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.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Commemorative Colouring Book for the Legacy of Residential Schools?

I was torn on this resource I received in the school mail from AANDC.  A copy of the Residential School Apology accompanied by colouring books featuring the Parliamentary stained glass window commemorating the Legacy of Residential Schools.
The books contain pieces of the window to colour, cut out and assemble into replicas of the commemoration that you could then put up in your classroom, or wherever, and are supposed to raise awareness about the residential school experience and the apology.

I thought it was a little crass.

But, a couple of my secondary students saw it on the desk I was using and asked about it.  I explained briefly and asked what they thought of the idea.  Did it marginalize or make light of the experience or did it open up a way to talk about it?
They were intrigued by the colouring books.  To be able to cut out and make your own window opened up the possibility of owning the commemoration, the individual panels offered a way into the history that was both somewhat safe and accessible.  "What does this picture mean?"  They argued that it offered the opening to tell the story behind the panel (though that isn't provided), and the chance to learn about the experiences (I have great students).

I am trying to decide how best to use it and would be interested in hearing your thoughts about it.  I also would love to hear what you think of the book.  Good idea?   Bad idea?  Leave a comment below,or a tweet me @rvgenaille.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mr. Genaille, Why Don't They Like Us?

I had decided not to respond to the coverage of the anti-First Nations comments made by the BC provincial election candidate in the Okanagan, whom I understand will be continuing as an Independent.  My friend Starleigh wrote a good post about it here (

Something happened today though that I wanted to share, mostly because it bothers me, draw your own conclusions.  I am currently teaching a combination of courses from grade two through grade eleven.  I was in our computer lab with my grade five/seven Social Studies class looking up articles about the BC election for scrapbooks they are keeping on it.  My grade five students are all First Nations, I think.  A couple of them ran across an article about the candidate's defense of her comments and the support she was receiving from the community she is running in.  The two students called me over and the younger asked me, "Mr. Genaille, why don't they like us?"

I have many answers to that question.  I have strived to answer that question here on this blog, often.  I have tried to reconcile what it means for the longest of times that people don't like me because I am Native.  I have challenged it where I could and when I could, with varied results, depending on the audience and my own strengths at the given time.  This evening, I watched a news segment interviewing people who were commending this woman on her comments.  

I have tried hard to understand because I want to know why.  I have tried to understand because I want to be able to educate and transform.  I have tried to understand because I don't know how to answer a ten year old when he asks me why they don't like us.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Something About the Hows and Whys: Teaching About Politics in an Overly Politicized World

On Thursday of this past week, I attended a grad fundraiser at the school where I work. While there, I ran into an adult who, seeing the Studentvote material I had, launched into a tirade about how wrong it was for me to be bringing my politics into the classroom and how I shouldn't be telling kids what to think and all teachers were greedy, etc, etc.

A few months ago, I blogged about the political nature of education and the need for that to exist because it forced the child to think critically and challenge and question and, most importantly, wonder. The docility of the classroom that agrees with everything you say, and by "you" I mean me (their teacher), or you (parent, community, media, etc), is dangerous insofar as it breeds a type of obedience that can be manipulated and directed in unimaginable ways. I like it when kids ask why, or, in presenting a differing point of view, are able to defend it in an articulate manner.

It is a challenging balancing act I admit, especially in the areas of Indigenous issues and challenges where I do feel very strongly about certain things. This is made easier by playing the role of devil's advocate and challenging the message they are exposed to in the media, sharing my stories and inviting them to look at their relationships with Indigenous peoples (Yes, even the Native kids do need to examine their understandings as well).

I digress, however. I have never shared my political leanings with students with regards to provincial or federal elections. Indeed, I keep my Band election leanings to myself. Studentvote is an apolitical project that seeks to teach students about the 'hows' and 'whys' of the Canadian electoral system and the importance, to Canadian society and democracy, of voting. It doesn't teach who to vote for, just how and why. The Studentvote itself, held before the real election, in this case the upcoming BC provincial election, is done in the same way as the real one, with an electoral officer, scrutineers, secret ballot... The students will research all the parties and platforms and MAKE THEIR OWN DECISION about who to vote for. And then they vote and none of us will know who voted for whom.

So, in the sense that I am telling my students to think for themselves, I guess I am telling them what to think.

Native Masks- Art?

So, I read an interesting blog piece, Dear Teachers, Native Masks are Not Art, yesterday and it got me wondering about the subject: Are Native masks art?
I threw the question out onto Twitter and got a few, limited responses, which I collected here: but I am still wondering about the issue.
I don't like Native art being appropriated by others for purposes that are not proper, whatever that means (and I say that sincerely; the decision-makers on the propriety of such things seems to be arbitrary and contradictory).  As Flora states in my storify above, it is a fine line.  I am respectful of the sanctity of masks used for ceremonial purposes, but I am also conscious of the fact that masks are made by Native artists for the purposes of retail.  I think that masks made specifically for ceremony should remain such, but I don't think I should be disallowed, as an art teacher (and Native to boot) from choosing to make masks in a Native design.  If I am making a mask, I am not making a colour the paper and then cut it out.  I am not specifically making the mask, or teaching my students, for a ceremony.  Rather I am looking at the artistic merit and encouraging my students to create and respect.
This is an academic question, of course, I lack the skill to make masks well and would be nervous trusting my skill teaching students to safely use carving tools in their creativity.  What are your thoughts on this subject? Appropriate or inappropriate?  Please feel free to leave a comment below or on my Twiitter, I look forward to hearing what you think of this.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Your Voice Matters: Aboriginal Education

Fourth in my short series on voter participation.  Who makes the decisions on Aboriginal Education in the public school system?  It is true that boards and FN councils have a say through enhancement agreements and the like, but the government has a lot of influence over what is brought forward as far as initiatives go.  At all levels, voting for your representatives means that they will not ignore you.

Some Thoughts on Bill C27 for Teachers who might be getting Questions from Students

I was asked yesterday by a teacher (@bryanjack) for my perspective on Bill C27, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. A student chose it to write a commentary on and they were looking for another perspective. I don't have that commentary handy at the moment. I thought I would share my thoughts on it for other teachers who might be getting questions from students on it:

One of the things they don't tell you when discussing clarity around First Nations financial accountability, unfortunately, is that First Nations are among the most accountable organizations in the world. Each First Nation is required to undergo a financial audit to show and justify their spending, as well as write numerous reports to show how each dollar is being spent. Much of this is made available online already by the Department of Aboriginal & Northern Affairs. Bills like C27 only really add another cost to the transparency by requiring the Bands to cover the costs of the reporting (at least as I understand it). Further to that, the Media coverage generalizes the idea that all First Nations are corrupt when evidence seems to suggest that the levels of corruption are no different than are found in the municipal, provincial or federal levels of government. This Bill is something that is a political tool designed to play to a political base that feels First Nations are afforded rights they do not deserve, and a means of 'blaming the victim' for their situation when things like education funding, health and housing are controlled by the Federal government.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


There are times when I wish I could just turn off the day, crawl into bed and shut out the world.  It is tough to know the worlds some of our kids have to live in, knowing that their circumstances are almost always beyond their control and that you can only be as supportive as you can.  Part of our classroom experiences are attempts to create safe environments where our students can have a moment of reprieve from the rest of the world, an opportunity to not be worrying about whatever they need to be worrying about the rest of the time.  Sometimes that means giving enough space for your kids not to be worrying about their English assignment and let them just exist for a time.