Orange shirt day is officially marked on September 30 each year, as that was the time of year Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to attend residential schools in Canada. Orange shirt day is not a day about guilt for actions of other Canadians in days gone by. It is about being part of a story. Our story as Canadians. A story in which 150,000 Indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities and put in residential schools because the differences in culture and language were not understood or appreciated or tolerated. A story where 10,000 years of experience living off the land was not understood as a learning opportunity. A story that started in 1831 with the first residential school and continues today. Because although the last residential school was finally closed in 1996, the trauma of generations of residential schools has left a trail of shame, sadness, and racism.
One of the best things for us as a country has been the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. From 2007 – 2015, as the commission traveled throughout Canada, the stories of residential schools became common knowledge. In many cases for the first time, Indigenous people were able to tell their stories and have people believe they were telling the truth. We learned of the harsh, punitive conditions in which children were not allowed to speak their own language or practice their cultural traditions. Six thousand children never returned home due to inadequate food, health and sanitary conditions. Stories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are all too common. The trauma has crept through generations. And yet the beacon of hope is that the truth has been told and heard. And now the work of reconciliation has a chance of success. We have the opportunity to forge a vision of a future in which Canadians value differences as opportunities for learning, ask questions, problem solve and recognize that every person matters.
Indigenous elders teach respect of the sacredness and importance of clean water. Autumn Peltier from the Anishinabek First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario learned this as a young child. These teachings have allowed this 15 year old girl to clearly articulate the need for clean water to the United Nations and at hundreds of events around the world. She speaks and people listen. Her question, “All across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water. Why so many, and why have they gone without for so long?” I am certain she will be included in the next edition of Wab Kinew’s book about Indigenous heroes! Our country is better with her voice.
The Vancouver School District has identified an Indigenous Goal for all of our public schools: To increase knowledge, acceptance, empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions, cultures and contributions among all students
At David Livingstone Elementary, we will be exploring the Indigenous Principles of Learning incorporated in the new curriculum in British Columbia and exploring Indigenous ways of knowing. Our starting points will be in the school community garden. It will be a place to learn about indigenous plants and how they were used by local Indigenous groups as food and as medicine. We’ll also be exploring many of the legends that are based on different aspects of nature. We have lots to learn and we’re ready to begin.
My mantra as an Elementary School Principal in British Columbia, Canada is “Everyone’s Invited to the Party”. We register the students who live in the defined school catchment or there is space in the school to allow for a cross boundary permit. There is no requisite testing or evaluation of “fit” in the school community. As a student of history, I ascribe firmly to the notion that the state of democracy in a country can be judged by the state of the public-school system. In British Columbia, we are in good shape. Our curriculum is progressive and focused on student learning. We do well on international testing of student achievement and have been acknowledged for the strength of the system. That doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement, particularly when it comes to students who enter the public system with social and/or learning differences.
Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were matriarchs who held their families together. They both experienced a considerable amount of adversity in their lives and it made them resilient and appreciative of family bonds. They actively stayed in touch with each of their four children, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They shared family news and ritual gatherings helped all of us step past petty grievances and hurt feelings with laughter and shared memories. Newcomers to the family were welcomed with open arms and celebrated. My grand-mothers thought less of themselves and more of the family members they sought to embrace. They provided the ultimate example of inclusion.
With the deaths of my grandmothers, the bonds loosened and the context of family changed. This change seems to be reflected in society generally. A huge focus on the individual and their losses, happiness, divorces, and boundaries has weakened the concept of family. Bullying by exclusion takes root in this context. The concept of family and the requirements to maintain inclusion in the life and fabric of family changes to one of judgment, preference or arbitrary measures in all too many cases.
There is no doubt that setting boundaries in cases of abuse are required for the safety of individuals involved. However, all relationships are hard because people are not perfect, have expectations, and they keep changing. We can learn about the importance of investing in these relationships from our grandmothers. Blood connections are not required. An investment in time, effort and empathy is required. We are included in the family because we fit into the web or relationships through blood or affiliation. Our shared experiences are instrumental in defining who we are. Strong families create spaces for all members to be loved and celebrated. There is also scaffolding to navigate through difficult situations so that the family is able to remain intact. The longevity of the relationship brings depth because of the shared experiences.
In his book my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry (2015), Fredrik Backman does a masterful job of illustrating the insecurity of 7- almost 8- year old Elsa in finding her place in her two new families, after the divorce of her parents. Her father’s wife has two of her own children and her concern is that she upsets the family dynamic, as she has read on the internet, so they don’t want her around. Her mother and her step-father are going to have a new baby and her concern is that they will love the new baby more because he belongs to both of them. Fortunately, in this case, both parents and their partners are very focused on the child’s needs and respecting the other parent. They fully invest in including Elsa in both of the families she belongs too. In this situation, everyone wins.
On Twitter this week, @MrsHankinsClass was sharing how her students said “Welcome to the family” when the new student said “Hi”. This is a concept of family in the very best of ways. Day One that new student knew he was welcome and he was in a safe place therefore in a position to start learning. There is an expectation that differences will exist, problems will be encountered and there will be a will a respectful problem-solving process. This is what inclusion is supposed to look like. You walk into a classroom where it is just fine to be yourself. Perfection is neither expected nor required. In the midst of challenges and poor choices, the expectation is that you calm down, then problem solve and then repair relationships. Tomorrow is always another opportunity to be your best self. Growth is the valued currency.
I’m excited about the beginning of a new school year and it isn’t restricted to the new post it note colours and shapes and the smell of new notebooks. I’m in a new school and there is another opportunity to work with a new staff to welcome our students to a school where they want to come each day. Fredrik Backman defines the most important human right as the right to be different. Yes, everyone is invited to the party!
Welcome. As a member of the VSB, I would like to acknowledge that we live, work and play on the unceded and traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Coast Salish peoples. We are fortunate to be nestled in the Pacific Spirit Park and in walking distance of the beach. Teachers and students are able to explore how learning indoors can be consolidated through outdoor learning experiences, and also how learning experiences outdoors can be consolidated indoors. Questions generated are authentic and the learning is vibrant.
Our school currently welcomes 330 students from Kindergarten (5 years old prior to Dec. 31, 2018) to Grade 5 (10 and 11 year olds) in 15 classrooms. Our student tour leaders are delighted to be able to show you around our school and encourage you to ask lots of questions. The following challenges are to help you engage with our students and staff to understand some of the priorities at our University Hill Elementary School. The staff and students touring you around the school will be able to give you some understanding of the history, our peer helpers program, Indigenous teaching and breaking down the barrier between learning outdoors and learning indoors.
Parents of students in British Columbia sign a media release if they consent to their child’s picture being taken for the school website or blogs. We understand that photos allow you to remember many good ideas that you will be seeing today. Please be respectful and do not include student faces in your photos.
The following challenges have been designed to help you better understand the British Columbia Curriculum and it’s implementation at our school. Information to meet these challenges can be derived during your school tour and visits to the classroom. Some organizational information:
- Please divide yourselves into five groups for your school tour. Students leaders have prepared tours for small groups.
- Most classrooms are open for visitors. If it is not a good day, please respect the sign that says “No Visitors today, please.”
- A maximum of 3-5 visitors are welcome into classroom at one time.
- Several teachers will be joining you at lunch to tell you about their programs, the learning community and answer any questions you may have about our school.
Challenge 1 – Look for evidence of the 7 principles during your observation. It may be helpful to use the 7 Principles of Learning Chart.
The OECD has pointed out that the rapid advances in ICT have resulted in a global shift to economies based on knowledge, and an emphasis on the skills required to thrive in them. At the same time empirical research on how people learn, how the mind and brain develop, how interests form, and how people differ has expanded the sciences of learning. The result is that the educational community is now “rethinking what is taught, how it is taught and how learning is assessed”.
The OECD’s work on innovative learning environments was led by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides. Their 2010 report “The Nature of Learning” identified seven principles of learning:
- Learners at the centre
- The social nature of learning
- Emotions are central to learning
- Recognizing individual differences
- Stretching all students
- Assessment for learning
- Building horizontal connections
Challenge 2 – Engage in a conversation surrounding the Spirals questions.
The Spirals of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser lists three questions that will find helpful in engaging with students and staff. Students are encouraged to look closely, notice details and ask questions to encourage learning in all aspects of their lives. Many staff are involved in inquiry projects to explore their professional questions. Vice principals and principals in the VSB are using these questions to guide their professional growth plans.
- What are you learning and why is it important?
- How is it going with your learning?
- What are your next steps?
Challenge 3: Note the development of core competencies in the classroom. The New Curriculum: You will note that competencies and concept-based curriculum are intertwined with learning standards in B.C.’s New Curriculum. Core Competencies have become the focus of learning and they use content to develop the three main areas:
- Creative and Critical Thinking Skills
- Personal and Social skills
Challenge 4: Find examples of Student Voice and Competency Based Assessment The new curriculum has shifted the focus from summative assessment to formative assessment. Students are encouraged to identify their starting point and formulate a plan for growth. The focus has shifted from a deficit model to “I Can” statements. Students are invited to be active participants in determining how they learn and planning for growth in skills, strategies, and collaborative practices.
Challenge 5: The Canadian Experience – Note examples in the school of how students are being introduced to the role of Indigenous populations played in the development of Canada and our perceptions of Canadian identity.
Wab Kinew, hip hop artist, author, broadcaster, politician, Ojibwe activist, and leader of the NDP Party in Manitoba, has said “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand what they share unites them and what is different about them needs to be respected.” Authentic reconciliation happens when people develop relationships with one another.
Challenge 5: Identify several different types of learning spaces and the types of competencies being developed in those spaces.
We have several options for student learning at UHill Elementary School. Supervision is required in all spaces. Classroom teachers work with SSA’s (Education Assistants), Resource teachers, the principal and students to explore possibilities to maximize student learning in a variety of spaces and places.
- The Classroom – indoor and outdoor spaces
- Outside Learning Spaces
- The Readers Writing Garden (outside)
- The We Are One Rock Circle (outside)
- The Soccer Fields or basketball court (outside)
- The Buddy Bench (outside)
- Sidewalk games
- Resource Rooms
- The Gym
- Collaboration Spaces outside classrooms
- Foyer in the main entrance
- The Starry Night Room / Room painted yellow
- The Garden Room – currently the in residence program, Project Chef, is in this room
- The Main Foyer
- The Learning Lab / Maker Space Room
- Active Learning Room (ALR) / room painted white
- Ready Bodies Learning Minds
- Peer helpers Program, a Grade 5 Leadership Program, at 11:45 am facilitated by The Community School Team
- Places to Self Calm, work quietly independently, with a partner or small group
- Peace Pod / room painted blue and decorated with saris
- The Think Space – in the Office area
Challenge 6: Breaking Down the Barriers: Identify examples where learning outdoors is brought into the classroom and where indoor learning is brought outdoors.
The places where we live and grow impact our experiences and our perceptions. Living in a temperate rainforest, attending school in the Pacific Spirit Park, and walking down to Acadia Beach impacts the knowledge our students are developing but also how they self regulate.
I am a big fan of Twitter to keep parents informed about what is happening at the school by posting updates and pertinent information @UHillElementary and to further my own professional learning @CarrieFroese
We hope you enjoyed your visit!
Ms. Carrie Froese
Principal University Hill Elementary School
Vancouver School Board, British Columbia, Canada
Inquire2Empower Blog carriefroese.wordpress.com
I’m getting ready for Wab Kinew’s visit organized by Vancouver Kidsbooks this Wednesday. I finally read his book The Reason You Walk (2017 edition) from the stack beside my bed. This book brings to life the negative impact of residential schools on the parenting of the children who attended. It is a very personal story of Wab’s relationship with a father suffering from his years in residential school. I will never understand what overtakes people that allow themselves to treat human beings with such cruelty, let alone the most vulnerable. Repeatedly. This is one of the dark stains on Canada’s reputation as a country that champions human rights.
Many of us have witnessed the apology for residential schools to Indigenous People in Canada by Stephen Harper when he was Prime Minister in 2008. The question that lingered was “What now?” Certainly the first step was acknowledging what had happened and why it happened. The attempt to “Kill the Indian in the Child” can only be understood in the context of cultural genocide. As a country, we have a long way to come back from decisions that were made in our infancy as a country but sustained for way too many years after.
Wab Kinew has written a book that is truly a book about acknowledging what has happened but also moving beyond the atrocity of residential schools. Wab Kinew (pg 211) tells us: “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different about them needs to be respected.” That is an achievable goal to strive towards. And I am inspired.
The title of the book, The reason you walk or “Ningosha anishaa wenjii-bimoseyan” comes from the lyrics of an Anishinaabe travelling song. Wab Kinew’s dad, Ndedeiban, passed on the teaching to him: The words are interpreted as a direct message from the Creator aka God (The Reason You Walk, pg. 252):
- “I am the reason you walk. I created you so that you might walk on this earth.
- I am the reason you walk. I gave you motivation so you would continue to walk even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.
- I am the reason you walk. I animate you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back toward one another.
- And, now my son, as that journey comes to an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk to me on that everlasting road.”
This book is as much about a father-son relationship as it is about larger political issues. It helped me to better understand my own mother’s long lingering journey towards death. And the all too soon deaths of my aunt and brother. This book is testament to the fact that different faith traditions can speak universal truths that cross religion denominations. As human beings, we are all on the same journey of joys, defeats, celebrations and sorrows. The end goal is to allow people to define their own journey and support each other along the way.
I love the picture of this little guy on the front page of The Vancouver Sun. The sparkle in his eyes and the look on his face remind me so much of my son at that age. With life comes the opportunity for grand adventure! Joy is suppose to be part of every child’s life. I hope that all things good unfold for this little man. The title of the Vancouver Sun picture: “A New Age is At Hand”. Colonialism did not work for the Indigenous people of Canada. But there is hope and there is unprecedented optimism for the future.
A fierce pride in Canada’s accomplishments throughout its almost, 151 years of nationhood, is strong. The is a realization that north of the 49th parallel existed for thousands of years prior to confederation. The learning from the Indigenous people was invaluable. Finally it is part of the national conversation. Within the field of Education in British Columbia, there is a quest to embrace our history, even when it includes the shame of colonial structures and prejudice that allowed children to be separated from their parents and basic human rights to be ignored.
Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, was chosen to be THE day to celebrate, recognize and honour the heritage, cultures and valuable contributions by the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada. The Northwest Territories has celebrated this day as a statutory holiday since 2001 and The Yukon followed suit in 2017. The day started with one of the teachers engaging me in a conversation of the use of “Indigenous” rather than “Aboriginal’ and the implications. I had my phone out, googling, so we could determine why Metro Vancouver Celebrations were mostly using the word “Aboriginal” and “Indigenous” was being used on the national stage. What was most respectful? How do we explain the difference? What I thought was indicative of this “new age” was that it mattered.
One of our Grade 3 teachers, Janet Logie, is a committed student of history and volunteer at the Hastings Mills Museum at the Old Mill Park by Jericho Beach. As a kid, my sister and my cousins, would regularly swing into the museum to check it out when we were at the park. It still smells the same but the context has changed. Amazingly intricate baskets and artifacts that were purchased as parts of private collections have been curated and recognized as significant parts of the history of Vancouver. Recently there was a special event to publicly thank the Indigenous First Responders during the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886 who saved many lives. Marissa Nahanee, of the Squamish Nation, performed the Paddle Song beside the replica of the historic “Tent City Hall” and volunteers served Indigenous herbal teas by Raven Hummingbird Teas in the museum. Our MP, Joyce Murray, brought formality, acknowledgment and thanks of the government. It was a great event. Our children are growing up with an appreciation of the contributions by the Indigenous community in our shared history when they go out to play.
The focus on the herbs grown and used by the Indigenous people has been a focus for Grade 2 teacher, Joan Phoenix. Our PAC (Parent Advisory Committee) supported her financially in designing and planting a butterfly garden that would attract the butterflies once the primary children had observed the life cycle indoors and freed them into their natural habitat. One of her parent volunteers, Sara Baren, teaches Urban Forestry at UBC. She enlisted the help of Emily Tu, newly accepted to do a MA in Landscape Architecture, to work on the project.
They were instrumental in helping Ms. Phoenix to plant indigenous plants that would serve this purpose. The Grade twos used books and iPads to research the traditional uses of the plants by the Musqueam and that are now widely available in grocery stores.
Our Grade 5 teacher, Melody Ludski, is currently doing her graduate work while teaching full time. She has extensive background knowledge on Indigenous ways on knowing, as well as incredible sensitivity to the protocols required because we work, learn and play on the unceded lands of the Musqueam people. To celebrate National Indigenous Day, Ms. Ludski booked accomplished Pow Wow dancer Shyama Priya, who has Cree roots on her mothers side. She was taught by Coast Salish pow wow dancer, Curtis Joe. She took the time to share the story of creating her regalia and engaged kids and teachers in dancing that reflected amazing skill and athleticism. I was fortunate to go to a few pow wows with my friend, Latash Nahanee, many years ago and join in the dancing during the grand procession. The only word for the heartbeat of the drum and the communal participation – Joy! You could see it on Shyama Priya’s face and those of the children.
The Garden Committee, headed up by Grade 1 teacher, Kate Foreman, for many years has been planning an outdoor learning space. Two portables were removed from our school site this year and the perfect opportunity presented itself. Many teachers were very inspired by the idea of a circle with twelve large rocks for seating an entire class. The size of the rocks and the placement to reflect true north, south, east and west were carefully planned and facilitated. As a history major, I loved the possibility of reflecting Indigenous Culture as an early instigator of a democratic system. Everyone has a voice in the talking circle and respect for divergent opinions is a basic tenet. The Vancouver Board of Education was gifted a Musqueam word by Shane Point: Nə́c̓aʔmat ct It means ‘we are one’. Our Nə́c̓aʔmat ct Circle will be a talking circle for problem solving, a listening circle to teach empathy, a way to incorporate medicine wheel teachings and understanding of the circle or life and the seasons and relationships with ourselves, others and Mother Earth.
The work of Laura Tait has been inspirational in helping our staff “to push the paddle deeper” in our School Growth Plan. We will be developing and progressing through our own adapted version on the rubric based on her Aboriginal Understandings Learning Progression from SD68 Aboriginal Education. I am so excited that another inspirational colleague, Joyce Perrault, will be helping us to navigate the path. With her drum and her newly published book, All Creation Represented, we will be exploring the Medicine Wheel from an Ojibwe perspective while sitting in our Nə́c̓aʔmat ct Circle. The book states that it’s a child’s guide to the Medicine Wheel but with all I’m learning, the next hardcover, coffee table edition will be marketed to adults. The book provides insight into relationships with ourselves, each other and Mother Earth. I am feeling joyful and optimistic too. We are heading out on a promising journey with optimism and joy and determination that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be respected in this chapter of Canadian history.
Note: The phonetic pronunciation of nə́c̓aʔmat ct is knot-sa-mots.
I believe in Aboriginal Enhancement agreements. For some, they represent a token of political correctness which can be limited to lip service. For others they focus our attention on something that matters not only in terms of facilitating basic human rights, but developing a culture of kindness and respect that we as Canadians have built our identity on.
John Hattie points to a large body of research that informs us that the largest predictor of health, wealth and happiness is not grades achieved by students, but the number of years spent in school. Low graduation rates of indigenous students have meant that part of our job as educators is to create a learning environment in which all students find something to stay for. Obviously we want this for all of our students.
Daniel Wood wrote an article in the travel section of The Vancouver Sun newspaper (Apr.28, 2018) on Easter Island: “And once the last tree was chopped down, there was no wood to make a boat and leave.” The habitat once plentiful with fish, birds, palm trees and fertile lands was left an archeological site on grassland. Like those who inhabited and devastated Easter Island thousands of years ago, we too have much to learn. The FNESC materials give us with tools and insight into how we can draft meaningful goals to incorporate indigenous ways of knowing into our curriculum.
What is frequently lacking is a clearly articulated learning intention so we can determine if we are making an impact. From this intentional stance, we are able to devise a plan that serves the needs of all of the students in our care:
- To create a culture of kindness and respect. For our indigenous students, it means listening to the stories and rather than rewriting history. It means finding a way to move forward together.
- To create a learning environment where students are engaged in learning.
- How can we support students in their ability to self regulate so they can learn?
- How do we incorporate student choice and provide clarity and high expectations into our learning contexts?
- To incorporate indigenous ways of knowing into our lives.
- What does it look like when we understand the First Peoples Principles of Learning and incorporate them into our lives and stories?
In response to stereotypes of indigenous culture that have pervaded our culture, and appropriation of cultural items to gain profit, we are left unsure of truly what is respectful. Anthropologist, Aaron Glass states in his interview with Heather Ramsey of The Tyee ( March 2011): “Totem poles, he says, have been added to the stereotype of the North American Indian, along with the teepee, the tomahawk and the feathered headdress.” If we are earnest in our intention, this fact makes us wary when we see these images and concerned that we may be perceived as a part of the system that perpetuates negative stereotypes and gets in the way of developing respectful relationships.
The Tomahawk Barbecue was the first drive-in restaurant in Vancouver started by Chick Chamberlain in 1926 just off Marine Drive. Chick learned to cook in the early 20’s when he opened a small coffee shop in a cabins to rent business with his brother. The drive-in part of the restaurant wasn’t a huge success because of the dust from the unpaved roads. It did evolve as a community hang-out. One of the patrons of the restaurant mounted a big tomahawk over the door and the name stuck. It managed to stay open through the “Dirty Thirties” largely because Chick would accept payment in curios, hand made pots, drums, cooking utensils, large and small totem poles, masks and other beautifully carved objects from those who couldn’t afford the food. He started to purchase indigenous art long before it was recognized as valuable. “Tomahawk’s famous hamburgers are named after some of the Indian chiefs Chick had known over the years, as a sort of memorial to his friends: Skookum Chief, Chief Capilano, Chief Raven, Chief Dominic Charlie, and Chief August Jack.” Chuck Chamberlain is Chick’s son and has maintained his father’s legacy. Chuck was happy to share stories of the his Dad, his restaurant, and his friends over the years when I came for breakfast on a rainy Saturday morning. A painting of Chief Simon Baker graces the wall when you enter. Chuck is proud of this friendship and was honoured to be a pall bearer at Chief Baker’s funeral.
The story that was most powerful was the story of the Wild Man of the Woods Mask used in the Squamish ceremony of boys moving into manhood. When the mask is needed for a ceremony, it is taken down from the special resting spot in the restaurant, and once it’s purpose is fulfilled, it is returned to a place where it rests with the spirits of the ancestors. This is so different than the experience of another friend of mine who is a member of the Squamish Nation. He took a special basket made by his grandmother to the Museum of Anthropology with an inquiry about how best to preserve it. The Museum of Anthropology explained they could help. When my friend and his family returned to request it for use in a special ceremony, they were denied access. Two similar scenarios with the biggest difference being the respect demonstrated and the dynamic of power and control.
I remember going to the Tomahawk Restaurant for breakfast as a very little girl, one weekend when my aunt and my Mom ventured over the Lion’s Gate Bridge to go to Capilano Canyon with my sister and cousins. My husband remembers not being able to finish the Skookum Chief burger, nicknamed The Hulk burger, when he was a little boy. Yet, I paused to return because of the name – Tomahawk. As a student of history and an educator wanting to rectify past wrongs, I had many questions. Was it respectful? Was it appropriate? Was it a remnant of past uninformed representations of indigenous culture? Tomahawks were from the prairies, weren’t they? It wasn’t until I did some internet research, listened to an interview and did some the reading, that I gave myself permission to return for a visit and a questions to ask. And yes, I was dying to see the art. While I was there, chatting with Chuck, I kept thinking of the First Peoples Principle of Learning: Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story. Listening to the stories always needs to proceed formulating the judgement. What I heard on Sunday, was pride in respectful relationships and families that have become intertwined over many years.
Recently I cited Byrd Baylor’s book, Everybody Needs a Rock in reference to an Indigenous sharing circle of large boulders that we are installing in our playground. The intention is to help students understand the very beginnings of the concept of democracy in giving everyone a voice. One of my respected colleagues, questioned my reference to a non-indigenous author. Again I did some internet research to discover that she has maternal Native American decent but grew up in a largely non-indigenous culture. However I went back to the First Peoples Principle of Learnings: Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place). Ultimately, isn’t our intention for all people to embrace these principles because it represents universal learning that matters. And isn’t it our intention for all people to share the stories that come to form their understandings.
Anthropologist, Aaron Glass also stated in his interview with Heather Ramsey of The Tyee (March 2011): “What we argue in the book is that the totem pole has been a constantly evolving form, so there was never a moment when “it” almost died. It kept changing, migrating, transforming. This is not a story of death and rebirth it is a story of continual transformation.” As with the totem pole, the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people will continue to evolve and transform as we open ourselves to new learning. Hopefully this time we get it right, and that relationship will be based on respect, honesty, shared power, and a willingness to be open to learning from each other.
Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.
“Honesty is the best policy” is an adage that has been kicked to the curb openly of late. The “alternative truth” is the actually emerging as “a thing”. I was brought up with several “alternative truths,” but even as a young child I identified them as nothing more than lies. I also knew that championing the truth was futile in some cases. It was better not to ask questions. However the question “why” didn’t disappear. The people that I most trusted and respected were the people who told me the truth.
The ability of the “alternative truth” to survive, depends largely on the power of the person or institution serving it up as the truth, and how desperately they strive to sustain it. However the quest for truth is an long established practice. The imagery of light is also used to explore the notion of truth, throughout many religions and social justice groups. If something can bear scrutiny, we can hopefully re-emerge better – more just, more empathetic, more inclusive, more willing to identify similarities and more willing to value differences.
The study of history and political science in university taught me how to adopt a position, create an argument and then switch sides. The facts and arguments you chose to expound or omit, allowed you to take both sides. Yet, sometimes the facts were significant enough to define the truth or reality of that time in history. There is no alternative truth. Sometimes there are just fears and insecurities that allow people in power to manipulate with Machiavellian intent. Our minds easily shift to south of the border, pre-World War II Germany or apartheid in South Africa. Our minds don’t as easily shift to our reality as Canadians. The Chinese Head Tax, the internment of the Japanese and treatment of our Indigenous people are all examples of that same Machiavellian policy that grew out of fears and insecurities. Yet, if we never explore our history, we can never understand our current realities or a path to move forward based on understanding rather than ignorance.
I had an amazing week of professional learning this week thanks to Brad Baker and his team of inspired educators from the North Vancouver School District. My friend, Latash (Maurice) Nahanee, was the first person to ever help me begin to understand the legacy of residential schools and other forms of institutionalized racism. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada brought the conversation into mainstream. People such as Martin Brokenleg, DeeDee DeRose and Don Fiddler have done an amazing job of helping us to understand why Aboriginal Education is necessary for us to understand our own history and the importance of changing our relationship with Aboriginal families.
On Wednesday night, Brad Baker presented at a PDK dinner meeting for instructional leaders. He explored some of the ways how we can move beyond tokenism and engage in meaningful Aboriginal education for all of our students throughout the year. This can be a basic as including an acknowledgement that we live, work and learn on Aboriginal lands. Yes, this does mean that we need to find out who were the Aboriginal people that first lived on the lands we now inhabit. Although I grew up in Vancouver and studied history, I learned relatively recently that I grew up on the ancestral lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.
On Friday at the Professional Learning Rep Assembly for BCPVPA (British Columbia Principal and Vice Principal’s Association), I participated in the Blanket Activity for a second time. This activity is very powerful and includes excerpts from government documents and statements from Aboriginal people. Participants begin standing on blankets that represent Turtle Island in Ontario. Blankets are manipulated or removed as the story unfolds, as are the people on them.
I participated in this activity for the first time as part of district professional development. I read passages both times, that reflected Aboriginal voice. This made both experiences very personal. However the first time I participated, I was removed from the group relatively early when land was encroached upon and my blanket was removed. From outside the circle, it became more of a cerebral experience. On Friday, I was never removed from the circle. I watched as others were lost to disease, residential schools, placed on reserves or lost status because they left the reserve. The experience remained very personal and the feeling of waiting for “my turn” ever present. I can’t imagine anyone participating in this activity and not empathizing with the fate of these participants in our collective history.
Brad Baker emphasizes when he speaks that goal of Aboriginal Education is not to inspire guilt but understanding. Laura Tait’s video about The Principles of Learning is on my repeated watch list to focus my attention on looking at the world through an Indigenous lens. The inclusion on these principles in the new BC curriculum provides a meaningful way to engage students in learning that has taken place over thousands of years. There is no “alternative truth” to what happened in our history. Let’s participate in Jan Hare’s MOOC at UBC – Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education , keep talking and and learning, and step away from judgments and thinking that obscure a respectful path forward. Most of all, to quote Brad Baker – “Go Forward with Courage!”
When my son was young, Bart Simpson hit the air waves. I hated how the characters on the show talked and how they disrespected each other. It incensed me to the point that I refused to let my son watch it, despite a considerable amount of begging. The conversation ended briefly. I soon discovered that he would go to his friend Dennis’ house to watch the show. It wasn’t until that point that I agreed to watch the show with him. It opened the conversation. We would discuss what he found funny and what offended me. Although he still preferred to watch it at Dennis’ house without my commentary, at least he understood my perspective about the importance of respectful interaction.
The election of Donald Trump to the position of President Elect of the United States has stopped many conversations. Coming from a Canadian stance, it is largely incomprehensible how someone who has overtly disrespected and discredited woman, Latinos, Muslims, Immigrants and the LGBTQ community could be selected for public office, in part by the people he targeted. I needed to step away from being personally offended by his hateful rhetoric, in order to come to the conclusion that this was not just a win for misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and a fixation on the gun culture. This was a democratic election and the leader was chosen by the 55.6% of the population who opted to exercise their democratic right to vote.
It has pushed the need to ask questions about what is happening south of the border that has created the palpable anger and commanding voice for change? What is a “protest vote”? What is the “status quo” that has created such a reaction? Who voted for Trump? Did gender play a part in preventing the election of a woman? How did the close alignment with bankers and sizeable payouts to prevent bank failure impact public opinion? How much impact would Bernie Sanders have been able to make on what happened in a Clinton government? What was the impact of the votes garnered by Jill Stein and Gary Johnson? The list goes on.
As a vice principal in a school, I spend a large chunk of my time engaging in conversations about respectful interactions. The rules of the game in school are intended to prepare them for life.
- Tell the truth.
- Tell the other person your thoughts in a respectful way.
- Take responsibility for your behaviour.
- Empathize with the other person you are in conflict with.
- Don’t make yourself feel big by intimidating others with words, physical proximity or force.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a letter to third graders at Tecumseh thanking them for their work to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada earlier this year. In the letter he told them that their voices and what they do matter right now. I believe our children internalize these messages that their voices matter, just like they internalize the rules of respectful engagement when they live it. My hope is that our children fully participate in the democratic process by voting and holding elected officials accountable for their conduct, actions and decisions. My dream is for them to assume roles and responsibilities in the future where they are able to conduct themselves with integrity, intelligence and kindness to create a world based on respect for peace and justice.