This is a guest post from Henderson Elementary Principal, Harjinder Kaur Sandhu
This week we reflect on two unflattering truths of our Canadian story.
May 23 marked the one-year anniversary of the uncovering of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Le Estcwicwéy̓. Indigenous children were forcibly sent to residential school, never returned home and never had the opportunity to tell their stories. Many Indigenous children like them, all over Canada, were forced to let go of their identity, their language, culture and beliefs. They were forced to adopt western ideals and were then held up to them and judged by them.
These same western ideals also played out on May 22, 1914 when 376 aboard the S.S. Komagata Maru were denied entry on the coast of BC. Although these 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus Punjabis were all British subjects, they were met with hostility on the shores of Vancouver. Western settlers did not believe Asian immigrants could assimilate and were opposed to their settlement in the area. Our BC history details much local pressure on all levels of government to prevent Asians from settling and working here.
This week, we not only remember and commemorate these events, but we renew our commitment to share the stories of the Indigenous Nations on whose land we have settled on.
We commit to telling the stories of all settlers, as told by them to understand all their journeys, if we are to truly understand our Canada. We love being able to say we are a multicultural nation, but it is time we start showing and sharing how our diverse citizens have contributed and strengthened our communities, despite not always being treated as equals. We need to continue to speak up and stand up for social justice to ensure that all Canadians have equal access to meet their basic needs and to thrive. It’s time to take responsibility and commit to taking care of this land so that it can continue to provide for us.
As a settler of Punjabi Sikh heritage, I am grateful to those who came before me and worked to establish the rights I enjoy today. The South Asian settler community has been able to thrive in Canada through a history of political/social activism and contributions to the local economy. I have the privilege of being born and raised on the unceded and traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. I humbly acknowledge that today I continue to learn, unlearn and relearn from Indigenous people, elders and community members of diverse settler groups so that I may guide the learning in our school with their truths as they tell us their own stories. We all need to be seen and heard to feel like we belong. We need to know as much as we can about each other to connect, build relationships, respect and love.
Throughout this year at Henderson, we have had many opportunities to critically engage with many stories and activities that have highlighted the diversity of our community. Our students have connected, made deeper inquiries and responded with great insight to the content shared. I am hopeful for the future and thankful that students can see themselves reflected in the stories told and taught at school. I hope that the climate we are creating is allowing them to arrive as their true selves. As students enter our schools and the school system, we want them to maintain their identity, their language, their culture and beliefs. We are committed to continuing to learn from each other and ensure that everyone feels included and valued. Our hope is that each of our students can strive for their best and become responsible, engaged citizens — growing in the understanding that we are truly stronger together.
The following is a list of educational resources on the Komagata Maru incident and Residential Schools in Canada:
1. A Journey with the Endless Eye: Stories of the Komagata Maru Incident, Ajamera Roḍe
2. The Nameless Collective Podcast, hosted by Milan Singh, Naveen Girn & Paneet Singh
3. Komagata Maru - Continuing the Journey
5. A National Crime, Carleton University
6. Reflections on year since discovery of potential unmarked graves in Kamloops, CBC
7. Residential Schools and Reconciliation Resources
8. The National Centre for Collaboration in Indigenous Education
9. National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
10. Journey of the Damned A Story of Two Ships - The tale of two cities