I was going through my twitter feed this morning and I came across a tweet that just made me stop and think.
“Don’t start with cultural genocide and residential schools. Indigenous people are not victims first. Take the time to learn about the many proud and resilient people who were impacted by Canada’s residential school system.” @BonnieSears20. She was referring to this article.
I think that we forget that the Indigenous people were on Turtle Island for tens of thousands of years before the colonizers came and tried to eradicate them. This is just a short, sad part of their history. It is important to celebrate the many cultures and teachings that have continued despite what has happened. Honestly, I feel a connection to the Indigenous ways of knowing and to the First Nations people, but I don’t want to be thought to be guilty of cultural appropriation. I love parts of my culture, but I also like parts of indigenous culture, am I allowed to teach it, take part in it?
The questions that I have is this, should we, as settlers, be condemned for not doing anything sooner? Are we really complicit in this if we didn’t know or that we were taught that? Should we have known better that everyone is human and should be treated with a basic level of respect and humanity? Going back to what I know and connect to, how is this different than the Holocaust? Did the Eastern European people know any different when they turned in Jews to the Nazis to be sent to the death camps? Did they know? Were they complicit if they have been taught for years that the Jewish people were less than everyone else? At least the German government has very strict laws around Neo Nazis. Unfortunately, the rest of Europe, not so much.
Just as the Holocaust should not be the penultimate historical event in a long rich history of the Jewish People, neither should the treatment of the Indigenous people of Turtle Island by the Canadian government be the only thing that defines them.
Book Club Episode 1
Edit note: I was reading this out to my daughter tonight and she made fun of me. I did what I always tell my students not to do. Always read your work out loud to catch your mistakes. I clearly did not do that. I apologize for the errors that I missed.
I was listening to this discussion on the way to work today. Yes, I am a teacher and I work during the summer. My total inability to shut down for more than a couple of weeks during the break is a conversation for another post. One of the great things about a PLN is that you realize that you are not the only person who thinks about teaching during the summer and that you can always find someone who else who is willing to talk about school. I really do my best learning during the summer!
As I listened to this podcast and heard Debbie Donsky talk about her journey towards learning and teaching about the lived Indigenous experience in this country, I was struck by the access she had to elders and mentors within her learning community. I am not sure when I first started being aware of the idea of residential schools and the treatment of the Indigenous people of this land by the colonizers. I don’t remember learning about it in elementary school. Then again, when I was in elementary there were Iroquois and Hurons and lots and lots of Indians. The Jesuit priests were the victims at St.Marie among the Hurons and there was not a Haudenosaunee or Anishnaabe in sight. There was never a discussion about smallpox or treaties or settlers or colonizers. We never learned about pow-wows or the Seven Grandfather teachings. Yes, this was the 70’s and 80s, and I have never read the curriculum from that time, but I am sure there was no mention of the real relationship between between the Indigenous people and the European colonizers.
When I became a teacher, I was lucky enough to teach with an amazing educator, Peter Jenkins, who, now that I think about it, started me on my path. We were both teaching Grade 7 geography and the curriculum at the time spoke about looking at North America before the arrival of the Europeans. He delivered the curriculum by having the students put themselves in the place of the people who experienced it. Through personal stories, told around a ersatz campfire, he had students think about life before colonization and how the First Nations people in our area (Richmond Hill, Ontario) would have lived and how the landing of the Europeans and their radically different world view so drastically changed their lives. Permanently and forever.
I have spent many years teaching about the Holocaust. My favourite author, and friend, is Kathy Kacer who writes stories about children and young adults who experienced the Holocaust and she tells those stories through their memories, artifacts and visits back to where the stories took place. I was always fascinated by the personal stories, the real lives that made sense of the numbers. I taught my students for years about the Holocaust so they could have an understanding of how hate and racism can destroy lives and how it is social responsibility to speak up when something is not right. I really did not think so much about the Indigenous experience in Canada. And then I heard the United Nations declare that Canadian Treatment of its Indigenous people as a genocide. And I read Fatty Legs. And then it snowballed so that my students and I explored the whole idea of Residential schools and started to question the ideas surrounding the colonizers and settler mentality. I also paid attention to the Idle No more movement and the issues facing Attawapiskat and the deaths and the suicides and the systemic racism that was part of every single conversation that I ever had with “White” Canadians. And I got to know the amazing work of Facing History and Ourselves. I went to a workshop on a Sunday at OISE and I learned about their resource, Stolen Voices and all the work that so many other people were doing. I got to know some of our Curriculum Consultants in our board and spent an hour on the phone with Andrew McConnell talking about the appropriateness of a particular presentation done at my school, the land acknowledgement that we were doing at Graduation and cultural appropriation. Then a student said during a class discussion, ” You know, this is just like the Holocaust” and my brain exploded. I realized that my reaction to the cultural genocide of the Indigenous people of Canada was probably similar to the reaction of non-Jews to the Holocaust. Every single Jewish person I know has some story about how the Holocaust effected their family, either directly through loss and survival or indirectly. I begun to feel very upset with the government of Canada and how they perpetrated this atrocity that made an entire group of people feel less than the people that took their land, and that these settlers to feel that they were somehow better than them.
Every summer I scour my PLN for an online course or a book study to participate in to support my planning for the following year or to enhance my knowledge of Social Justice issues. Over the years I have been drawn to issues regarding the relationship between the indigenous people on Turtle Island and the colonizers and Canadians. I have done some cultural competency training with my school board as well as personal learning and reading about the subject.
Over the last few years, I have discussed residential schools with my students and done Inquiry Based Learning with my students based on “Fatty Legs”by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton which included a series of questions about the relationship between indigenous peoples and the colonizers. The unfairness and cruelty just shook me to the core. I love Canada, and I think it is the best country in the world, but the Government treatment of indigenous people is a huge stain on our homeland. I think the thing that got to me the most is that not only were the indigenous population taught that they were less than human, we (the non-indigenous population) were taught that they were as well. That just blew me away. I feel like we were part of this conspiracy. This concept is so deeply embedded in our psyche that it takes so much rethinking to have any empathy with indigenous people in our country.
I am fascinated that the new curriculum in BC has indigenous teachings embedded. Part of my initial Pro-D in the Comox Valley is this very topic. So exciting.
In reading the first chapter of “Seven Fallen Feathers” , I was alarmed by how numb and unsurprised that I was by the treatment of the Indigenous people whose stories are told in this non-fiction text. I was surprised by how the communities banded together to conduct the search for Jordan when the police did not put the effort in. This emphasizes how much I still need to learn. I am looking forward to continuing this discussion with the other members of the voicED radio Summer Book Club. I think it is the obligation of every Canadian educator, every Canadian really, to gain an understanding of real relationship between the indigenous peoples and the colonizers and how the Canadian government has manipulated that relationship.
See you soon, Ms Green
So, I am about to make a fairly big change in my life. About 6 months ago my phone rang and my brother was on the phone. I hadn’t spoken to him in 31 years. The ensuing conversations that I had with him tilted my life on its axis. Out of all of it, the message that I got was that life was too short. I know that seems to be a quote from Pinterest. It is too short to keep doing the same thing over and over again. I have kept my head down and pushed forward for years. Just trying to survive, feed my children, do well in my job. I rarely looked up to enjoy my life. When I did, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. The parent of a friend of my daughter died and I realized that it was time for me to shake myself off and move forward. A few years ago some friends of mine moved to Vancouver Island, one to Victoria and a retired teaching couple to Duncan about an hour north of there. At the time, I thought, that would be so cool. I love Vancouver Island, but there were no jobs in teaching and I needed to keep my well paying union job to support myself and my kids. Then there was a Supreme Court Ruling that sent school boards in BC scrambling to hire more teachers (BCTF win Supreme Court ) and I started thinking that the idea of moving to BC wasn’t as far fetched as I originally thought. One morning in January 2018 I woke up and said..”I am going to move to Nanaimo” and on August 14th, 2018 I will leave with my youngest daughter and our dog and move to Nanaimo. My oldest is already in Vancouver working in her field as an animator (more on her in another post) and I have a job starting in September in Comox Valley. It has been an interesting few months, but I am excited that this is happening. Many people call me brave and daring. I think I just stepped off a cliff with the hope that I will find my way. I seem to do this every 15 years or so. I honestly feel that I am doing 100% the right thing for myself and for my daughter as well. My dog, I am not so sure. I am hoping to keep this blog updated as I pack and move and discover my new home and school. I will let you know how that goes. While I get ready to move I am joining the voicED Summer Book Club. We will be reading “Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and hard truths in a Northern City” by Tanya Talaga. I will share links and include my own Vlog and blog entries about this really important book.
See you soon! Ms. Green