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Grads receive final homework assignment:

Indigenous scholar Jean-Paul Restoule asks grads to play important role in reconciliation process

June 23, 2017

By Lindsey Craig

convocation

On June 22, OISE grads learned about the impact they can make in Canada's future from Associate Professor of Indigenous Education, Jean-Paul Restoule. 


When 525 graduates from OISE’s Master of Arts, Master of Teaching and Bachelor of Education programs arrived for their convocation on June 22, they thought all of their tests and assignments were complete.

They were wrong.

Jean-Paul

There was one more homework assignment awaiting them, said Associate Professor of Indigenous Education Jean-Paul Restoule, Anishinnaabe and member of the Dokis First Nation, who addressed the crowd at the University of Toronto’s final convocation ceremony.

Before Restoule began his speech, OISE Dean Glen Jones addressed graduates, guests and dignitaries, including President Meric S. Gertler and Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr, to speak about the power of education to change the world.

He then introduced Restoule, a leader in Indigenous education, whose research focuses on Indigenizing and decolonizing teacher education and supporting Indigenous student success.

Residential schools and the power of education

“As educators we are responsible for shaping Canada tomorrow and for the next 150 years. In the past 150 years…there was a strong belief in the inferiority of Indigenous people and our lifeways. It was the philosophical underpinning of the residential schools system. The teachers who participated in this system, many of them graduates of U of T, believed their role in making Canada was to enforce young Indigenous learners to speak English and become domestic labourers. There were those who cried foul and argued for a different way but there were many who supported the system and worked in it,” he said.

Restoule noted that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) brought greater awareness of the legacy of residential schools. Their “greatest gift” are their calls to action.

“Education is what got us into this mess — the use of education at least in terms of residential schools — but education is the key to reconciliation,” Restoule said, quoting TRC Chair Murray Sinclair.

Lifelong responsibility

Then came their homework:

“I’ve heard Commissioner Sinclair encourage us to commit ourselves to one of the 94 calls to action and make it our life goal to see at least one realized,” he continued.

“As educators we have a responsibility to do this,” he said, and called upon each graduate to choose at least one of the calls to start working on.

“That’s your homework. You thought on convocation day that all the homework was done. Well you’re wrong. You still have this assignment. But the good news – it’s not due today or next week. You have your lifetime to work on these things. Remember this. Reconciliation is a process, not an event. How we get there is as important as getting there itself,” he said.

Restoule’s impact

Restoule began his speech by acknowledging the sacred land on which the ceremony was held– the site of human activity for at least 15,000 years. Toronto is in the 'Dish With One Spoon Territory’, he said, referring to the treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee, that bound them to share the territory and protect the land. 

Restoule is one of the founders of OISE’s Deepening Knowledge Project, an initiative aimed at infusing Indigenous peoples’ histories, knowledges and pedagogies into all levels of education in Canada.

He also recently served as Indigenous curriculum lead for an innovative online course for First Nations school principals, a joint project between former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Martin Family Initiative and OISE.

As well, Restoule was the lead course designer of OISE’s first and widely successful Massive Open Online Course, Aboriginal Worldviews and Education, which examines how Indigenous perspectives can benefit all learners. The first offering saw 23,000 learners with participants register from every continent.

Restoule’s parting words for graduates referred to the path they would create for generations to follow.

“Every action and step we make now and here puts into motion a future that the ones coming up behind us will inherit…What space and opportunities will we create and leave for those coming?” he said.

“Seven generations back, what did our grandmothers’ grandmothers imagine we’d become? Seven generations forward, what will your grandchildren’s grandchildren become?” he asked. “It all depends on what we do next and on how we do it. Graduating class of 2017, as an educator, I implore you to make the way you do things count.”


Presenters at the June 22 ceremony included Professor Ann Lopez from the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, and Professor Michele Peterson-Bidali, Associate Dean– Research, International & Innovation.