Friday, March 9, 2012

Day One Hundred Twenty-Six: The Balgonie Birdman and Other Never-Before-Imagined Treaty Stories

Home Economics teachers, Biology teachers, Native Studies teachers, English Language Arts teachers, Chemistry teachers, Physical Education teachers, Band teachers, educational assistants, consultants, superintendents, and presenters have flocked to Balgonie for a professional development day. In the morning, I hang out with Robin and Charlene and they present a Prezi full of one-sentence-poetry, picture book writing prompts, chap books, and everything a Creative Writing teacher could want. We free write and prompt write. I wish I could sit in one of their classes as a student. I think my writing would really take off.

In the afternoon I'm assigned to the Sewing Room, complete with stuffed animals-in-the-making along the wall. I project my Treaty Walks slides on the whiteboard while people eat soup and sandwiches. We are about seven strong by one o'clock and I joke that maybe we're in the sewing room because the mukluks I'm wearing have been sewn up so poorly by me, maybe this is a sign. The classroom's very own teacher says that she does have a leather needle. I begin to tell my Treaty Walk story.

Just before the break I ask, how about you take a treaty walk? Here's some Internet information on the town of Balgonie. I pass out a research sheet. I even watched The Balgonie Birdman, a claymation short film posted on youtube by the National Film Board. If I was doing a Treaty Walk in Balgonie, as I actually am, I might compare dates using the timelines from Treaty Essential Learnings: We are all Treaty People as compared to the dates I found around Lumsden. It's funny, but not really so funny, that according to Balgonie history, it all started with the newcomers.

At the break I start eating my hamburger soup that I picked up just before the session, and I visit for a bit with Roberta, who has taught all of my daughters, and is teaching Arwen half time this year. She tells me she has a story to tell everyone after the break. Others leave to Treaty Walk around the school. Three women from Balgonie talk activism and response.

After the break we go around the room and reflect. Roberta tells her beautiful story of Elder Alma Poitras visit to her grade four classroom, the students response at the end of the visit full of hugs, reaching out, laying their heads on Alma's shoulder, some students rubbing her back, Alma in the middle, not even having left her speaking chair.

We share stories of eyes opening to treaty, to history that was already here, and how history books have been telling only half the story, and missing the treaty story altogether. We ourselves confess our thankfulness for the land on which our people farm or make a livelihood. We talk about the hundred year head start and someone says, if we just could understand that one idea, we'd understand so much about our current society.

Just before we're done, I read, "Poem for a Worn and Torn Bible" and sing one song with my guitar, "Kelly, Kelly," that I had posted a few Treaty Walk days ago.

At the end of the session, my new and old friends are most encouraging as we go our ways. Roberta stays and we chat, as we always do when we meet up in the grocery store, or on the beach, or in the hallways of either the Elementary or High School. She tells me of the first First Nations person she met when she was twenty-seven years old: Bob Boyer. No way, I say. He's a very famous artist. But back then, he was just Roberta's neighbour, and he was the first to explain Saskatchewan reality, history, context, from a different perspective. Roberta tells me that she promised herself that if she ever became a teacher, she would remember this. And she has.

I'm driving out of Balgonie, and the sun is shining on the snowy lawns. I wonder what the Balgonie Birdman dreamed to see as he worked early in the mornings. Did he know he was able to dream in this new country because treaties had been signed? When he finally did fly his first Canadian built airplane, what did he see from on high? Did he know he was a never-before-imagined treaty story?

Monday, March 12th

Good Morning Sheena,
I wanted to send a short note to thank you for your presentation at our PD day on Friday. Spending the afternoon in your session, was the highlight of my day. I have had some time this weekend to peruse your blog and will definitely be following you on your journey. You have inspired and encouraged me. I am proud to be working in the school system with such wonderful colleagues and students. I also am reminded of the wonderful location I have chosen to live with my family. The Qu'Appelle valley and area is a gift to treasure. I am so grateful for the land as we are a farming family and I admire the beauty around us! Spring is a time of renewal, and I felt a sense of personal renewal after your talk about the Treaty Walks. It gave me a time to become centered and focus on what is important in my life and community. I felt honored to hear your story and the gifts you had to share (eg: writing, photography, and musical talent). You are making a difference in lives around you. Thanks for changing mine...I am sure our paths will cross again in this journey of life.

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