Cathy, my principal, comes into my classroom and closes the door. She sits on a student desk in front of my teacher desk and says, "So, tell me your perspective on period five last Thursday."
"Well," I say, "It was one of the best class discussions I've ever led. Diana and Lesley were in the room and they said I was Switzerland, and I've never been Switzerland before."
"I had shown the kids the power point I had presented at the Day One Hundred and Blog Launch party. Then on Thursday we were working on a Concept of Definition Map around the concept of treaty as presented in the power point. You remember. I emailed you the pictures I posted on my blog."
Cathy nods. "Mmm hmm."
"Well we were going through the examples of treaty I had referenced, like Treaty Four, Six, Eight, Seven; then properties like brother-to-brother, forever, sacred; then comparisons: treaty is like a friendship or a marriage. The kids were filling it in as we discussed. Then someone said that treaty had been broken, and I explained that everything we've been talking about treaty is the treaty-in-a-perfect-world, but much of treaty has been broken to First Nations people, like Indian Agents, pass/permit system, residential schools were not treaty promises. Even the fact that there are disproportionate First Nations people in jails and violence against women can be traced back to broken families which can be traced back to broken treaties."
Cathy nods. "Mmm hmm."
"Then one of the kids comments that there is no excuse for violence or stealing and that the people who are in jail deserve to be in jail. And I ask this young man if he minds if I push on him a little, and I point at the board where we've listed broken treaty promises, and I ask him if he is able to hear this story. I tell him that often when I present similar material, the white kids have trouble hearing what First Nations people have gone through. Rather, the white kids often just think I'm calling them racist and tune out. I ask him if he can use his imagination, and what if that was his history. Could he imagine how his life might have been different?"
"And I tell the kids that treaty has been very good to me and my people. We have been able to farm and hold jobs, go to university. I'm the third generation of being a teacher married to a teacher, my husband, my parents and my grandparents, all teachers. I did not get where I am all on my own power. My parents have made me much of who I am, and we've been able to build this family strength because we've had the freedom to do so, as promised in treaty."
"Then someone said something to the effect that the past is the past and people have to move on, that many people have many problems they have to overcome, and this can't be used as an excuse. Then someone says that the Jews got over the Holocaust, so why can't First Nations get over residential schools."
"Then kids began putting their hands up, and I would say, okay, first you, then you, and then you. Kids were contributing two and three deep, and it wasn't just one sided, First Nations and newcomer kids were adding to the conversation. One girl said, 'But they get paid for coming to school and they get university paid for and don't have to pay taxes.' and another put up her hand and explained that her band doesn't pay her anything for coming to school and another said she doesn't get anything either, even though she has status. I told about my girlfriend who has full status and has 25,000 dollars in student loans."
"I told them how Michael had been to Office of the Treaty Commissioner treaty training and he had started to tell me one of the stories that the elders had shared, and the story began with the age she had been taken out of her home and the age she had been returned, something like age five to fifteen, and I made Michael stop telling the story even before he began because we were driving and in our back seat were my three daughters, ages five, ten and thirteen, and it just became so real. What would happen to me if someone took my baby? And not just took her, but abused her, taught her that our ways were wrong? I would be a broken person. And I told the kids, 'Don't tell me to suck it up if someone takes my children. That's it. My life is over.'"
"And then one of the girls said, 'I just want everyone to know that what happened in the past, what our people did to the First Nations people was wrong, and we're just trying to do what we can to make it better now.' and I got choked up and told the kids that this is just how I feel and this is why I am doing my walks and why I'm trying to build real relationships across cultures and why I am trying to give my students this education."
"And another girl talked about how everyone has to go through their healing journey, and there is still so much healing that needs to happen, but that there is hope and people are healing. And we talked how success is often more about economics than race, but again there are disproportionate number of First Nation people living in poverty and therefore having less success."
"And I could tell that some of the kids were frustrated with me. One young lady was rocking back and forth a little in her seat, bursting with emotion, most likely anger, but she wasn't putting her hand up, so I didn't ask her what she thought."
Cathy is leaning toward me, her elbows on her knees, sitting backwards on a desk. "Isn't it interesting," she says, "How what you experienced in that class was so very different than what the young lady -- who came to me to talk -- experienced. She said there was lots of anger in the room, and that you were crying and it was very uncomfortable."
"Mmm hmm," I say.