Spirit Bear’s Guide to Reconciliation

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Kimberly Farmer

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Kimberly Farmer

Cindy Blackstock, a Gitxsan activist with a background in child welfare work, who is Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and a Professor of Social Work at McGill University, carried Spirit Bear, a stuffed bear gifted to her by the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, through every hearing she has attended, including the 2013 case against the federal government at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. She has used Spirit Bear to help her tell the story of the historical case in a book entitled Spirit Bear and Children Make History, designed for children in Grades 2 to 6 as a way to help educate and make change.

Cindy’s co-author for the book is Eddy Robinson (Anishinaabe/Muskegowuk Cree) who was born and raised in Toronto and only as an adult began to understand the legacy and impacts of his father’s experience at Residential School. He comments that, with limited access to culture, it was the Drum that first set him on the path to rediscovering his Indigenous identity.

The illustrator for the book is Amanda Strong, a Michif filmmaker, media artist, and stop-motion artist, who comments that her work explores ideas of blood memory and Indigenous ideology.

Proceeds from the book, which is available through https://fncaringsociety.com/SpiritBear/children-make-history will be donated to children’s reconciliation projects.

A downloadable pdf learning guide, produced by Ottawa Teachers for Social Justice and the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society, is available at https://fncaringsociety.com/sites/default/files/spirit_bear_learning_guide_2018.pdf

The learning guide explains:

Spirit Bear and Children Make History tells the story of a landmark human rights case for First Nations children at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (www.fnwitness.ca). In January 2016, nine years after the case was filed, the Tribunal ruled that the government of Canada was racially discriminating against 165,000 First Nations children by underfunding child welfare and failing to provide equitable public services.

“Told through the eyes of Spirit Bear (www.fncaringsociety.com/SpiritBear), the story recounts how children and youth across Canada stood up for the health, safety and wellbeing of First Nations kids by learning about the case, speaking from the heart and taking respectful action for change.”

Spirit Bear and Children Make History was written to engage a younger audience in learning about the human rights case, and to demonstrate and affirm the powerful role of young people in the reconciliation movement.

When Spirit Bear’s mom tells him about an important human rights case happening in Ottawa, Ontario, he makes the LONG trip (by train, his favourite way to travel) to go and watch, and to stand up for First Nations kids.

And he isn’t the only one! Lots of children come too—to listen, and to show they care. Spirit Bear knows that children can change the world because he’s there to see it happen.

This is the story of how kids—kids just like you—made a difference…with a bit of help from some bears and other animals along the way!

The learning guide notes: “The matters brought before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal are specific to First Nations children, with the exception of Jordan’s Principle, which also applies to Inuit children,” and recommends, “If your community is in a territory where Inuit and Métis children live, use the book as inspiration to talk about the different human rights issues experienced by these distinct groups and reach out to Inuit and Métis organizations in your area to find out how children can help.”

The learning guide offers a number of Reconciliation Events activities throughout the year that to build awareness with children, such as “Bear Witness Day” where children can bring their bears with them on May 10 and host a Jordan’s Principle “bear birthday party”, parade or other fun event to raise awareness about Jordan’s Principle and to honour Jordan River Anderson.

A current campaign is Spirit Bear’s Plan: End Inequities in Public Services for First Nations Children, Youth and Families which addresses the continuing lack of access to proper education and health care, safe drinking water, and other public services, still experienced by many First Nations children. The plan has been endorsed by many First Nations leaders, including the Assembly of First Nations and Chiefs of Ontario. https://fncaringsociety.com/sites/default/files/Spirit%20Bear%20Plan%20%28EN%29.pdf

A 2019 calendar based on the book is also available through the First Nations Caring Society. Spirit Bear’s calendar guides supporters through 12 months of fun and meaningful reconciliation activities in support of equity for First Nations children. https://fncaringsociety.com/spirit-bears-guide-reconciliation-2019-calendar

Nelli Agbulos