Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reflecting on a Break

**Update** The vacation fell through and I ended up working on the show after all, living out in the bush with our participants.  I actually really enjoyed myself, it was a lot of fun, although I admit I hated the mosquitoes and that first shower I was able to get, about halfway through production was the best shower I've ever had.

Seeing as how I am stranded in a coffee shop in Chilliwack because of a mudslide, I thought I would jot down this little note.
It is the end of the school year and I will be stepping back from the education side of things a little bit to focus on the filmmaking thing.  In fact, tomorrow, I am leaving for Alberta with the production team to work on Back in the Day Season 2.  By work, I mean I am driving out with them and bringing stuff out, my job is already more or less done and I will be revisiting some of my old haunting grounds while the crew and participants are on location.  I used to leave near Edmonton when I was going to school before I took my B.Ed.
As well, except for the ongoing search for employment, I have been sitting back and reflecting lately on the need to find more balance in my life and I am going to stop thinking about just Aboriginal education advocacy for a little bit and focus on rediscovering my other passions and a life outside of this narrow focus I have been on. 
I will be posting any Ab Ed or Aboriginal items that pique my interest on
At any rate, thank you for sharing with me and allowing me this space for the discourse.  Have a good summer.

Open up the Imagination: Questions for the Aboriginal focus school

So, you are aware how excited I am about the idea of the Aboriginal- focus school in Vancouver and in the potential in the school up in Prince George.  You've read my various posts about the schools and the accompanying documents.  You've, no doubt, debated, with colleagues, the pros and cons of a focus school and done some soul searching on the subject of Aboriginal Education.

So, I ask you.  What should it look like?  What will make an Aboriginal focus school as successful as it can be?  What should it have?  What should it not have?  Who should teach?  What should the classes look like?  What should the curriculum look like?

How do we find the balance needed in the medicine wheel idea to create the best possible circumstance for our students to acheive success?  How do we make it work?  Open up the imagination a little and start thinking about it.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Growin' Pains &

Hey everybody!
I just wanted to announce that I have opened a companion site at where I can add the odd bit of music or other audio that I have trouble putting up on this site.
If you were to head over there now, you will find the song "Growin' Pains" by the group Dollaz N Sense, the song by my former students which inspired my Masters Comps.
Or click on the link below from my Twitter timeline:

Audio: It is sometimes surprising how one moment, or one song can change your whole understanding of your...

I haven't figured out yet how I will link the two, so for now on the Twitter, if you see the shortened link, you can know to go there (or maybe not, I am thinking of starting a non-Ab Ed related blog to indulge my other passions, Star Wars, Doctor Who, The Simpsons, filmmaking and so on), or I will post a link on here and do it that way, etc, etc.

We'll figure something out.  Enjoy the song.  I love it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wake Up with Co-op

Last Wednesday, June 22, 2011, I had the opportunity to appear on Co-op Radio 102.7 FM in Vancouver on the program "Wake up with Co-op" to discuss issues in Aboriginal Education in the province.  The focus of the discussion was about differences in ways of learning and how that might affect Aboriginal student success.  We also discussed the issue of identity and self esteem and the possibilities that the proposed Aboriginal Focus school in the Vancouver School District offered.

At any rate, because I do not know how to share audio on this blog (hint, hint), I can direct you to the following website to hear the archived show:

Scroll down to Wednesday, June 22, 7:00 2011 and click the play button.  Or you can download it if you prefer.  My interview is about half an hour in.  I don't sound incompetent, so that's a plus.  I was worried about whether I was making sense when I launched into my talk about differences in ways of learning, and I am actually not convinced that I made the case very well, particularly since the feed was lost at one point.  I also have to mention that that is not the only point to take, even though I boiled it down that way for the moment.  I am grateful that there was some interest in the issues that we struggle with everyday.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sacrifices: "Tracks" as a Trickster Story

What follows is an analysis of the novel "Tracks" by Louise Erdrich, which tells the story of Fleur, Nanapush and Pauline, three people living on an Anishnabe Indian Reservation during a transitionary time.  I love this novel.  When I read it, as part of a class, I loved it and when I reread it, I keep finding new things about it.  I decided to re-print this analysis, flaws and all, because I love what it says about identity and Indigenous survival and how the Trickster plays a role in ensuring we survive.  You might need to read the novel to fully understand everything, because I am being lazy today and not sharing a full synopsis (mostly because I haven't found one yet).  I was told recently that I shouldn't do long posts and I am violating that again.  It is about 1800 words.

Sacrifices: Tracks as a Trickster Story

“My girl, I saw the passing of times you will never know.” (p. 2) Erdrich’s novel, Tracks is the story of the end of one time and the beginning of another in the lives of the Anishnabe[1] living in North Dakota in the early 1900s.  The story presents two voices in its telling, presenting two different views of the change from what might be considered the old ways, the traditional ways and what would be the new world in which the Anishnabe had to survive.  There is a third voice missing, that of the ones Nanapush is dismissive of, “those who fattened in the shade of the new Agent’s storehouse.” (p. 9) These narratives, that of the Morriseys, Lazarres and Pukwans, would ultimately decide the way that the Anishnabe world would be transformed.  Their actions, more than those of Nanapush, Pauline Puyat or Fleur Pillager, would decide the fate of the Nation they all belonged to.  Our narrators and the characters they find themselves circling around are merely responding and reacting to the changes and challenges created by the greed and complicit activities of these people.  They are, necessarily, left outside of the main narratives.  Their stories are not the important stories, their absented narratives act as the catalysts of the action we are witnessing.

Likewise, Fleur Pillager, held up and observed by both narrators, is not the main character of the story; she is merely the visible metaphor for the resistance to the changes both narrators speak of, the last representation to the Anishnabe connection to the land and history.  We see her survive and resist, presented from two points of view, both acknowledging her power, the first seeing her as a strength, a resistor, a daughter; the second views her as everything the narrator is not, could never be, something to be reviled and removed.  We follow the journeys of Nanapush and Pauline as they orbit around Fleur, experiencing her from how they understand her, but we never really know her. 

All of them are the last of their lines: the last Pillager, the last Nanapush, and the last Puyat.  They represent the old ways that are dying out.  While the Morriseys and Lazarres run their farms and make their babies, the two narrators and the Pillager are on their own, trying to understand the new world they belong in.  Pauline Puyat responds by rejecting her Indigenous self.  Being mixed blood, she doesn’t feel welcome; ostracized by the others because of her unreliability as a storyteller, they all say she tells lies; her lack of connection to her history, she internalizes the hatred of the Indigenous, hates herself for not being beautiful, for not being accepted by the others, for not being able to understand, or return, Fleur’s initial kindness.  She has no family land, lost when her parents were lost.  She has been disconnected from her grounding, her history.  She can not feel the connections to the land, or the mysteries, which she perceives in the others.  To rationalize this, she rejects those connections, views them as something to be abhorred, something evil.  Pauline embraces Christianity and reconceives the Anishnabe spirituality, the Kitche-Manitou[2], something that is roughly translated to mean the Great Mystery, to be something created by the Devil to turn the people away from the true path.  In her rejection of everything, she strives to destroy the parts of her that belong to that world, embodied by her figure, and represented by Fleur and Sophie who are everything that she is not. 

Ironically, in rejecting her Indigenous self, she uses Indigenous epistemologies to carry out her attacks on the others (D. Cross, 2009).  She uses Moses Pillager’s medicines to revenge herself against Eli and Sophie; she follows the voices in her dreams to do the bidding of Christ.  Dreams are significant in Anishnabe culture.  There is great learning to be had in dreams.  Nanapush even acknowledges he learned his own medicines in his dreams.  Pauline is lost.  She is a character with no history of her own, no understanding of the history of her people and no idea of where she fits into the grand scheme of things.  She is a body without a soul.  She is stumbling along blindly, making it up as she goes.

Nanapush, the other narrator, is a contrast to Pauline in as much as where she is empty, he is full.  He has his history and the history of his people, those still there and those lost, etched on his body.  He has seen the old ways and been witness to the changes.  He understands what is being lost because he has experienced it; he also understands what is coming because he has lived long enough to infer what the changes might mean.  Nanapush is old at fifty.  He is just trying to ensure that the Anishnabe survive and that the ones he cares for are not lost in the changes.  Ruffo (1994) makes the argument that Nanapush may be Nanabush, the Trickster who “as a guardian of an age-old tradition his presence carries the weight of an entire culture (through all those stories associated with him)” (p. 166).  Nanapush carries the traditions into these changing times and maintains them while the rest is lost, “unravelled like a course rope” (Erdrich, 1988, p. 2).  By telling his stories, sharing what he has seen, both within this narrative, to the characters, as well as the sharing of the narrative, Nanapush is acting to protect the traditions and ensure that they carry on into the new world.  He understands that the Anishnabe will not be the Anishnabe he grew up with, but he is seeing to it that there will be Anishnabe.  The Trickster is a mischief-maker and a teacher in the traditions (Ruffo, p. 165).  He does things that teach the people how they should be in the world, often by making a mess of things, but also by showing that he is subject to all the elements that make us human: pain, love, fear.  He is also, in many ways, an outsider trying to find his way in the world.

Ruffo (1994) refers to Pauline as “the death of culture and tradition” (p. 166), the opposite to Nanapush, seeking to destroy with her embracing of Catholicism and the white world, and her desire to become white.  I find myself forced to disagree with Ruffo’s otherwise thoughtful article on this point.  I find the Morriseys and Lazarres to be the more damaging groups to the cultures and the traditions because they have taken what they want out of it and claimed an authority to speak for the people that they do not possess.  The Morriseys and the Lazarres are the death of culture and tradition, they are the takers who make deals with the colonialists, speak for a tradition they have no authority to speak for, impose their will over the others through violence and intimidation, as when they took Nanapush and Margaret, emasculating him and taking her braids (Erdrich, p. 115).  Bernadette Morrisey was not a fan of the Morrisey/ Lazarre alliance but even in leaving, she was complicit in their activities, working for the Agent to ensure the allotments were scooped up, acting against the Pillager, the Nanapush and the Kashpaws, turning the Kashpaws against the others to save their land.  It could be argued that, while part of Pauline’s rejection of the culture and people was a result of her interactions with the Pillager, the Nanapush and Eli Kashpaw, she was also abused and used by Bernadette and Napoleon Morrisey, taught to hate, and to live with the dead.

Pauline is the counterpoint to Nanapush, the other side of the Trickster dichotomy.  He is the teacher and mischief-maker, she is the one who messes up and is the outsider trying to find her way in the world.  He creates mischief by giving all the muddied waters a stir (Erdrich, p.225) and ensures the survival of the Anishnabe by becoming the bureaucrat to rescue what he sees as the future: Lulu.  He is the Trickster sacrificing himself by transforming into what he does not want to be to save what needs saving.  She destroys everything she knows, presenting to the Anishnabe what could happen to them if they go down the wrong path.  She is the Trickster sacrificing her own self to save them from the path she went down.  If Fleur is the last representation of the old ways, remembered by Nanapush and reviled by Pauline, then her daughter is the new hope of the Anishnabe, rescued from the bureau school and restored as the survivor, witness to both Nanapush’s lessons and Pauline’s example, the beneficiary of their sacrifices.  She is the Trickster’s gift to the Anishnabe.

Therein lies the urgency of the narrative.  Pauline’s story is told as a confessional, revealing her sins to her god.  She is urgently seeking redemption, seeking to be made whole, as she understands it.  She does not know her true role, that she is the sacrifice for the Trickster’s lesson.  Fleur dismisses her early on when she states: “The Puyat lies” (Erdrich, p. 38).  She lies because that is what the Trickster requires of her.  Nanapush knows his role; he is the teacher, teaching Lulu, to save the future of the Anishnabe from going down a dark path, the path of the Morriseys and the Lazarres, the real threats, the colonial contagion (Episkenew, 2007).  Their way has infected that world and it is the thing that might destroy the Anishnabe.  The Trickster, in his tricky way, is telling Lulu that the Anishnabe “must take responsibility for healing our injuries and curing the vestiges of colonial sickness” (Episkenew, p. 21). 

            Tracks is an excellent example of a Trickster story.  Erdrich (1988) is revealing to us an important truth about sacrifice and is challenging us to remember who we are and what we can be.  How she ends, “Halfway across, you could not contain yourself and sprang forward.  Lulu.  We gave against your rush like creaking oaks, held on, braced ourselves together in the fierce dry wind,” (p. 226) reveals the strength of surviving.  In surviving, we make a future.  The Trickster reminds us that our strength is our history and our understanding of who we are.  A tree blows in the wind, shakes, and is shaken.  It sacrifices branches and leaves to ensure that it carries on.  It survives by not surrendering but also by not being so inflexible as to break.


Cross, D, (2009) in conversation, Burnaby.

Episkenew, J, (2007) Healing in indigenous communities, CACLALS 2007 paper

Erdrich, L (1988), Tracks, New York, Perennial. 

Ruffo, A (1994) Inside looking out: Reading “Tracks” from a native perspective, in Armstrong, J. (1994), Looking at the words of our people: First nations analysis of literature.  Penticton, Theytus Books.

[1] I need to acknowledge that I am of Saulteaux (Anishnabe) ancestry through my father, a member of the Keeseekoose Band, Treaty Four, Saskatchewan.  I do have some understanding of the Anishnabe worldviews, but there are a great many holes in that understanding.  My name-giver passed away before he could teach me, part of the challenge being our need to live elsewhere in order to make a living. 
[2] It is my understanding that the name above is not one that is spoken out loud.  The Great Mystery is acknowledged and understood to be all around, but you don’t generally speak it aloud.  Instead, the other Manitous, the spirits of the land and the waters are referred to when prayers are offered.  I was taught it was okay not to know the names but offer tobacco and pray with a good heart, without the need to know whom you were addressing.  It would be made clear.  At least as I understand it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What I Learned on National Aboriginal Day at Kent Elementary

On Tuesday, June 21, 2011, National Aboriginal Day or Aboriginal Solidarity Day depending on your temperament, I had the honour of attending the Kent Elementary School NAD celebration, invited by Kasey Chapman, the First Nations Support Worker and Principal Chris Wejr, a name you probably recognize as a voice on my Twitter and this blog’s comments’ section.  It was an impressive day and passed differently than most of my National Aboriginal Days: either sitting by myself in my classroom, cleaning up my files to move home, or sitting at home doing absolutely nothing (I am not an ostentatious celebrant, especially if I find this particular celebratory day to be confusing and somewhat hypocritical).
I was invited to give presentations on the documentary series Back in the Day: On the Mighty Fraser, the television program I co-created, developed and worked on as a Producer-In-Training.  The day turned out to be so much more than that however.  The event allowed me to present on issues ranging from loss of identity to residential schools to the inherent possibilities filmmaking offers Indigenous people to preserve and evolve their cultures, understand ourselves and tell stories.

Okay, sure, woohoo!  How?

I had the opportunity to give presentations to three very different classes and three very different age groups, forcing me to adjust both my thinking and my breakdown of everything as well as my intentions.  All three groups were younger than the two groups I am used to speaking to: high schoolers and teachers.

The first group was the grade six class and it was a fairly straight forward event.  This is why we made the show, this is how we made the show, let’s watch an episode (Episode Four: Halfway), this is what cultural identity means, this is what filmmaking can mean for cultural identity.  The youth were receptive and seemed to enjoy the talk, though it was far less interactive than I would have liked.  No worries.  It went well.

The second presentation proved far more complicating.  Kasey asked me if I would show the short film She She Eckto instead of my show.  I relented, despite misgivings.  I am not fond of this particular film, it is okay, but other issues concern me that I cannot go into.  Be that as it may, it proved to be an interesting session.  I was presenting to grade twos and I was terrified.  It became quickly apparent that I would need to teach about the residential school system for them to understand the film.  We talked about identity, referencing the recent Identity Day that the school had put on (read about it here on Chris' blog) and from there moved into how one cannot know their identity or understand who they are, or could be.

The grade twos were marvellous.  I talked about residential schools, with the teacher’s consent and assistance, and found a way to not talk down to the students, which I was terrified I might do.  I did have to change the way I present and share, but the children were there every step of the way.  And they were horrified.  Or was the better term, outraged.  They did everything you want people to do when you present harsh information.  They wanted to know why.  They wanted to know how.  Not how it was done, but the more important how: How could people let that happen to other people?

The grade fours were presented with my show again.  The discussion was mostly me presenting  again, but we got into a deeper area on what it means to not know who you are and the repercussions of that issue.  The children were wonderful.  The talk lasted longer than I thought, they did contribute to the discussion, but we didn’t get to watch much of the show or really address the possibilities in using film, but it was a good discussion.  The kids related what I was talking about to what they had learned at their Identity Day and throughout the year. 

I worry sometimes that we avoid the controversial issues from younger children.  I know that we do it, ostensibly to protect them, but I think sometimes we do a disservice.  They children need to know about some things, identity and our own struggles with it and the actions of our country surrounding Indigenous people being a couple of them.  These youngsters showed me they were ready to know it, however gently, and ready to understand it as well.

As a result, this was a good National Aboriginal Day, despite the issues I raised in my previous post.  While the current actions are alarming, the children’s desire to know and understand offers hope.  Not just the Aboriginal children in the room.  All the children.  And that offers all sorts of exciting possibilities for our future.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reflecting on National Aboriginal Day

Sometimes this one is called Aboriginal Solidarity Day.  That’s what we were calling it last year.  Speaking in terminology meant to reinforce our commitment as Indigenous people to stand together and resist assimilation and ongoing oppression within Canada.  I believe it was meant to mean we were standing for our missing & murdered women and in support of Sisters in Spirit who were losing funding for their project to chronicle the missing and the murdered.  I believe it was meant to speak to First Nations people (Status and non, status, off and on reserve), Métis and Inuit, to remind us that we are all in this together and we would all stand or fall together.

Yeah, I know... just words.  They were meant to empower and allow us to feel better about ourselves.  I used them and felt good. 

This year, one of my Twitter friends used the term and I replied in kind.  And that was it.

So, what has changed in the year?

Politically, we were played again.  The divisions in our, ahem, status in the legal sense raised its head, particularly at federal election time.  We, who have the privilege or curse of Status, were divided along the lines of voter and the non-voter.  Not in the apathetic sense, although that was more than present, but also in a political sense, as we wrestled with what it means as First Nations to participate in an election?  Was it a renunciation of our sovereignty, as some claim, or a hypocritical act, claiming nationhood in more than one nation?  Or was it an opportunity to be heard, to be visible?  I argued that we needed that and that it is possible to exist in multiple figured worlds or nationhoods.  It would seem the other side won this particular battle. 

The divisions between Status and non-Status grew more confusing, as the McIvor decision was implemented.  While I consider this a positive, many more people will receive Status and the legal recognition, it does make it a challenge for Bands to manage the new numbers on the limited land they have maintained control over and the limited dollars flowing from Ottawa.

While I am thrilled, as well, that the government removed the clause in the Human Rights Act that exempted the Indian Act and its wards from the Act, I note as well that the government has also downloaded the discriminatory practices in health and housing onto Bands, without providing the infrastructure and financial means to ensure that they are not discriminating against members, ensuring that there may be human rights claims against each other for practices the government carried out.

I cannot speak to issues surrounding the Inuit and Métis, as I am not very familiar with their stories, something I hope to correct some day.  At any rate it will be an interesting time ahead and I am wondering what the implications are for all of this?  On me? On my students and colleagues?

As most of my posts appear to be doing lately, this one is incomplete and I will likely do other posts to expand on it, as it ties into the identity question I have been pursuing.

PS- I spent National Aboriginal Day in an elementary school and I had a good time.  I will speak to that in another post, as I am running out of time right now.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


As this is, officially, Aboriginal History Month, something I was unaware of until recently (indeed, many people were unaware of this, it hasn't been publicized) and Tuesday is National Aboriginal Day, I thought I would share with you another song that I find to be quite inspiring.

Wab Kinew is a rapper from Winnipeg.  He also works for the CBC.  The song Heroes wears its heart on its sleeve, starting with the phrase "I hear alot of people say that the Native community needs heroes. Well, we already have heroes.  Let's take a minute and remember them."

Who are your heroes? I have mine. I don't feel like sharing today, but I have mine.  I do hope that someday someone might consider me to be one of theirs.  We'll see.

Share it out and enjoy.

Sorry, I had tried to embed the video but for some reason, it wouldn't let me.  Blogger and Youtube used to let me but the last few times, I have not been allowed for some reason.

Further Pressures on Identity: My notes on Lawrence's "Real" Indians & Others

What follows are my notes from reading "Real" Indians and Others by Bonita Lawrence, a study of Urban Aborginal people in Toronto.  The book addresses many identity issues many FN people are struggling with today, particularly in the urban context.  There are many more that need to be explored, I do not necessarily see myself reflected in the her research, for example.  At any rate, these are my notes for the book... Something to consider when considering Aboriginal Education and planning around it.

“Real” Indians and Others, by Bonita Lawrence

Published in 2004.

-          Essentially is a case study that explores Aboriginal identity and how it is affected in mixed-blood, urban Indians- groups generally disconnected from their Native communities for a variety of reasons, and generally not recognized by those communities as Native, and often times, by each other, because there is the view that that person is “not Indian enough”.

-          Lawrence points out the fact that the experiences of urban Indians is very much tied to the genocidal practices of the Canadian government through the Indian Act and other acts designed to assimilate First Nations people in Canada

-          The categories are defined as status, non-status, Métis, Inuit and other (American Indian)

-          Interviews were conducted with 30 individuals who identify as native and who are active in the Toronto native community, over the space of one year.  Used self identification and active involvement in community as her standard for identifying the participants, so as to avoid colonial definitions of Nativeness.

-          Challenges included being an insider doing research within her own community and being put at risk of knowing things she would rather not know.

-          She also points out Tuhiwai Smith’s assertion that there is more at stake for Aboriginal researchers doing research.  With her doing research, there is a very real burden not to screw it up, or become a part of the colonialism that has damaged the community so completely.

-          There is also no guiding voice in an urban community (ie a band council) to help focus a researcher’s choices of research

-          Decided to focus on Native-white ancestry because there is a definite battle between the two groups in negotiating native identity, she did not exclude Indigenous mixed bloods from other parts of the Americas

-          21 participants are female, 8 are male

-          12 are status through their own lineage

-          7 are nonstatus with a connection to specific reserves, through parents or grandparents

-          10 are from families that never held Indian status (4 from territories not occupied by Canada)

-          2 grew up on reserve and one grew up in a northern metis community

-          2 spent time on reserves regularly, despite a lack of status on their, or their mothers part

-          2 visited a reserve occasionally

-          The rest had entirely urban existances

-          Racial appearance was varied from dark-skinned to looking white

-          Age range was 24 to 62, the older were chosen deliberately because they had had the longest time to consider and develop identity, the younger ones had the least to say

-          Education ranged from grade 6 to PhD students.  High education level did not necessarily translate into high-class background

-          She was challenged by interpreting the story, it is challenging to interpret Native stories, partly because of her own heritage, partly because the way stories are told is important, partly because the people have been silenced in one way or another for so long

-          This group can not be viewed as representative of the urban native community.  She does feel that they represent the current dialogue ongoing in the community

-          She looked primarily at Toronto because Toronto was the most cosmopolitan of Canadian cities and where Native people were actually invisible.  For all intents and purposes, Toronto represents the final stop in the urbanization process.  Government policies have also been in place much longer and the Natives here have been much more the product of that genocide.  She also used to live there.

-          Western cities such as Vancouver and Edmonton were dismissed because of the overt anti-Native thoughts that still existed.  It has not been enough time to make Native people invisible.


-          Indian Act and other policies changed the way that Natives were viewed and regulated.  They essentially defined who was Indian and who got to live in the communities.  Status Indians were given benefits denied to others but were also restricted in many ways.

-          The plan was to remove the Indianness from the people.  What followed were enfranchisement, either forced or wilful, as well as arbitrary removal of status.

-          The overall idea was to remove the Native from the land.  Once the government, who decides who is Native, removed the Native from the Native, by removing their status and declaring them no longer Native, would be able to remove any roadblocks to the land that they want to control.  Nation-building requires the absence of Native people for it to work.

Native Women

-          Gov’t removed women from the equation, by only negotiating and working with men.

-          Gave status and only recognized family lineage through the male’s line. 

-          Native women lost their status if they married a non-status male (in many cases, lost their band membership if they married a status male from somewhere else)

-          Indian Act rules allowed Indian Agents to declare Native women to be classified as prostitutes if they were too outspoken about their rights, which gave them the opportunity to remove them from the communities and strip them of their status

-          As well, their children lost the right to status and recognition.

-          Indian Agents had the power to enfranchise if you left the community to work.

-          Non-Native women could gain status if they married status men, primarily as a means to reinforce the male lineage as the recognized lineage in the communities.

Bill C-31

-          Native women fought long and hard for, to regain status and recognition as Native women.  Double-edged sword, which I will explain.

-          Bill C-31 returned status to women who could prove that they had lost their status previously and were entitled to it.

-          Bill C-31 also gave Bands the right to control their membership.  Why is this significant?

-          Estimates of up to a million people lost status as a result of the Indian Act prior to 1985.  Only 100 000 regained status after Bill C-31 came into effect.  Even fewer were able to regain Band membership.

-          The First Nations, tried very hard to block the reintegration of Native women into the communities and into recognition, even arguing that Canada had only been reinforcing through law a practice carried out by the First Nations themselves.  Women were kicked out to protect the Bands from White men.

-          Bands set up membership rules that would not allow for the return of many disenfranchised women or their children, even if they regained status. 

-          Some bands based their membership rights on culture and language; others used much more dangerous ideas like the blood quantum.  See page 78 about Kahnawake’s rules and regulations

-          Some leaders were upfront about not wanting the women or their children back, arguing that if you left, you lose your Indianness.

-          Bill C-31 also snuck in 6(1) and 6(2) status.  The first is partial status and the second is partial status.  For one to have status, you had to meet the two grandmother rule.  Both your grandmothers had to have status.  Designed to weed out the people again, so even if you had status, your children would have status, but their children would lose it unless they hooked up with a status person.

 Killing the Indian to Save the Child

-          participants identified three issues that had an incredible effect on their status as Aboriginal people and their connections to their communities.

o   Residential schools- none had attended themselves, but had parents or grandparents who had attended.  Very few of these people had been able to return to their communities and were considered lost.  The author gets the dates for closing of the schools wrong, however.  Should be 80s not 60s, but the focus is on central Canada, so the ignorance of the BC history is not surprising.

o   Loss of Indian Status- due to the discriminatory practice of the Indian Act, which is what ended up shaping this study

o   The “scoop”- Feds gave provinces powers over child welfare in Canada.  Native children went from less then 1% to 1/3 to ½ in care.  Whether adopted or fostered out, 70-90% ended up in white homes.  Many were adopted out of province or out of country to the US and Europe.  Did not recognize Aboriginal culture or understanding in their practices.  Many children subjected to racism and lack of understanding and a disconnect with their culture and family.  The parents who lost their kids often fell into alcoholism and substance abuse to deal with the loss.  All the participants who were adoptees or children of adoptees reported considerable problems.

 Urban Responses to a heritage of violence

The main coping mechanism for dealing with violence against them, either by other natives or non-natives, regarding racism, etc. was silence.  A culture of silence has existed for some time, where the person, or the family would deny their nativeness and hide it as best as possible.  They did not want to view this silence as shame however, just survival

Alternately, resistance was also an important coping mechanism, be it quiet, or overt.(pg 130)

 Negotiating an urban mixed blood native identity

 -          Urban Indians are often challenged as not being real Indians, by both rez Indians and white people, for a variety of reasons: not brown enough, don’t know the traditions well enough, etc.

-          Many had to deal with it inside their own families.  Some participants spoke of angry white fathers who resented their native children, while others had supportive white fathers who would support their native wife’s choices, including, in one case, buying a farm near her community so that she could be close to her family and her children could be a part of the life of the community if not an actual member

-          White mothers had a different aspect.  More willing to enter husband’s world, but this had good and bad connotations.  Some were supportive and interventionist to protect children, while others were obsessed with being the “mother of a Native child”, to be known as exotic.  They were often dismissed as wannabees.

 Maintaining an urban native community

-          who gets to be considered Indian

-          all participants thought that you required at least some Indian blood to be considered native, though how much was up for dispute

-          some felt you merely needed native experience, in life and history

-          all accepted self identification but were suspicious of people that looked very white

-          most rejected imposed identities from government policies

-          all felt that blood was required to show survival of the genocide, though because of the genocide that definition of blood had to be interpreted as widely as possible

-          all were concerned with wannabees, some dismissing it as the price of flexible identity while others were worried about it

-          1/3 were concerned about partners, needing a native partner

-          One woman would only partner up with status men, so she could pass on her status to her kids

-          Three were comfortable that their children would be Native regardless of status, blood quantum, their only requirement that their partner be comfortable with their identities

-          There is a desire to actively engage in cultural activities to battle the generations of silencing

-          There is also concern over a growing sense of classism in urban native communities, individualistic focus

-          There was also a break between traditional people and modernists who felt that traditional could not exist in the urban context, though they were careful to show respect for the traditionalists

-          There is a disconnect about how to be traditional without the land connection and whether or not a pan-Indian spirituality can exist

-          There is a schism between those raised on reserves and those that were raised in the urban setting

-          There is a lack of interest in relearning an aboriginal language, didn’t feel it was necessary, highlighting a more individualistic focus

-          There is a break because of lack of land base and the belief that traditionalism is also bad for women, not really acknowledging the changes in traditional practices that include women

Racial identity

Light skinned privilege

-          there is a perception that light skinned Indians have a privilege not enjoyed by dark-skinned Indians, there is debate around this but it does exist for those who already enjoy class and gender privilege

-          did light skinned want to look more Indian?  In some cases yes, in others no.  some were able to accept their own sense of self, others were troubled by knowing they were Indian, understanding they were Indian but looking in the mirror they saw a white guy


-          white looking Indians find themselves having to defend their nativeness and declare their nativeness to defend their native heritage

-          there are many that don’t feel comfortable in white or native society

-          white people are always willing to denounce claims of nativeness, as are native people who accuse you of being a wannabee, both because you don’t look the part

-          those that have all the other markers, status, band membership, lineage and heritage, it is less traumatic

Limits of Indianess

-          None of the participants were comfortable with the concept of racial ambiguity.  At what point do we stop being considered native?

 Where do we go from here?

-          Going back to a pre-colonial context, mixed bloods offer a very real, exciting way to rebuild the Indigenous nations of Canada.  Pre-contact did not kick people out because they were not pure.

-          With the growth of off reserve non-status Indians, there needs to be a reconstruction of the pre-contact acceptance of otherness in the community to strengthen the overall community in the face of an ongoing colonial assimilationist policy.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dear Graduates

Dear Graduates,

I am aware that there were only six of you, one of the challenges of living in a small town and attending a K-12 school.  I know that that limits your options as far as what courses are available to you as electives.  I know that you have persevered anyway.

I have had the honour and privilege to teach you, off and on, since you were in grade seven.  I have been privileged to teach you humanities in grades nine and ten, and to share with you what I have learned in my life, and to share my stories, my experiences, my admittedly limited wisdom...

Thank you for the opportunity to learn from you.  Thank you for the chance to watch you grow up.  Thank you for the chance to see the light bulbs blink on.  Heh, heh. 

Thank you for your patience.  Thank you for your inquisitiveness.  Thank you for challenging me.  I hope I was able to challenge you.

Thank you D and TF, for letting me use your music to begin and complete my Masters degree.  Thank you for letting me share it with the teachers I have met across the province.

Thank you, as well, for stepping up to learn, to question and to create.

Thank you C, TA and DA for your strength, your perseverance and laughter.

Thank you R for never giving up and never doubting yourself.

Do I want to do the old Good luck, have a good life?  Well, yeah.  But let’s be honest as well.  Life is not always easy.  I have shared with you my challenges, not to scare you or seek pity but just to ensure that you are prepared.  You know challenges; you have faced them all your lives.  They aren’t going to disappear, but I think you can handle it.

The one speaker yesterday said “You all could be Chiefs.”

I would encourage you to be so much more.  Please don’t limit yourself.  We often find ourselves helping our communities, it seems to be ingrained, but do not be afraid to look beyond the community right now.  We need to grow, to continue to learn, to gain wisdom and experience.  We resist by learning.  We resist by succeeding.  We resist by not limiting ourselves.

Thank you for trusting me to teach you.  I wish you the best of everything in all your future endeavours.  I am so excited for you, so many paths to choose from. 

Live your lives with good hearts and good minds.  Be happy.

Identity has...

Identity has always been a big issue for me.  I am not sure if I am repeating myself here, but it is something that has always been very close to the surface.  I am a Status Indian, but, at the same time, I am light-skinned and could “pass”.  As I have argued before, I do not speak my traditional language or practice my Sto:lo culture, preferring to participate in some of the Saulteaux traditions I have learned. 

My observations of students have shown all manner of identity politics at play.  Some are obsessed with their culture and history, some have no interest.  Some students do not know who they are and struggle with their place in the world and their Indigenous identity.  They struggle with being told who they are and the accompanying expectations, because it is other people telling them who they are.  The government, the school, the Band, the other students.  One person tells you that you are this, another says you are not.

I am not sure yet, where I am going with this.