Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, I would like to use my time in this senator's statement to share with you the story of a very brave and thoughtful young lady, Tenelle Starr. Last month, 13-year-old Tenelle Starr from the Star Blanket First Nation in Saskatchewan inadvertently caused quite the controversy because of a sweatshirt. Tenelle wore a sweatshirt that read: "Got Land? Thank an Indian."
I thought this was a cute use of language that speaks to the history of this country, as did Tenelle, who simply said, "We were taught Indians were on this land first." And yet, the administration at Balcarres School, north of Regina, forced Tenelle to remove her sweatshirt and refrain from wearing it to the school from then on.
This eighth grader and her mother tried to reason with the school at subsequent meetings. Tenelle explained her decision to wear the sweatshirt saying "it supports our treaty rights and land rights... that's important." They were told that some students and community members had complained to the school and thought the message was rude and racist. The school took the initial step of telling Tenelle not to wear the sweatshirt to school or wear it inside out, hiding its message.
Eventually, after several meetings between the school and the leaders of the Star Blanket First Nation, they came to the agreement that Tenelle's sweatshirt and its message were acceptable to the school. The school also decided to host a treaty symposium this month.
This entire situation speaks to the larger issue that there exists a lack of general education and understanding of Aboriginal history and treaties in Canada. I am glad that the school eventually embarked upon meetings with the Star Blanket First Nation to address the issue over the sweatshirt, but it is disheartening that the first reaction from the school was to say no. Tenelle simply wanted to express her heritage and her thoughts on the historical context of Aboriginal Canadians in Canada.
A 13-year-old Aboriginal girl should not be shamed for expressing such thoughts with her clothing. We should be encouraging students like Tenelle to spark serious dialogue and engagement with her fellow students, teachers and community members to break through this type of misunderstanding. Saying no only discourages this type of cross-cultural dialogue. I would hope that in 2014 we could move past this misunderstanding or, in some instances, lack of understanding of the historical context by which Canada was created.
While the whole controversy placed an enormous amount of stress on both Tenelle and her mother, they were strong and persevered in standing up for their rights.
You are a brave young lady, Tenelle. You stood up for what you believe in and tried to engage your fellow classmates in a dialogue about the true history of this country with eloquence and grace. Bravo.