Monday, March 17, 2014

Permission: Why Cowboys & Indians and Tiger Lily Matter

What was fun about teaching was being able to experience the sense of discovery over and over again. You learn with your students and as they have that spark that brings the fire into their eyes when they engage with their learning, you also feel that spark and you learn something new about what you are teaching as the new perspective brings new knowledge, new understanding, new questions and new wisdom. From the grade two students looking at the little frogs in the classroom aquarium asking questions, I never even thought to ask, about frogs- driving me to look it up with them to share in our learning as students together- to the teenager putting forth her hypothesis on why the Indian Act has evolved the way it has- approaching it from an Indigenous-Feminist viewpoint- I have always come away from the encounter with a new understanding, a new thought, a new appreciation. I hope that it has been the same for my students.

Scrolling the vastness of social media, I have watched an interesting evolution that has been a learning experience for me, but I have wondered if it has been for those that I have interacted with. Seeing the news on Indigenous issues today feels like deja vu. Stories today remind me of stories I was writing about two years ago, only the names have been changed. Two years ago, it was Gwen Stefani and Victoria's Secret and Tonto. Today it is the daughter of the Governor of Oklahoma, the University of Regina Cheer Squad and Tiger Lily. The commentary is the same,  the comments are the same: "get over it," "over-sensitive," "PC police," "it's all in good fun," and on and on and on...

Friday, February 28, 2014

An Incomplete Thought On Letting Go

I have wondered what I am going to say when this moment arrived. I have, admittedly struggled with this decision and worried at length that I am abandoning my principles and my convictions. I had hoped I had something deep and meaningful to say, some powerful statement to offer up as a remembrance of my thoughts but none occur.

Today is my last real day as a teacher. I haven't worked as an educator in a classroom in nine months and have been unaffiliated with any school district for the past six. This date marks the end of my membership in the BC Teachers' Federation which means, essentially, I'm just some guy now.

I spent four of the past ten years teaching in a classroom, one year as a First Nations Support Worker and six years waiting for calls to work. Basically, on one level, I can't afford to teach anymore. On another level, the challenges, many students I worked with, faced took their toll on me and I found the need to take breaks to try and recover my own health. I struggled, and continue to struggle, with depression and it takes a lot of the fight out of you. Add to this, the politics of working in district and the challenges imposed by the BC government and I found myself losing ground and my own identity.

Friday, January 24, 2014

My Brother's Book, Tales From Indian Country: The Apple, Now Available!

Hi everybody!
Just wanted to drop an announcement on you! My brother has published his first novella, TALES FROM INDIAN COUNTRY: THE APPLE, and I encourage you to check it out. He is a very talented writer with two of his screenplays having been produced (TWO INDIANS TALKING and JOHNNY TOOTALL). TWO INDIANS TALKING won the audience award for Best Canadian Feature at the Vancouver International Film Festival a couple of years ago. He also co-created and produced the Leo Award-winning TV show BACK IN THE DAY (airing on APTN in Canada and FNX in the United States).

From the Press Release:

Tales From Indian Country: The Apple

Seven Short stories throughout the life of an Indian man that's considered an 'Apple' to his reserve, red on the outside but white on the inside. These stories chronicle his attempt to be more accepted by his community by going on a vision quest, his time dating a spiritual person, the time he played poker with a dying racist man; and the time as a ten year old that he discovered residential schools. It's an overall story about a man that struggles with how he sees himself and how others do.
About the Author
Andrew Genaille is a First Nations writer living in Canada; to date he's written several feature films including "Johnny Tootall," and "Two Indians Talking," which won the Audience Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival. He also wrote and produced with his siblings the documentary series "Back in the Day." for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
Check it out here:
It's available as an E-book at
or as a soft cover book here at Amazon:
It is coming soon to iTunes.
Please support Indigenous talent in arts & entertainment!
PS   I made the drum on the cover.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Couple Thoughts on Teach for Canada and the First Nations Education Act

Randomly fascinated by the discourse on Twitter and in some blog posts about the whole “Teach for Canada” idea that seems to have captured the imaginations of many educators and non-educators alike. Can this upstart organization come into our most vulnerable communities and turn around the huge failure rates and high turnover of teachers? I am going to step aside from the whole debate about whether teachers can be good teachers with or without training, it is being well-argued by better people than me who have fallen into two camps: “Lefties” and “Righties.” One blog, admittedly argues that the founders of TFC is small-L Liberal, whatever that means, but that really is irrelevant, as is the left wing versus right wing discourse. Political spectrum has very little to do with this issue and that has to be realized and understood by all.

Teach for Canada identifies those most vulnerable communities as First Nations communities and, in so doing, makes the same mistake that the Conservative Government made with the First Nations Education Act: failed to ask the First Nations what we want. While it is unfair to compare these two notions to the residential school experience, I do not believe it is unreasonable to be suspicious of their motivations. I am under no illusion that the altruism on display is completely selfless. Teach for Canada is out to make money from what I can understand; the government, to impose their agenda and ideology on First Nations (I’m guessing, but when you say reform before funds when many of these schools would be condemned buildings anywhere else…). Both seek to supersede agreements already in place with First Nations in order to carry out their plans. Both claim Indigenous supporters but both choose to ignore the majority voice that has ascribed to ideal that we have a say in how our children are educated and the old paternalism is not acceptable.

The feeling I get when I read all of these posts and tweets and articles and websites and legislation is that an outside party has decided they know what is best for “our” First Nations and they will supersede the will of First Nations in order to save them. We are not Canada’s First Nations. We do not devalue education, we seek education that is relevant to us, which is reflective of our worldviews and which is useful to our needs and wants. We need to be free from silencing and to be allowed to present what we need and then supported in accomplishing the idea, not condescended to and patronized. I wish I could say that this was limited to these national institutions but I have experienced silencing at all levels of the education system. The belief that we do not know what is best for ourselves or our children appears to be one of the most entrenched conventions in Canada’s history.

Both groups approach Indigenous peoples from a much generalized perspective, one couched in white privilege and not respectful of the inherent differences in 600 First Nations in Canada. Assumptions about the needs and, more importantly, the wants of First Nations people have been made and they have been made from the perspective of a privilege that is not “ours” but “yours.” The entire conflict around Idle No More and the pipeline/fracking protests continues to confuse and infuriate the government and many Canadians because they refuse to understand that the values of these cultures (Plural!) may not be the same as the values of the government or Canada, which is looking at the issues economically. It is not a right wing or left wing political spectrum thing but a values choice couched in a worldview that has little to do with politics.

The relationship is what is important. Our relationship to ourselves, to others, to the land. I hear the voices, “here we go again…” but that is why there is misunderstanding. \the Stó:lō live on the river, depend on it. The sockeye are our forefathers, they are our primary source of food. Without them and without the river, we die out. A poor run in a year and families go hungry, even in the “rich” Fraser Valley. Damage to the river or the land around it damages my home. The river is a source of our economy and our education. No one has figured that out. I can learn biology on the river. I can learn earth science on the river and the surrounding land. The river is the source of many of the stories that make up our history. The first white man in these parts arrived on the river. The river is central to our lives and could be a central part of our education, but nobody asked because no one cares about that and no one is interested in looking past the saviour complex and actually addressing what we need and want.

Monday, January 6, 2014

That Eleven Facts and Questions Everyone is Doing

Hi folks. Playing along, not sure why but @starleigh_grass sent this to me so I thought "well, I've got nothing better to do..." It has been flying around the PLN and I've been seeing it everywhere. So here for your entertainment and edification:

11 random facts about me:

1. Growing up, I wanted to be an archaeologist, not a First Nations archaeologist but a "Classical" one, Roman, Greek and Egyptian, perhaps Aztec and Mayan. I want to learn how they lived through their material culture. I found it all fascinating. Barring that, I was interested in paleontology because dinosaurs are awesome.

2. I love reading and it is one of my favourite ways to pass the time, even though I haven’t been able to in a long time. I read it all: The Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock presents The Three Detectives, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Michael Connelly, and Jim Butcher. I devoured books as a kid.  I devoured books on archaeology particularly and there was a time when I would be visiting the library every day.

3. I’m sort of tired of the whole superhero comic book movies playing right now. I wouldn’t mind the film world exploring some other comic or graphic novel stories, something other than a superhero story would be nice.  Also tired of zombie movies and found footage stuff. Why do I say this? Why not.

4. I’ve been disillusioned of the whole education system for some time now. I find it talks a good game on Aboriginal Education but I have a hard time seeing anything real and concrete happening. While there are things that are being done and they are great, the real necessary change at the institutional level is not happening and I don’t believe that any real transformational change is going to happen any time soon.

5. I wanted to be an actor when I was growing up and my undergraduate degree is in Drama and History. I never took the risk of going to the city to try to get work, either Edmonton (near where I went to school) or Vancouver. I live with regret on that particularly because it is something I continue not to do. One of my professors in my final year said something to me that caused it all to crash down: “Bob, you’re a good actor, but you’re uncastable.” After that, the plan to move to the city and get an agent or start the theatre company didn’t have the same urgency.

6. I consider August 29th to be a second birthday right now. On this day in 2013, I signed my resignation letter and left my school district. I am unsure whether I will be continuing as a teacher as yet, but that decision is one that I am happy with because it was not just a letting go of an unhealthy work relationship but it was a stepping out of my comfort zone on many levels, including a small attempt to be more social, some attempts to move forward with some film ideas, the taking of a holiday that threw me into some new experiences that I will always cherish. So, while I am currently unemployed (although I can argue self-employed with the film company) and poor, I am happier than I have been in a long time. Going to need to look for work soon though ;)

7. My favourite movie is Ghostbusters.

8. I often wonder if I am missing something but since it isn’t in my life I also wonder if I am just overthinking it.

9. I have always watched Doctor Who in some way, with my Mom and with my Grandpa.  Of the Classic Series, the Fifth Doctor was always my Doctor, controversial I know, but not all of us were enamoured of Tom Baker.  He was good, yes, but Peter Davison was the Doctor I remember.  I've never seen the 1996 movie, I'd like to but it just hasn't ever been around for me to see.  I never watched the new show when it debuted seven years ago with the Ninth Doctor, just wasn't interested, I was too busy with my balancing act, two disparate "careers" and graduate school in the evenings.  I never gave it a second thought and, from what I hear, that was a good thing: at the time it aired on CBC here in Canada and they were allegedly brutal with their edits. A couple of years ago, I took a leave of absence from my job and stopped trying to run my small business. I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. One of the things that I did in my “recovery year” was to start watching the new series of Doctor Who and I do believe that it is important because it made me feel better.  I have always tried to look at the world with wonder and I had lost that.  Watching the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctor save the Earth, get in trouble, get out of it, deal with their past and always look at the universe with a sense of wonder... well it helped.

10. I am not a strong practitioner of any of the traditional activities or ceremony events of either of the Indigenous cultures that I am a part of. This is not because I am “colonised” or “inauthentic.” I am happy with my current level of participation, I have been active trying to create a better tomorrow for our youth through the education system and through the television projects I have carried out. I buy into Thomas King’s pronouncement at the end of The Inconvenient Indian that Native people want the right to live their lives in the way that they choose and I am trying to do that, so the fact that I don’t smudge, or sweat or fish or whatever does not make me less Indian. I have made choices on where I want to focus my energy. Please respect that as I am respectful of your choices.

11. I love Las Vegas, but I want to go to the Skywalk at the Grand Canyon.

11 questions from Starleigh:

1.       What element of your personal background most influences your teaching?

I was very unhappy with my high school education (drama class notwithstanding), particularly the lack of representation of First Nations’ experience and what felt like a bias against it in my learning. I think I take that forward with me in my teaching experience.

2.       What's the most memorable classroom activity you experienced as a K-12 learner?

When I was in grade 4 in CFB Kingston, Ontario (Dad was a soldier), I was sitting in class waiting to learn about the Native peoples of British Columbia and the teacher was excited and talking about how we had a special guest coming in to talk about his tribe and culture. In walks my Grandpa.

3.       Who is your educational change role model?

Sorry Starleigh, it’s you. It was your encouragement to try out the blogosphere and your willingness to share your work and experience has been inspirational.

4.       Which professional learning event/organization has made the biggest difference in your practice?

None really. I want to be able to say FNESC or BCTF, the Ministry, something, anything but I haven’t found anything that has inspired me in my practice. I’m very interested in the Aboriginal focus schools in Prince George and Vancouver but I haven’t heard anything recently about them and I haven’t been so affected as to have it make a difference in my practice. Silencing plays a huge part in that, I suspect.

5.       What actions do you take to combat racism?

I try to explain its effect on the victim and to teach the historical oppression behind the racism as expressed. I am not strong at calling it out when I hear it from a student as it has been generally directed at me when I have heard it.

6.       Why do you blog?

Peer Pressure.

Well, no, it’s an attempt to share my understanding of Aboriginal Education, why it matters and some ideas on how to change the system.

7.       Who's traditional territory do you currently live and/or work on?

I live in the community of the Peters First Nation, my home community. We are an independent Band of Sto:lo people. I am unemployed currently, except for the film company (which is unpaid) and I do that stuff on my reserve.

8.       How would you describe your interactions with the first peoples on whose territory you currently live and/or work on?

Complicated and tiresome.

9.       What is one thing that you started in 2013 that you hope to complete in 2014?

My redefinition of my life.

10.   What is one thing that you hope to do differently and/or better in 2014?

Oh, so many things. Pursue some of my dreams as opposed to ignoring them all the time.

11.   What were you doing ten minutes before you got onto your computer?

Rearranging furniture.

I am breaking the chain because I see much of you educator types have done this already and I am tired and don’t want to think of any questions. Sorry.