Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day Sixty-Seven: Step into the Problems

She wears black rimmed glasses,black skirt, tights, shirt, sweater, standing on a brightly lit stage. The only hint that says she's an artist and not a book worm or a professor is the long red tie, hanging like beads. Michael subscribes to TED talks, and he's posted Janet Echelman's ten minute speech, "Taking Imagination Seriously." Michael has titled the post: Creativity and Problems. Ms. Jade is teaching our grade tens, silent reading time, and I plug in the headphones.

Echelman tells her story of arriving in India by invitation to do a show, but her paintings do not follow her, lost in transit. She scrambles to find art, and as she walks past men working on their fishing nets, she sees something new. This problem, followed by a new sight, began a life-changing artform, and opportunities to create building-sized, net and crochet-like installations all over the world.

In periods one and two, Ms. Jade is preparing our grade tens for day two with Michelle Hugli Brass and our First Nations and Metis Literacy Leadership Project. She has photocopied the brainstormed names onto green paper, and most students have signed up in pairs or trios to interview a local leader. Today they are supposed to get contact information, background research, and pre-interview questions. By Thursday they are supposed to have made first contact.

Two girls in period two are asking Ms. Jade about their interview subject, a former teacher. They have written a question on their recipe card that uses the term "half breed" and Ms. Jade points out that they should use the term Metis. The girls, who are both white, say this term means the same thing, so why shouldn't they use it. Ms. Jade points out that words are powerful and they follow us, and if the girls keep using this term, they may say it at the wrong time and be very offensive.

In private, Jade relates a story from the curling club, just this weekend. After the game, folks began discussing some current issues, and the conversation turned toward First Nations people, and Jade decided that she couldn't sit by and not interrupt the negativity. She told some of the history she's learning, some of the experiences she's having with our students. Jade mentioned the First Nations Literacy Leadership Project. Some of the curling folks wanted to know why we wouldn't also make a book for the newcomers. Jade explained that we already have lots of those books. Her team-mate jumped into the dialogue. She is taking Social Work, and specifically educating herself in Canadian history, including the Indian Act, Residential Schools, and Colonialism. The circle grew. Jade's curling coach added his perspecctive as a professional mediator. The entire curling club had joined the circle, and Jade figures five or six left the discussion saying they had never thought about these things in this way before.

In period three I only have two students in my tutorial class, and one chooses to work in his teacher's classroom. The other is a young girl who is mourning the loss of a close cousin. She focuses the entire period, researching what the internet has to say about her uncle, Perry Bellegarde who has served as chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (SIFN) and lost to Shawn Atleo in a close race for the 2009 Assembly of First Nations election. She has his contact information at home, and she thinks he's in Toronto, but will be coming back soon.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. There was a murder last week in Fort Qu'Appelle, right on my cousin's and best friend's street. When we were out for coffee last night, Keitha had said, "What can we do about the violence?" The young man and his mother had been into the Outreach the day of his death. Keitha is not looking for easy answers, but I believe she is doing what she has been prepared and called to do: love people who others don't have much time for; I believe she is part of the solution. I think about the meeting Cathy called after school today, to let teachers know about a grieving girl and how to best support her, and I believe the school can also be part of the solution. And Jade talking to the curling club, this is part of the solution. And leaders like Sandy Pinay Schindler, Michelle Hugli Brass, and Perry Bellegarde, they are part of the solution.

I comment on Michael's Janet Echelman post. "This is poignant, inspiring, beautiful. It gives me courage to step into the problem of my writing, taking confidence that the story will be better because of the problem as it turns out very different than what I had planned." I guess we are all writing stories, and as we step into the problems, it won't be easy, but this is the path toward beauty and art-ful living.

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