works to support the Alberta Joint Commitment to Action: Education for Reconciliation.

Charlene most recently served as the first Education Lead for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba. Prior to that, she was the National Coordinator for Project of Heart and for the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation, the primary goal of which was to educate Canadians on the legacy of federal government policy on various ethnic groups throughout Canada’s history and to promote respect and reconciliation.

Charlene coordinated the Education Days within the TRC National Events for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which focused on inspiring teachers and students to further educate themselves around the history and legacy of residential schools, as well as to support and facilitate the building of positive and respectful relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.

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