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.