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Students: Why CMU?

Forging friendships on the road to reconciliation

When Clairissa Kelly started working at CMU as part of the Peguis Transition Program’s inception 18 months ago, she didn’t know a soul on campus. Her work was in its pilot stage, so everything she tried was new and experimental. Now in its fourth semester, however, the program is growing roots on campus and Kelly is finding more opportunities to collaborate with other professors.

Wendy Kroeker, Instructor of Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies, approached Kelly about bringing their students together when she realized the two have similar teaching materials and learning goals. Each hopes to enable her students to learn more about the history of colonization in Canada and to empower them to become personally invested in reconciliation.

Many CMU students arrive on campus having lived their lives in rural or suburban settings, far from Canada’s reserves and the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples. Many of the Peguis students, on the other hand, have grown up on Peguis First Nation, distant from settler Canadians. Kelly and Kroeker saw the opportunity for their students to learn from one another and have wasted no time in combining resources.

During the fall semester, the Peguis students joined Kroeker’s Peace and Conflict Studies class for the Kairos Blanket Exercise, an experiential learning tool for teaching about the history of colonialism in Canada. Throughout the year, they are cohosting several Indigenous teachers and storytellers, walking Winnipeg streets with the Bear Clan, and participating in sharing circles.

Indigenous, settler, and international students have gained learning opportunities from the collaboration which takes their lessons off the page and into their own lives. Kroeker explains that for her non-Indigenous students, the history and lived reality of many Indigenous Canadians has become “real” and “tangible” through their new relationships with the Peguis students.

Some Mennonite students have been surprised to discover how their histories intertwine with First Peoples. The realization has fostered new connections, but can also be challenging as students come to terms with the injustices of stolen resources, abuse, and the residential school system. It can be particularly difficult to take their new learnings back to their home communities, which may tell a different story about Indigenous-settler relations.

International students enrich the conversation by telling stories of colonization, reconciliation, and racism in their homelands. Their third party perspective can allow Canadian students to understand their own context through new eyes.

While the process of truth-telling is difficult for students in both classes, Kelly is encouraged by how her students are being empowered to teach and engage their peers. Building these relationships requires a sense of trust, she explains, and that requires time.

Some of the Indigenous students have expressed a sense of happiness and reassurance at seeing how much their settler classmates care about their experiences of colonization.

At a recent sharing circle, where each participant was given a chance to speak, Kroeker recalls a sense of “sacred space.” Kelly agrees that the lines between teacher and student become blurred, since everyone has something to learn and something to offer.

“What we do together are actions of reconciliation,” explains Kelly. She hopes to teach a collaborative course with Kroeker in the near future, giving students the chance to engage that reconciliation at deeper levels.