Saturday, December 29, 2012

Personal Interlude: My 2012

So...2012. Didn't like it very much, medical leave and unemployment were huge features of the year. At the same time, there were a couple of positives that I hadn't considered, but they are, or were, I guess.

1. In April, I went to FanExpo Vancouver. This is the type of event that I would normally long to go to but then would not buy a ticket and regret it afterwards. This year I went. I had fun. I met Lou Ferrigno.

2. I had the opportunity, or unexpected last minute panic depending on your point of view, to sit down on a computer and edit six two-minute webisodes from hours of behind-the-scenes footage from the second season of Back in the Day. My editing skills are rudimentary at best, I don't know what crossing your axis means but I enjoyed it and would like to learn more. You can check them out at

3. During my medical leave, I had the good fortune to be interviewed for an article that appeared in newspapers across the country. It left a lot out, I did speak to the guy for over an hour, but it felt good to be able to address the issue of Aboriginal Education at a level seen across the country. It was a good article, and starts with "Robert Genaille was not a big fan of teachers." :) This also had the added benefit of my Mom getting to hear from people who would say, "Are you any relation to Robert Genaille?" She loved it. At any rate, check it out here:  (I specifically found a Maritime paper's website, I'm shameless.)

4. For the first time, I've been in online conversations about Aboriginal Education issues and, in asking questions to get the other person's understandings, been sent links to my own writing. That was just sort of fun.

5. I went on a couple dates this past year. That's actually significant. I'm not a social animal. Really.

6. As part of my getting better, I've started going to the gym and exercising. I've lost twenty-five pounds to date and seem to have been plateaued for a really long time, and truthfully, I've really struggled the last couple of months with my attendance and my endurance there, but I did find that through the Christmas holiday, I didn't gain any weight, which is good. I am trying to get back into it properly and I am still fighting a losing battle with french fries but I am still fighting it, so that's something.

7. I actually took part in a protest with Idle No More. I've never done something like that before. I'm hoping I do so again. I think this one is important.

8. I've been afforded the opportunity to return to the first school I had the privilege to teach in. It's very exciting.

9. I still think I will be playing with my camera more and try and make something.

It has felt like a rough year, but I guess not awful. Happy New Year everyone.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Two Years, One Day Anniversary

From Evernote:

Two Years, One Day Anniversary

Missed the second anniversary of my blog because it happened to coincide with the ten year anniversary of my Dad's passing and I was trying to ignore all of that. Sorry. I am not sure why that date seems to have been the day that I launched my blog.  It had a lot to do with some suicides in the community I think that had just occurred, as sad as that is to say.

At any rate, yesterday was the second anniversary of Where Are the Sheep? and I am surprised I didn't abandon this a long time ago.  The blog took a hit this year.  My interest and dedication were challenged by my medical leave and the depression, an ongoing concern, and the end of my term on the BCTF Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee (something necessary to my health improvement but I do miss it terribly), followed by a long stretch of unemployment.  My dedication has also been challenged by my perception of the BC education system as uninterested in Aboriginal Education in general and the specific issues I was raising.  That current apathy is reflected in the continued lack of interest BC educators appear to be taking in the current IDLE NO MORE movement, reflective of the Canadian consciousness in general it seems.  

This is a very exciting time and no one cares.  It's too bad.  This is a very teachable moment.  IDLE NO MORE is why Aboriginal Education matters.  I will try to write more about it as it progresses, compensate for my fear of actually participating in something meaningful and real.  What are the consequences for a teacher to participate in an act of civil disobedience?  

So, two years on, the blog is still here, limping along.  We'll see if year three is any better.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

An Open Letter to the Teachers of British Columbia on the Matter of the IDLE NO MORE Movement

From Evernote:

An Open Letter to the Teachers of British Columbia on the Matter of the IDLE NO MORE Movement

Ey Sweyel.
I hope the season finds you well and that you are having an excellent and productive school year.  My name is Robert Genaille and I am Stó:lō and Saulteaux from the Peters First Nation in the Stó:lō territory of what is now called British Columbia.  I am a teacher in the BC public education system, employed in the Fraser-Cascade school district.  I am also a former member of, and former Chair, of the BC Teachers' Federation Aboriginal Education Committee.

I am writing here today to discuss the IDLE NO MORE Movement, a grassroots, social media- driven protest movement of First Nations people, other Aboriginal people and allies, protesting the lack of consultation, by the Federal government, regarding the recent Omnibus Budget bill (C-45), and other, pending legislation that will have an effect on First Nations rights in Canada.  The idea behind the movement has grown beyond just protesting the lack of consultation to encompass the need to address the Federal lack of respect and poor treatment of the First Peoples in Canada, and, to an extent, the connection to the land that is a part of the various cultures across Canada and the exploitation of the natural resources, both as a degradation of the environment, but also the lack of First Nation prosperity as a benefit.  The movement is seeking to get Canada to honour the treaties that it has with First Nations, which promise adequate education and access to healthcare and housing.  

With the understanding that much of British Columbia lacks a treaty with the Crown, which may seem to mean that we aren't as concerned with the Treaty Rights issues, it is a good time to remind that the government has fiduciary responsibilities in this province which are often found to be lacking, not to mention the fact of the ongoing fear that is our Highway of Tears and the Missing & Murdered women across this province and the country.

Dear teachers if British Columbia, I am writing to ask you for your help.  There have been many rallies, protests, roadblocks and an ongoing hunger strike on Parliament Hill, but there has been very little media coverage from Canada's media, as well as muted response from the government, none from the Prime Minister.  We are invisible in Canada and while that remains the case, our peoples will continue to suffer and struggle.

I am writing to you to ask for your assistance in making IDLE NO MORE something that cannot be ignored.  The teachers of British Columbia and the BC Teachers' Federation have a long history of activism and social justice is a key component of your view of a fair and just world.  Please teach about this issue.  Please rally or get together in study sessions.  Please show your support in some way for Chief Spence's ongoing hunger strike to get Harper to speak to her.  Take a lunch hour and hold a sign outside your school to show you are our allies in seeking fairness and justice for First Nations.  Write your newspapers, encourage the BCTF to take a stand.  Take pictures, splash them all over social media.  Check out, check out , and any number of other blog posts and sites.  Check out the #idlenomore hash tag on Twitter.

It is an honour and a privilege to teach in this province.  It is an honour to be affiliated to such an activist group of teachers.  I know that you will stand with Chief Spence and the First Nations, Métis and Inuit in protecting our rights and survival.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Robert Genaille (Stó:lō/ Saulteaux)
Fraser-Cascade School District 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why 'Idle No More' Matters to Educators

From Evernote:

Why 'Idle No More' Matters to Educators

IDLE NO MORE is a grassroots, social media- driven protest movement of First Nations people, other Aboriginal people and allies, protesting the lack of consultation, by the Federal government, regarding the recent Omnibus Budget bill (C-45), and other, pending legislation that will have an effect on First Nations rights in Canada.  The idea behind the movement has grown beyond just protesting the lack of consultation to encompass the need to address the Federal lack of respect and poor treatment of the First Peoples in Canada, and, to an extent, the connection to the land that is a part of the various cultures across Canada and the exploitation of the natural resources, both as a degradation of the environment, but also the lack of First Nation prosperity as a benefit.  The movement is seeking to get Canada to honour the treaties that it has with First Nations, which promise adequate education and access to healthcare and housing.  

The ongoing housing emergencies in Native communities over the last couple of years, symptoms of ongoing disregard, as well as the very public battles between the Federal government and the First Nation Caring Society over children in care and the constant education problems, have resulted in very public embarrassment for the government but not any action to correct their failure to act on the fiduciary responsibilities and requirements of the Indian Treaties.  Instead, they have made unilateral decisions and started legislative changes to change the rules that have the perception of, and likely the effect of eroding Native rights in Canada.  In addition, the decision to only focus on those Treaty negotiations in British Columbia that has, in their view, a definite chance for success, essentially cuts their responsibility to seek out treaties with all First Nations.  Considering much of BC is unceded territory, they are abandoning their responsibilities and, with the international agreements they are signing and environmental regulation changes, they are essentially attempting to terminate First Nations rights and sovereignty by ignoring it completely.  

Let's us also bear in mind the estimated six hundred to a thousand missing and murdered women that the government continues to ignore, the biased media coverage and online trolling that continues to reinforce the benevolent society myth and "blame the victim" mentality that permeates the colonial attitude of Canada.

The most significant, public protest is currently that of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, on a hunger strike to meet with Prime Minister Harper to discuss honouring their Treaty.  Harper has turned the issue over to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Duncan, who has said HE will meet with her, of course.  He has also dismissed IDLE NO MORE as a social media thing.  The government, and the media for that matter, are not taking this protest very seriously.  I have been watching the news channels and there has been far more coverage, and commentary from Canadian politicians, of the Egyptian protests than coverage of IDLE NO MORE and First Nations issues.

Judging by the discourse on the #idlenomore hashtag on Twitter, there is currently an appetite for expanding the protests.  Being heard requires getting others to listen and, so far, few are paying attention.  I am curious about the gray areas of civil disobedience and wonder what lines are drawn and where.  There is a lot of frustration on the part of First Nations people.  A lot of frustration in people who try hard to thrive but seem condemned to struggle just to survive in one of the richest countries in the world.  

As a man of Stó:lō/ Saulteaux ancestry, I want to march in the rallies and shout out to protect my rights and the rights of the children I don't yet have.  I live the struggle every day.  At the same time though I am terrified of stepping forward to do so.  My entire career is contingent on a certificate from the provincial government that says I can teach.  Having been unemployed this past year, through medical leave and then layoff, I am scared of not toeing the line of "shut up and teach the curriculum."

Ah yes, the curriculum.

That thing our society has decided is the sum of skills and knowledge we need to impart to the children to prepare them to be citizens of Canada. 

Where do we, as Canadians, formally learn the attitudes that inform the view and treatment of First Nations?  Canada's story is played as a linear narrative of perseverance, survival and conquest (not necessarily militarily) of the wilderness and the development of the ideals of a benevolent society that moved westward, or eastward in BC, pacifying the wild, empty landscape and helping the unfortunate savages that were found here and there within.  I have a school textbook my Grandmother used that refers to the original inhabitants of BC as savages.

Our curriculum creates the image of the Canadian as a visionary, benevolent man.  It creates the image of the Native person as reactionary, always reacting to what the non-Native does, never master of his or her own destiny, and always locked in a frozen past. As if our contemporary existence is always invalid and somehow unreal.  

It is how we can take to the streets and protest, demand action and still be invisible.

It is how we can be blamed for our situations. We reacted poorly, we didn't assimilate as was offered.  In some ways, we are just reacting, to the poor treatment, the paternalism, to protect what is ours.

We, as educators, are not innocent of the situation that leads to this movement.  We are complicit in teaching the curriculum without asking our students to critically question it.  We make it okay for this situation to grow and fester and divide and harm.  Our complicity makes First Nations invisible.  Our claims of innocence in understanding the lived experience of Native people is what allows the trolls to extol racist and colonial drivel online and in print.  It is what allows us to care about the human rights in other countries and dismiss it here for the original inhabitants of this continent. Educators dismiss our Native students as unteachable, ignoring the reality of their lived experience and their epistemologies, because it is not the same as that teachers experienced.

I use the term "we" because I am complicit in this. I live in fear of sticking my neck out too far.  I have challenged where I could, I have resisted where I could and taught resistance, but I have not been willing to take the step beyond the quiet acts.

We, as educators, need to change. IDLE NO MORE matters because it should be a wake up call that what we are teaching our children about their country and themselves is wrong.  It should be a wake up call that our society, in claiming to be fair and benevolent, doesn't practice what it preaches.  IDLE NO MORE matters be cause ALL OF OUR CHILDREN deserve to be treated fairly and have their lived experience dignified.  IDLE NO MORE matters because the status quo doesn't work for everyone (neither does the slightly ridiculous BCEDplan, but that's another story).  And it needs to be us to change, not expect these young people to continue to give up parts of themselves.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Between a rock and a hard place?

From Evernote:

Between a rock and a hard place?

Earlier this year, I was privileged with the opportunity to be interviewed about Aboriginal Education by the MetoWe people, an interview which appeared in an article by the Kielburgers in newspapers across the country.  In the article I shared my story of a young woman, "Mary", who was on the way out, so to speak, unable to fit into the classroom environment and generally at war with any teacher who tried to work with her.  

I mention this because I want to relate something that was told to me when I received a gift a few years ago.  The story of the gift is the story of our students, in many ways.  It came from Eric Wong, an anti-racism officer with the First Nations Education Steering Committee.  He was speaking to me and several other Aboriginal teachers at an event I can't remember the details about.  

I don't remember his words but I hope I capture the sentiment.

We have no control of or even understanding of the lived experiences of our students.  Many of them come to us with their lifetimes of who knows what kinds of histories.  They come to us as rocks, hardened by good and bad, who like Mary, could as easily decide to throw a punch at you or storm out, or, like others I have known crawl under their desks or hide in the bathroom.  Or worse.

Rocks are breakable after all.

We aren't here to break them.

We are here to teach them, help them see their potential and let them know that they are valued.  

Have you ever seen below that hard outer shell of a rock?  Each one is different and  unique and spectacular.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When a Suicide Pact is Uncovered

A suicide pact was uncovered in Vancouver in September involving upwards of thirty young people (between the ages of 12-15). It is reported that about 24 of them had to be hospitalized for their protection. Most of these young ones are Aboriginal, and while that is significant, it is also not the most important aspect of this issue.

Thirty 12-15 year olds in Vancouver have reached a point in their lives that they see no other choice but to consider ending those lives.

The media coverage I have been able to find on this has been scant. Not surprising, I guess. It's not glamorous or exciting: no one has actually died. No one has reached out and captured our imagination. No one but Aboriginal advocates have called for action (at least in the minuscule media this has attracted). I don't think I will get into a commentary about the media attention versus race/ethnicity of the young people today, but the fact that it is a pact of thirty that see no future for themselves is terrifying.

I have been touched by suicide. Too often. I know too many people who have been touched by suicide. It kills not just the victim, it kills everyone around them. It kills a part of the soul of everyone left behind. It kills a part of the survival of the Nation. It's not just thirty young people, it's thirty families, their friends, their friends' families, teachers, and all the people related to all of them, their Nations. It's the random person who talked to the kid who seemed sad and wondered afterwards if he said the right thing or the wrong thing.

I understand how clues can be missed. I understand being miserable a lot of the time but saying things are fine when asked. I understand what it's like to feel the choices are dwindling. I understand that loneliness. I don't understand how a group, together, could decide, together, that they are out of choices, but that only means I have more I need to learn. What must be going on that a twelve year old can't still look at the world with wonder?

It is not time, Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver, and countless Aboriginal organizations to be fighting over who is responsible for helping these youth. It is not time to fight over who is to blame for this situation. The scant media attention I have seen says these youth are still seriously at risk, as are countless, countless others. Stop blaming each other, make a plan and do something. Please.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Please Challenge, Please Disrupt: Calling out Racism is NOT PC policing

No Doubt turned itself into the PC police

The latest in the ongoing "dialogue" between those that defend racism and stereotyping by calling those that call it out as overly sensitive or a PC bully( politically correct).  It is not PC bullying to be challenging racism or other stereotyping. Crying foul and invoking free speech when challenged, in defending your racist comments or imagery is not a nice way to play. I am not opposed to the principle of free speech, but you need to understanding the impact of what you are saying. 

 These are not small matters but symptoms of the larger ones we don't address properly. In the last month, the No Doubt "Looking Hot" video, another by Lana Del Ray, Rikki Lake, Victoria's Secret lingerie show and several other clothing lines have launched campaigns that sexualize and/or infantilize Aboriginal women, forgetting the annual Hallowe'en extravaganza of sexy NDN hotties. These contribute to the larger challenges of the murdered & missing women, and the continued marginalization of and risks incurred by Aboriginal women. So, challenging and disrupting these kinds of things are necessary to disrupt the larger, more dangerous issues.

The challenge is that they are misusing the cultural tropes to create a romanticized image in much the same way they have done for centuries that promote that it is okay to view women this way, or to view Native men as drunks for example. To fight those larger misperceptions, we need to address these ones to show that it is not okay. I don't have an issue about appropriation per se, except when it is done at an expense to those that are appropriated from.  You can link this type of video to the stereotyping that allows Ezra Levant and his ilk to make barely disguised hate speech about Natives and other minorities and blame the victims for their circumstances (a recent Winnipeg Sun article argued against an inquiry into the Missing & murdered women tragedy because it was their fault and the faults of their Bands. It's on my blog somewhere). 

The author of the above article invoked "Pokahotass" and Native American pornstar Hyapathia Lee when describing Gwen's costume. He seemed to indicate that Native women should feel honoured (my inference).  Dear teachers, I know Aboriginal women who have been assaulted. I can assure you they were not feeling honoured that it was happening. Please explore this aspect of colonialism. Please assess critically. Please challenge. Please disrupt.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It Means 'The Fighting has Ended': Aboriginal Veterans' Day

"Sadly, it took more than fifty years for the government to recognize the wartime contributions of the Aboriginal Peoples, on the home front and battlefront alike. Overseas, Aboriginal soldiers fought proudly alongside Canadian men of many other races, fuelled by a shared purpose and pride.  Upon their return to Canadian soil, however, many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis soldiers found that this equality no longer held. They received no warm welcome. In fact, many came back to find that their land had been taken away or divvied up among non-Aboriginal farmers to increase wartime crop production, never to be theirs again. They also found that they would not share in the same benefits that other members of the Canadian forces enjoyed, including educational and vocational training, employment offers, and housing." 

It saddens me that I need to post this again. Without our stories, we are invisible; without our histories, we lose ourselves. If we don't make the effort to share with you that which we know, so that you might, in turn, share with others what you have learned... I posted the following words last year here on the blog:

Every November 8, I have sent out an email to the staff at whichever school I have worked at, sharing with them that this day is Aboriginal Veterans Day in Canada. This is the day which has been set aside to honour the sacrifices of First Nations, Metis and Inuit men and women who volunteered to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces over the course of the various wars and military actions this country has involved itself in. I have encouraged the staffs to learn about the day and share it with their students. I have no idea if anybody ever has, beyond me.November 8 was not set aside because Aboriginal Veterans wanted their own, separate day. I would like to clear that up now. Aboriginal Veterans fought in Canada's wars, lost their lives in Canada's wars, stood shoulder to shoulder with Canadian men and women. When they returned home, they were barred from receiving the same benefits that other soldiers received, saw their Aboriginal rights extinguished, which meant that they could not even return home to their communities. In some cases, those homes, their reserves, were carved up and sold to non-Native veterans who had earned the right to affordable land by fighting in Canada's name.
Aboriginal Veterans started their own associations to lobby for their rights. I remember hearing a story once that they could not really get help from the Royal Canadian Legion because there was a long while that Aboriginal people were not allowed to go into places that served alcohol. Places like legion halls. I cannot verify the truth of this. Whether it is true or not, it is true to the people that shared it with me, which tells me that there was an understanding of that.
My understanding of 
November 8 is an understanding of exclusion. Aboriginal Veterans were not permitted to take part in official Remembrance Day ceremonies, so they set aside a day of their own. A day to remember the sacrifices our Elders made in the name of the Canadian nation. Not just the sacrifices they made on the battlefield, but the ones they were forced to make when they returned home.
To date, Manitoba is the only province that officially recognizes Aboriginal Veterans Day, but if you do a search on Google, you will see videos and references to ceremonies all around the country.
In all the areas you won't find reference to it, one is particularly notable.
You won't see any references to Aboriginal Veterans Day in our public schools. At least I haven't found any yet. 
I was later asked why we don't teach this, or acknowledge it. I had no answer beyond no one cares, and the truth is that is the truth. My understanding of it anyway. Non-Aboriginal people AND Aboriginal people have that narrow, colonial view of Aboriginal people. No one cares because no one challenges it. No one is teaching our stories, our histories.
As I have stated, this is my understanding. 
Go look up Aboriginal Veterans Day. Learn it, please.
Teach it

Our stories, our truths are not just the stories of Aboriginal people, they are stories of how Canada came to its current state of being. Our veterans and their history, the good and the bad, is a reflection of Canada and needs to be known so that all of our students have a full, complete understanding of this country, its current reality and what it could be. I shared it last year. I will likely share it again next year. 
"In Cree we say 'Kahgee pohn noten took' on Remembrance Day. It means, 'the fighting has ended'." 
-IrenePlante, veteran's widow

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?

Friday, September 21, 2012

On Surviving

My very second post on this blog, What's at Stake ( ), was published way back in 2010 and talked about the rash of recent suicides in my family and nearby communities and took a look at the larger issue of First Nations suicide and what was being promoted to help deal with these issues.

Why bring this up?

On January 3rd, 2012, the first day back to school from the winter holidays, I went into the photocopy room at Hope Secondary School and broke down.  I finished out the day and left.  Shortly thereafter, I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety.  I started seeing a counselor and entered a work & wellness rehab program.  There was evidence to suggest I was ready to throw in the towel on everything.  

Looking back, I can see some of the first indicators that something was wrong.  I stopped reading books.  I stopped attending movies.  I would drive to the theatre, sit in the parking lot until the movie started and then go home.  I rented movies and returned them late, unwatched.  I told myself it was because I was so busy being a teacher and activist, traveling to teach teachers about Aboriginal youth, attending Aboriginal education committee meetings, blogging and engaging on social media.  I would catch up eventually.

As an FN support worker, and later a special education teacher and FN case manager, I worked often with at-risk youth.  I've put together a lot of meetings to set up supports.  I was able to ask Are you okay?  I wasn't able to recognize that something was wrong in me.

Since January, life has been terrifying.  I withdrew from everything to focus on getting better.  It has been less than great.  I know I am getting better but I have a long way to go.  Those that follow my Twitter, or Facebook, know I have been exercising (and that I find it to be a miserable experience).  I have a long way to go.  I have a stack of books I want to read but I can't yet.  I try and fail repeatedly.  I have gone to the movies more often again, which is wonderful.  I love reading.  I love movies.  Over the last month, I have become very ambitious as far as my side project film stuff is concerned (though not much has been accomplished yet) and I have done a lot of blogging recently, as you are no doubt aware.  I don't sleep well.

Why, um, are you telling me all this?

I share this with you because, being a teacher of Aboriginal ancestry, one of the very few (too few), I find that being a teacher carries a lot of responsibility that I have wondered if others have to shoulder.  I am a role model.  I shared with you once the story of the time my uncle told me how proud he was to see me pursuing my Masters degree because "no one has ever tried to do what you are doing before."

It is very daunting to think about that responsibility.  Sometimes I wish there was so many of us, teachers of Aboriginal ancestry, or even Aboriginal people with Masters degrees, that I could fail and not feel like I was letting down Aboriginal people.  I have preached to students that we resist assimilation and colonization, not by retreating into our reserves, closing ourselves off; we resist by succeeding.  We resist by  excelling in the western world without giving up who we are.  We resist by surviving and thriving in both worlds.

I have lamented that teachers of Aboriginal ancestry have to give up a part of ourselves to be teachers in the public education system.  I don't resent that because our students deserve a better life than we had.  It's why we do what we do.  We teach, we share, we take the hits so our kids don't have to.  We are the role models that our kids need, until they can take over and be so overwhelmingly great wthat we can fade into the background.

Getting to the point... anytime soon?

Depression hurts. Depression can kill.  It sneaks up on you and can blindside you in a photocopy room.  Only in hindsight might you see the hints and clues.  

  • Thirty percent of First Nations people have felt sad, blue or depressed for two or more weeks.(First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey, 2005)
  • Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age. (A Statistical Profile on the Health of First Nations in Canada for the Year 2000, Health Canada, 2003)
  • First Nations youth commit suicide about five to six times more often than non-Aboriginal youth.
    • The suicide rate for First Nations males is 126 per 100,000 compared to 24 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal males.
    • For First Nations females, the suicide rate is 35 per 100,000 compared to only 5 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal females. (Canadian Institute of Child Health, 2000)
  • Suicide rates for Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average
(From )

I spend a lot of time trying to not be another statistic. I'm terrified of being just another Indian, but I keep falling into the traps. I am a statistic, though I didn't fall so far as to actually attempt suicide.

So many factors can influence your health, including your mental health. These factors are commonly known as the Next link will take you to another Web site determinants of health and include such things as how much money you make, how much education you have and your relationships with family and friends. For instance, supportive relationships with family and friends can make you feel cared for, loved, esteemed and valued, and as a result, have a protective effect on your health. (World Health Organization, 2003)


Historical determinants, such as the legacy of residential schools, are believed to have shaped the mental health of Aboriginal people. A research project commissioned by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation found that 75 percent of the case files for a sample of Aboriginal residential school survivors contained mental health information with the most common mental health diagnoses being post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse disorder and major depression. (Research Series, 2003)

(From )

Our students are our children.  They struggle like we do and feel the same loss and legacy we struggle with.  I am sharing my personal story for the same reason I share so much here and with my students.  As young people facing a world that often feels like it doesn't like Aboriginal people, our students need to see and know people, of Aboriginal ancestry, who have faced what they face, struggled with the same challenges they experience.

And they need to know they can survive it.

Value your students.  Make sure they know they are valued.  I struggled for a long time trying to understand how someone could feel so hopeless that they saw no other choice but ending their lives.  I don't believe I reached the point where that was my only option, though I will admit it crossed the mind.  It pushes in, very much uninvited, whether you want it there or not.  Depression doesn't just hurt, it tries to hurt you, actively campaigns against you.

As our students need to see Aboriginal teachers teaching and Aboriginal people being doctors and lawyers and police officers, they also need to see Aboriginal people surviving.  I am a long way from thriving but I think I will definitely survive this.  

So, as Thomas King would say: 

Take this story, it's yours.  Do with it what you will, forget it.  Use it as a starting point to have a conversation about mental health and suicide.  Use it as a cautionary tale.  Please don't use it against me, I know the risks of sharing this type of story.  Just don't say that you would have viewed the world around you differently had you only known this story.  You know it now.