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.

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