Opening students' eyes on First Nations history

Lisa
Lisa Goudy
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Elder Noel Starblanket speaks to the student body at Peacock Collegiate on March 21, 2014 about treaties, residential schools and worldview.

Elder Noel Starblanket talks about treaties, residential schools at Peacock Collegiate

Elder Noel Starblanket has many stories from his past.

After “many, many decades” of working for treaty advocacy, teaching students about it is a “crowning achievement for me,” he said. On Friday morning, he spoke to the student body of Peacock Collegiate.

“I often say to our young leaders and young Aboriginal children, First Nations children, that we have had to pay a price for this education, for this moment to happen and it was painful, but it’s very rewarding to see it bearing fruit that the awareness is now coming,” said Starblanket following his presentation.

“So I’m very happy that in my later years that I’m able to share that pain, which has turned into fruit for all people, not just young people, but for everyone.”

Starblanket, born in 1946, is a member of the Starblanket reserve and is now involved with Treaty 4 government. He was elected chief of his reserve in 1971 at age 24 and was the youngest chief in Canada at the time. He has also been involved with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) and the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB), now called the Assembly of First Nations.

His presentation focused on treaties, residential schools and worldview.

“I call this the age of enlightenment for understanding the history of European peoples meeting the indigenous peoples,” he said. “History that has largely been ignored up to this point is now becoming part of the education system and I’m happy to be part of it. I’m on the cutting edge of creating this enlightenment.”

Part of his job now is to speak to students and educators about the history and about the treaties in the province.

“The advocacy is all predicated upon experience. I didn’t just read about it in books. I actually experienced it — the negotiations, the advocacy, the attempts at educating people over the years,” said Starblanket. “It’s very important to know about history, the history of our peoples coming together … It’s been in the dark. Now it’s like a giant switch has been turned on. Students’ minds will open up. That’s the greatest thing that can happen to anyone.”

Daniel Ferguson, a Grade 12 student, said he enjoyed the presentation and the themes of acceptance, forgiveness and staying in harmony.

“I really liked the part when he was talking about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes,” he said. “The topics here usually aren’t covered this deeply. They’re just briefly skimmed in school. So you really don’t get to hear from someone who was actually there and pass it down through stories.”

Courtney Hunter, fellow Grade 12 student, added the topic of perspective on how the land was the Aboriginal peoples’ land gave her a newfound respect.

“I liked the part about forgiveness and you can’t hold onto the hate inside of you and how if he wouldn’t have been able to forgive and put himself out there, he wouldn’t be where he is now,” she said. “It’s something I definitely carry with me, not just about Aboriginal people, but people in general about forgiveness and not judging.”

For Grade 11 student Caitlyn Kitts, the issues discussed need to be talked about, such as the University of Regina cheer team’s controversial photos posted to Instagram by with members posing in stereotypical “cowboys and Indians” costumes.

He also touched on his experience in residential schools.

 “He didn’t really go into detail about the residential schools because he doesn’t really need to. Most everybody knows how horrific and awful those experiences were for all the people that went to those schools,” she said. “He talked about how he learned to find forgiveness and how he occupies his days to achieve balance.”

Matthew Emery, Grade 12 student, said Starblanket’s presentation was “probably one of the most empowering presentations I have been able to sit through at this school.” He said a theme that resonated with him was that of reconciliation.

“I really, really enjoyed it because it is a part of my heritage,” he said. “I want to learn and embrace it. I want to learn as much as I possibly can about that stuff because I think it’s important.”

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

 

Organizations: Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, National Indian Brotherhood, Assembly of First Nations University of Regina

Geographic location: Canada

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