When Jennifer Dorner brought her two children to their first day of school at Montreal's École Lajoie on Monday, she was not happy with what she saw. She was so enraged, in fact, she snapped a photo and posted it to Facebook.
What she saw, according to the Montreal Gazette, was two grade three teachers, wearing costume-like Indigenous headdresses and handing out similar ones to students.
Dorner did not feel these costumes were appropriate. "In our family, we teach our children about cultural respect, we teach them the importance of honouring Indigenous cultures, we teach them about privilege and the history of genocide in our country," she wrote on Facebook.
She also told the CBC: "Children like my daughter and niece are very sensitive to these issues, they sensed the tension and didn't know how to behave. I think it's unfair for the school to put them in this position."
The mom is particularly frustrated because she has already taken the school to task over another troubling situation.
"I've had so many meetings with the school principal and vice principal about the lack of cultural sensitivity following the blackface incident in the Christmas school play," she wrote. "That was a long and painful battle and never felt resolved."
According to the Gazette, the blackface incident occurred a couple of years ago. Dorner complained to the school when she learned “they were doing a play where Santa goes to Africa and gets Ebola and gets sick and the local tribes are dancing around him and my daughter was going to be in blackface,” she told the news outlet. “We managed to convince the school not to do blackface at the time, but they still kept the story line. Santa ends up being saved by scientists who come from the North Pole.”
A couple of hours after she made her Facebook post about the headdress on Monday, Dorner included an update. "The school board responded to a CBC inquiry," she wrote. "The school board claims that these two teachers have backgrounds in anthropology and history and they are introducing Indigenous history in the curriculum at the grade 3 level. My response to the CBC was that even though the teachers may have good intentions, they should know that wearing costumes like this is not an accurate reflection of Indigenous cultures and traditions. It is simply offensive to many. If they don't even know this (as experts) what else are they teaching that is so extremely incorrect?"
Many of Dorner's Facebook connections agreed with her concerns over the situation.
"There are almost no words for this," wrote one woman. "Except to say that I'm glad for your strength, compassion, commitment, and clarity in this situation, and I know you'll make a difference."
"I'm afraid it's not just the school," another commented. "Many parents I've contacted today don't see a problem here. Same goes for the blackface debate of a couple of years ago. Hard to get the school to change if the parents are ok with status quo."
This isn't the first time the issue of Indigenous headdresses worn as costumes has come up in Montreal. In 2015, Osheaga banned festival-goers from wearing them.
The music festival made a Facebook statement: "The First Nations Headdresses have a spiritual and cultural meaning in the native communities and to respect and honor their people, Osheaga asks fans and artists attending the festival to not use this symbol as a fashion accessory."
Dorner concluded her post on Facebook with a powerful call to action: "This feels like a much bigger problem than at École Lajoie. Maybe it's time to demand cultural sensitivity training in all schools. Enough is enough!!!"
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