Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I'm Not the Indian You Had in Mind

Hello everyone. I'm a fan of Thomas King, author of The Truth About Stories. His writing is insightful and it deconstructs the understanding of First Nations people by juxtaposing the stereotype with the actual Indian, usually him, in that book. I have quoted or paraphrased him extensively in the past, as you are no doubt aware.
I found this short film tonight, it is a spoken word documentary that looks at the stereotypes. It is worth h a watch. The link takes you to the NSI site where the video is embedded. I couldn't get it to embed here, sadly, but that's okay. The site also includes his Director's Statement (where I got the word "juxtapose" above, I suspect).

I'm Not the Indian You Had in Mind - National Screen Institute - Canada (NSI)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In Name Only?

Sometimes I think we've made so much progress... Then I'm reminded how far we have yet to go...

To the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, the continents of North and South America, Manifest Destiny has a terrible meaning. While Americans understood it to mean the divine right to rule over all of the continent, something that made Canada and British North America nervous, it is true, the term is the device used to connote the genocide of the Indigenous peoples, the massacres and murders of our children and women, the theft of our lands and the destruction of our cultures. Manifest Destiny meant that one people were imposing their will upon the other and saying that they were superior and deserved to be so.

While I am unaware whether Canada ever used the term explicitly, it was manifest destiny that delivered residential schools, reserves, assimilation and the current neo-colonial actions being carried out by Canada to control and assimilate Native people today.

The phrase has power and is filled with meaning. Dark meaning, representing hate and racism and superiority.

So it was an unpleasant feeling to see the phrase show up on a new shirt design from The Gap clothing store. It's hard not to take it personally, I live with colonialism. It's hard not to wonder why they decided that phrase was an appropriate one for this new line.

It's hard not to wonder what it means.

The designer will, of course, plead innocence, he didn't realize he was offending so many. Hopefully The Gap will pull the design. They will probably also do the same, if they even bother.

****Pause. Reboot. Restart. While writing this piece, The Gap announced that they were pulling the T-shirt, and that they were sorry that people were offended.

I'm sort of at a loss as to how to proceed at the moment. This is something we have been seeing a lot of lately, the appropriation of cultural tropes by the dominant, or the reassertion of language that marginalizes and divides, such as this example above.

It feels like it is getting worse.

The question of power arises and I am forced to ask : Are we Decolonizing? Are we indigenizing in name only, adding some token courses and support workers and a whole bunch of art to our schools to make the non-Native feel less guilty and the Native feel affirmed? Am I complicit in tokenizing my people and culture? I speak out and get angry about "Manifest Destiny" but am I doing enough to decolonize? How often have I been silenced? I've lost count. How often have I silenced myself out of fear that I can't stand up to the colonial system? I've lost count. How often have I silenced myself because I'm convinced that I'm not Indigenous enough to speak back to the colonial voice? I've lost count. How often have a failed First Nations? Too often.

Can I decolonize or speak to the need to transform the education system when I don't feel I deserve to be here anymore? What progress is being made when we shout and teach and then turn around to see Manifest Destiny, and sexy Pocahontas costumes, and team logos and the government speaking against us and being called cockroaches in the papers and hearing only silence where the outcry should be?

I see some hope in the empowered voices online that get angry and speak out against "Manifest Destiny". I see some hope in the empathy and outrage expressed by the grade two students I taught residential schools to last year. I fear that hope will be extinguished when they get more fully indoctrinated into the school system and the colonialism that is Canada.

I don't know where I'm going with this thought.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Words & Meanings Part IV

Words have meaning and exude power. We have to learn to understand the impact they can have on ourselves and others.

Two very different things have been effective on my thinking these past few days, troubling the mind and leaving me at a loss as to how to address the issues.

The first, of course, is the suicide of the young lady in Metro Vancouver, after constant cyber-bullying and her own cry for help posted in a YouTube video. I am saddened by this, I can't say more saddened or less saddened than any suicide I have had the misfortune of knowing about, whether or not I know the person personally. All suicides are tragic, whether they capture the imaginations of the population or not. I am disappointed in the online world that continues their attacks on the young lady, even in death, including the memes that allege her death matters because she is pretty, and other bullied suicides were not. This simplifies the tragedy of her and everyone who commits suicide. It dismisses the issues that surrounded her decision to end her life, and it dismisses the issues that surround every decision to end your own life by making it an issue solely of our obsession with "pretty". It takes away complicity in her death and tries to refocus on another issue: why we focus on her and not someone else? It reframes this tragedy as not an issue of bullying, misogyny and depression and makes it about the public's appetites. Her death is no more or less important than any other suicides I have known, but we are talking about it and I hope we really talk about it and we look at our own complicity as a society that allowed it, and every other suicide to happen. The people that bullied her learned at the feet of parents, friends and teachers what they could get away with.

To this, add the hate spewed against another young lady for "desecrating" a memorial to a hockey player with her love for a popstar. The venom online has been vile, to say the least and its permanence is going to haunt this young lady for a very long time. What does it say about society that people can go online and call for soneone's suicide because she wrote her name on a memorial post where many other names were written?

Where do we go from here? I can only model what I hope others will see. How do we change this direction?

I wish I had answers...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Our Students will Learn the Impact of Education on Future Generations

Every once in a while, something happens that restores my faith in education in Canada.  While the Twitterverse and mainstream media went ballistic over the non-issue that is the BCTF Teacher Resource about the Northen Gateway Pipeline project, the northern territories of Nunavut and The Northwest Territories were transforming their education systems for the better.  Below is a press release: 

Comprehensive curriculum first of its kind in Canada 

YELLOWKNIFE, NWT (Tuesday, October 2, 2012) A comprehensive curriculum on Residential Schools was launched today at the start of a three day information session for teachers from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Launched by the Honourable Jackson Lafferty, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment with the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Honourable Eva Aariak, Minister of Education with the Government of Nunavut at an opening ceremony, this curriculum is the first comprehensive teaching guide of its kind in Canada. Marie Wilson, Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was on hand to receive the first copy of the teacher’s guide and deliver the keynote address.
“A significant part of our history is in this curriculum,” said Minister Lafferty. “The coursework and resources enclosed are the result of exhaustive research and provide a deeper understanding of the impacts of residential schools on the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. This will give our students insight into the challenges faced by survivors, and a context for healing and reconciliation.”
With support from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Legacy of Hope Foundation, the Residential Schools curriculum is now a key section of the Northwest Territories Northern Studies course and the Nunavut Social Studies course. It covers topics ranging from the history and legacy of residential schools, traditional education and learning, colonialism, assimilation, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the Federal apology, the TRC and what reconciliation may look like. It also includes literature and stories of former residential school students shared through audio and video clips, allowing students to learn of both the positive and negative impacts that school life had on individuals.
“The most effective learning tools are those that matter to students, and this curriculum is deeply relevant to students in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. By enabling a deeper understanding of our history, our students will learn the impact of education on future generations,” said Minister Eva Aariak. "This is the first time Nunavut and Northwest Territories have worked together on joint curriculum and we are here today because of the strong partnership between our two territories.”
The curriculum was piloted in March of 2012 with a select number of schools across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
This is wonderful.  I am quite moved by this development.  The current First Nations- focused curriculum in British Columbia is optional, listed as alternatives to equivalent courses, and, I fear, not promoted or encouraged by schools in our current "austere" times.  We have much to be proud of here, there are many programs around the province I find intriguing, and I remain incredibly optimistic and hopeful about the two Aboriginal focus school experiments in BC, but this curriculum implementation in the two territories is what I have been longing for.  Everyone is going to take the unit, it is a requirement for all Canadians to know this important aspect of Canadian history.  I have gone on the record and acknowledged significant achievements in BC around Aboriginal Education, now the Territories have made a significant move forward as well, one that I think BC needs to be considering as well.  Your move BC.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

All Education is Political: Reflecting on the online discourse aroundthe BCTF Northern Gateway resource

All education is political. Education curriculum and pedagogy are designed to create a story, a way of knowing and and way of understanding our world and our place in it. I have been both amused and depressed by the discourse I have witnessed around the teaching resource and poster for the Northern Gateway project in British Columbia.

The folks speaking against this resource, calling it biased and one sided, have failed to also call out the same with the resources provided by the pro- pipeline Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (who have a K-1 lesson called Petroleum is Magic), or the way the federal government has treated opponents of the pipeline in official policy and mainstream media. Instead they have grabbed onto this resource as the intrusion of politics in the classroom because it is endorsed by the BC Teachers' Federation, a union that does wear its social justice interests on its sleeve, as well as being perceived as militant and adversarial. I have not seen the same outcry for the government intrusions or the industry-produced resources, which also might be perceived as biased.

The outcry has become that we, as teachers, should not be "indoctrinating" your children in a "political point of view". We have no right. To this, it needs to be pointed out that education is a "political point of view", it is the story of Canada and British Columbia and their expectations of what their citizens should be. What the curriculum is is a whole bunch of ideas Canada and British Columbia think your child should know in order to function as contributing members of society. It is the story Canada wants you to know. (In my own personal universe this has usually meant "killing the Indian in the child," and I, as a First Nations person, am a "cockroach", but I digress.)

To those who claim education should be neutral, politics and beliefs should be taught by the parents, that we should not be teaching a point of view but how to think critically, I ask how do we teach critical thinking if we have to teach neutrally? Neutrality is a political stance. It is a stance that teaches our students to be drones, to not question, to not wonder. Yes, it is important that parents teach their children politics and beliefs, but if they want them to be critical thinkers, it is my responsibility to challenge them. I am not trying to change their beliefs, I am teaching them to critically think about those beliefs and other people's beliefs. To think critically is to wonder about the whys of our world, to consider how the world came to be the way it is. Neutrality teaches our students that it is okay for hundreds of Aboriginal women to go missing or get murdered. Neutrality teaches our students it's okay for Native people living in Canada to live in tents on Hudson Bay in a northern winter. Doesn't neutrality also say it's okay for our students not to think about our environment? The world they live in?

I am proud that the BCTF put this resource together (I was consulted for a First Nations point of view). I am even happy that CAPP has put out their own resources, and the mining industry and the Sierra Club and the Fraser Health Authority. There are lots of points of view on presentation. There is no neutrality. Neutrality creates drones.

I want my students to ask questions. I want my students to wonder why. I want my students to take a position on an issue, it doesn't have to agree with my position. I want them to think critically and challenge and defend and learn. In the end, their beliefs will be neither yours nor mine; their beliefs will be their own.

*******This may seem antithical to previous posts that advocate for transformation and resistance, indigenizing or Decolonizing, but I assure that it is not. My understanding of myself as a teacher is that I am a wonderer. I wonder why the world is the way it is. In teaching, I learn more about it as I engage the students, I learn from them as much as they learn from me. The engagement doesn't always happen, but to teach to transform (especially where my passions lie in Aboriginal Education), I need to teach everyone to understand and question where they are. It does mean my vision of true transformation will take time because teaching my students to learn to have their own mind means that they could and do resist my belief systems. But I hope I leave them looking at the world in wonder and that is the first step in Decolonizing and transforming our education system and our world. What so disappoints about the current discourse around this resources issue is the vitriol online (and I have seen it on both sides) and the refusal to consider each other's point of view. The politicization of the discourse has meant that everyone is imposing before anyone can teach and learn and I am worried about what that teaches our students. The discourse has not been one of questioning, it has been one of accusation, which reinforces the colonial, paternalism I want to resist.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Today is October 4th

Today is October 4th, 2012. Across Canada there will be vigils to honour and remember the missing and murdered Aboriginal women, currently estimated at upwards of 700, but likely higher. Last year I wrote a post discussing the vigils and encouraging teachers to teach about this... I was going to write the word issue, but that word is inappropriate in light of the fact that we are not talking about an issue, we're talking about mothers, sisters, daughters, cousins, lovers, friends... Maybe nightmare is better. It is a nightmare to live with the knowledge that the violence perpetrated on our Aboriginal women can so easily be dismissed as just another issue. It is a nightmare to feel powerless when we watch the government say we've done all we can when we can't say for sure what they've done. It's a nightmare to say we matter and see this headline:
Winnipeg Sun Publishes Racist Comments on Murder Story Calling Indigenous People Cockroaches 

It is a nightmare to know that these vigils are necessary.

I feel useless.

But that feeling is not entirely true.

I teach.

In that, I can share what October 4th means, share the story of the fear I have for the women in my life, for the students I teach; I can make visible the invisible, at least a little bit. I can ask you to consider that we live in a culture where they preach "women, don't get raped," when we should be teaching "men, don't rape." I can remind you that we live in a society where an Aboriginal woman can disappear and only a few people will care. I can point out that the Highway of Tears wasn't taken seriously by anyone, except Native people, until a non-Native woman was killed. That is unfair to that woman though, her tragedy doesn't need to be a symbol of what is wrong in Aboriginal- Settler relations in Canada. She deserves more respect than that. As do all the other women.

I can ask you to teach your students what the vigils mean, why they are important. I can ask you to honour and remember these mothers, sisters and daughters and teach your students to create a Canada where we no longer have to live in sorrow.

Please check out the following websites for further information:

And this article by Martha Troian:
Missing/Murdered Aboriginal Women: is it up to the public to call an inquiry?