As she watches allies standing up for Indigenous people around the world, Amanda White feels hopeful about the future. Amanda is the Haida Knowledge Keeper with the Indigenous education team at the Vancouver School District. She advises teachers about how to develop new parts of the curriculum and shares her experiences with students. She became a Knowledge Keeper a few years ago after working as a First Nations support worker in the District for nearly a quarter-century.
Amanda had a traditional Indigenous upbringing on Haida Gwaii, survived residential school and Indian day school. When the principal of the newly opened Carson Graham Secondary in North Vancouver came to Haida Gwaii and told Amanda’s community the students there could attend Grade 11 and 12 at the school as the two grades were not offered on the island, she decided to go with some other teens in her community. Amanda remembers the principal taking them around the new, busy city, showing them how to take a bus, go to a movie, eat in an informal restaurant, and in a formal one. Amanda also remembers the racism in the community as overt.
She says her role as Knowledge Keeper with the Vancouver School District very much fits with the time we are in, given requirements to include Indigenous content and principles in the curriculum.
“One of the most important things I think for me is going to the First Nations English 12, and they deal with a lot of social justice,” Amanda says.
She tells students about her own experiences, and those of her parents, who were required to have a pass to leave their community and were unable to become Canadian citizens until Amanda was nine.
“I said I want you to get rid of the stereotypes you hold of me, I want you to see our people have constantly fought back but no one has recognized that. Now people are starting to,” she says.
“The young people are amazing. When they hear the true history, they know that it wasn’t right. And when I see the people out there and marching, and it’s mostly young, white kids, I am so proud of them. Things may be changing, and I feel like I’m in the start of those changes to a much better world for all of us.”
Amanda says she has worked with allies who made her feel no different than anybody else, and vows to fight for that for other Indigenous people. She emphasizes finding allies has been important – and will continue to be.
“The need and the want is there. So with that, we’re teaching – instead of going out to individuals – we’re teaching our allies and leads. They then teach their coworkers,” she explains, adding she reassures educators it is alright to make mistakes.
“We need everybody’s history,” she says, “not just one sided, but if you want to make it really complete, we need Black history, we need Indigenous history, Japanese history…we need all of those things to be taught in a regular classroom, not just an offshoot of something.”
And, she encourages students to look into their own histories, saying the more someone finds out about their own culture, the more they will accept others.
“We’re so much better with each other when we recognize ‘yes, we’re different, but it’s so much fun learning about each other, more than fighting with each other’. So, to me that’s why it’s so important,” Amanda reflects, adding she is delighted with changes happening in the District.
Feeling supported, she is hopeful that sense of a better world coming will only grow.