Cathy calls my student into her office where I am waiting, sitting in a comfy brown chair with arm rests, having just left my period two class with one of our wonderful Educational Assistants. I don't expect to be too long. My student comes and sits beside me.
Cathy sits in her plush chair, and rolls toward us, leaning forward with her hands on her knees. She addresses the young woman. "Yesterday you came to me very frustrated and you were very mature in the way you talked your feelings out with me. Then I went and spoke with Mrs. Koops, and I find it really interesting that what she experienced in that very same classroom was very different from what you were experiencing. I'm wondering if you would be willing to listen to Mrs. Koops explain what she felt happened."
The girl nods her head.
I begin recounting the class, how it was one of the best because everybody was talking. How kids were two and three deep in line to talk. How everyone was engaged. How it was real. How one girl in particular seemed to have really grown.
My young student listens. Her open mind shows itself in her head nodding at key points. She makes a few comments to further clarify a point I am trying to make. I find I am adding more details than what I recounted for Cathy yesterday. As I sense this young woman's struggle to understand, I find myself softening more and more. I tell her how I can identify with her because I'm a white girl who grew up on a farm in Southern Saskatchewan. I was always a good girl, working hard, trying to stick up for people, and I remember as I started to learn about the injustice that people face, I didn't know what to do with the guilt I was feeling.
I even share how when I first started dating Mr. Koops that everyone thought he was native, but he's actually half Japanese. He had long hair and would often wear stylish ripped jeans. One time we were going to a concert and he told me, 'I'll likely get frisked at the door." I didn't know what he was talking about until I was through the ticket check and I went to say something to him, and he wasn't there. I turned around, and sure enough, he was up against the glass walls, being frisked. That same weekend he was accused of stealing a Big Gulp in the Weyburn 7-11 and he was kicked out of a book store in the Cornwall Centre. I'd never experienced any of these things, and here it was nothing new to him because he looked Native.
"Tell her about how you felt when J said what she said," says Cathy to me.
"Well, when she said that the things that have happened to First Nations people were very, very wrong, and we're just trying to help make things right, that really resonated with me. It choked me up because that's why I'm doing what I'm doing. I feel so bad about the past, and I know it's made things unequal today, so I'm trying to do what I can to make things better today."
My student nods. "Do you think Mrs. Koops understands what you wanted her to understand?" Cathy asks the student.
The girl nods.
"I'm not sure what it is that I need to understand, that I'm understanding. Can you tell me?" I say.
"Just that we are sorry about the past and we want to make things better today," the young woman says.
The three of us nod. We talk a bit more about how we all want to be respectable and we work hard and we want to be good people, and when someone throws darts at this identity it is really hard to handle, and that maybe this is where the anger comes from, unexpectedly, even though we're trying to keep our minds open.
"Is there anything else we need to hear," says Cathy to my student.
"I'm just wondering, what should I do if I feel that anger again in class?" The girl bites her lip.
"Do you think you'd be able to speak it out loud?" says Cathy.
"I think I will," says the girl.
"In fact," I say, "It's super important that you do speak so that we can move this conversation forward. Remember how I said that our kids will be our teachers? I'm hoping your generation will really go somewhere with making treaty right."
She and Cathy nod.
"Knowledge is power," says Cathy. "And it's not just power struggles between races. All injustice is about power, whether it's your gender, your class, your religion, your sexual orientation, all oppression is an abuse of power. Mrs. Koops wants you to know these stories so that you can do something with your knowledge and power."