Taylor’s Top Ten Treaty-Ed Teachings

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Teachings to follow as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow.

How did I do on the alliteration?

For my final ECCU 400 project I have made a top ten list to highlight my main enlightenments over the course of this class. A lot of what we discussed was not new knowledge for me, but I believe that when exploring topics of justice and marginalization it is always good to be reminded, and to be open to looking at things in new perspectives, and this class certainly delivered that. PS – If you see links, please look at them and just skim the blog articles. I don’t expect you to seriously read all that is mentioned here!

I promised myself I would be to the point to keep this more effective. KGO.

Indigenous issues were in the past – BUT THEY ARE ALSO IN THE PRESENT.

To count them only as historical grievances means avoiding fixing the injustices going on today. Think in contemporary terms. We need to act now, not just learn about it in history books. Horrible reserve conditions, missing and murdered children and women, blatant and systemic racism – it is all here, and very close to home.

Kindness is important in achieving goals for justice.

Pam Palmater did not talk, in her speech, about raising pitchforks and going after racists. She talked about the importance of a “good old fashioned apology”. The gentleman at the Legislative building did not ask us to take up arms and go in guns ablazing. He asked for awareness of the issues we face, and to pass it on to others. Even Angela Davis, although she talked about things as radical as getting rid of policing as we know it, was calm and rational through all of her speaking. She expressed how, to help women overall, we need to reach down and offer hands to those of us who are lower on the triangle hierarchy of power right now, to truly break the ceiling of patriarchy. I have learned from people (the greatest resources) this semester that self-care, advocating for those who are marginalized, and personally seeking and offering ways to help, are good ways to approach social justice, and too, reconciliation. And don’t confuse kindness with passivity and inaction – you can act, but you can act with kindness. You can show strength in kindness. I do talk about scenarios where I understand when using force to demand rights is best – after all, some people have been trying peace for years and it has not gotten them anywhere.

However, if we are in a position of privilege to talk with other privileged peoples about changing mindsets, I think kindness is a first, because is our end goal a world of hatred, or a world of love? I find that getting angry is so tiring and draining, spiritually. I would rather seek my inner power from positive sources, live love, laughter, and art. I expect many oppressed peoples would like to feel this way, too – but can’t, because they need to fight a daily fight to be treated as equal.

We need to hold people accountable when it comes to oppression or ignorance of any kind.

State facts, don’t attack personally, but defend why someone’s behavior is racist in a certain moment. Point it out, don’t let it pass. Angela Davis holds people accountable – for example when she said that YOU, as a man, might not demean women behind closed doors, but as a man who wants equal rights you still have a duty to call ANY OTHER MEN out on acting that way. If you aren’t going to be a teacher, a voice to counteract the hate, nobody is going to learn. And it isn’t going to be easy. I have begun honest (and messy) conversations with family about racism. I am starting to realize moreso who to keep in my life that will push me further, and those who will hold me back if I give them the chance. Some other situations where I have learned firsthand the power of being accountable: the bake sale “pressure” at the ReconciliACTION event to go beyond passively throwing in money, to actively educating myself on a topic; and the day with the Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp where I saw Angela’s propositions be put into practise.

Find personal connections and hold on to them to help you relate.

I talk in this blog about the personal perspectives that I bring to the haunting past (and present) of residential school abuse. I am a person who believes that pain is pain, and to compare levels of pain and “whose is worse” does not get either person healing. The more we can relate to it and see… “You are suffering through something, just like I suffered through something, and this is how I felt” the more I believe we can heal together and help one another. This is why I have to nod along when survivors say that they find healing in sharing their stories to people who can listen (and understand and sympathize). I also understand how vulnerable those survivors must feel sharing stories to a large number of people who deny that residential schools were a cultural and physical genocide, and claim people are milking it. Do these people even realize how cold it is to judge another person’s grief on a scale of importance? All trauma and grief is heartbreaking, and requires love and support to overcome.

Follow the news.

CBC: Unreserved, CBC: Indigenous, APTN. Particularly, news from a marginalized group about a certain group. Follow diverse news, not just what pops up on your Facebook feed (yikes!) Yes, stories about Indigenous peoples will make it into mainstream news, but are not going to give you the most comprehensive and accurate understanding of their culture and current issues. When I asked Sylvia Smith what I could do, this was her best advice, and still is. News is not static – it is not one single webpage of “Indigenous Peoples Facts” that can be current today, and outdated tomorrow. The news is evolving and growing, just as we the people are. And most importantly, make sure you are balancing bad news with good news. If all you have heard about is how the government is failing Indigenous peoples (they are and I do not want to undermine the tragedy of this) you will need a pick me up – so read about the wonderful contemporary Indigenous cultures in Canada. Read about a local and recent powwow, or a reconciliation art contest and its winners. If you look for it, you will find it, and it will help you realize how strong and beautiful Indigenous peoples are.

Find your niche – your purpose.

You can support everything reconciliation based but if you find a particular passion – follow it as far as it will take you. As Ann Perry says you may not make a lot of friends – but in the end, I think you will make ones that count. I have been talking with my mom at length about this gentleman who is raising awareness and encouraging discussion about justice and reconciliation. She told me, “You know, people say he needs to get a job – but what he is doing right now is his purpose in life.” She thinks it is an important purpose and that he should be honoured, after he has left, by having the teepee remain as a community meeting place. She also thinks there should be a plaque in Wascana honouring what was done there. I am proud of my mama for thinking of something I didn’t even think of. I am happy that Prescott has found a purpose and is touching so many lives.

Do the “little things” that add up.

Write a letter to the PM. Go to Reconciliation or any kind of social justice workshops. Go to powwows. Take opportunities, make time for opportunities. I helped take a man home in a blizzard, and my perspectives on what little things and big things are changed considerably. I was going to buy hand soap that day, and instead I helped a man find shelter. It took 30 minutes out of my day. Little thing or a big thing – you decide. I have had so many great opportunities for learning because of this class – when I went to the museum I was sorely disappointed with the material BUT, once again, people are the best to learn from. I walked through the museum with a young Cree boy and an older relative, and he taught him “amisk”. I (being snoopy) asked what that meant and he replied, “It is beaver, in Cree.” It always pays to ask – how I know the local name of my favourite wild creature!!

Read Chelsea Vowel.

I really have to say no more. Just read Chelsea Vowel. Here is her online blog, and buy Indigenous Writes. She speaks with a passion for social justice that many people may write off as snarky, but she speaks the truth and everything she says I have to nod along to. My favourite thing I have read from her is in Indigenous Writes, when she suggests that, if we are not happy with how we are referred to in English terms (settler, Caucasian, non-Indigenous, white, etc.) we should look up what we would be called in a local Indigenous language. This incited anger in me as I realize “No, I want to be called by a name of my choosing” yet she is pointing out how this is essentially what colonial settlers have done to marginalized groups for centuries – choose their own names, for a different group of people.

If you are going to be in it, be in it. Show integrity.

For example, Prescott highlighted a serious issue when he said that all of the fancy “modern” institutions are doing land claims, acknowledging and “honouring” they are located on traditional First Nations land. But as soon as First Nations peoples motion a want to actually make use of their rights, the people and their systems get nervous and oppositional, or dig their heels in. I think I have done a good job showing integrity this class.

Navigate carefully the waters of cultural appropriation. If you like Indigenous art, go and support Indigenous artists right from their independent shops. Put your money where your mouth is. Buy their art. Your money will make a difference in the lives of that Indigenous person and their families. As Pam Palmater says, if you want to help, tell us how: can we have land? Money? Time?

Pass on your experiences to your students. Inspire them.

Tell them your good stories, your heartbreaking stories – tell it all, and give them avenues to begin their own journeys. Show them 150 ways to reconcile. Explore the news with them. Take them to Indigenous cultural events, and yes, make sure they learn about the injustices being done to Indigenous peoples too. Check out Project of Heart with your students and teach them about things like Jordan’s Principle. As Sylvia Smith says, “Speak from the heart”, because everything else “You can flush.”

#thisisnottheend #thisisjustthebeginning

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Indian Horse Movie Viewing

Indian Horse (2017)

Saturday night, I went to a viewing of Indian Horse with a few friends. I read the book two years ago and was absolutely brokenhearted over it – I remember crying, reading it. It made me so emotional and helped drive it home to me, the full impact residential schools had on the cycles of abuse and trauma still visible today in our society.

One of my friends I invited has recently told me a story about how his grandma had a house right nearby a residential school (Lebret) and that the kids would run to her place to seek refuge, before being forcibly taken back to the school by the nuns. Hearing stories like that – of resistance and of loving – give my heart a bit of warmth when talking about topics so cold as residential schools. It is like hearing about the Underground Railroad.

This movie succinctly captures everything that was wrong with residential schools to a wider audience than those who have read the book – it is being encouraged on CBC and I have a feeling it is going to be a very wide, rude awakening to people. It takes the viewer into the most widespread form of abuse that occurred in every situation: cultural genocide. Students were not allowed to speak their language, take pride in their families or heritage, and were asked to replace all of that with Christianity and European values. It also takes the viewer into many other forms of abuse that ran rampant, because there was nobody in power looking out for the justice of these children: it was a breeding ground for emotional abuse (not allowing sisters to comfort each other) and the sexual abuse (I will let you watch the movie to figure that one out).

I found it interesting that Clint Eastwood mentored the director of this film, and that Eastwood has claimed “People need to see this movie” … considering the history of spaghetti western films he has been in that haven’t portrayed Indigenous peoples in positive light. They have been backdrops, conflict to spur the plot in the Western genre – overlooked as human beings. I suppose Clint has had a change of heart, so good on him.

Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism (SCAR) – Camp Outside of the Leg Building

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As I write my reflections, I will write with this important disclaimer: I will not include the name of the gentleman who shared his stories and purposes for doing this with us, and I will not include details of his personal stories.

This reasoning is twofold: Firstly, I understand the importance of privacy and that he may not want everything he shared with us to be shared with the whole world.

Second, I want to strongly encourage anyone who visits Regina, or especially who lives in Regina, to stop by and show your support to this gentleman, and the others who have been part of this camp. Even if you feel “on the fence” about Indigenous justice issues, I encourage you to ask to be invited in, sit down, open your ears, and listen. Give them an hour, and see how you feel coming out of that teepee. Be sure to sign the guest book!

When I got there at 3 pm on what looked to be a busy Thursday at the Legislative Building, I was greeted with a scene I knew I was likely to see. Banners highlighting the injustices done to youth in Saskatchewan. A tally board counting how many days the group has been camping. And a little makeshift village, a home away from home, with a sharp and deep purpose: To raise awareness for racism.

A gentleman came out, tall with long black hair, and he mentioned he was checking to see what was going on because he heard some talking. We talked a bit, I explained we were here as a University class and were wondering if he would be interested in sharing some stories with us. He agreed quickly, and that was that. Two hours later, and he had no shortage of things to tell us. I found myself able to relate, to have a dialogue where I could speak and ask questions too. I thanked him for his kindness and generosity, and he in turn thanked us for being here to tell his stories and thoughts to.

I assessed how much my prejudice had led me astray from the experience I was actually immersed in. When I got there, I thought that the protesters would be too busy in their own world to have time to talk to us. Boy, was I wrong. I also worried that, if they did talk to us, it would be off the walls radical, emotionally heated screaming, and so on, and they would hold us hostage until we agreed to be just as radical. Again, no. I had the misconception that they would not be socially-minded because they had been camping for 44 days not in their homes, but this entire event seems to have made them entirely socially-minded. People were coming and going to talk to them everyday, and also… my settler mindset was severely shaken up when he explained to us that he finds it funny that the media is saying “they (meaning him) are sleeping and living there illegally”, when so many big, fancy institutions (like the U of R) do land acknowledgements, honoring the traditional lands of First Nations peoples. Land is acknowledged and honoured, but when it comes time to actually “allow” Indigenous peoples to use their land – complications ensue. Ideas of private property and needing a home to be a fully-functioning human, are very colonial mindsets. How arrogantly ironic it is to (presumably be a settler, descended from many people who moved to a new country before arrangements were made with the original occupants of the country) tell an Indigenous person they are on some land “illegally”. This interesting situation is likely why the RCMP have not forcibly removed them from the spot.

So no. This gentleman was not ranting and raving. He was, however, very passionate about justice and about Indigenous traditions and ways of knowing being respected. He spoke in a calm, quiet, slow voice. He explained that this was an act to raise awareness – he wasn’t there to raise hell. He said there essentially is no end goal of camping there, no ultimatum to bargain with – if my understanding is correct, he just wants those in positions of power, in government structures, to begin to see from the other side.

The Legislative Building also has not come forward to talk to the campers. The explanation was that they need an invitation, and I laughed and exclaimed, before I could even think of the words coming out of my mouth, “Isn’t being here on your doorstep invitation enough?” The Legislative staff are likely wondering what political, formal agreements the campers want them to come to, when really, I think the campers just want them to acknowledge their humanity.

If we, a group of university students, can come into the teepee and listen to a new perspective for two hours – surely to god the staff at the Legislative building can bridge some connections, make a friendship or two, and seek understanding.

Some valuable things I took away from this was:

  1. The sacred fire. Although it was freezing cold, we were toasty warm from this sacred fire which had been burning since they began camping there. He explained that the word for fire also mean’s a woman’s heart, in Cree.
  2. Indigenous people are a commodity. I can honestly say I had never looked at it from this perspective before, but if you think about it – thousands of Indigenous children in child care services, in jails, and so on… They provide child care workers, prison guards, etc. jobs. It shouldn’t be that way. We should not need the amount of jobs that we currently have filled, in a better world in our future – sorry, prison guards and social workers.
  3. There were 500 signatures signed in their guest book. I hope there will be over a thousand next month.
  4. We participated in a smudging. Another person joined us in the teepee and was asked to smudge us. He asked to clarify that we were sober, and I believe that was new learning for some people – you cannot be smudged if you are under any kind of influence. You need to be clean.
  5. Sometimes a hug works as the best thank you. I asked him if he was a hugger and we had a good hug before I left!

There was much more learning that went on – but you know what – you will just have to go there to find out!! The Legislative Building shouldn’t be too hard to find. And feel free to leave a comment if you have went, or decided to go after reading this blog.

 

Treaty Walk in the Village (OTV)

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ECCU 400 (Treaties in the Classrooms) at our Treaty Walk in the Village event

As per a classmate’s request, I am going to write a bit about the reconciliation event that we did at Orange Tree Village on April 5!

I had initially approached this, in my mind, from an “I am going to impart knowledge onto you” perspective, but as soon as I was in the middle of it all, I realized that it was a very casual and conversational atmosphere, and that was the right way to do it. It was not going to be a one-sided lecture from anyone. I had some preservice teachers come up to my table and I handed out my adapted checklists on how to choose literature that promotes diversity and does not marginalize Indigenous peoples. They asked for lists and took photos, and I was so impressed and pleased with their active engagement!

We had backdrops and resources to help us with our presentations, but the most important resources in the room were the people – the guests and the presenters. The event was, in large part, a historically and continually privileged group of peoples asking many others in that same group to acknowledge that privilege and work to make the world a better place for marginalized groups. I had Indigenization resources to share, and another classmate set up right next to me with a project on White Privilege, which of course attracted a lot of interest, and I joined in on those conversations as well.

We had a range of reactions, from keen interest, to passing glances, to honest confusion and curiosity. I loved all of the conversations I had. First of all, I love meeting new faces and hearing perspectives, but I also liked that what we were doing meant something. We were entirely taking a stand and showing our beliefs in something – in justice for all people. I think a lot of people acted a bit quizzical because they thought that we (the collective we, of Canada) were further along than we actually are – but we are still at a point where we have to have teach-ins like this to highlight basic injustices being done! Most people, however, did seem knowledgeable on the subject, and were upset but not surprised at injustices being done. It was nice to see support and have some sense of hope that communities are moving forward in their mindsets to ones of social justice.

Out of all of the reactions we had, we did not have any people (that I am aware of) be openly angry and express digging their heels in on the approaches to reconciliation and treaty learning that we were proposing. I did however see an example of this when another ECCU400 class did their ReconciliACTION event at the University of Regina. Although I was not presenting, I did what I could to try to have a civil but enlightening conversation with the gentleman. As educators it was a good taste of what still may be to come as we navigate the waters of teaching social justice to young ones. Some people resist it and we need to know how to navigate it for everyone’s well being, including our own.

We managed to raise $40 from our bake sale, and donated money to the Camp: Justice for our Stolen Children, through the Sask Coaliation Against Racism, who is nearing 50 days of being camped outside of the Legislative Building. You can read more about the group by checking out their Facebook page. Their camping directly in front of the Legislative Building is bringing awareness to the injustices Indigenous peoples face right here in our province.

Thanks for listening, and if I can ask one thing of anyone who has read about this event and is curious what they too can do to help promote good treaty relations and reconciliation… Google “150 Acts of Reconciliation for Canada’s 150th” and begin your journey.

If you would like to check out more photos of our past event, visit our Facebook event group Treaty Walk in the Village.

I Was “Forced” to Read the Rights of Indigenous Peoples! Thank You!

I had to appreciate the clever approach that Audrey’s ECCU 400 class took to their #ReconciliACTION event. There was baking for sale for a minimum of a $1 donations (if I understood correctly, it is all going to the folks camping outside of the Legislative Building for justice for Boushie and Fontaine) BUT…

The catch.

As I turned my new cookie over, it told me this…

 

They had written 1 of 150 ways to reconcile with Indigenous peoples on the back of each baking item. WOW – powerful and completely in theme with the idea of going beyond words and empty promises and actually doing something to help.

I was so intimidated by seeing “Read the UN Declaration” at first that I almost put the cookie back to try to look for a less intimidating one, and in that moment of reflection I thought: Aha – here I am as a white person, thinking I can change my mind and only help others to the extent it conveniences me. I had already went around telling everyone I know that it has taken Canada a decade to admit what the Human Rights tribunal has declared, and the majority of other countries have voted Yes to… Now I need to read what it is actually all about. If you look at the 150 to Reconcile pdf I linked to, most of them have links that you can click on, to save the busy work of hunting down these resources. Here is the UN pdf I was told to read:

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

So I stopped myself, took my cookie with purpose, and also took a brownie (which happened to have the cultural appropriation vs. appreciation blog post from Chelsea Vowel that I had already read!)

I will share some of the parts (in terms of triumphs for Treaty Education) that stood out to me most, below:

Considering that the rights affirmed in treaties, agreements and other
constructive arrangements between States and indigenous peoples
are, in some situations, matters of international concern, interest,
responsibility and character,
Considering also that treaties, agreements and other constructive
arrangements, and the relationship they represent, are the basis for a
strengthened partnership between indigenous peoples and States,

Article 5
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their
distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions,
while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in
the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.

Article 10
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or
territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and
informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after
agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with
the option of return.

Article 8, 2.

States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and
redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them
of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values
or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing
them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim
or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
(e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite
racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.

Not only does this hold Canada accountable for creating good relations with Indigenous peoples, it holds us accountable to “prevent” and “redress” any wrongs being done, as well.

My final question, in regards to ACTION in reconciliation, is – who is going to connect the dots between the rights secured for Indigenous peoples in this Declaration and the unjust verdict of the Stanley case? I am not a lawyer but even as a layperson I can see arguments that can be formed, using this international body of law to challenge the Canadian justice system. Surely this document has to count for something – it can’t just be a “guideline” book to follow – there has to be some pull, right?!

Is it him or is it me? ~ Black Day in July, Gordon Lightfoot

I was listening to one of my favourite Canadian artists this morning: Gordon Lightfoot. My favourite song of his has always been “Black Day in July” referring to the Detroit riots of 1967. It had everything to do with racial tensions. I was reflecting this morning (“As you read the morning paper / and you sip your cup of tea”) about how this song is entirely appropriate in contemporary times, with the recent media explosion over Indigenous and white tensions.

In the mansion of the governor
There’s nothing that is known for sure
The telephone is ringing
And the pendulum is swinging
And they wonder how it happened
And they really know the reason
And it wasn’t just the temperature
And it wasn’t just the season
The printing press is turning
And the news is quickly flashed
And you read your morning paper
And you sip your cup of tea
And you wonder just in passing
Is it him or is it me
In the office of the President
The deed is done the troops are sent
There’s really not much choice you see
It looks to us like anarchy
And then the tanks go rolling in
To patch things up as best they can
There is no time to hesitate
The speech is made the dues can wait
And you say how did it happen
And you say how did it start
Why can’t we all be brothers
Why can’t we live in peace
But the hands of the have-nots
Keep falling out of reach
Oh, the power of white denial. It has not changed since the 1960s.

A few things tangled in my mind as I heard this song, and I knew I had to write a blog again to sort them out. First, I remembered what someone had asked at Pam Palmater’s speech – how the Indigenous communities have been remaining so “calm” in the face of the unfair verdict of Stanley’s trial, when in America there have been violent protests (in reaction to violent as well as systemic racism against Black people). The connection was thus drawn – there are racial tensions in SK, just as there are in America. I don’t think that as someone who has not felt racial oppression before, I can have a voice on which approach (peaceful or violent) is more appropriate. I can only say – I would vote whichever relieves the most oppression and gets the most attention for change. If peace isn’t working, where else is there to go?

I also thought of a frustrating and frightening experience I had while at one of the #reconciliACTION tables in Audrey’s ECCU 400 section, last Monday the 26th. A man who referred to himself as a biker asked to be helped to some coffee, so the ladies helped him. As he was sipping his coffee he decided to very openly, and with a lot of repetition, tell us that he is sick of the media portraying First Nations peoples as the victims and that farmers should have the right to protect their property. (Keep in mind their table had to do with teaching about residential schools. He chose this space to open race dialogue, and not in favor of Indigenous peoples.)

I reminded him (even though I was not part of this table – I was there that day as a concerned citizen interacting with the seminar providers) that a man died, and why are you debating the crimes of theft when there is a larger crime at hand first? He could not get the logic and deflected to a story about a First Nations man who allegedly “pulled the race card” to get attention and reward after being harassed and followed at Giant Tiger. (He also was guilty of mansplaining – I had to ask him several times to stop talking because he was repeating his point and not letting me speak, showing he really had not come for a dialogue but rather a preach session).

And so I am led to these powerful words: “You wonder, just in passing / is it him or is it me?”

“Just in passing” is a powerful inclusion of lyrics, because as white settlers, we have to CHOOSE to put energy into this. We can also think about it and then drop it and go back to our lives and non-racial-related problems. If people are even claiming “I don’t know why this is a big deal, First Nations should stop whining” that takes effort. That is ignorance and racism.

People who are oppressed, Indigenous communities who still do not have equal human rights – they cannot choose. Obstacles have been placed on them. They do not think of this “in passing” – it is their day to day lives they are living.

What I had wanted to tell this man, but couldn’t find the words to speak, is: Your attitude is what the majority of European settlers in SK have had for the last two hundred years. Has it gotten us (meaning collectively – ALL cultures and backgrounds included) anywhere good? Do you not think we should try another approach? People hear situations like Boushie’s tragic death and they want to point fingers and say it was him, or her, or them.

I wonder what it would take for people in Saskatchewan to point that finger inward, and go: Maybe it is me? Maybe I need to approach this with an angle of sympathy, and desire for real change that results in real, changed racial relations. Maybe I need to start by apologizing, instead of expecting someone else to. And as white people, we have a lot less to lose by apologizing – if you choose to think of it in terms of power lost.

For an Indigenous person to (wrongfully) apologize for any of this, would be to accept their oppression and further push others into it. For a white person to apologize, it means: Hey. We are willing to share and learn.

Be the “bigger man”, Saskatchewan.

We have racism in Saskatchewan. It is alive and well. Admit it.

Sylvia Smith’s Talk with ECCU400 and Reflections on “General Knowledge”

A wonderful woman came to visit us last Thursday for our Treaty Ed class. It was likely the quickest I had ever made a friend before! Thank you for your kindness in lending an ear, Sylvia Smith!! (I still think you are Nancy Wilson’s doppelganger!)

I had the pleasure of listening to her speak the very next day at the Going Beyond Words event, but this blog post will be about the wisdom she imparted to us while speaking about her Project of Heart in our ECCU 400 class.

Likely the most important takeaway that I got from that, was a reality check. She explained how she had some students take a “basic” quiz, with questions that should be general knowledge, like for example the Chief of the General Assembly. She said the students did poorly on those tests, and I froze up, because I knew I would do no better on those tests. I was thinking – what and who is the Chief of the Assembly? I was embarrassed.

But the more I talked to Sylvia that evening, the more I realized she would not judge me for my ignorance, but would help steer me in the right direction to learn more. So I admitted this to her and asked her – what can I do to be more aware of this “general knowledge”? I know about the social inequities, about the treaties in historical and contemporary terms, about the systemic racism and marginalization Indigenous peoples face, including the horrible living conditions some reserves are subject to…

But, for the life of me, I find it difficult to name particular things of importance, for cause of celebration, relating to Indigenous peoples IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES.

I know that this is NOT because Indigenous peoples aren’t contributing, and aren’t practising and sharing the hell out of their beautiful cultures (and THANK YOU for that!). I know it is because it has become public discourse (part of systemic racism) to talk about Indigeneity only in negative and/or historical terms, in terms of their struggles instead of focusing on the power they have of healing and enlightening themselves and others. We (as white people) need to get beyond that. Issues that need fixing cannot be ignored, but neither can recognizing the beauty of their cultures, as Pam Palmater so eloquently discussed in her Woodrow Lloyd lecture.

I have even become aware of a bias I never realized I had, but suddenly realized I couldn’t not have. I reflected and knew I have done it and still, subconsciously but definitely, continue to do it. My whole life I have wanted to learn about Indigenous cultures, but I would always hear a term in another language and think: I am not going to learn that language, I do not need to remember that term. So I would remember the idea, but leave behind the term. This way of thinking for me is pervasive and I still quickly find myself losing memory of names that are not classic “white” Christian names.

Now I realize how closely what I have been doing rides the line towards cultural appropriation. Appreciating ideas, and sharing them, but without giving them due respect by calling them by their name.  Now that I have pinpointed that bias in myself, it is the first step to changing it.

It needs to be commonplace to know names of great Indigenous peoples and their contributions to our world, as well as terms (in English and native languages) of cultural practices.

Her answer to me was simple, but powerful – she said, read the news. Specifically, read Indigenous news, like APTN or CBC Indigenous. I was happy Sylvia gave me open-ended resources to explore, instead of saying “Go to such and such a page and read” because cultures, issues, life – it is all in constant flux. The news is updated every day, and so as Indigenous life evolves, so will my knowledge of it, and I will be truly wise, instead of reading one source and then confidently saying “I know all about Indigenous peoples.” (Ha.)

Another one of my favourite news sources I have recently followed on Facebook is CBC Unreserved, and WOW do they ever have incredibly insightful articles. I am also always excited to see Indigenous stories making their way into “mainstream” CBC so those who are not actively looking to learn, still learn: look at local story, about tattoo artist Jonas Thomson of Carry the Kettle Nakoda First Nation, using his talents to heal and teach about his culture.

Oh, and! … the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations is Perry Bellegarde. It is funny because I was telling Sylvia how excited I was to have Edmund Bellegarde, Chief of File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, liking and sharing my tweets, and she said “Oh he must be of relation to Perry!” and me, still unaware of who the Chief of Assembly was, smiled and nodded, not understanding at all.

I understand now, Sylvia!!

A few other interesting ideas Sylvia brought forward…

  1. If anti-racist pedagogy is stressful for us – white people – those who are not damaged by racism… imagine how stressful it is for those who are.
  2. History is cyclical (Indigenous worldview) not linear (outdated European worldview) – the fallacy that it is linear gives systemic racism power, because we are able to disconnect from connections, from past trauma, and say “That happened in the past, way down the line, and that it something else, not related to your struggles today.” History repeats itself, but, we can break the cycle. I know it. It has been done in abusive families, and so it can be done in abusive cultural relations too.
  3. It took the Canadian Government 9 years (and I believe 4 non-compliance orders?) to acknowledge the Human Rights Tribunal’s claim that Canada did indeed break human rights laws with Indigenous peoples, and agree to reconcile. Our nation is a deadbeat.
  4. As a teacher, this last bit meant the most to me: If it doesn’t hit your heart, flush it. If you are teaching students material and it isn’t hitting your hearts and their hearts, throw it out and re-plan it. She stressed that you are teaching for your students and their futures – they should always be your main concern. The only things that are important, worth teaching, are things that hit your heart. I liked this because I am an emotional person and an emotional teacher (I strive to encourage healthy emotional development in my students) and I feel like the educational system can be a really heartless place at times, the system almost encouraging coldness and objectivity. This speech of Sylvia’s re-lit my fire to put my heart into what I do for my kids. I did manage to type up a quote from Sylvia as she was talking, and she said: “The only real important thing in education ever is justice. Any way you can teach it, you teach it.” 
  5. If you begin discussing social justice and people claim you are getting political and there is no room for politics in education, tell them the truth: That this is non-partisan, so it shouldn’t matter.

I also learned about Jordan’s Principle. I had heard the term used but was still unclear on what it was all about. I was heartbroken to discover a boy died, when there were resources that could have been used to save him, all because the governments could not determine who was responsible for payment. I have copied this explanation from the Caring Society’s page:

Jordan’s Principle is a child-first principle named in memory of Jordan River Anderson, a First Nations child from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. Born with complex medical needs, Jordan spent more than two years unnecessarily in hospital while the Province of Manitoba and the federal government argued over who should pay for his at home care. Jordan died in the hospital at the age of five years old, never having spent a day in his family home. Jordan’s Principle aims to make sure First Nations children can access all public services in a way that is reflective of their distinct cultural needs, takes full account of the historical disadvantage linked to colonization, and without experiencing any service denials, delays or disruptions related to their First Nations status.

Payment disputes within and between federal and provincial governments over services for First Nations children are not uncommon. First Nations children are frequently left waiting for services they desperately need, or are denied services that are available to other children. This includes services in education, health, childcare, recreation, and culture and language. Jordan’s Principle calls on the government of first contact to pay for the services and seek reimbursement later so the child does not get tragically caught in the middle of government red tape.

In a landmark ruling on January 26, 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the federal government to immediately stop applying a limited and discriminatory definition of Jordan’s Principle, and to immediately take measures to implement the full meaning and scope of the principle. 

About time!!