You know a conference has left an impact when you find yourself itching to write while on the early morning flight home. On my 16-hour travel, I continue to think about and process the experience at the first joint conference of CACUSS and ARUCC.
I blogged on Day 1 of my professional learning journey, sharing how much I valued and was humbled by the opportunity to connect with the ancestral, unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people as I walked a part of the Confederation Trail. The walk centered my mind and provided me with a clear intention for the conference.
Stated simply, I was blown away by the depth of learning, vulnerability, and authenticity that was shared at this week’s CACUSS-ARUCC conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. On a more personal note, going into the conference with a very clear intention, I am humbled by the peaks and valleys that I know I will encounter on my personal learning journey to examine my settler/colonial assumptions and biases.
Sitting in Circle
My conference journey began literally on the road. I drove 1000 km from my home to Thompson Rivers University where I learned with the wonderful Faculty of Student Development team. In circle, I shared my name and where I’m from. We were a large group and it took almost an hour to go around the circle one time. I felt myself getting a little antsy and my western/colonial mind wondered if this was a good use of time. I had to quiet my mind and commit to being in the present moment in which Paul Michel, Executive Director of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, shared the importance of beginning in a good way. By acknowledging our ancestry first, we communicate our connection to the land and our relations. As we went around the circle, we not only learned about each other but new connections were discovered.
I found that two others in the circle have family whose last name is Gunn. They are from the Clan Gunn of Scotland. I thought my grandmother’s family was from the Gunn’s in Wales. Maybe they migrated from Scotland? Spending time in circle in this way, I’m motivated to learn more about the land in which I come and my relations. Irrespective, I feel a new closeness to these colleagues.
Paul shared that our stories stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. It is what connects us to our ancestors’ journey. All journey is story and our story is our journey.
Skiing, Struggling, Steeling Resolve
From TRU to Charlottetown via Calgary, my conference journey began with story and continued with story front and center at the CACUSS-ARUCC conference.
Candy Palmater took the stage and enthralled the audience with her story. There were moments that were hilarious and others that were heartbreaking. I would hunch that parts of her story resonated differently with each person in the audience. This is the power of story; it invites people to connect with whatever chapter compels a response.
I am a skier and I was mesmerized by Candy recounting when her brother taught her to ski. I know firsthand it is no fun to fall when skiing. It hurts and it’s hard to get up with long planks strapped to your feet. But falling is part of skiing and having to get up is inevitable. If you fear falling, then you ski with fear. If you learn first how to get up, you can ski without fear.
These were two key lessons that I gained while on my conference journey but I have to confess that I struggled throughout. The US policy of separating children from their parents who were seeking asylum at the border weighed so heavy on my heart. Throughout the conference, I was angry. I was communicating with my Congressional delegation daily through social media. I am still angry and still tweeting, Facebook posting, and calling.
I acutely felt my privilege to be at a conference in which the opening statement acknowledged that the conference attendees were occupying and visiting the ancestral and unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people. The Europeans who came to this land committed horrible atrocities and a taking of the land.
It was not lost on me that at in the same minutes that Pat Pardo, CACUSS President uttered those words, border agents of my home country were forcibly taking small children from their families. Not unlike the forcible taking of Indigenous children from their families and placing them in boarding schools in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Haskell, Kansas to “kill the Indian, save the man.”
The notion of truth and reconciliation, as painfully imperfect as it is in Canada, feels unattainable in the United States in which the truth is denied, distorted, and dismissed. With truth questioned at every turn, I wonder if we may ever engage a process of reconciliation.
There are moments that I feel helpless and hopeless. But thankfully, most moments are fueled by a passion and persistence to RESIST! I gain strength from my Indigenous colleagues who have resisted and survived in the face of broken treaties and cultural genocide. One of my colleagues shared that he is the first in his family not to go to residential school. His generation and the two previous, if allowed to participate in post-secondary education at all, became lawyers and teachers and social workers. His daughter, the fourth generation, wants to be a rock star.
I do not share this glibly. I share this story because it gives me hope. I am deeply grateful for my CACUSS family who have shared their stories with me. This story and the many others told this past week steel my resolve to examine the colonial assumptions and biases that pervade our post-secondary program. To expose these assumptions and biases in plain light. To name them for the colonial privilege and power that they provide to some and the oppression they impose on others.
I don’t have the map for decolonizing the programs over which I have influence at my institution. But I am on the journey and looking for some good company. Let me know if I you will be on the trail.
I invite you to “leave a comment” about your learning journey. There’s great value in having friends to share with along the way.
— Tricia Seifert is associate professor of Adult & Higher Education and department head of Education at Montana State University. She is also the principal investigator of the Supporting Student Success research project.