ArtShare program connects students in Calgary and on a Reserve
Pamela Dos Ramos, who has taught multicultural counseling for 10 years at Gonzaga’s Calgary Centre, recently told how a project connecting seventh to ninth graders in a junior high school in Calgary and an indigenous school on the Kainai Reserve in Southern Alberta built relationships and respect.
She does the ArtShare project through her role as a human rights educator with the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre (ACLRC), where she links social justice, human rights and equality.
Pamela, who was in Spokane for Gonzaga University’s Ethnicity Race and Indigenous People’s (ERIP) Conference in September, said students learned to trust themselves, their intuition and ancestral knowledge.
“Recovery of indigenous knowledge is about reconnecting with ancestors and their stories and voices as guides,” she said. “Colonization led to a belief by white settlers that they were helping to civilize Aboriginal children. Now the Calgary Board of Education is working to incorporate Aboriginal knowledge into the curriculum.”
Growing up in Georgetown, (British) Guyana, in South America, Pamela said her family did not tolerate discrimination, but welcomed everyone. Her own ancestry is multiracial with East Indian and African ancestors, a maternal grandfather from Wales and a paternal great-grandfather from Scotland. After a Guyanese elder asked what her indigenous heritage was, she learned from an older cousin that she also has Arawak ancestry on their mothers’ side.
Moving to Calgary in 1980 was a change from living in a multicultural, multiracial society.
In Calgary, about 67 percent of people are white, 29 percent are people of color—primarily Southeast Asian and East Asian—and four percent are Aboriginal.
The Alberta population is approximately 80 percent white, 14 percent people of color and 6 percent Aboriginal.
In 1970, Pamela studied library science in London, so her first 10 years in Canada she worked in information management with an oil company.
From 1989 to 1991, wanting to work in the nonprofit sector, she studied for a master’s degree in counseling at the Gonzaga Centre in Calgary.
Twenty years ago, she began working at the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre and she found her niche.
She also teaches culture and diversity for master’s candidates in education leadership at Gonzaga’s Calgary Centre and several other Gonzaga centers in Western Canada.
Pamela’s primary work with the ACLRC is human rights education, and creating anti-racism and anti-discrimination programs.
She presents workshops at schools and helps young people understand their human rights and their responsibilities. Alberta schools have a curriculum to teach students about human rights.
With the ACLRC, she does workshops in an area from Red Deer to the U.S.-Canadian border. A colleague does workshops north of Red Deer, another does workshops in Calgary only, and a fourth works with her on anti-racism and anti-discrimination training.
As someone who is multiracial and someone who is privileged because of her education and employment, Pamela she believes that she is able to bridge diverse communities.
“Children of color are willing to talk with me about their experiences. I’m also able to talk with white youth,” she said. “Seeing me, white students realize stereotypes they have of people of color are not true. Doing the anti-racism workshops with my white colleague, people see that we work together, talking freely about issues. It gives them a new perspective.”
Through the ACLRC, the ArtShare project has been one means to connect white, multicultural and indigenous students to help them overcome racism and learn from each other.
The ArtShare Program began as the Students for Change Program in 2007 at Dr. Gladys Egbert Junior High School in Calgary. Students learned skills to address racial discrimination and racism in productive, respectful, safe and non-aggressive ways.
The program continued several years there and in other schools in Calgary, adapting to needs of each school.
In June 2016, Pamela and a colleague did presentations on “Understanding and Dealing with Racism” for seventh grade students at the Kainai Middle School on the Kainai Reserve. The art teacher there told of a project her students just completed with art students at Sir John Franklin Junior High School in Calgary.
“Students at one school began a piece of art and students at the other school finished it,” she said. “It involved trust, because the students did not know each other. They only met after the art was completed. The exchange was amazing for both groups.”
Pamela and her colleague suggested that the Students for Change group at Bob Edwards Junior High in Calgary do a similar project with students at the Kainai Middle School, who were children from Aboriginal backgrounds.
In September 2018, about 30 Bob Edwards students went on a trip to the Reserve in Southern Alberta with an Aboriginal elder. He took them to the land for two days to observe the weather, wind, trees, grass, flora and fauna.
“There was amazing learning about traditional knowledge for the students and teachers who accompanied them,” Pamela said.
The elder told the students of Frank, a town that settlers built in Southern Alberta. Elders had told those who settled there to mine not to build at the foot of the mountain, called the Mountain That Walks. They did not listen. In 1903, the mountainside slid and buried the town, where 76 people died, 23 were injured and 17 miners were trapped in a mine shaft.
Aboriginal elders advised other people not to build a town at High River, because it floods. There was a devastating flood in 2013.
“Without Western scientific knowledge, Aboriginal people knew not to go near the mountain or river, because they had their own knowledge,” Pamela said.
In September 2017, Bob Edwards Junior High School started an indigenous studies class, and the focus of the ArtShare Program became “Truth and Reconciliation.”
“The ArtShare program focuses on creating inclusive school communities that value, respect and celebrate differences. It fosters awareness, understanding and commitment to work with indigenous communities to ensure that truth is told, heard and understood, and that reconciliation ensues,” Pamela explained.
The program continued in 2017-18 and 2018-19, working in 2017-18 with a school in Lethbridge with a group of indigenous youth.
“While many people in Canada think racism is just a problem in the U.S., that is not the case,” Pamela said. “Many companies create anti-discrimination, anti-racism and anti-harassment policies to keep their employees safe.”
Pamela observes that children who grow up with many differences around them value differences as they grow older. They are likely to have friends from different communities as adults, people who understand them without needing to adopt their beliefs.
“In Canada, we respect multiculturalism. Policies allow people to keep their language and cultural practices,” Pamela said. “Rather than being assimilated, immigrants have come, created and continue to create a beautiful mosaic.”
For information, visit aclrc.com.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October, 2019