Today at school I have a mini photoshoot with Ms. Paul and two of her star students in Commercial Cooking. She will appear in Our Young People Speak: The Leadership Edition, product of our First Nations and Metis Leadership Literacy Project. The smiles and playfulness remind me of everything that is good in education. Later, I post a more difficult memory, taken from my 2006 Thesis: Blue Eyes Remembering Toward Anti Racist Pedagogy.
RESIGHTING: THE BESSBOROUGH MASSACRE
“Some stories are painful and take an interminable length of time to write,
but writing loosens their shadow hold on me”
(Richardson, 1997, p. 5).
* * *
My husband writes
I am nervous about this title
I know you deconstruct
But it’s loaded
Who are you
To equate this experience
With a massacre
When real massacres
Have been perpetuated
By our society?
By appropriating the word “massacre” into my RESIGHTING title I do not wish to trivialize the experience of those who know the deep meanings of the word. I use this word to signify the horror of my Bessborough experience within my teaching life. I also use the word to show the exaggerated potential cross-culture relationships present. I heighten the bigger-than-life feelings a teacher may experience when her heart is exposed. Tennyson (1850) says,
I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For Words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain. (p. 138)
I believe “massacre” reveals my vulnerability and ignorance while concealing my rejuvenation and responsibility.
* * *
The keynote at the STF Diversity in the Classroom Conference is going over-time. Her message had begun late because the hoop dancers had started late because the round dance had continued longer than expected. I’m scheduled to present at , but I can’t walk out on this visionary educator from
. Everyone coming to my session will be here too, so they’ll understand why I’m not early. British Columbia
At I bolt across the street to The Bessborough and up the elevator to my session room. It looks the same as it did last night: long rectangle, blue carpet and curtains, circular tables five long and two wide. AV service brought the TV/VCR as I had requested this morning at . I wished it had been there then so I could have cued my Buffy Sainte Marie video clip. Michael left my guitar at the front of the room, good, good.
One man sits near the front and one woman is near the back. I tidy my session brochure, noting the agenda, which follows an experiential model as suggested by the conference organizers. I place my handout on the front table. I draw a map of
on the flip chart in preparation for an icebreaker. Saskatchewan
More people enter and I call out that they may write where they are from on the map. A gentleman draws an arrow to northern
. A lady identifies she is from a Dene community I am familiar with. I smile and return to my box of supplies, gathering the moccasins that were a gift to my husband from the band office after he presented a team-building workshop. The moccasins were too small for him, so they became my Valentine’s Day gift. Manitoba
The woman who had identified herself as Dene looks at the Moccasins. She does not smile. What’s wrong? Did I act disrespectfully by tossing them lightly onto her table?
I return to the front, pick up the brochures, and ask a man to hand them out. He frowns at me slightly. Was that a mistake to ask him? Is it beneath him?
I turn to the VCR to cue the Buffy Sainte Marie clip, but turn around while the papers are circulating. No one else has written on the flip chart. I cross the front of the room. “So, Where are we all from?”
My stomach begins to tighten, my throat constricts.
One person responds. I ask, “Where is that near?” and write it on the chart.
A slight, well-dressed man (does it matter that he is white?), sent from the conference organizers, introduces me by reading a prepared paragraph.
I flip the chart paper over. “What would you like to get from this workshop?”
The man who introduced me says, “I expect a coffee break at .”
I laugh and record his expectation. “I can arrange that.” I consider my audience and know I need to get them on my side, but they look like adjudicators and I am playing my first wind solo.
I keep piping air to my lips. “Wasn’t the key note speaker at lunch excellent?”
Lining the roadway down the long room the fifteen faces are a variety of white and brown, each table a gated community. Their eyes, too far away to notice colour, are curtained windows.
Is anyone home?
My palms tingle and I feel dizziness like the time I met the ambulance carrying my bleeding brother.
what happened to the playful plan
the snow covered hills
now I slip and slide
on glare ice
a harsh wind whips
red my white face
twelve inches deep
so my head makes no dent
the ice already creviced
i want hot chocolate home
“Let’s get started,” I say. “Assume a role you think is a northern role: Mother, Father, Trapper, you decide. Complete a portion of the Questionnaire which we used in our research.”
I walk down the long isle. “This table can do section A, this table B, this table C, this table D. The conference committee asked us to use a variety of presentation strategies. I’m using experiential and cooperative learning. When we’re done, each group can share with the whole group.”
Two men at the first table jump into the activity. One table of women start. Most just flip through the handout.
A woman calls out, “What is this workshop about?”
Another, “Is this just about this research?”
My mind stumbles, unsure of my intellectual footing. I redirect the women’s attention to the outline in the brochure.
Another woman says, “What do you mean by ‘Dreams’ in your title?”
Another says, “I’m a lawyer. I don’t know much about the eduation system. What does this workshop have for me?”
Another, “Do you run a Dene-immersion?” She explained that their school is struggling with their own immersion program.
Another introduced herself as a multi-cultural advocate from
. “How can this workshop inform me of what is being done in the education community?” Calgary
I begin addressing the first question about the title of our research, dreams as hope for the future.
Nobody is working on the activity. People are talking in whispers and normal conversation voices.
The woman who had asked the first question begins explaining how dreams have a very important place in her culture. She continues on and on, openly unhappy with our title.
I have trouble listening. I have lost the room.
I find the picture of my fellow researchers and me. The tall lady is a white woman from
who married into the community and the shorter is a Dene woman educator from the community. I am sitting on a bench with the second lady sitting on her heels in front, leaning onto my lap and the taller woman standing, cuddled into the frame from over our shoulders. Ontario
I hold the picture up and my voice calls everyone’s attention together. “I wish my colleagues could be here to help me answer your questions.” I brag about the qualifications of my colleagues and how we each play a different role, representing a different voice in the community’s education system.
The room listens to my voice, but I am unaware of my words. I see the room from their perspective. They see a young, white, southern girl talking in a First Nations context. I had assumed that my four-years on the reserve had legitimized my voice. My community accepts me, why can’t you?
The workshop is a blur of pain.
The only bright spot is when my young cousin, an education student at the
, slips into a chair at the closest table to the door. University of Saskatchewan
Two First Nations women get up and leave.
People at all the tables are talking and whispering again.
Everyone at one table gets up and leaves.
I find myself walking from table to table trying to engage people, jumping all over my agenda, trying to respond to the variety of questions in the room. Knowing I am inadequate all the while.
It is nearly . I say, “Well, we’ll have our coffee break and then I will be available for discussion, but things seem to be wrapping themselves up.” What I really want is for everyone to leave so that I can cry.
During the “coffee break” a few people stayed to visit. One excused himself to a Doctor’s appointment.
The man who introduced me works in First Nations education with the government. He’s encouraging me, sharing experiences, and his views on this experience, but I am having trouble concentrating. I want to hang on his words like a child to her father’s pant legs, but this man is not my father. He excuses himself.
There is no one left except my cousin and me, and there is no formal conference thank you.
Jennifer’s eyes are big like flashlights. “I don’t think the ladies I was sitting with guessed I was your cousin.” Jennifer has big brown hair and mocha skin, thanks to her Jamaican mom.
“They weren’t very happy with me.”
We laugh but there is no happiness or relief.
Later, I read the only evaluation filled in by the man who introduced me. “Needs to be more organized.”