It’s easy to celebrate living in a temperate rainforest when the sun is shing through the vast array of greenery and flowers in full bloom. However, it is October in Vancouver and so far the average number of days of rain for the entire month has already been surpassed. I have a thick head of curly hair and it takes a significant downpour to soak through to my scalp. This October is umbrella worthy – even for me.
The biggest challenge during particularly wet weather is attitude. Come to terms with the fact that it is going to rain and that healthy bodies, healthy minds, and inquiring brains need to get outside. This is the time to explore the water cycle, weather systems, animal adaptations, and poetic devices. It provides many opportunities for hands on opportunities building rain gauges, graphing, doing calculations, and making predictions.
I was fortunate to have Dr. Hart Banack and his U.B.C. students come to my school to do shelter building with the interested classes in my school. Since then, I am never without tarps and ropes from Canadian Tire for kids to make shelters on rainy days. Some of them stay up for long periods of time with regular upgrades. It’s a great opportunity for students to work cooperatively to plan the best place for their shelter and learn to tie knows that hold. Although Sailing lessons never taught my husband to sail together, I did learn how to tie some good knots. A few hints. Do not give kids bungy cords. They are quicker but not safe when pulled too hard and released. Nylon rope is great because it’s waterproof, but it is more difficult to tie knots that hold. When kids are making adjustments, try to steer clear of the jettison of water when the tarp is pulled tight
I memorized this poem for my very first Grade 2 class. I’ve had fun with it with students from kindergarten to practicing teachers. The rain provides a fresh perspective and a window into all kinds of learning.
She wants a drink of water,
For it to rain.
Lazy Jane by Shel Silverstein (1974) in Where The Sidewalk Ends.
No need to wait! Get outdoors. Stay dry out there.
Before there was Woody Woodpecker. Before there was Walter Lanz Productions, Incorporated. There was a newly married couple in the early 1940’s, being disturbed by a woodpecker during their honeymoon at June Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Thanks to his wife’s suggestion, the noisy pileated woodpecker became the inspiration for the Woody Woodpecker animated cartoon character by Walter Lanz. The trademark “Heh-heh-heh-HEHHHH-heh” was internalized his wife, Gracie Lanz. She became the voice of the character in the late 1940’s when her audition tape was secretly recorded and submitted. For the next 40 years, she did the voice and wrote the words that came out of Woody Woodpecker’s mouth for about 200 cartoons.
This is another case of pausing to listen. In this case, being aware of the birds around them allowed the Lanz’s to cash in. However more than that, it taught the Lanz’s to pause to consider the sounds of nature around them. The pileated woodpecker is the largest of the woodpeckers and creates one large habitat each year. This noisy work of the woodpecker and trademark red head make is easily identifiable. We are happy to have it around in the Sierra Mountains because it eats up the carpenter ants that we don’t want in our family cabin on Silver Lake.
I have discovered that being aware of the birds around you opens up a whole new layer of understanding of the place where you live. When I wake each morning, I listen for the birds. Sometimes, they may be the ones waking me up, as in Spring when crows prepare to go to war to protect the young in their nest. Battles begin at sunrise.
This summer we have travelled around a fair bit in our neck of the woods. In Kitsilano by the beach in Vancouver, generally the seagulls are the first birds of the morning with their plaintive cry. In Whistler, I had to really focus. It was more of a dialogue than a cry, and it was croakier than the crows I am intimately familiar with from living by Mundy Park in Coquitlam and in various neighbourhoods of Vancouver. I had to get up and look out the window to see that it was in fact the larger cousin, the raven, heavily engaged in foraging through the garbage cans in the early hours, while carrying on an animated conversation. In White Rock, the morning was filled with flitting songbirds and some particularly aggressive hummingbirds. In Penticton, the nervous Nelly quails would scurry across the road with the familiar refrain “Kill me. Kill me”, as they scurry out of the bushes in front of the car. In Halfmoon bay, the washed-up dead harbour seal brought frequent visits from turkey vultures.
My morning ritual is most importantly an exercise in learning to pay attention. It is easy to spring out of bed, off and running, without ever stopping to notice. The rat race with no finish line. Jumping on the tread mill and staying on it until you fall into bed at the end of the night. Adults may be focused on family obligations and career building. Kids may be responding to the yells to get up, move faster, get to school, finish assignments, followed by a myriad of lessons, practices, and achievement activities. Stress goes up. Enjoyment correspondingly goes down.The practice of paying attention can take a number of forms. For me, I delight in hearing the birds in the morning and thinking about what it is going on in their lives. For some people it is the weather. The changes in the sky or the impact on the flowers and trees. Observations of nature are not only helpful in slower down the pace of life, but also frequently sparks joy. You never know what you may learn or what will delight you.
I have always written in diaries and journals. In the past dozen years, I have also become a blogger sharing my views on food, travel, and a range of other topics related to education. In the midst of all of this writing, I have never really considered myself a “real” writer. It begs the exploration of what a writer is in my mind.
As a blogger and educator, I have had lots of experience writing. I also have experienced the enjoyment that comes with the process of writing, bringing a project to completion, and publishing it to provoke conversation. I love to research, share information, and engage in debate. I can do that very effectively. I studied history and political science during my undergraduate degree. When I push the card, yes, I am a very good writer of non-fiction. I am also a reader. My true love, as my daughter framed it when she was 6 years old, is the “fat, sad book”. I read to learn new things, but I love to read fiction.
I recently reread Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. This was a completely different experience than reading this same book in my 20’s. The main characters in the story are in the 50’s and are looking back on their lives and the post-World War I reality in London. In my 20’s I was looking forward at my life, the impact of war and PTSD did not have the same kind of current day coverage or understanding. It is also a book that film has not been able to capture. As Carol Ann Duffy aptly notes,
“We carry poetry, even if we do not write it or read it, inside us and Woolf is a writer who can remind us of this or show us for the first time” (p. xii).”
The language that Woolf uses to express herself is powerful. Sometimes beautiful. Sometimes drawing out the familiarity of the trivial. Always perceptive. In describing Mrs. Dalloway:
“She had a sense of comedy that was really exquisite, but she needed people, always people, to bring it out, with the inevitable result that she frittered her time away, lunching, dining, giving these incessant parties of hers, talking nonsense, saying things she didn’t mean, blunting the edge of her mind, losing her discrimination.” (p. 69)
Carol Ann Duffy goes on to say:
“She is able, through the suffered brilliance of her writing, to unlock for us what we mutely know. Her lyric intensity allows her, and us as her readers, to stand inside the lived moment…”
And that is what I consider a “real” writer. The author can transport the reader into the story or the book. The writer can create a story or characterization that draws us in. It may entertain. It may engage our deductive reasoning. It may allow us to empathize or even love or hate the characters that we get to know. When Septimus throws himself out the window, the despair and desperation are palpable. The suicide is obviously PTSD, not a well-reasoned decision or “sin” worthy of harsh judgement.
I want to write like Sena Jeter Naslund who made me miss the main character when I finished Ahab’s Wife. Or Margaret Laurence who ensured that Hagar from The Stone Angel was speaking to me when my treasured Nanny Keenan got dementia. Or Jane Austen who ensured I questioned expectations of me and unjust treatment by family. Or Edgar Allan Poe, who made me brave enough to face scary things. Or Agatha Christie who fine-tuned my deductive reasoning skills. Clearly, I want to be a writer of fiction.
I have no shortage of ideas or life experiences to write fiction. But the task is daunting. Perhaps it is the fear of writing badly. I listened to a particularly badly written murder mystery audiobook on the drive up to the cabin. The premise of the book was good. The ending was great. But I bemoaned the writing throughout the entire book. Heaven forbid that I write a bad book. Although I have been committing myself to writing regularly, I have not yet brought any of my fiction to the point where I would feel ready to submit it to a publisher. Many beginnings. Many endings. Many middle sections. Many drafts.
The best advice about writing is to find the time and discipline to write. I am reluctant to sign up for writing classes that will provide me with assignments that will divert my attention away from my own writing. I am also wary. My Nanny Keenan’s initial painting efforts reflected her perspective and were far better than her later post-painting class, paintings. My students who had the opportunity to develop their own voice were far better writers than those following cookie cutter lesson requirements. And so, I have squirreled myself away in a cabin in the woods, far from distraction and I’m writing. It is not lost on me that at this moment, I am deferring to my comfort zone, writing non-fiction.
Woolf, Virginia (2004). Mrs. Dalloway. Vintage Books, London.
Introductions by Carol Ann Duffy and Valentine Cunningham
Knowledge provides power to keep yourself safe. We do children a disservice by not teaching them the difference between their own pets, other people’s pets, domesticated animals, and wildlife. In some cases, children get hurt when they don’t know how to act appropriately. In all too many cases, it is the animals who are killed when there is a misstep. The recent cull of coyotes in Vancouver’s Stanley Park is a stark example of human actions resulting in animal deaths. Children need to understand that animals act through instinct.
As a parent, teacher and school vice principal / principal, I accompanied many groups of children on outdoor education daytrips and overnight camps. This is a perfect opportunity to teach children about various habitats and the animals that live in them. However, we also need to prepare children to interact appropriately with animals that they encounter in their neighbourhoods, parks, and play spaces. We see many examples of neighbourhood displacing the habitats of a range on animals that wander into contact with humans.
I live in Kitsilano, close to the beach in Vancouver, B.C.. My neighbour, Audrey, is an English Bulldog who is better dressed than I am. This includes a variety of coats with coordinated footwear. Audrey’s person, aka owner, has started a small business, creating a line of clothing for the well-dressed dog. This is not unusual in Vancouver. Pets are treated like humans. What children need to understand is they are not humans. Pets may have intimate relationships with their owners but may be very territorial or protective of their owners. My trusted and loving lab-beagle friend, Oreo, bit the paper boy’s mother when the front door was left open and she approached and ignored the dog’s barking. Although the dog tolerated everything my children and their friends did to her over the years, she was deemed a vicious animal by the SPCA. I had to go to lengths for her not to be put down. It is crucial that children understand that any contact with pets requires the owner’s knowledge and permission.
When I taught Kindergarten, teaching the unit on farm yard animals was a favourite. It lends itself to great songs, great stories, and great conversations with 5 year olds. It also culminated in the trip to a hobby farm, often Maplewood Farm in Maple Ridge. Domesticated animals are sometimes pets. However, they are generally captured and tamed to live with humans for food and sometimes commerce. Chickens are now allowed in the city of Vancouver and provide a source of eggs and often companionship like pets. Domesticated animals are reliant on people for their food and provide meat, dairy, wool, and down for insulation. Horses traditionally used in agriculture, are often seen in Southlands or in the suburbs being used for recreational purposes. Domesticated animals are rarely aggressive unless provoked. This being said, I was terrified as a child by a turkey who didn’t want the grandchildren in his territory. And a large mammal mother protecting her baby is capable of attacking a human to death.
In many neighbourhoods, wildlife is encountered on a regular basis. Bird watching has taken on a new fascination, particularly during COVID. Most birds are a delight to watch and are not aggressive, except for the odd very territorial biting Canadian goose or the dive bombing crow if you get too close to the nest with young. Common garden snakes with the three long strips down their bodies are seen in woodlands and grassy fields. Although they will bite if threatened, the mild neurotoxic venom will at worse cause a minor swelling or itching in most humans. In Spring by the University of British Columbia, when these snakes come out of hibernation, the eagles swooping down for an easy meal are a sight to behold.
Squirrels and raccoons are frequently active during the day. Both of these animals are cute to watch but they are wild animals. Both of these animals have sharp claws and can pass on diseases to humans. A friend of mine decide to allow the squirrels to run up and down the chimney and ended up with a flea infestation that required an exterminator. Raccoons are not usually aggressive but are quick to bite if annoyed or scared. They will also arch their back, growl, make a loud whoof sound and lunge at a person if protecting her young.
Deer are generally seen out in the suburbs where building has cut into their habitat. These animals are generally fearful of humans. The frozen stare is to determine if you are a threat. The snort is an alarm signal. Deer can be dangerously aggressive, particularly if they feel backed into a corner or if protecting their young. You should not approach them and not try to feed them corn, hay, human food or meat. These foods are difficult for them to process and pass.
Black bears have also increased contact with humans, particularly where construction has cut into their habitat. Although I raised my family in Coquitlam and bears were frequent in Mundy Park, a 435 acre park beside our cul-de-sac, I never saw a bear. Although many family and friends did see bears in the park, there was never a dangerous encounter. The danger comes when bears are fed, perhaps with unsecured garbage, or they are approached and feel cornered or cut off from their young. A person getting between a mother and cub, are at risk or being seriously injured or killed. Harry Coleburn’s creation of Winnie-the Pooh, from the bear named Winnipeg, who lived in the London Zoo from 1915-1934, has lulled children and some adults into the belief in a warm, cuddly bear friend. Personification of the black bear cub rescued from the Capitan Gap Fire in 1950, allowed for The US Forest Service to use this mascot, Smokey the Bear, for fire safety education for generations. It is our job to ensure that bears in the wild have instincts to protect themselves and they are not interested in contact with humans. Feeding bears is a death sentence for that bear. They are smart enough to find their way home when relocated and serve enough of a threat to humans to ensure they will be put to death if they are approaching us.
Coyotes traditionally have been reluctant to be seen or engage in contact with people. They feed predominantly on the very prevalent supply of squirrels, rats, and mice. That is a good thing. The problem has come with coyotes being habituated to close human proximity. We want them to be afraid of us. The Stanley Park Ecology Society recommends putting coins and rocks in a pop can to create a loud noise or a garden hose to scare them away. This will help to restore the fear that coyotes are born with. The population of coyotes in the city is quite large and they are increasingly bold due to their interactions with humans. I was horrified when I saw a grandmother giving her tiny grand-daughter a sandwich to feed a coyote while she stepped away to snap a photo. This is the kind of behaviour that has created the huge problem we have seen this summer in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, a 1001 acres downtown city park. By September 3rd, there were 45 confirmed instances of people being nipped or bitten since December of 2020. The result was the park trails being closed for the first time in my memory and up to 35 coyotes being trapped and killed.
We have had signs posted for many years in areas like Seymour Mountain and Whistler that “A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR.” This can be extended to read “A FED WILD ANIMAL IS A DEAD WILD ANIMAL”. Instinct drives animal behaviour. Animals that are conditioned to revisit a site for food, despite a human presence poses a danger. Human interests will prevail and animals perceived as dangerous to humans will die.
Children need to learn to keep themselves safe and interact with animals in a respectful way. Knowing the difference between their own pets, other people’s pets, domesticated, and wild animals is a good start. The understanding that their actions impact the lives of animals is also essential. Feeding animals in the wild has implications. Bread swells in the bellies of ducks, making them less healthy for their flight down south in winter. It creates a habituation with animals like bears and coyotes that results in their death. Knowledge is power.
No matter where you live, you have a choice to make. You will bemoan the changing of each season or you will celebrate it. I am a big believer in the celebration. Fall in Vancouver, British Columbia brings a promise of colourful leaves, crisp mornings, white caps on the waves, and the advent of the rainy seasons to come.
I understand that in the far north, the Inuit people have many words for snow and ice. Each word indicates an overt or sometimes subtle difference in the snow and ice. It could reflect the conditions or qualities within the ice and snow. As a Vancouverite, we see snow as fluffy which translates into not good for snowballs but very pretty. There is “perfect snowball” weather which translates into good for building snow people, forts and snowballs. Then there is wet snow which is horrific for driving in and is generally a wet, soggy mess. There is slippy ice we can see and black ice that forms a slick surface and is hazardous on foot and in the car. Our vocabulary around ice and snow is pretty basic.
Vancouver is an amazing place to live and is a popular tourist destination because of the oceans, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains and the green. Basically it is amazing because of the water. It provides an astounding range of things to do and a diversity of plants and animals in our own backyards. It is a place that beckons us to “Get Outside”. The reality is this amazing city exists because we live in a temperate rainforest. The temperature remains mild throughout most of the year. We don’t have snow and ice very often so we don’t really see the nuanced differences. What we know is rain. Throughout the year, it sprinkles, floats down water, drizzles, mists, showers, rains, rains cats and dogs, pours, and sleets. I challenge you to add to the list of words and expressions to describe our plentiful precipitation.
The question that always comes up is what to do when it rains. One option is to just stay inside. I must admit, I love a rainy day when I can curl up with a good book and a pot of tea. However this is just not a feasible everyday option. Life goes on, even on a rainy day. We have places to go and a body that requires activity to be healthy. I believe there are three understandings to be ready for the rain.
Number 1: Wardrobe MattersIf you are warm and dry, you are ready for anything.
The standards include:
A waterproof coat, preferably with a hood.This allows maximum flexibility to enjoy being outdoors.
Boots.There will be puddles.
An umbrella.I have purchased many and have left them all over the city. I worked at Lost Property for Metro Transit when I was in university and there were hundreds of umbrellas of every size and colour left on busses. Guess what the most common colour was abandoned in the Lost Property Department? Yes, a plethora of black unmrellas filled the back room.
Number 2: Attitude Matters Regardless of how miserably you complain, it will rain.
If you choose to be miserable because it is raining, you are committing yourself to a lot of bad days. When you frown at the world, it frowns back. Smile and make a rainy day plan. You have to know that I’m smiling as I write this. My mother’s words remain with me 🙂
Number 3: Observe Rainy Day Life Life in the rain is different. Not better or worse, just different.
Just after my daughter’s 6th birthday, we went traveling in Italy. A torrential downpour hit one evening in Venice. People ran for cover. Our family was the only one strolling down the street and delighted with the break from the perpetual heat. My daughter looked up at me and said “Oh, Mommy. It smells like home.”
It did. And it was glorious!
Perspective is everything. Expect rain. When it comes, dress appropriately and venture outdoors. Adapt your activities to accommodate the changes. Running on wet concrete can be a problem. Find another option. Going for a walk under a big umbrella is a good option. Open your eyes and look for changes. One of the first songs I learned in kindergarten at Queen Mary Elementary School from Mrs. Hicks was “Robin in the Rain.” There is a reason there is a song about it. Look how the plants and animals respond with joy to the rain. Close your eyes and take a big breath and try to describe it. Look up and notice how the clouds change.
Expect that almost every day is a day to go outside to improve your mental health, your physical health, your perspective and your creativity. And smile about it 🙂
Wild About Vancouver Wednesday. This weekly blog post explores outdoor, experiential learning and all of the possibilities to explore in Vancouver, British Columbia. See wildaboutvancouver.com for more information.
Students, parents, and educators have headed back to school with the excitement of new beginnings, but with COVID-19 as an unwanted, yet pervasive presence. Anxiety and trepidation of what is to come, continues to be the background noise. Never has there been a need for positive, proactive practices to deal ensure mental health and engagement of our school aged children. A broadening range of research studies are showing the importance of including a daily dose of nature in your back-to-school routines.
Richard Louv uses the comparison of nature as an essential vitamin to combat what he calls, “nature-deficit disorder”. This is not a medical diagnosis but a metaphor to illustrate the problems emerging from populations, particularly children, experiencing a societal disconnect from the natural world. There is a significant body of research now focusing on the positive experience of time outdoors in nature to improve physical and mental health, as well as social bonding and creativity. This research is readily supported by how much better we feel after going for a walk, a game of golf or tennis, or drinking in a sunset.
As a very beginning step, educators and parents are encouraged to pause to insert daily time outdoors. Organized sport and outdoor recess and lunch may be part, but not all this time allotment. I am talking about the time where you go outside and pause to notice – the weather, the trees, and the birds, using all of your senses.
Your first task is to register that that time in nature is important. Parents may walk to school with their kids and talk about the flowers and foliage that you pass en-route. Teachers may meet their students after recess and go for a neighbourhood walk. As Dr. Banack states, “while the park is the destination, it is the journey to the park, of picking up pebbles, looking at flowers, and finding sticks, that enlivens and binds the journey.”1 As a principal, I frequently talked with students, staff, and parents, as we walked through the neighbourhood. The walking and the time in nature allowed highly charged emotions an outlet and for conversations to assume a focus on problem solving. Richard Louv’s book, Vitamin N, provides an abundance of ways to engage outdoors with a focus on families. The work of Dr. Hart Banack, Assitant Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, and Gillian Judson’s book, The Walking Curriculum, provide many ways for teachers to regularly engage students outdoors. The goal for September, is to establish outdoor time as a routine activity for children at home and at school.
Hartley Banack & Iris Berger (2018). The emergence of early childhood education outdoor programs I British Columbia: a meandering story. Tandfonline.com
Gillian Judson (2018). A Walking Curriculum: Evoking Wonder and Developing Sense of Place.
Richard Louv (2016). The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life. Vitamin N. 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community.
A year-long endeavour to stimulate dialogue and understanding of racism and anti-racism in Vancouver, British Columbia with a small but committed group. Susan Ruzic, Sandy Murray and I united in trying to make a positive, pro-active difference with the grant money received from the Human Rights Internet. We talked. We read. We listened. We interviewed. We solicited feedback. Thanks to Jason Bring, Karen Chong, Alex Gangues-Ruzic, Anthony Hondier, Bindy Kang, Kanwal Neel, Sandy Murray, Nate Sheibley, Isaiah Smith, and Gale Yip for the stories and perspectives that enabled us to create 20 iMovies to stimulate learning and dialogue. We shared out these results with friends, family, colleagues and interested people on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. In the process, we have learned so much. We engaged in conversations about race and anti-racism with friends, family and colleagues, sometimes for the first time. We also reconsidered our assumptions, our biases, and our privilege over and over and over again. And we continued the conversations.
It was clear early on that even within our small group, our terms or reference were different. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) is a term with a fair amount of traction in the USA. This is also the case with LatinX. It has been embraced by some groups in Canada and distained by others. The terms “equity” and “inclusion” has referenced students with additional needs in the Special Education world for decades but is now being used in a more generalized way. Selma Smith, long-time advocate for equity and inclusion, has pointed out the complexity in finding a word that Canadians will embrace. She articulates how a term such as “BIPOC” can be problematic because it lends itself to attributing one experience to all people included under one umbrella term. As a First generation Canadian of Mexican descent, Selma references herself as a racialized person. This term resonates more with many Vancouverites engaging in the conversation.
There was also a lot of discussion of the term “white passing.” It seemed to be used interchangeably with white privilege, yet it didn’t always reflect skin colour, but how much the person had adopted traditions and ways considered to be “more Canadian”. For example, the South Asian educator wearing a turban experienced more discrimination than the South Asian educator who did not wear a turban and whose family immigrated to Canada over 100 years ago. In discussion of this, Jason uses the term “racially ambiguous” to explain people’s difficulty in placing him a racialized category.
Karen Chong adds another layer to the conversation by pointing to the Canadian census. Canadian are asked to identify as Chinese or Japanese, or other categories attributed to visual minorities. Yet her Italian friends she grew up with East side Vancouver are not given an “Italian” box to distinguish themselves, even though their cultural roots heavily influenced their lives and ways of being. She points out that understanding different cultural viewpoints is helpful but dividing people out as “different” is not natural and often problematic. She uses the example of young children differentiating between other kids as “friends” or “strangers.”. Once they are introduced and allowed to play together, the stranger becomes a friend.
This conversation extended to the discussion of affinity groups. In some situations, people may gravitate to groups with the same experiences and that may be helpful. However, any assumptions about grouping people based on skin colour is quite simplistic. Nate Sheibley has white skin, yet his Indigeneity creates a dynamic where he might be more interested in discussing cultural identity with someone who shares a common Indigenous heritage. Bindy Kang may want to discuss her identity as a Sikh with Kanwal Neel, more than Jason Bring, because their upbringing has more similarities. Anthony Hondier expresses his greater feeling of belonging with the French community, because he doesn’t know how to speak Tagalog like his extended Filipino family. Certainly, we can see that there are many colours of skin and that being white brings privilege. You only have to visit any store in China to see the range of chemical concoctions to whiten skin. Clearly, we all see colour, but in a racially diverse city like Vancouver and it’s surrounding lower mainland, having matching skin colours is not a prerequisite to friendship. Many of us adhere to affinity groups that are based on factors such as gender, sexuality, jobs, interests, experiences or circumstances.
There was no scientific process in choosing volunteers to participate in this project. We engaged in conversations with people in our circles and interviewed the people who expressed the most interest. It incorporated our friends, our colleagues, and in some cases family. All of the people in the group sharing their stories and perspectives are racialized Vancouverites. Nearly all of the people involved in the project have one, two or three university degrees. Most of the people are students, teachers, educators, and/or parents. Four of the people in the iMovies are 30 years old and under. The other six are over 38 years old. Two of the people grew up in the United States. Clearly the perspectives of participants have been shaped by their experiences. Alex Gangues-Ruzic is studying journalism in university and is interested on continuing with the interviews with a younger demographic. I’m excited about this because the younger participants have brought distinctly different perspectives which are quite hopeful.
Anthony Hondier states that there are a lot of “mixed kids” like him in Vancouver which makes it normal. When he is asked for his opinion, he feels it is valued. He believes the school system has done a good job of teaching kids that racism is wrong. Yet, most of the participants did not experience overt aggressive acts when they were growing up in Vancouver. However, all of the participants have experienced or witness microaggressions, racist statements behind people’s backs, and discrimination. Isaiah Smith talks about the difficulty of trying to access educational opportunities like teaching when you’re just trying to survive and do not have the luxury to volunteer or the money to participate in enrichment experiences such as music and sport. Participants share a common understanding that the discrimination by being denied an opportunity or entry into school, or a job is difficult to prove and to provide an appropriate response. It just leaves you at a loss.
The organizing committee and participants in the group are all committed to actively engaging in anti-racism. It made the conversation about how to be an ally, particularly interesting. Bindy brought up a time when she was called a “twisted nigger”. Her first response was to see who was being attacked so she could stand beside them. Unfortunately, she was the target and there was no one to be her ally by bearing witness, standing in solidarity, calling the other person out, or dialing 911. In some cases, being an ally may mean ensuring that fair and equitable entrance and hiring practices are put in place. It may be ensuring there are practices that support people with divergent perspectives and approaches. Bindy makes the point that “being an ally isn’t something that deserves a medal. It’s just something you do. “And when we do it, we end up with more respectful, equitable, and inclusive spaces and places. Anthony does a nice job of summing it up: “I’m not asking a lot from an ally…. Be open to others. Don’t judge…Express yourself and be kind.” And so, the work continues.
“We must now unearth other narratives that have remained hidden from view, buried, and unarticulated.”
Anita Jack Davies (2019)
Queen’s University: Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigeneity Advisor
Note: You can access the 20 iMovies on YouTube: Channel – Carrie Froese: Perspectives on Belonging
I started teaching in the heyday of the Writing Process. It was all about having Post It notes accessible when you came across a great word. I was teaching Grade 2 with many students learning English as a second or third language. It was mostly about words and vocabulary development when they marked their books with post its. However, I designed lessons around predictable pattern books. The standard 5 frame evoking the five senses and sometimes feelings:
I hear …
I feel …
I taste …
It went with us while I read inside, outside, and on fieldtrips. Paying attention to the language and paying attention to your sensory experience was taught. Closing your eyes and imagining went hand in hand with this. We would cut off the stems and be left with some impressive poetry. Even my youngest kindergarten students were reading like writers in the very beginning stages of learning to read.
When my daughter was learning to read, she was masterful at memorizing text and using her imagination to go where the author was taking her. I brought up with her teacher that she wasn’t actually decoding text. She was completing the pattern the author had established. Her writing was fraught with spelling errors, but the ideas and length of the stories was far beyond what was expected. I got the big eye roll and the sigh. I was lumped into the category of another parent with too much background knowledge and unable to celebrate her child’s success. The MA in Reading was helpful in giving me the knowledge to ensure that she got the testing required to pinpoint the remediation that was required for her to develop into a voracious reader and continue to develop her writing skills. I did sigh with relief that we exist within the age of spell checker.
My daughter had learned along the way to read like a writer. She dismisses that a well-developed vocabulary and a facility with language are indicators of intelligence. She strongly asserts, it is a product of the environment that they grew up in. However, stepping aside from that ongoing debate, she is a voracious reader with well developed writing skills. That process started long before she was able to read or write independently.
In her book, Bird by Bird, the author discusses how the great power of writing is that it changes the way you read. It got me to thinking. The other day I was lending out books to a friend. He laughed when he commented on the number of posts it notes in the books. The books by Ibram X Kendi, all have been instrumental in my thinking and writing about race, antiracism, belonging, otherness, inclusion, and how we create welcoming and racially diverse places of learning, worship, and work.
Back in secondary school, I remember learning the art of highlighting. As with many of my peers, whole articles would be highlighted. It didn’t indicate that we knew how to pick out the main ideas, only what colour highlighter was our favourite. This carried on until I took history and political science courses at the University of British Columbia and York University. I found that highlighting was limiting because the key ideas would change according for the point you were trying to make. Anyone who has read the bible can attest to the fact that text can be used to prove any number of points and perspectives.
What I realize now is that my lessons about reading like a writer have been mostly focused on the reading of non-fiction text. I suppose this is because most of my writing has been for professional purposes. Reading fiction like a writer, is a different beast. My tendency with fiction has been to sit down and read without attention to the writer’s craft.
I recently finished reading The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. I found it a tough slog, but I am a believer in finishing the book. Greatness could be just around the corner. When I deliberately started to read like a writer, I discovered that my disdain was not for the writing. The author had been able to create a character that I truly disliked. Vacuous and self-absorbed. At that point I was able to consider how it was done. She revealed Nate through his own thoughts and choices rationalizing his actions. I finished the book with a far greater appreciation of Adelle Waldman. She had portrayed many of the “boys”, I had encountered at university frat parties.
I want to write fiction. In the review of Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel, The Plain Dealer comments “Martel has once again demonstrated that nothing tells the truth like fiction.” I completely agree,
Now when I read, it isn’t just about getting immersed in a good story, identifying with a great character, or thinking about something from another perspective. It’s about thinking about how the author brought me into that story, or created the character, or made me stop and reconsider. I wonder if I’ll start using post it notes when I read fiction?
As with any project, The Perspectives On Belonging Project 2021, has been far more about the learning than a final product. Of course the framing of the project was far too grand in scope to accomplish within one year during COVID. I can take full responsibility for that. I am a BIG picture person. The pairing down emerges as I engage in the process and determine what is most important. Our committee has not created a feature length documentary pulling together the voices of a large group of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour representational of the racial and age diversity of people living in Vancouver, British Columbia and the Lower Mainland. However we did want to use our Human Rights Internet grant to do something meaningful. It has been for us. We created 23 iMovies that have been shared on the Carrie Froese YouTube channel under the Perspectives On Belonging playlist.
My personal aspiration was to step up as an ally, engage as an anti-racist, and create a model for facilitating conversations about racism and anti-racism to create more inclusive communities. Susan Ruzic honed in on the merits of amplifying BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) voices, particularly at this point in time when people are open to listening. Sandy Murray helped our committee to understand the feelings raised by the focus on “other” rather than the human need to belong. Alex Gangue-Ruzic brought a different style of approaching the task and the perspective of a younger demographic.
The project unfolded as a culmination of our background knowledge, a considerable amount of reading, listening, conversation and exploration. In the end, the technology, the lighting, and the sound equipment was quite simple. The taping was done outside in light of COVID using an iPhone, a microphone, and a tripod. Only two clips were distorted for some unknown reason. An iPad, Keynote and iMovie were used to edit and create the video clips.
I am relatively new to YouTube. The Carrie Froese YouTube channel has only been used for one other playlist – Ms. Froese Reads. The purpose was to connect with the students at my school during COVID by reading aloud picture books. Many of these titles focused on creating a sense of belonging in the school community. Most of these read aloud were shared through Office365 Teams so I do not have many subscribers. Although I initially created a different channel for this project, I discovered it was easier to locate and share it as a separate playlist on my original Carrie Froese YouTube channel and Tweet it out.
There has not been a systematic approach to selecting people to tell their stories. The volunteers have come out of conversations with people within the orbit of committee members who expressed interest and willingness to participate. Interestingly enough, they have provoked conversations that we have never had before. It has been fascinating. Kanwal Neel raised the interesting point about how perceptions of people and interactions change over time. By the time I met Kanwal, he commanded a huge amount of respect within the educational community at Simon Fraser University. Bindy Kang teases out the dichotomy of belonging with her reference to Maya Angelou: When you feel like you belong, you simultaneously experience a sense of not belonging. Nate Sheibley communicates the impact of his Indigenous heritage and the frustration when it is not valdiated as a result of his “white passing” appearance. Jason Bring communicates his connections with the queer community creating a greater sense of affinity than race due to the fact his family has been in Canada for over 100 years. Gale Yip and Karen Chong effectively communicate the quest to belong in their peer groups and frustrations when they are treated like the “other”. Anthony Hondier talks of the feelings of belonging in Vancouver with its’ multi-ethnic reality and the shift when travelling to other places in British Columbia that have largely white populations. Isaiah Smith, who made a deliberate move to Canada to escape overt experience with racism of the United States, expresses his frustration with the structural racism that exists in Canadian institutions. All of the people sharing their stories, talk about the overt existence of racism, but the difficulty in addressing it.
Anita Jack was featured in the Queen’s Alumni Review Issue 3, 2020, Volume 94. Thanks to my daughter, it arrived in the mail last year. Dr. Anita Jack-Davies, MEd’07, PhD’11 was named the EDII (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigeneity) Advisor at Queen’s in 2019. She writes with a strong voice. In fact her voice is so strong, that I can hear her words in my head when I’m reflecting and would love to sit down and have coffee with her. She shares how her grandparents told her that if she studied hard and “became something” that racism would disappear. We’re still waiting. As with the others interviewed for this project, she comments that racism is difficult to prove and it is often not safe to speak up about racial discrimination.
“When I speak about race, I am accused of “playing the race card”, even though that card is always in play, each and every day, in each and every moment of your life, whether you care to admit it or not. To speak about race opens me up to scorn, ridicule, and rejection.” p.20
Dr. Jack-Davies calls on the Queen’s Alumni to “…unearth other narratives that have remained hidden from view, buried, and unarticulated.” That is ultimately what we have started to do with this project. It is a beginning. Perhaps people will listen and share out the work with their networks. Perhaps it will create a paradigm for other groups looking to create a greater sense of belonging within their communities by teasing out and actively listening to the untold stories. Perhaps it will form the idea for a MA thesis, a PhD, a documentary or a book. Perhaps it will prompt other questions about the impact of background knowledge, or experiences, or age on perceptions of racism and anti-racism. We are sending it out into the universe.
To listen to the 23 iMovies sharing stories on belonging, racism bias, racism, inclusion, and antiracism, go to:
YouTube Channel – Carrie Froese
Playlist – Perspectives On Belonging
You can also search Perspectives On Belonging Project 2021 on YouTube
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
Special thanks to all of the participants in this projects who provided their stories, their critiques, and perceptions. Thanks is also extended to Sandy Murray, Susan Ruzic, and Alex Gangue-Ruzic for their work on the Perspective On Belonging Project 2021 committee to make this project happen.
The Human Right Internet has been around and doing good work for some time. Money is raised to fund projects by individuals and community social justice groups wanting to move the human rights agenda forward across Canada. The geographical target shifts for the annual funding initiatives around Canada.
Medicine Wheel teachings by Joyce Perrault for students, teachers, and parents.
In 2020, Ottawa and Toronto / Greater Toronto Area were the target locations for small grants. Prior to that Winnipeg, and this past year, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Fighting Racism Through Human Rights is the focus area. On the website, HRI.ca, you can check out the Canadian Human Rights Institutions Interactive Map that highlights the human rights institutions and activity across Canada.
A local HRI committee is formed and provides parameters and general themes for project submissions. Applications for small grants are varied. A local group is formulated to review submissions, and award up to $2,000.00 for community projects. The rainbow staircase in celebration of Pride Week and inclusiveness at Point Grey Secondary School welcomes all students as they use the east entrance. It is one example of a HRI funded project. Other projects include film productions, art displays and community actions.
The COVID pandemic has certainly posed challenges to doing this work. Pulling focus groups together with the promise of lively conversation and good food was no longer an option. ZOOM fatigue has been an issue, as all communications have moved online. People have been too taxed for yet another online meeting. There has also been a fair amount of trepidation around face to face interviews. The availability of a vaccine is beginning to alleviate some of that stress.
The emergence of the Black Lives Matter Movement posed new opportunities and new challenges. Many people have stepped up to engage more actively in human rights work. A plethora of material has been published and consumed by readers hungry to learn more. I have been able to develop an amazing lending library of titles that open up conversations, new thinking, and provide strategies for us to grapple with difficult content.
I am working with a small committee to make sense of how we are able to move forward with the work in a positive, proactive way and make the best use of our HRI small grant. Our initial goal was to develop a documentary that would provide a number of perspectives about race with the intent of facilitating conversation around the creation of welcoming spaces in schools, community groups, places of worship, and small businesses. Participants would reflect diversity but people who were white or white passing would be also be included. The philosophy is that inclusive environments require the personal investment, buy in, and voices of all of the people in society. Through empathy for other experiences and perspectives, we are able to move forward with shared understanding. We may not reach consensus on all issues but we can also compromise strive to meet all the needs of members in the group.
Immediately we encountered a number of challenges. Hiring a videographer to interview and collate the material was problematic. Hourly rates and requests for equipment made it uncertain to whether we could end up with a finished product before the money ran out. Following recommendations of the public health officer, considering comfort zone of interviewees, and understanding of the content was required to prepare the interviewees. Plus the prevalent American context was directing the conversation and people’s responses. Through many discussions with others, we discovered that the questions we initially formulated were directing the responses too much and resulting in less depth than desired.
Our committee came to the conclusion that the conversation boils down to the conversation about the feelings of “belonging” and the feelings of “otherness”. Racism and anti-racism are part of that conversation. This made sense for the three of us. We are all educators and part of our life work has been to create inclusive classrooms so all students are ready and able to engage in learning. Sandy Murray has done this through her work as a music educator using song experience games and in her work at the University of the Fraser Valley with pre-service teachers. Susan Ruzic and I got to know each other through our engagement in human rights work that expanded beyond our classrooms. Creating inclusive spaces were part of her work in her elementary school classroom and in her work as The Social Justice representative at the British Columbia Teachers’ Association. It was also part of my work teaching Kindergarten to Grade 12, teaching adults in China and at Simon Fraser University, chairing the Multicultural and Anti-Racism Committee in SD #43 and doing field work as an Amnesty International member.
Susan and I have also had the experience of parenting our children in a multicultural context. Both her biracial son and my children with German, Scottish and Irish ancestry, grew up with friend groups that were racially very diverse. Knowing how to use chopsticks well was a badge of honour, as was being invited to participate in the cultural traditions of their friends. I think back fondly of the Easter Sunday that my daughter, Larkyn, and her best friend, Jasmine, wore their South Asian suits to church. Canada has welcomed immigrants and refugees for many years, and many families with diverse ethnicities and cultural traditions live, work, and play together. We do not have gated communities or expectations of segregated living. However the Truth and Reconciliation Commission exposed the efforts by the Canadian government to decimate the Indigenous population through residential schools and other mechanisms of structural racism. It also increased the awareness and the scrutiny of how this has been applied to other racial groups.
Our committee worked on creating broad questions around belonging that would help people tell their own stories. Feedback has ranged from wanting questions that are more broad or more specific, more options and fewer options. In the end, I distributed, microphones for phones, tripods, lighting equipment and the green screen and set people off to engage interested people in their circles in conversations. Participants reflect the perspectives of a diverse range of Vancouverites who are interested in creating inclusive spaces where people could come together. We also wanted it to stimulate discussion of how a sense of belonging is established , how people are made to feel like outsiders, and how we deal positively and proactively with inter-cultural communication, conflicts of opinion, and systemic racism. This could be within schools, community groups, places of worship, or in small business contexts.
Our committee realized that we were going to need to reframe the way we did the work. I took some online courses to help me with the technical aspects of the project and discovered that a documentary was too big a bite. I have a lot to learn to accomplish that task. The problem of being a global thinker! However we did come up with a plan to move forward largely thanks to Sol Kay and her documentary series www.youtube.com/c/INNERLIGHTJOURNEY. Her interviews took place in a number of venues. She interview me about mindfulness in my school garden. She let me chose the topic and just let me talk. Then she listened to all of the interviews and enlisted help to group them according to general themes. Follow the link above to see the results. I thought it was brilliant. I have assumed the role as our tech person and now have enough working knowledge of Keynote, iMovie, and the filming and sound requirements for us to move forward. Special thanks to Shelly Saves the Day @shellysavesthe, Steve Dotto @dottotech, and my niece, Anna. Rather than relying on a videographer, we invested the money in purchasing our own equipment with multiple microphones to plug into our phones and tripods to create content on the Inquire2Empower YouTube channel.
Beginning August 1st, one iMovie will be posted with one person’s story on the YouTube channel – Carrie Froese under the Perspectives on Belonging playlist. Topics addressed will include but are not limited to: What makes people feel like they belong? What makes people feel like an outsider? What role does racism play in the lives of Vancouverites? How do people engage in being an anti-racist? Follow the link https://youtu.be/SqI0zK-MlpY and start having your own conversations to create inclusive spaces and places and challenge systemic racism.