Friday comes and goes; I wear my big, black boots going and coming. I take the main road; I take the alley; I cross the ditches, snow almost to my knee. My plan is to get home in time to pack before Angela and the girls come for our girl's movie night, Horton Sees a Who. I'm off to Saskatoon at 4:30am to participate in a Round Table Discussion, celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of the Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation for Research into Teaching.
I recognize the silver sculpture of an evergreen tree, ten or fifteen feet tall, on the snowy lawn of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation building on Arlington in Saskatoon. I'm here. Ended up having to drive Andrea's car. Michael had a fender-bender with the Envoy. Ended up at her place last night; she came to get Arwen and me. Almost ended up staying home, but they invited me to participate, and I said I would, and I really want to reconnect with my McDowell roots, sharing how the foundation influenced my teaching and my career.
I've only been up since five listening to MBC, Missinippi Broadcasting Corporation, the voice of the North when I lived in Black Lake. Did they always broadcast to all of Saskatchewan? I hear station calls in Dene, Cree, and maybe Lakota, from Patchanak, LaRonge, Regina. and all over the south. I don't know what the station was, but it found me as I hit "seek". Fitting, I think, as I prepare to speak at the Roundtable about my research in the North.
I arrive early at the STF building. It's minus 18 degrees celcius and there is wind on top of that, maybe minus 25 with the windchill. I'm shiverring by the time I walk from the back parking lot to the front. I register, look around, and decide to go back outside to move the car. I stay in the vehicle, preparing some notes, enjoying the heat blasting on my legs.
I pour a coffee and look up. A woman turns around at the registration desk. She has long, black hair; she dressed chic outdoorsy; she's hugging her registration folder. It's Ann. Ann without an e. I scream. I jump up and down. I run and hug Ann and I can feel my arms shake. It's Ann Alphonse, I mean, Ann Simons. It's my Black Lake Ann. It's the Ann who was on our research team. It's Ann who married into the community and has three beautiful kids who are all grown up now. It's Ann who sold us our first fiddles. It's Ann who helped me over and over and over as I tried to be an effective teacher in Black Lake. Ann who is now teaching grade one outside of Prince Albert.
"Did you come here last year," says Ann.
"No, did you?"
"No, but I thought I was supposed to. This time, I knew I had to come and that I was going to meet someone, and just as I drove in this morning, I wondered if you'd be here."
We sit together at the keynote address, soaking up that McDowell Researcher passion through Lillian Forsyth's voice. Ann and I share a grin every now and then, almost laughing at each other for meeting up here without letting each other know. I'm reliving our own memories of six years of research projects: Dreams and Involvement: A Black Lake Quest for 2000 published in 1999, followed by Reflections on Implementing Traditional Dene Teaching Methods, Skills and Values: Success Redefined published in 2002.
After catching up on family, work, dreams, and travel over lunch, we plan to go to the afternoon session, but we get caught talking in the hallway, and Ann is telling me about the 1300 word Dene primary dictionary that she has sitting by her bed, and when is she going to finish it when she works full-time; plays fiddle and piano; and is figuring out how to transition herself from the life of a single-mom to her own own life, now that her last child has graduated. She has travel plans and life plans. And a Dene dictionary could take a year of full-time-work to complete.
"Do you need a team?" I say.
"Well, I guess I do," she says.
"This meets my needs, too," I say. "I remember reading an article, 'Teaching English in the Least Harmful Way.' As an English teacher, I'm part of the machine that took indigenous language away. I've been thinking of how important, even symbolic, it could be for English teachers to learn First Nations language."
Ann knows all this. She was one of my first mentors in anti-oppressive education and cross-culture, cross-linguistic education. I remember when we were creating our questions for the first research project and I really, really, really wanted to know "thee" Dene teaching method. Ann finally explained, "Sheena, the Dene are as diverse as everyone else. Some learn this way and some learn other ways. There is no one Dene method." Before and since, I've heard people talk about how First Nations kids learn by "hands on" methods and I always remember Ann's gentle correction of this stereotype.
Ann and I sit down on the stairs of the STF entranceway. I pull out my morning pages scribbler and write, "Vision." I interview Ann and take jot notes. She envisions a multi-media, free, interactive resource that has a Dene word, translated into English, a picture, and then a phrse in Dene and then English. The vision keeps getting bigger and bigger until Ann says, "This is why I can't get it done. It just gets so big, it's overwhelming, and I have to put it away."
"Okay," I say, "What's the smallest thing you can do, and still honour what you feel like you've been called to do. Let's start there."
Ann talks and I take notes, ask questions, and make a five point plan that ends with a launch in Black Lake. We laugh.
"Doesn't seem so big now," Ann says.
The conference is over and most of the people have left. We're still sitting on the steps, laughing at each other for missing the last session and missing networking with McDowell leaders. But we know this is why we're here. We heard a call.