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Friday, December 6, 2013

An Incomplete Thought on Mr. Nelson Mandela

Words sort of fail me sometimes.  I am at a loss how to process the passing of Mr. Nelson Mandela of South Africa.  I understand that he was 95 and so it was expected at some point but I am still in a state of confusion over how to proceed with this post.

Nelson Mandela was a leader of the African National Congress and fought to end apartheid in South Africa (something that was actually modeled on the Indian Act/reserve system of Canada, but I digress), spending 27 years in prison and becoming the first Black president of South Africa.  He fought oppression, for human rights and to be dignified.  He was, and is, a person that managed to inspire hope in a heck of a lot of people.

I am disappointed in some of the stuff I have read online about his "terrorist activity," including claims I have been unable to find any corroborating statements or evidence to support.  I don't know what to make of this type of stuff anymore.  I saw similar stuff after Elijah Harper passed away and any number of people who stand up to oppression and I find myself always just feeling disappointed with humanity in general.  Fortunately it has been in the minority but it is still there.  I have often wondered how Mr. Mandela endured what he has endured and what kind of fortitude was required to move both himself and his nation into a revolution that would bring down the old regime and rebuild it as something better than apartheid.

"I have no epiphany, no singular destiny, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people."

As the ongoing struggle here in Canada, on the land and in our education system, can attest, the work that Mr. Mandela did is far from over.  Oppressed people the world over have looked to him for inspiration, looked to his compassion and his honesty in the post-apartheid years as a means to remember and hold on to our own humanity.  He sought justice.
 
Rest In Peace Nelson Mandela.  Have a safe journey.  You will be missed.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why Aboriginal Veterans' Day Matters: A Remembrance

You remember in army cadets that one time, you were on exercise and the troop was given the task of building shelters. You were handed rope and tarp and other little essentials with which to carry out the project.  Your Dad, one of our instructors, then came up to you and took everything away.  You protested but he silenced it when he said "What are the odds you will have everything you will need to survive?"  No one explicitly said this is how to build a shelter, but as you stood there, your Dad nudged a broken branch with his foot and always sort of stood near the next piece of the puzzle, making you figure it out on your own, although  you realize now that you were never alone.  By the end of it, you had a full audience of cadets and instructors who applauded the completed (but far from perfect) shelter.  The only response that mattered was the soft "Well done" from your Dad.

Your father was Saulteaux and Métis-Cree and he joined the Canadian Armed Forces when he was seventeen, an Engineer, though, for the life of you, you can't remember which Corps. In this career, he served in Gagetown, Chilliwack (where he added a wife to the army life and you as well), West Germany back when there was a West Germany, Chilliwack, Esquimalt, Kingston, Borden, Vancouver and retirement. While serving, he also worked as a radio deejay and a television commentator. He taught in the army cadets.

Not content to retire, he joined the RCMP and continued to serve, taking a special interest in seeing that the Aboriginal youth in his posting were treated fairly. He started the Seabird Island Army Cadets to give them something to do (it saddens you to see the Native youth were forgotten and abandoned by the Corps after his passing). You remember one night, after a long shift as a night security officer at the provincial park, he pulled you over, full sirens and everything, only to be told to "Call your mother, she hasn't heard from you in days."

One night, right before Christmas 2002, he went out and never returned. He died of natural causes but he died in the line of duty. He is and was a veteran. He served.

Every year, you remind anyone who will listen to acknowledge and teach about Aboriginal Veterans' Day. You do it for Cst. Vernon Genaille and all the others who step up to serve. They choose to serve for many reasons: to escape the Rez, to protect their ancestral homelands, to honour the treaties, because they believe in something better (hard to understand when you think of how Canada is treating First Nations at the moment). They served in hostile environments within their own countries, their own units. They watched the military deployed against their own people on some occasions. On Friday, you will put out some tobacco, take a moment of silence and then continue to look for, in your role as educator, as filmmaker, as blogger, that better tomorrow you are sure he was working on creating. And hopefully, someday, you will hear a soft "well done" in that space between sleep and awake.

BCTF Survey of Teachers Self-identified of Aboriginal Ancestry UPDATE: *DEADLINE EXTENDED TO NOVEMBER 20*

The BC Teachers' Federation has put up a request inviting teachers, who self-identify as having Aboriginal ancestry, to complete a survey to help the Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee (I used to be a member) determine a) the needs of Aboriginal teachers, b) how they can be supported and c) get an idea of the numbers that are currently in our education system.

From the site:
"The purpose of the survey is to collect data that will assist the BCTF in providing support and encouragement to Aboriginal teachers. The information will be used to guide the BCTF in ways to provide support to new teachers, to assist current teachers in their work, and to support the planning and implementation of employment equity for Aboriginal staff throughout the education system."

I hope that, if you self-identify, you'll consider checking out and completing the survey. There is so much support needed that we do need to find out how to build our community.

The survey can be found here: http://survey.bctf.ca/AboriginalEducators2013/2013-survey-of-teachers-of-aboriginal-ancestry.htm

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Call for Articles for English Practice: Starting a Circle

When we move into a circle, we are moving into a space where there is no hierarchies, no boss and employee, no teacher and student.  In a circle, we are all on the same level and all are offered the same opportunity to contribute and to share, with the larger group, our experiences and truths.  Generally, we pass around something considered imbued with power, I usually use an eagle feather but I also have a pouch of stones that are meaningful to me (and, as such, have power) as well as talking stones, talking sticks, something with meaning.  We pass the object around and we share, in safety.  A circle can be used to just share but it is also a place where we can learn, a place to explore what we know and what we want to know. 

Which is why BCTELA's journal, English Practice, has titled its next issue Starting a Circle: Exploring Aboriginal Education.  I am guest co-editing this issue and would like to invite you to submit articles, lesson plans, reviews or arts and literary based pieces on this theme.  From the BCTELA website:

Spring 2014. Theme: Starting a Circle: Exploring Aboriginal Education
This issue is devoted to exploring the vital importance as well as challenges of integrating First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives, voices, texts, curricula and teaching and learning practices within English Language Arts. We invite educators and scholars from British Columbia and beyond to explore significant issues arising from landmark events and curricular shifts in BC, which reflect larger questions related to the future of Aboriginal Education and English Language Arts.

In October 2013, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held a national event in British Columbia, and the TRC Education Event drew more than 5000 students from across BC. What does reconciliation mean in our classrooms? How can we support students in finding their role within reconciliation? What legacies of residential schools remain in BC schools and beyond, and how can we as Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal educators address these in our practices?

The inclusion of Aboriginal focused outcomes in every subject and at every level is an important element of change to the BC curriculum. How do we increase our ability to integrate Aboriginal content throughout our educational practice? How do we work proactively as a professional community towards these ends?

In British Colombia and elsewhere, the graduation rate for Aboriginal students continues to lag far behind non-Aboriginal students. Aboriginal students are overrepresented in courses such as BC's Communications 12 course, which offers a modified pathway towards graduation. What approaches support engagement, inclusion, powerful outcomes and greater success for Aboriginal learners in English Language Arts? What practices support increased Aboriginal graduation outcomes?

BC has one the most innovative Indigenous literature courses in the world - English First Peoples 12 - which utilizes engaging texts, is founded on the First People Principles of Learning, and is supported by a teacher's resource guide. Yet only a few hundred students take this course each year. How do we meaningfully and ethically integrate First Peoples' texts and curriculum into our practices? What barriers and tensions exist and how do we address these?

Closing date: February 15th, 2014.
Contact: Robert Genaille
rvgenaille@hotmail.com, or Pamela Richardson pamela.richardson@ubc.ca

Below is the criteria for the journal, which can also be found on their website, www.bctela.ca.

Criteria for English Practice

English Practice provides you with the opportunity to write and be read. Your viewpoints, lessons, opinions, research (formal or informal) are welcomed in formats ranging from strategies, lesson plans and units, to more formal compositions and narratives exploring big ideas in teaching and learning, to creative writing.
English Practice publishes contributions on all facets of language arts learning, teaching and research, focusing on the intermediate, middle and secondary grades. The journal offers teachers of a practical, user-friendly guide to research-based practices.
We have four sections with the following guidelines to assist you in preparing and submitting your writing:

Teaching Ideas (teaching strategies, lesson plans, unit plans)
Articles should
:
  • have a clear purpose (i.e. articulate specific learning goals for students)
  • acknowledge your perspective/background/role (i.e. grade 6 teacher; have used reading workshops for 10 years; trying to embed more targeted strategy instruction in my teaching)
  • provide a description of instruction that outlines how modeling or scaffolding is used
  • offer specific classroom practices that are grounded in research (backed up with current thinking, research reference(s))
  • be well organized and clear
  • ensure that any student samples, graphic organizers, and/or handouts are readable and reproducible
  • ensure that formative and summative assessment are aligned with instruction 
  • include information on any student and/or professional resources that may be useful for readers
  • include a summary and/or reflection
  Investigating Our Practice (action research, reflection on practice over time, narrative)
Articles should:
  • introduce and outline the purpose and process of inquiry
  • explore a big idea in teaching and learning over time
  • acknowledge your perspective/background/role in relation to issues, big ideas, and/or inquiry question(s) (i.e. "I believe in democratic schooling, but I hadn't recently looked at how what I do was or was not working"; "I have been teaching for 18 years and oral language has always been important to me. However, I want to know how I can help my students actually improve their speaking and listening abilities.")
  • include reflections made before and after the teaching practice
  • typically be narrative in style
  • relate your own thinking and practice to current thinking and research
  • be well organized and clear
  • include synthesis and/or next steps 
  • include a list of references in APA format
Salon (literary and arts-based explorations, or opinion pieces)
Pieces should
:

  • be related to teaching and learning, curriculum theory and philosophy, language and literacy, or English language arts
  • use form effectively 
  • be engagingly written (first person, present tense, ideas are effectively linked and language choice heightens meaning)
  • acknowledge your perspective/background/role, especially in opinion pieces
Check This Out (includes reviews, announcements of contests and conferences)
Articles should

  • acknowledge your perspective/background/role (i.e. teach grades 9-12 English; looking for novels related to the theme of...; "I am always looking for new ideas related to diversity in the classroom")
  • have clearly explained and supported ideas and/or opinions
  • Book, website, or other resource reviews should include a target audience and some ideas for application in the classroom.
  • Authors must not have a personal or a financial stake in what is being announced or reviewed.
I am honoured to have been asked to be a part of this project with the BC Teachers of English Language Arts and look forward to hearing from you and reading your submissions.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When we have agency: An Open Response to John Richards' Commentary in the Vancouver Sun, October 15, 2013

Traditionalist.

Such a loaded word. What springs to mind when you hear the term? Mr. Richards seems to be implying that a "Traditionalist," at least among the Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations, to be someone opposed to progress and someone opposed to improving the education outcomes of Aboriginal students across Canada. Mr. Richards' defence of the Conservative Government's work on Aboriginal Education, Tories get no respect on native file (http://www.vancouversun.com/touch/story.html?id=9036464 ), is misleading at best, outright prejudicial and designed as propaganda at worst. Interesting tactic considering the presence in Canada of the UN Special Rapporteur investigating this country's treatment of Indigenous people. Mr. Richards has launched an attack on First Nations while promoting the work done by the government to improve education outcomes in spite of our opposition to their work.

He works hard to frame the business of government as a progress that is needed despite Tradititionalist opposition, without defining what Tradititionalist means. In addition, he argues that this legislative answer is the best way forward, citing British Columbia's somewhat "better institutional arrangements for aboriginals students - both on reserve and in provincial schools" as a possible reason for our better outcomes here than in other provinces despite the fact that the First Nations Education Steering Committee (part of our institutional arrangement) is opposed to the First Nations Education Act.

Yes, Mr. Richards, it is easy to mock past policy, and many are, but the opposition from these "Traditionalists" has more to it than that. Traditionalist is not one opposed to progress in this case. The term is outmoded and boneheaded. A traditionalist is one content to continue to let the government arbitrarily rule our lives as wards of the state. Past policy isn't mocked here, it is brought up as a reminder to all that if we are to improve education outcomes, we need to have agency in our own lives. Nowhere is the lack of real consultation with the people who will be directly affected mentioned in this article. Nowhere is the needs addressed or considered. I would argue that these "Traditionalists" are progressives in that they demand agency, a say in the way they will live their lives and succeed within Canada.

I am a teacher. I am First Nations and a member of an Indian Band. I live on my reserve. I have taught in public schools, and in a reserve school, at all grade levels and in a wide variety of class compositions, class sizes and I have taught many different types of courses to many different types of learners. I have a Masters degree in Education. What I have learned in all of this is that we are finding our way by taking control of our education. What I have learned is that a student finds that fire to learn and succeed when he or she sees themselves reflected in their learning. When they have agency.

The FNEA takes away that agency in their communities. A school board type system might be the answer, I do not know, but cutting us out of the process is condemning us, and our students, our children, to further marginalization because you are removing our power to decide for ourselves. I tell my students that they do not have to give up a part of themselves to succeed in Canadian society. How do you resist assimilation? Resist by succeeding. Resist by learning to live in both worlds without giving up who you are. The FNEA is telling them that they have to give up a part of themselves, their agency, to succeed because you are taking that away from their parents, their communities.

And that is unacceptable.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An Open Letter To #BCED On The Subject Of Truth & Reconciliation


Dear #BCED,
 
Last week, I attended the Truth & Reconciliation Gathering and, while I was deeply affected by it- the various statement gatherings and words from panelists and witnesses and survivors are personal and moving- I have been more than a little ambivelant about reconciliation. I don't know what it means or what is expected of everyone. Not to take away the experience of any of my friends and colleagues, I can't help but think that, in many ways, it feels like we aren't seeking out true reconciliation. 

The day after the Walk for Reconciliation, The Nanaimo Daily News posted another letter decrying the special status accorded First Nations and making misinformed comments about the lack of evolution in thinking, etc., etc.  This follows commentaries in other newspapers over the summer that I couldn't be bothered to respond to because of how distasteful I found them. This latest, however, is problematic for two reasons: the first is the fact that the paper has been called to account over the overtly racist commentary that it has seen fit to publish in the past; and the fact that it might be perceived that the latest was timed to coincide with the national TRC gathering, when emotions were at their most raw.

If we are taking reconciliation to mean to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant, than we are on the right track. Neither side, First Nations or Canada, seem happy with each other right now and neither side seems reconciled to the fact we need to find a way to walk together.

Why then, dear #bced, am I sending this letter to you? I saw many, many teachers and students at the education day at the TRC event and I was happy to see so many engaged in learning about this unknown piece of history. It is nice to know that the stories we have always known in our communities, the nightmares our families' experienced and experience, were getting an audience that desperately needs to know them. Things like this fill me with a tempered hope because the stories are being given voice but I worry that this is where it will stop. What comes next,#bced?  Now what?

Teachers, Administrators, Support Staff, Parents, Ministry, Government, "Stakeholders", Students, I am asking you "Now what?"  The event ended and the next publication printed the next misinformed diatribe.  What comes next #bced? When I look at the responders to this piece and the last one and the one before that and so on and so on again, I see the same people responding. I see the same people challenging and talking back to these voices that belittle and bemoan "special rights" and "refusing to evolve." I reconciled myself a very long time ago to the unpleasant unease that co-existing here requires. I reconciled myself a long time ago to picking and choosing which of these attacks I would talk back to because it takes a lot out of me to challenge them and I put myself at risk in the attempt. I let some pass because sticking my neck out is not worth it in every case. I bring this up because I am asking you, after seeing my history writ large in Vancouver, in the voices of our youth, our Elders, survivors every one of them, WHAT COMES NEXT?

If you participated in the powerful Kairos Blanket project, where they tell the story of colonialism with the audience standing on blankets while the blankets were folded up and the people were forced onto smaller and smaller pieces until there are very few people crowded onto tiny pieces of land, what did you take away? If I tell you that you can go back home after that demonstration while I return to my little piece of "land reserved for Indians," will you be reminded that it is more than just a history lesson? WHAT COMES NEXT?

You have had the privilege of getting a glimpse of the intergenerational trauma and ongoing oppression that has been visited upon the First Nations and Indigenous people in Canada and you get to return to your lives while our youth, our Elders and our families will return to ours. We will be grateful for having been allowed to share, however briefly, and we will hope that something we have said will be heard beyond the purely visceral emotion of sadness about it all. I want to know, Teachers, Administrators, Support Staff, Parents, Students, Ministry, Government, Stakeholders, what are you going to do about it now? WHAT COMES NEXT?

Does it stop here? The Federal response seems to be that "we apologized, get over it". What is your response? Get over it? How, when it is still happening? And I wonder if that is something that has been truly learned in this event. This oppression, this marginalizing, demeaning and blaming is still going on. The above-mentioned letter is merely a symptom of this. You, #bced, have an enormous responsibility here and it is one that you have failed miserably at. These comments, letters, opinion pieces in the news media, on television, on social media are your responsibility. Yes, I blame you #bced for how this flourishes, checked only, it feels like, by the same Indigenous voices trying to educate and inform.

Where were you when these thoughts were being formed? Where were you when I asked you for help in challenging these last year and the year before? Where will you be tomorrow when the defenders of these types of diatribes launch their defenses of the commentaries? Are you finished your units on First Nations issues now that the event is over? Did you only feel sad over what you were hearing and seeing or did you actually listen to what was being said and shared with you? Indigenous people shouldn't have to be victimized over and over and left to defend ourselves in a void. #BCED, you have been entrusted with teaching our children, all of #bced, and your silence is deafening. What are they learning from your silence?

Dear #bced, you have an opportunity here that you shouldn't, cannot, pass up. This is a moment that can change lives for the better. If we want reconciliation to mean something other than accepting something unpleasant or to cause to submit, than you need to realize that you hold the key to changing the non-Indigenous voices that demean and misinform and attack. Truly hear what our survivors were telling you and take it into your heart because we can't do it alone and our truths need to be shared. I have asked before and I will likely continue to ask in the future: Challenge these commentaries. Don't remain silent when something comes up. Our children are watching and listening. Teach them that you care and that it isn't okay to attack the victimized again and again and again. Teach our children that it is okay to be First Nations, that they shouldn't have to give up a part of themselves to be a part of Canada, that they deserve the time to heal before they "get over it." Don't let the stories you witnessed fade with the end of the gathering, learn from them, teach with them and seek transformation through them.

As ever, thank you for your time and consideration,
All my relations,
Robert Genaille
(Stó:lō/ Saulteaux)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What Does Reconciliation Mean?- An Incomplete Thought

The question you've struggled with for a long time: what does reconcilation mean? 

You've wandered the around the Truth & Reconciliation event in Vancouver.  You've made an effort to hear a couple of stories and witnesses at the Statement Gathering, you've wandered through the education centres at the event.  You've listened to Kim Harvey and her rallying cry that filled you with inspiration; you've been heartened by Dr. Stephen Lewis, so often an advocate and fighter for human rights overseas, acknowledge the terrrible challenges in his own backyard and pledge to do better here.

You've strived to learn what you could about the histories and stories that make up the Indigenous experience in Canada because you are Indigenous and because you are a teacher attempting to uncover for your students and help them understand it, as you hope to understand it yourself.

More than that, you've heard your grandparents' stories of their experiences in residential schools, been forced by your twisted little synapses to visit the Kamloops School whenever you have been to that community; struggled and failed to ignore the ghosts there and everywhere that remind you that they never had justice, even with the rolling TRC events and lipservice that is handed out at official events and announcements.

What does reconciliation mean?  Restore friendship? Submit?  Resolve differences? You can't impose your thoughts on the survivors that find resolution and meaning with the TRC.  You can question the meaning to you though.  Intergenerationally, you are as much a victim of the system, though you would never cal your experience anywhere near what theirs has been.  You were lucky but you have had your own struggles. 

Enough that you look upon reconcilation with suspicion.

Has there been anything to leaven your suspicion, your anxiety or your expectation?  What has happened since Idle No More rose up and inspired you?  You watched the Federal Government ignore it.  You watched them pass the bill to change the rules around the reserve lands and water rights anyway.  You watched them change the rules around social assistance on reserve, pushing it to workfare; change the divorce rules on reserve- something that on the surface seems good but the lack of consultation is concerning.  You've watched as they announce plans to change education of First Nations children without the input of First Nations people.  You've watched them commit to Shannen's Dream and Jordan's Principle and then ignore those two issues.  You've watched them underfund reserve schools and fight against funding medical care for Native kids. 

You've watched as they ignore the murdered and missing women.

You've watched them defund Native organizations all across Canada and fight in court the ones that seek to get First Nations foster care funded equitably, going so far as to spy on First Nations people to try and shame us into submission.  You've listened to them minimize your concerns about all the new "discoveries."  You knew about the medical experiments long before the non-Native historian did, you'd heard stories, even into the sixties and away from residential schools but who would believe you?  You weren't there and you don't have the credibility that comes with being non-Native in Canada.  You've watched them block their own TRC from getting all the documents they need to do the job properly.

Reconciliation seems to mean get the First Nations to submit.  At least for Canada.  All the rhetoric has been around First Nations and reconciliation.  There has been very little in the way of discourse around the need for Canada to reconcile with First Nations as well.  And there have not  been a great deal of non-Native people at the TRC event this past week to help you change your mind.  Is submission what we are expected to do?

"Including First Nations"

The phrase "including First Nations" was removed from a supporting statement in a motion you were considering today.  You won't go into the details but the longer phrase was along the lines of "Canada, including First Nations" and it was replaced with "all Canadians."  This is a piece of the problem that lies within the complexity of the relationship between Canada and the First Nations here.  Not all First Nations people, yourself included sometimes, feel that you are a part of Canada.  Often you don't feel welcomed by Canada, ironic because your people were here first.

You've listened to the deafening silence from the Federal Government when Canadians went on a rampage of anti-Native rhetoric online and in the media.  What does that mean?  Further to it, what does the rhetoric itself mean?  It frightens you.

Are First Nations included here?  In the "All Canadians" phrase it seems to be that they are expecting you to submit to a more dominant force.  This idea is rejected out of hand.  Far too long you have had to submit, give up a piece of yourself as have your ancestors and all First Nations, to this day.  Settlers and Newcomers came to Canada, either as an immigrant or refugee, but they chose to settle here, meaning they chose to be Canadian.  They are allowed to keep their identities intact.  You were never given the choice, your family, your people having been here when the first non-Native person showed up here.  Why must you give up who you are? Again and again and again?

What does reconciliation mean?  You wish you knew.  What should it mean, you wonder.  Perhaps it should be the two worldviews and groups coming together to share their differences and to come to terms with those differences then step forward, side by side.  You don't know.  Kim talked about everyone, Native and non-Native learning the truth and then finding a way to serve our communities to improve them.  Dr. Lewis seemed to confer the idea of bringing the perpetrators to justice and to work towards achieving justice for the current challenges: the water, the economic servitude, the missing and murdered women, the racism in our society.

Reconciliation is something broken, you think.  It is a good idea but it is an undefined idea.  It is an idea though that needs fixing.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jenny's Medicine Walk

Over the summer, I was asked to present a workshop activity on the legacy of residential schools. At the time it was an unexpected and unplanned presentation that I could not figure out how to start, how best to introduce the subject and highlight the legacy issues. I told the following story, mostly off the top of my head (yes, I'm proud of that). I decided I liked the story, it stayed with me after the presentation and I decided to write it out and tweak it a little. I wasn't sure whether I was going to share it but my friend Marj talked me into it. Please respect my ownership and please be kind. Thank you, 


Robert Genaille


Jenny's Medicine Walk


Good evening ladies and gentlemen! Thank you all for coming out to celebrate this incredible achievement in the life and career of my Jenny- sorry! The wife said "Don't call her that! She has a phd!"  So, thank you for coming out to celebrate this great achievement by Doctor Jennifer Renée Charlie!

 

I don't mean to brag but I take full credit for this discovery. It was after all me that contributed the brains to the package. Thank god she got her Mom's looks! Heh, heh, heh, I'm going to pay for that later.  I did show her how to use willow bark to deal with the pain she had when she knocked out that tooth when she was a little girl. My Jenny was out climbing that old cedar out back of the house, took a great fall.

 

I'll be damned if that didn't catch on. I live in fear whenever she goes on a holiday. She always liked to fall. That first skydiving trip nearly killed me.  Honey, you don't need to send me the video of it EVERY time, just remember to call when you're on solid ground.

 

My Jenny- sorry, my Dr. Charlie, always trying stuff, exploring, always asking me why when we were out in the woods. Always asking how this worked or what did that do, always wondering. I knew from when she was a pup that she'd change the world.

 

I watched it all, the wins, the losses, the achievements, the heartaches- I'm still willing to beat up Tommy for breaking your heart, Sweetie... and he is very much aware if that... Oh, and guys! Want to make sure your daughter's prom date is respectful? Be gutting an elk in the front yard when he shows up to pick up your little girl.

 

But, really, now. I have to give her Mom the credit for taking her out in the bush, for helping her when they medicine walked and showing her what each plant did. I have to credit Jenny's Grandma as well for telling me to shut up when I tried to send my Jenny to. bed when she was listening to Grandma and Grandpa's stories about the early days. I am going to take credit for tricking Jenny's mom into falling for me in the first place. So, I get some credit for this success.

 

I knew you'd change the world, Sweetie, but cancer... Wow.  I don't know what you saw in those old plants or what Grandpa's story inspired in you but I'm so glad that they were there to guide you.  I never thought people would ever translate their old stories into scientific gobbledygook but you found a way. And you made it sound like the most beautiful song I ever heard.

 

"YOU. ARE. WRONG. MISS. CHARLIE.  THAT. IS. JUST. A. WEED."  Does that sound familiar? I remember every letter home from every science teacher.  Every meeting where they tried to tell me that you just didn't understand science, that you were spouting make-believe and wasting the class' time.  I remember you in those moments too.  That Charlie defiance on full, fiery display.  They called you a stubborn, imputent little girl.  I spent a lot of time trying to explain world views and different understandings but it usually ended with wait till you see what my Jenny and her "weeds" accomplish!

 

Hey Mr. Miller... Look what my Jenny and her "weeds" accomplished! BAM!

 

I'm so- I'm so... Wait... Wait... I'm remembering it wrong.  I'm not sure about that name? Was it Miller? No. It's gone. I'm sorry honey, I don't remember it, I- oh god!

 

Oh god.

 

I'm sorry honey, it didn't happen this way at all.  I'm so very sorry.  There's no cure for cancer. There's no Doctor in front of your name and no fancy letters after it.  There's no terrifying videos of you jumping out of planes or late night phones calls to share your frustrations, deadends as well as the eureka moments. There was no late night drives into the city to pick you up and bring you home after a horrible break-up, no first kiss, no science projects, no stories with Grandma and Grandpa down by the river. There was no losing a day in the woods with dear ol' dad playing hide and seek when you should have been in school.

 

I'm so sorry, my Jenny, my little Jenny, there is no you.

 

There is no you, my sweet little girl, because there is no me.  You see, they took me away from my mom when I was four and sent me to a residential school. I never got to come home.

 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thank You Kim: Another Incomplete Thought on Truth & Reconciliation

I didn't attend the TRC event in Vancouver today, I was at the BCTF building attending a meeting.  We did pause to watch the livestream of the #Bthechange panel presentation on intergenerational survival of genocide, featuring young people talking about the intergenerational affects of, well, genocide.  Specifically, they were addressing residential schools, the Holocaust, the Chinese head tax and the Japanese Internment during World War II.  Kim Harvey, a Twitter friend of mine, represented us, the children and grandchildren of residential school survivors, and she rocked it.  Kim presented with passion and commitment to making the world better for our children and our place within Canada.  In short, she was amazing.

I do feel re-inspired.  As you know, I've been feeling a bit of a loss of faith in a lot of things surrounding the idea of reconciliation.  I have always placed a lot of faith in our youth, they don't get nearly enough credit for what they do or what they are capable of.  I saw that every day in the classroom.  When you find what they need to be engaged, you could always see the fire spark in their eyes and they would be fierce in their devotion to whatever cause it happened to be: learning about the lives of First Nations pre-contact or taking up a cause to action.  I've never worried about that part of their lives.

What Kim had to say, and I won't try to summarize it here (I'm looking for a transcript, HINT, HINT), just served as a reminder of some of the things I had given up on when I heard of the Idle No More trademark stuff.  She cited that movement as an inspiring moment, as I have, but not as the only possible movement.  She pointed out some of the things that, for me, have fallen on deaf ears: reconciliation isn't something for the Native population, it is something the entire country has to do.  As well, we can't "get over it" when we are still living "it."

Not sure if it will carry over, though I have a couple of ideas now percolating but I wanted to say thank you to Kim and the other panelists for your presentation.  I am grateful.  While it has not reconciled me to reconciliation, it has moved some thoughts forward for me on what it could mean again.

Some Random Thoughts on Truth & Reconciliation

So, I am not sure if this is breaking my hiatus from this blog as a permanent thing, as in returning to regular blog entries on the  issues I have been advocating on and exploring, or if I am just jotting some thoughts down to share my discord.  As you know, I recently resigned from my school district and I am happy that I did, I needed a change.  I am not sure what I am going to do with my future right now but I am, mostly, in a positive place. 

And yet...

It's three AM in the morning and I can't sleep.  I'm in Vancouver right now to attend committee meetings at the BC Teachers' Federation (I remain a member for at least six months after my resignation, to allow time to seek new employment if I decide to continue as a teacher or to allow time to wind down my obligations and responsibilities with the Federation if I choose to seek a new direction).  I've missed committee work but for my anxiety is in full force this morning.  I think it has to do with the Truth & Reconciliation Gathering going on this week, the Committee for Action on Social Justice, my new committee, will be attending on Thursday, and the BCTF members, who are able, will be participating in the Walk for Reconciliation on Thursday.

I've shared here before about the fact that my Grandpa attended Kamloops Residential School and the ghosts there haunt me whenever I am considering my role in education and resistance.  My own anxieties about my education offer clues to one element of the legacy of residential schools, I am grateful to have been spared the worse challenges faced by descendants of survivors but that doesn't change the fact I can't escape those ghosts.  All the discord I feel in considering everything around this is wrapped up in the unknowns currently taking place.  Idle No More woke up a lot of people in beautiful resurgence but also attracted much dormant hate as well as egos and the cracks in solidarity that follows any movement that doesn't find its proper focus.  I lost faith when the founders trademarked the name, called a Sovereignty Summer and then faded from consciousness.  I lost faith in those voices of Indigenous sovereignty that also called for more concrete action when they called for excluding those of us who weren't up to their standards of "Native."  I lost faith in those voices of advocacy that changed what we were trying to do to appeal to more allies by removing us from the important roles of guide and facilitator, ceding that authority to those we hope will be allies. 

I am torn by the knowledge that Kinder Morgan is one of the sponsors of the TRC event.  Particularly in light of the fact they wish to expand their pipeline through my reserve and, more importantly, the watershed that provides my drinking water.  In most respects, I am not going to let this dissuade me from attending as I see no problem with supporting the event while not supporting that particular company.  Just because they paid for it doesn't mean I have to support them.  The main concern is that the perception created by their sponsorship says that they are paying for reconciliation so they can get our support.  I see what the naysayers are worried about.  I worry too but I want to support our Elders and educators and students and that wins out.  Plus it is a teachable moment. 

I read that there might be protests at the event and that some leaders were outraged by the possibility.  How dare you show such disrespect for our Elders and their courage?  I wrote in my thesis project a few years ago about the idea of entitlement to pain Survivors had developed.  I was arguing that they also needed to recognize that other generations of Native people were also survivors and also victims and also courageous in their actions, something I believed was being denied by the survivors of residential schools.  My pain is more important than yours, so to speak.  I don't necessarily think this way anymore, though I do periodically see it.  I like to believe any protest outside the TRC event would be welcomed by survivors and Elders.  Our young people are standing up for their beliefs and their principles.  Can you think of a better way to honour our Elders and Survivors?

All this talk about reconciliation.

I don't know what reconciliation is.

I wish I did.  I don't think we are ready yet.  I don't think Canada is either.  Something I need to reflect on I guess.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Time for a Change: Personal Interlude

I have decided to take my severance from the Fraser-Cascade School District and end my employment relationship with them.  It is time for a change.  I wish to thank all of my colleagues for their support over the past ten years. I also wish to thank my many students for letting me teach and participate on their educational journeys. I wish all of you well in your future endeavours.

I will be taking a few weeks off to decide in which direction I would like to focus my skills and passions.  However, I will be fulfilling my September obligations to the BC Teachers' Federation.

I will be putting this blog back on hiatus while I consider my future options.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Problematizing "Allies for Reconciliation": an incomplete thought

As with the entire relationship: one world, different worldviews.

Witnessed a panel presentation yesterday titled "Allies for Reconciliation" and it made me very angry.  I don't know if it was the nature of the panel which appeared to me to be several non-Native people who seemed self-satisfied and smug about how they were helping the Native, or if it was that the ideas of reconciliation and "allies" were not addressed.  Forget for a moment that how a non-Native person can be an ally, when by definition they are a member of the society that needs to achieve reconciliation with the Indigenous nations, is inexplicable. The very idea  implied in the title is that we, as Indigenous people need reconciliation and not the Canadian dominion which we live under.  The name, which is also on the BC Teachers' Federation t-shirts available for the upcoming Truth & Reconciliation event, was defended to me as BC teachers were allies in First Nations efforts towards reconciliation.  In this, I was annoyed as teachers, in their ongoing support of the western teaching traditions, are still complicit in maintaining the status quo that keeps us under the thumb of oppression (I am aware that I am in this federation and a teacher who has to abide by the rules of the education ministry and their curricular focus).

The nature of the panel was also defended to me as a means for non-Native activists to be brought on board by seeing themselves reflected and to see that it was safe for them to also be an "ally."  The understanding of the term "ally" is lost here and continues to be.  You should be working towards reconciliation, not because you wish to be supportive  of Indigenous peoples, you should be working towards reconciliation because you are a part of the need for it, just like Indigenous people and just like Canadians as well.

One of the definitions of reconcile, according to the Miriam-Webster online dictionary, is: " to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant." The nature of Allies for Reconciliation feels like this.  I tried to make my feelings known to the organizers and I did make it known to members of the BCTF Executive. I can't tell who is being asked to submit. We, as teachers? We, as Indigenous people? I have submitted to the unpleasant existence of being Indigenous my entire life and I am not keen to continue if that is what we are viewing as reconciliation.  That we feel the need to label non-Natives as allies tells me we are submitting yet again to the unpleasant fact that they do not view themselves as needing reconciliation with us but we need to reconcile with them.

Another definition of reconcile is: "to restore to friendship." This is problematic in light of the relationship definition as Indigenous and allies. It implies that our relationship is more unequal than usual and the restoration will return it to its normal unequal standard: marginalized and ally. "We're helping them." There is no recognition of the need to recognize your own privilege  in the continued oppression of Indigenous people. There is no recognition of the fact that you are blaming the victim in our unequal relationship. You are telling me that you will help me reconcile with Canada as if it is my fault that I haven't gotten over the Doctrine of Discovery, residential schools, institutionalized racism and the fact that, in the ongoing fight to save Canada and the middle class from total corporate takeover, you have further marginalized me in my own struggle. I shouldn't have to fight to prove my people were here at the time of first contact to claim my rights. I shouldn't have to prove that residential schools and colonialism has had a detrimental and ongoing affect on my family and my people.  I shouldn't have to constantly prove that my teaching degree is a "real" degree as opposed to an "Aboriginal" one. Often you use my name to move your cause forward and that is fair in as much as they are often the same, but you remove yourself from the struggles that are uniquely mine, declare yourself an ally and then deafen me with silence.

Much like the entire education system, we need to reframe what we are trying to achieve and who the participants are. None of us are allies in reconciliation as there only the two sides in this particular endeavour.  We need to change the words we are using because we don't have a mutual understanding of what we are trying to say. We are obscuring the truth by our choice of actions and words. Until we understand, explicitly, what our relationship is and what we want it to be, stop saying ally. Until we understand what we are trying to achieve, stop saying reconciliation because that is not what is happening right now.



Sunday, July 14, 2013

Letting Go of Idle No More

I was inspired by #idlenomore. 

I wrote about it, taught about it, encouraged others about it and what it means to me and to others. My context was to preserve Indigenous rights and oppose those laws that threatened those rights and our inherent rights in relation to the land. #Idlenomore made me feel like my own advocacy in education mattered and that was where my focus remained (obviously I am not in contact with the "leadership" of the movement).  I'm trying to educate students and teachers about the Indigenous experience and the needs of our students and communities. Idle No More offered something that was tangible and that I could apply to my teaching so that teachers could see the consequences of the ongoing colonial system. 

The problem with the incorporation of the term is that I now can fear that the way I invoke the movement, in my teaching or in one of my videos or films, could lead to a lawsuit if the owners of the trademark disagrees with my approach or thoughts in advocating for Indigenous education and Indigenous rights.  I have not always agreed with other Native advocates or leaders and they have not always liked what I have had to say. Now, with the seeming breaks in the Assembly of First Nations (not a fan) and the possible new National Treaty Alliance (excluded because we have no treaty here and are not involved in the process), I am suddenly concerned with the idea that if I invoke Idle No More, I could be told I'm wrong (regardless if this is a truth or not). I don't want that. 

I don't know if I am muddying the conversation in any way, seeing things that aren't there. I have felt a bit lost lately because of different voices shouting Idle No More and Indigenous Nationhood Movement and AFN and NTA and being generally ignored by the governments of BC and Canada anyways,  I haven't really known where to hang my hat or even if I should. These times have been and continue to feel very disheartening and this bit of news just feels like a capper along with those other things.  

It is their right to do so, it is protecting their intellectual property and moving forward on whatever their agenda might be. but for me, no more using Idle No More, I guess. Fair enough. My voice is soft and often ignored but it is mine and I should use that.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Incomplete Thoughts on Tonto, the Lone Ranger and Me...


So... I went to see The Lone Ranger this evening... And I have been trying to address how I feel about this film for the better part of the evening, post-show, of course.

I went in expecting to hate the film and to hate the depictions of Native Americans, and there is a lot to find problematic about those depictions and the way the Native Americans were used in the story.  There is a whole bunch of articles out on the web right now addressing the whole Tonto "controversy", ranging from the casting of a non-Native, to aspersions on Mr. Depp's ancestry to the wide-ranging inaccuracies around the character's traditions (he's Comanche but he is a Windego hunter which is Algonquin and they are in Texas near the Comanche nation but there is a scene with Pueblos, etc.).  Check them out, they are interesting reads.

Considering the reviews, I was expecting an emptier theatre but it was fairly well-attended.  Everyone seemed to laugh at the parts that the filmmakers wanted you to laugh at, some people clapped at the end.  There were at least four walk-outs that I saw, but again I also heard clapping.  I didn't see many other Native people in the theatre but it was dark and, to be fair, I am a Passer, so there were likely others (more on that in a minute).  I found some parts boring, some parts funny, it seemed to be a little long.  What is with all these overlong movies lately?  It is okay if the film is under two hours, especially if you are just filling time with nothing of interest or value to the story.  There was really only one thing that I was offended by: why would a war party attack a well-armed cavalry with only bows, arrows and wooden shields?  NDNz aren't stupid, a gun is more efficient than a bow, they would have had guns, it was the late 1800s after all.

I wasn't offended by Tonto and this intrigues, annoys and confuses me.  

A part of this, I imagine, is the fact that I enjoy Mr. Depp as an actor.  His choices fascinate and are unique, though I hear the "quirkiness" is getting on the nerves of some people, but I can't be necessarily counted among those people.  Yes, a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is a bit too much, but Sparrow was such a unique performance.  His Mad Hatter was the only real saving grace of the Alice in Wonderland movie and he delivers a moment of incredible vulnerability in it that I was moved.  I love his performance in Sleepy Hollow.  His performance here wasn't just stereotype, though that was present.  I got the feeling that Tonto was playing a role himself within the context of the action, but I won't go into that too much because that isn't the real subject of this post.

My own commentary on the issue of ancestry around this film have been somewhat muted, because I try to give the benefit of the doubt to those who claim ancestry and are challenged by other Native people to the point of vile hate, on the web and in real life.  I am fair-skinned and have been called a "passer" by family members.  I have also been challenged on the authenticity of my ancestry by people who are part of my extended family.  I have been challenged at work by students, by other teachers.  I'm used to it.  It hurts every time, but it is a part of what is my life, so I am used to it.  I know that if I was still an actor, I would be attacked if I take a Native role because I am not brown enough for the Native people in North America, despite their desire to have Native actors play Native roles.  In that, they have also bought into the Hollywood stereotype of what the Native American looks like, regardless of what the real Native person looks like.  I can trace my ancestry on both sides of my family but for many, because I am not brown, I will never be "Indian" enough.

To shift gears a little, I do wonder what it is about Tonto that sets everyone on edge.  Tonto is the invention of non-Natives, the creation of an idealized, western vision of the "Noble Savage," I understand that.  I was intrigued by all the animosity towards a non-Native playing Tonto and I couldn't figure out why, Tonto is not Native.  It hit me while I was watching the film tonight.  A ranger stands over Tonto and asks him why he was wanted by the law.  Tonto stands tall and answers "I'm Indian."  And I got it.  The film opens with a wraparound scene at a Wild West show  featuring an old Tonto as "The Noble Savage in his Natural Habitat".  We, as Native people, have internalized Tonto as one of our iconic images.  We say nice things about Crazy Horse and Elijah Harper, but we also seem to have taken Tonto as one of our own.  This mythological Indian has been so much a part of the popular culture for so long that we have started to regard him as one of our own.  We have taken the stories as truth and made him our own.  It may be partly about representation of us on film, but it is also about the misrepresentation of an icon we have internalized as well.

Once again, these are incomplete thoughts, I would like to think on it some more (I should rebrand this blog from Where Are the Sheep to Incomplete Thoughts) but this is my early responses.  Okay, back to my hiatus.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Where Are The Sheep Hiatus

Just a quick note to let you know that I am taking a bit of a hiatus on the blog.  It has become harder over the last little while to blog effectively. I've felt that my writing has been somewhat repetitive, responding to others' statements and commentaries, and not really presenting any new ideas or expanding on the ideas I presented in earlier posts.  I have a number of unfinished posts and none are reaching that endpoint.  Sadly, nothing is inspiring me lately and responding to hate-filled commentaries is somewhat draining

In addition, I want to reconsider how I am engaging everyone on the issues I care about.  I'm not engaging you very well and so I want to regroup and figure out a better way.  It's not a dialogue if I'm the only one speaking and I can't be certain anyone's listening.

On that note, I should mention I have deleted most of the videos on my YouTube channel (including my underperforming Your Voice Matters PSAs, which, note to self: remove dead links on blog), I want to try something different with it.  I may keep it as a personal channel and start another one in addition, not sure yet, I will keep you informed.

At any rate, thank you for your support, I look forward to rejoining this discourse when I am able to contribute again.

Sincerely, Robert Genaille

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Incomplete Thought on Cultural Genocide

From Evernote:

Incomplete Thought on Cultural Genocide

I'm bugged by something I've read recently.  The question of cultural genocide came up again, this time by former Prime Minister Paul Martin.  At the Montreal event for the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, he argued that the residential school system was an act of cultural genocide.  I know that I've written about cultural genocide before, related to former Minister Duncan's comments that the system wasn't cultural genocide.  I argued that it was but my thinking has evolved a little and the question I have is this: What is cultural genocide?  

According to Article II, of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

The Indian Act and all the attendant systemic policies were acts of genocide, not cultural genocide.  More to the point, I have not been able to find an adequate definition of cultural genocide.  The use of the term, undefined is a means by which politicians and leaders are able to lessen the impact of the idea of genocide.  Canada didn't commit genocide but it did commit cultural genocide.  It's the nation-building myth reprised to acknowledge some guilt but not culpability with the real crime.

We do a disservice to our children by not facing the truth of this.  As ever, your thoughts are appreciated.  Can you define cultural genocide satisfactorily?  How do we bring this into our classrooms honestly?  I will be thinking on this a bit, I think.