Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Stories We've Learned

The stories we learn are the stories we teach.

 Never discovered astronomy
 Had no science or scientific discoveries
 Had no mathematics
 Made no medical discoveries
 Never had written music
 Only "figured out" a drum and a rattle for musical instruments

You can search my Twitter feed for the link to the letter that contains the above words.  Suffice it to say, the letter/op-ed/whatever goes on like this:  Have a history that is notable only for underachievement... Are they responsible enough to look after themselves... in reference to First Nations people.  Hopefully, by the time you read this, the newspaper will have removed it from their website, probably too late to hope it hasn't gone out in its hardcopy paper format.  I'm not going to reprint the web address, I've done that far too often, sharing with you the disturbing articles, letters and tweets I find, to highlight the need for Aboriginal Education.

I've written this post before.  More than once.  This is the standard "we need to improve Aboriginal Education for ALL students to combat this type of misunderstanding about the First Nations experience." Understandably the older generations may need time to unlearn these misunderstandings.

Reading this piece made me sad.  I thought that I would be angry when I read it but it turns out that I am just sad.  These are the stories we have learned.  These are the stories we have been taught and these are the ones we've been taught that we can repeat.  Generally, we have been careful to guard our tongues and our thoughts, that veneer of civility in our daily dealings, but those things that move us forward also open up our darker selves.  Social media has made it possible for us to communicate instantaneously, without filter and, often, without consequence.  This, coupled with the popularity in "speak your mind" infotainment, seems to have brought about a bleeding of our unfiltered selves into other areas of media and the public sphere.

Sadly, the stories we've learned are there, waiting to be repeated.  The means of communication, that has enabled the resurgence in Indigenous activism and self-identity, is also the means by which the unfiltering has taken place.  The stories we've learned are out there to be challenged, to be negated and destroyed.  It is time for new stories to be told, and this is where teachers come in.  You need to find new stories and tell them.  You need to challenge the stories we've learned when you encounter them, show the falsehood in them, teach why that story was told and decolonize by sharing a new story that is our story.  A good story.

FYI, amongst the many, many, many inventions created by First Nations people before first contact, you will find cough syrup, pain relievers and chewing gum.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reflecting on We Were Children

Sometimes we need to tell our stories,  even when doing so is going to hurt.  We Were Children is a film that should not exist.  It shouldn't exist because it shouldn't be necessary to tell these stories, stories filled with pain and horror, and most terrifying of all, truth.  This film should not exist because these stories should not exist.  What was done to the children in residential schools is abhorrent, unacceptable and, to many, unbelievable.

I have presented on residential schools to teachers who have refused to believe that this could happen and I have presented to many grade levels, two through twelve, with varying degrees of success.  I watched "the Apology" with a senior Social Studies class and talked about the tears I couldn't hide with them.  The apology may not have had any meaning to the government (as has been evidenced by the follow-up), but, for many, hearing the words meant something that day.  I have been saddened and disappointed since, but hearing the words really clarified and articulated how big a wound that Canada had inflicted, not just on the survivor generations but on all of us.  I don't think Mr. Harper realized that, at the time or since.

The residential school system was part of a larger plan to assimilate the First Nations into the larger body politic.  At its height, there were eighty schools operating across Canada, the last one closed in 1996, in Saskatchewan.  There were schools in BC into the 1980s.

We Were Children is a powerful film, it was hard to watch.  Even knowing a lot of stories going into it, I found myself getting angry and tearing up and feeling incredibly sad.  I tried to watch it at first, as an Academic, objectively, but in my studies, I have always maintained that objectivity is impossible and it was here.  The stories of Lyna Hart and Glen Anaquod were real and heartbreaking.  Their stories are stories that can be found in the words of 150 000 others, 80 000 of whom still live, and can be reflected in the stories of their children and grandchildren, whose own challenges and struggles can be seen as part of the legacy of the residential schools.

The film only touches on the stories of the lost, the ones that didn't get to leave, never had the opportunity to grow up. Their stories are still waiting to be told.  

As a filmmaker, it is a film I wish I could have made but I know I could not have made it.  As a teacher I am grateful it exists and I am contemplating how to use it in the classroom or to show to other teachers.  As a First Nations man, I hope every Canadian sees it and learns about our shared history.  

Please check out or for more information on the film and residential schools.  Please check out my post
Our Students will Learn the Impact of Education on Future Generations  to learn about Nunuvut's residential school curriculum.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thomas King Statement to Niigaan: The Importance of Status Lands

Thomas King is something of a hero of mine.  This video clip by @m_melody (Melody McKivor) for the Niigaan Conversation is a very articulate and well thought explanation of the need to protect our traditional territories and the Reserve lands that have been set aside for Status Indians.  What does this have to do with education, you ask?  Everything.  The whole point of Idle No More is the protection of our remaining lands and the environment.  The entire public system is designed to bury our understanding of our connection to land in the colonial view of progress for the sake of progress.

Your Voice Matters: Becoming Visible

My third video in the Your Voice Matters set on First Nations voting.  We run the risk of being invisible when we make the choice not to vote.  This is dangerous because we are abdicating our right to influence the decision-makers, or, indeed to be the decision-makers in our own lives.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Your Voice Matters: Sovereignty & Engagement

This is the second video in my Your Voice Matters section, sort of focusing on the question of Indigenous sovereignty.  I do not believe that Indigenous sovereignty is threatened by deciding to participate in provincial and federal elections.  In fact, I think that our identity and sovereignty are strengthened by our engagement.  It ensures that our voice is being heard and that we are using this route, in addition to all the other options available, as a means to share our concerns, challenge our oppressors and work towards meaningful transformation. 

Reflecting on @starleigh_grass's Bitterroot Presentation

I've been busy so haven't had a lot of time to reflect on the recent workshop that Starleigh Grass presented in my school district back on the 15th of February: Bitterroot as a Metaphor for Decolonizing Education.  I live-tweeted the workshop and shared comments from the online PLN. 
Here is my Storify summary of the live-tweet:

Starleigh's presentation and the subsequent discussions in the group and online had me rethinking how I was defining "Indigenizing education" in relation to decolonization.  I had been wondering about that issue in regard to whether "Indigenizing" was merely a paint-over of the education system with the addition of "culture" as an add-on into the classroom instead of the true transformation that decolonization would represent.  I have started to change my thinking with regard to that through the presentation.  #SD78 Conference Powerpoints and Handouts has her powerpoint presentation on the subject, it is worth checking out.

On the subject of working with Starleigh, I have to say that I didn't really do anything beyond tweet out what she was speaking about and what the group was discussing, as much as I would like to claim more ownership of the presentation.  It was a privilege to be a part of the presentation and discussion that ensued and to act as a conduit to the online community for.  It is an excellent opportunity to make a workshop interactive and more accessible beyond just the confines of the room we were in.  It was an excellent way to bring in opinions and ideas beyond just those in the room and to engage with people actively involved in the process of decolonization and in the desire to know more about how to do it.  I am grateful that she invited me the opportunity to participate in this way.  I look forward to the chance to collaborate in the future.

Back in the Day is Back!

Another bit of shameless self-promotion for you all:

Back in the day: On the Prairies is now airing on Aboriginal Peoples' Television here in Canada on Tuesday nights.  I was a creator on the original concept and participated behind the scenes on both seasons of the show.  I was a little surprised that the show premiered this week but, since I've been busy in my teaching position, I was a little out of the loop.  I am seeing it, in many ways, for the first time myself and looking forward to seeing the final product complete.  The participants were wonderful people to meet and know and I enjoyed the time I was able to spend with them.  The show is available online at and the "Behind the Scenes" webisodes are available at  

Gold Trail School District on Teaching the Residential School Experience

Hi.  Just wanted to acknowledge and send a shout out to the Gold Trail School District (SD#74) for the following decision to bring a motion to the BC School Trustee Association's annual meeting on teaching the Residential School Experience.  The notice I saw was in the School Board Notes of the Lillooet News.

The Gold Trail School District will be presenting a motion at the BC School Trustees Association’s (BCSTA) annual meeting on Teaching the Residential School Experience.

The resolution asks the BCSTA to urge the Ministry of Education to work with the appropriate agencies and organizations to “develop and implement mandatory inclusion of the Aboriginal Residential School experience and other aspects of colonization in Social Studies curricula for all students.”

Trustees voted unanimously in favour of the motion. Its rationale is that if aboriginal communities are to overcome the detrimental effects of the residential school experience, “it will be through aboriginal and non-aboriginal students alike learning the true and complete story.”

Gold Trail say past teachings have been “extremely damaging, promoting ignorance and racism on one side and shame and lack of self respect on the other.”

Gold Trail deserves congratulations for taking a leadership role in moving forward on Aboriginal Education.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Your Voice Matters: First Nations and the Electoral Process

So, there's going to be a provincial election here in British Columbia in May.  As a result, I've decided to do some posts and PSA-style videos on the need for First Nations people to participate in the electoral process.  First Nations people need to participate in provincial and federal elections if we wish to ensure that we are being given a voice in the decisions being made that will affect our daily lives.  Sovereignty and Treaty Rights are one thing but we need to engage to ensure we are being heard in Canada and British Columbia.  In that regard, I will attempt to remain non-partisan in my clips and any posts I put up to discuss this need.

I recognize that not every First Nations person believes in the value of participating in the electoral process in Canada, for a variety of reasons, but I believe that it is important for people to be engaged in the process.  If we aren't using our voice, we aren't being heard.  We are invisible.  This is one of my takes on the ideas sprouting from the Idle No More movement.