ᐱᐣᑎᑫᐣ (Come In)
Surviving and Fighting Dehumanizing Practices in Ontario Institutions
Passing Through the Darkness of our Past Lives into the Light of our Present Lives
Some of the stories and artifacts in this module use the harmful language and imagery of eugenics. This includes the forced institutionalization of people with disabilities and people labelled with intellectual disabilities; forced placement of First Nations children in Indian Residential Schools (in effect until 1996) and Training Schools; sexual assault, rape, murder, and theft of First Nations and settler children; forced and coerced sterilization; and mass media advocating for the elimination of First Nations and settler peoples who did not fit white settler colonial worldviews.
Harmful words such as insane, lunatic, idiot, moron, retarded (r-word), imbecile, or feebleminded are referred to in the module. Because the r-word continues to be especially harmful, we have placed a “Harmful Language” warning label directly next to video media that contains that term.
We request that you not use harmful language in or beyond the classroom except when reading and referring to language used in the materials themselves.
Those who have experienced harm from colonial and eugenic violence may have differing and/or heightened responses to this module, including trauma responses.1(footnote) You may not know in advance what will trigger a trauma response. We strongly recommend you visit the Prepare and Work with Care module beforehand — it is intended to aid learners with engaging with this content. Recognizing the ways settler education has asserted authoritarian and non-consensual power relations within the space of learning, our hope is for learners to engage with maximum informed consent.2(footnote)
In presenting this challenging subject matter we find disability studies scholar Margaret Price’s advice helpful. She says, “please do what you need […] to take care of yourself. You may need to take up a different position, engage in some manual activity—knitters, feel free to take out your work—you may simply need to leave.”3(footnote)
This module centres the lived-experiences and cultural knowledges of Marie Slark and Antoinette Charlebois, artist-activists whose stories reveal relationships between disability, institutionalization, advocacy, and activism. The sisters describe the dehumanization and eugenic practices they survived at Huronia Regional Centre in Ontario — they also tell stories that celebrate difference and disability. They call for the end to all residential institutions.
Their counternarratives disrupt dominant narratives by telling stories that offer other possible ways of being. This allows us to imagine and build a more just future.4(footnote)
We model an approach to learning from the powerful knowledge of survivor-activists. As such, we have woven together many layers or strands that are meaningful to the survivor-activists and the larger team of collaborators who developed this module.5(footnote) These strands prioritize lived-experiences, presenting those lived-experiences in multiple accessible ways, justice-oriented and active reflective thinking and learning, and countering oppressive ideas with specific tools. We intentionally foreground land-based learning that challenges unthought occupation and single stories and worldviews. We believe learning is a transformational, process oriented, and life-long journey—not a one-off transaction.6(footnote)
We encourage you to braid, weave, and knit with the many strands you will encounter. Some activities ask you to intentionally weave specific strands. Other activities ask you to reflect on how those strands change what you see and understand.
We want you to feel safe as you reflect on these challenging stories and information. When you reflect, keep in mind that it is perfectly valid to not know how to process this information at this point. Your current environment may impact your opportunities to reflect. Remember that reflective thinking can involve multiple modes of response (land-based, creative movement, written, video, music, etc.) and take place over longer periods of time.
You will build skills and critical understanding of knowledge that has often been erased, silenced, and diminished.
Below are some additional suggestions for moving through the module:
Naomi Bird (2019) has written about the way emotional labour can be used to uphold settler colonial education frameworks. For example, settler colonial educational spaces often call upon Indigenous learners and educators to become informants and to expose their own private lives for the benefit of non-Indigenous learners. This labour can negatively affect the learning process, retention, educational achievement and well-being of Indigenous students. For more on the (re)traumatization and coerced emotional labour that Indigenous students experience, see Naomi Bird, “The Emotional Labour of Indigenous Post-Secondary Students: A Trauma-Informed Autoethnography” Bachelor of Community Design, major research paper, (Dalhousie University, 2021).
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson also explains the relationship between pedagogy and informed consent. Quoting Simpson, “Coming to know also requires complex, committed, consensual engagement. […] The word consensual here is key because if children learn to normalize dominance and nonconsent within the context of education, then nonconsent becomes part of the normalized tool kit of those with authoritarian power.” Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 162.
Margaret Price quoted in Alison Kafer, “Un/Safe Disclosures: Scenes of Disability and Trauma,” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 10, no. 1 (March 2016): 1–20, 2, (Source).
Jackie Leach Scully, “Disability Bioethics: Moral Bodies, Moral Difference,” Feminist Constructions, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).
The notion of braiding different strands of knowing and being comes from the work of Elwood Jimmy and Vanessa Andreotti in their June 2019 booklet “Toward Braiding.” They explain, “[b]raiding is not a form of synthesis”; “[b]raiding is also not the result of selective combinations in which one side emerges triumphant over the other. Instead, braiding is premised on respecting the continued internal integrity of […] [the strands], even as neither side is static or homogenous, and even as both sides might be transformed in the process of braiding.” Elwood Jimmy and Vanessa Andreotti, “Towards Braiding” (Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures, 2019), 21, (Source).
Consider the artwork of Potawatomi-Lenapé disability-identified artist Vanessa Dion Fletcher titled “Relationship or Transaction?”(Source). The artwork uses rolled up Canadian five-dollar bills in place of traditional wampum beads (made from seashells) to represent the 1764 Western Great Lakes Covenant Chain Wampum Belt between the British and specific First Nations (also known as the Treaty of Niagara). Representing one of Canada’s foundational treaties, Fletcher’s artwork asks people to re-consider the “treaty relationship---not as a finite transaction that begins and ends when people exchange money, lands, and resources but rather an open-ended agreement, in which people enter living relationships and commit to upholding certain values, rights, and responsibilities as an integral part of maintaining those relationships. The work thus offers important commentary on a profound rub between the worldviews informing settler and First Nations approaches to reciprocity: between those premised on capitalism, which instrumentalize and reduce exchanges of activities and things to commodified transactions; and those premised on holism or monism, which recognize the inherent interconnectedness of all things and emphasize a shared responsibility for sustaining good relations, with both the human and non-human world.” Carla Rice, Susan D. Dion, and Eliza Chandler, “Decolonizing Disability Through Activist Art,” Disability Studies Quarterly 41, no. 2, pp. 7,8/26 (June 15, 2021),