Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day One Hundred and Eighteen: Are You Smarter than a Grade Four Kid?

We're walking into the All Nations Healing Hospital, Arwen and I, and she is carrying her toque and what looks like recipe cards with an elastic holding them together. "What's that?" I ask.

"Flash cards," she says. "I forgot them in my toque."

As we sign Arwen in, she is pulling the elastic, wiggling the elastic; finally, I pocket the elastic. We sit in the comfy chairs and my nine year old gives me the flashcards. "Here. You hold them like this so I can see the question and you can see the answers." She demonstrates.

"How long have First Nations Peoples inhabited North America?" Arwen reads. "A really long time," she answers herself.

"Thousands of years," I read from my side of the card.

"How did First Nation peoples come to live here? The Creator put them here."

"That's right."

"List at least five Aboriginal 'inventions' or contributions." She pauses and then begins to number her fingers. "Canoe, cough syrup, games..."

"What kind of games?"

"Lacrosse," she says.

"And darts," I add.

She's on finger number three, pulling on number four. "Stuff to make you feel better," she says, a question mark in her throat.

"Pain remedies," I say.

"Yes and ummmmmmmmm gum." She has her five.

I read silently. Canoe, kayak, snowshoes, cough syrup, cure for scruvy, chewing gum, snow goggles, lacrosse, petroleum jelly, harvesting wild rice and growing and harvesting corn and sunflowers, various pain remedies, tobaggan, dart games, and the expression etc. is typed at the end of thirteen. I give the card back to Arwen.

"List and be able to discuss the meaning of the thirteen Tipi Teachings," says Arwen. "I know this because you taught me, Mom." She wiggles in the chair, a smile on her face.

I grin, too. I'm not usually the mom who works on homework with her kids, in fact, I rarely do. Guess I'm a little proud to finally get the Mom thing right.

She gets her finger counters ready again and is able to list only nine. "I always miss good child rearing," she says.

"That's ironic," I say. Arwen giggles.

A woman and a baby has joined us.

"Spelling words?" she asks.

"No actually the tipi teachings," I say. She raisers her eyebrows and nods, approvingly. I wonder if she's white, but she's wearing moccasins. Funny how we classify people, I think, then turn to Arwen. "Here, you hold it, let me try."

I remember my classroom two years ago, when I had the tipi teachings posted around the walls, just below the ceiling. I start beside my desk and go around the room in my mind. "Happiness, love, faith, kinship, cleanliness, thankfulness," and then I pause. "I always get stuck here... well, then strength, good child rearing, humility, obedience, respect, and... I've missed two."

"You missed sharing and hope," says Arwen.

"Oh, I always forget sharing, and we both missed hope," I say. "You should memorize them in threes like Mommy. Four groups of three, with hope at the end. I hope I can remember the last tipi teaching. A person can always finish with hope. I hope you remember all thirteen tipi teachings."

Arwen ignores my puns and reads the next question. "Who were the 'first inhabitants' of what is now known as Saskatchewan? First Nations."

I nod. "Many different groups."

Another woman and her son, younger than Arwen, are now sitting next to us. A man, maybe just a bit older than me, is also waiting.

"Which First Nation peoples inhabited 'Saskatchewan' from the beginning of time?" Arwen continues. "Ummm... Dene, Cree, Saulteaux, Nakota, Lakota, Dakota," she says.

"You got them all. Do you know what group, Nakota, Lakota or Dakota, are from Standing Buffalo?" I say.

"No," Arwen says. Her eyes are looking past me, to the nursing station. She looks worried.

"Dakota," I say. "I finally got that clear in my head this year."

"Is it true or false that when the newcomers (Europeans) first arrived, First Nation people taught them many skills, such as how to build shelters, find food, and construct canoes." She pauses. "True."

"True," I say.

"What method (way) do First Nation Peoples pass down their stories from one generation to the next?" Her eyes look up and to the left. "Oral thing-a-ma-jig?"

"Orally... known as the oral tradition," I read.

"Another name for North America is...? Turtle Island." Arwen is smiling.

I wonder if she likes the image of Turtle Island, or what is it that's making her smile, but I don't ask. She gathers the cards, wraps them up in the elastic and we continue waiting.

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