Thursday, January 31, 2013

Treaty Driving Down Highway Ten to Balcarres

Driving down highway ten, at a hundred and ten in minus 32 degrees. I wonder what the windchill would be if I stuck my hand out the window? I'm running ten-minutes-away to be an author this afternoon at Balcarres Community School.

Karla Esplin meets me at the door. She's all bundled up, ready to help me in with my guitar, suitcase, sign, purse and kitchen sink.

I'm tickled to see so many people I know in the hallways: teachers, friends from Fort Qu'Appelle, Kiane (my voice student), former students who used to come to Fort Qu'Appelle, and Brenda Gross, who I used to teach with in Black Lake, who just happens to be subbing for the afternoon.

I talk a lot about Black Lake in my writing presentation. Afterall, that's where my novel, Voice of the Valley, was born and raised. But, even more special today, I get to sing a song for Brenda that she's never heard me sing, about that day in February 2000, when she and five of our colleagues went down in a plane crash. I introduce the song and begin to sing.

From Edmonton they took off straight into the starry night.
They laugh, they joke, they got up close, to the northern lights.
But Stony Rapids had some fog when the pilot tried to land.
A second pass took control out of their hands.

Down, down, they went down, but they weren't down for long.
Down, down, they went down, together they were strong.
Down, down, they went down, the night it was long.
Down, down, they went down, listen to their song.

(To see the rest of the song, check it out on a previous post:

The kids are listening so intently as I sing. I look over to Brenda every now and then, wondering what she could be remembering as I tell the story of that night, through my from-afar-eyes. I don't look at her long, because I'm afraid I won't be able to sing.

Then the last verse comes:

Twenty below fighting odds, Joseph, Gint and Vilma
Bruised bodies, brave spirits, Deanna, Tracy and Brenda
Six everyday teachers, alone in the night, but six at their best
And man did they fight.

I've had to look away for the entire verse because I'm getting really emotional, and when I say "Brenda" I do choke up for a slight moment.

True to form, Brenda takes it in stride, says it's beautiful, doesn't crack a tear. Amazing. What an honour to sing for her today.
As I'm waiting for the second group to come in, a cowboy hat comes through the doorway, just missing the cross beam. As he walks closer, I can't help saying, "I've never seen such a tall cowboy hat before."

We chat for a little and I learn that this is Cliff Davis, Elder Mike Pinay's son. He says he recognized my We Are All Treaty People sign from one of the rallies, and I say, "were you on horseback?" and we figure out that he was leading the walk, and I was bringing up the rear.

Cliff sits in my next session for a bit. The kids are so attentive, it's really humbling. They are giving me the gift of listening.

When it's all over, I tour the school with Erin Bell, a former colleague and table tennis enthusiast who I'm trying to convince to start a club so we'll have some ten-minute-away-competition. I see Balcarres' renovations and am very jealous with all their potential table tennis playing space. (Erin, we'll talk.)

Karla helps me clean up and then haul my road show out of the library. Her daughter and she pose for a quick picture. I'm ticked with myself for not snapping a picture of Brenda.

Then, half way down the hall, I run into Cliff again with one of his sons. We chat some more and I tell him about the magazine project my students will be working on shortly, focusing on the topic of healing. He tells me a bit about the horse song, a ceremonial song, that they use in healing.

We shake hands, and I tell him he can count on a followup phone call from my students. (If we can hide from another one of my friends, Michelle Schwab, who is teaching down the hallway and is also part of the magazine project.)

Here's Cliff Davis, Elder Mike Pinay's son.
Cliff was on horseback at the front of our Treaty Four Unity Walk.
He says he remembers my sign, bringing up the rear.

Balcarres Librarian Karla (with a K) Esplin
and her daughter, Carissa (with a C).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Letters from Premier Brad Wall, D.Wayne Elhard and Hon. Dan D'Autremont

Before Christmas I hand delivered letters to the steps of the Legislative Assembly at the end of my first Idle No More walk in Regina. I requested Saskatchewan MLAs to utilize their influence or connections in Ottawa to ensure a meeting between Chief Spence and Prime Minister Harper. I then followed up with phone calls, leaving messages. I made note that I would be following up with responses on my Treaty Walks blog.

I've received three personal phone calls from Cam Broten, Cathy Sproule, and David Forbes.

Last week I received three letters in the mail from Premier Brad Wall; MLA D. Wayne Elhard, Provincial Secretary; and Hon. Dan D'Autremont, Speaker of the House. I do plan to write each back to thank them for their responses and to begin a conversation about Saskatchewan's roll in treaty responsibility.

I am especially interested in Premier Wall's comments on following up on recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Aboriginal Education and Employment, the Duty to Consult, and that "Our government will work hard to ensure that all Saskatchewan people are given full opportunities to participate in, and benefit from, the growth that is taking place in Saskatchewan today, and into the future."

I will type each response below.

On Premier of Saskatchewan letterhead is the following letter:
January 10, 2013
Dear Ms. Koops:
Thank you for your email of December 21, 2012.
Notwithstanding current issues between First Nations and the federal government, our government will continue to work effectively with the FSIN and First Nations in Saskatchewan to improve educational outcomes for First Nations students, such as on the Joint Task Force on Aboriginal Education and Employment, which released an interim report earlier this month. We will build on the report and its recommendations, in partnership with tribal councils, individual First Nations and First Nation businesses, to increase aboriginal engagement in the economy.
We will also continue to honour our government's obligations under the Duty to Consult as we continue to build our relationships with First Nations across Saskatchewan. Our government will work hard to ensure that all Saskatchewan people are given full opportunities to participate in, and benefit from, the growth that is taking place in Saskatchewan today, and into the future.
If you have not already done so, you may wish to share your views with your Member of Parliament. I have also forwarded your email to the Honourable Jim Reiter, Minister responsible for First Nations, Metis and Northern Affairs, for his information.
Thank you for writing.
Brad Wall
On Speaker of the Legislative Assembly letterhead is written the following:
January 8, 2013
Dear Ms. Koops,
Thank you for your letter regarding Chief Theresa Spence and her actions to draw attention to the concerns of First Nations communities and peoples.
I have referred your letter to the Honourable Jim Reiter, Minister responsible for First Nations, Metis and Northern Affairs for the Saskatchewan government for his further response.
Yours truly,
Hon. Dan D'Autremont
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan
On Provincial Secretary letterhead is written the following letter:
17 January 2013
Dear Ms. Koops
Thank you for your letter, dated 21 December 2012, addressed to both the Premier and to me personally. I appreciate the effort you made to contact our government during the Christmas holidays to express your concerns on matters affecting the First Nations.
As you will be aware, there have been several developments in regard to Chief Spence and her efforts to bring awareness to First Nations issues since your initial contact with my office via telephone. We trust that the recent meeting with the Prime Minister and selected Chiefs will be a positive step towards resolution of outstanding issues affecting First Nations communities.
I understand that the Premier has forwarded your letter to our Minister responsible for First Nations and Metis Relations for his information and attention.
Yours truly,
D. Wayne Elhard, MLA
Provincial Secretary
Note: Here is a link to the Government of Saskatchewan Joint Task Force mentioned in the Premier's Letter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tears Waterfall as I Listen to Michael Morin

I phone Keitha, last minute, and ask if she wants to go hear a young man from Lebret, a former student of mine, talk about his experiences in Nicaragua as part of Canada Youth Intership program. She says sure. Then, what the heck, I phone Elizabeth and Leon, and see if they want to join the last minute road show.

It's minus 22 and dropping with strong wind when I pick up Elizabeth and Leon. We're all laughing, reliving good lines from yesterday's road trip to Regina's Idle No More. After Keitha's in the vehicle, and we've driven two minutes, past the coop, Elizabeth says, "Umm. Don't you know Lebret is in the other direction."

"He's from Lebret," I say.

We all laugh good. I have a bit of a reputation for not knowing where I'm driving. When we get out in front of the Senior Centre,  Elizabeth speaks to the lady pulling up beside us. "Yup, Sheena," she says, "You've got the right spot."

The room is set up in a big circle, and people are all smiles as we walk in. There's Michael Morin, probably the shyest student I've ever taught, sitting at the front, projector on, ready to be the guest speaker.

The CLIFF community (Calling Lakes Interfaith Friendship Forum) creates a warmth and the building snow outside is far from our minds. They share some announcements, a scripture reading, followed by prepared prayers.

Then, Michael begins to speak and I begin to beam. He tells us of his inability to see his own worth, his shyness, his reluctance to apply for this program. Then of his acceptance, rush for passport, shots, and the journey begins, stretching his comfort levels. He goes zip lining, tries Indigenous foods, travels around the country, learns basic Spanish, lives with two host families, and chooses volunteer projects within the community. The blossoming in this young man and his ability to articulate his growth has me weepy in the back row.

But when he talks about his waterfall experience, nearly drowning in the cold waters, tears waterfall down my face and my teacher heart is so proud you'd think he was my own son.

He speaks about his transformation some more. "As Sheena would tell you," he says, looking at me. "I was a very shy person."

After many others shake his hand, Michael leaning in for hugs from most, I get my turn to hug him. "Listening to you tonight, and thinking of the potential in all my students, especially the quiet ones, you're making me think I can keep teaching for another twenty years," I say.

He smiles and nods. "I had to work hard not to call you Mrs. Koops," he says.

I ask him to come talk to my grade tens in this new semester. He says he will. I ask what he's up to next and  pretty soon he starts telling me of a project he's involved in and man-o-man I can't wait to hear his next update. This young man will have my heart beating proud for years and years to come.

Michael will share about his experience of volunteering in Nicaragua for several months in 2012 along with other First Nations and Metis youth as part of Canada Youth Internship program.


Open Letter to Rex Murphy on Cross Country Checkup

Hi Rex.

I was on your show on Sunday and happy to make the edited version on Monday. You made a sidebar comment during my interview, "that would make an interesting little show of it's own" or something to the effect.

I've developed an "assignment" at school called "Treaty Walks for Kids" and I'd love to give Canadian's a Treaty Walks assignment. The premise is that individuals or groups walk somewhere, in their own backyards, and consider a piece of treaty history/relevance/community curriculum/philosophy/world view etc. Then, they can write, dance, pray, sing, photograph, dialogue about what they have learned. I'd love to post Treaty Walks from across the country on my blog.

Treaty Walks aren't just intellectual exercises, they are heart education as well. And the act of walking is significant in the step-by-step awareness of the land on which we live. These walks are also spiritual as they help slow us down to commune with "something" bigger than ourselves.

Just an off the top of my head suggestion. Thanks for your coverage of Idle No More. There is great hope stirring in this country.

All the best from Saskatchewan.


Monday, January 28, 2013

If Anyone Stops by after Cross Country in an Hour Monday

If you're stopping by my blog for the first time, welcome. Here's some of my touchstones, from most recent to the beginning.

Community Circle at Kate's

What "Exactly" are the Protests About?

White With You: Idle No More

Listen to the Amazing Leadership Coming from the Treaty Keepers

So You've Just Found Out You're a Treaty Person: What Do You Do Now?

So You've Just Decided You're Not Okay with Unbalanced Treaty Implementation: What Do You Do Now?

Six Generations

Someone To Help Me Along

A Call Out of Comfort

Standing Tall

Settling the Land

In a Good Way

Afraid I'm Going to Flake Out

Where Will You Be Today for the Global Day of Action

Where will you be for Idle No More's Global Day of Action? I will be in Regina at the event below :)!/events/563595183669961/
“All people are affected by Harper’s actions. It’s not just Treaty First Nations, these bills affect everyone and we need to be aware of the consequences.” - Sylvia McAdam, Idle No More

***Come join us for a Global Day of Action***
Celebrating Idle No More Diversity & YĆ®new Pimatsewin (“The Earth People’s Way of Life”)

... ** The goal of this event is to share proactively & positively with ALL citizens of this wonderful country the negative impacts of Harper’s actions on us all. Idle No More has awakened our First Nations & Aboriginal people. It's time to wake up & include all Mother Earth's Children. **

Learn from other people why it is important to be Idle No More & what you can to do prevent the further destruction of Mother Earth.

*Key Note Speakers"
Agenda For the Day
• Welcome& Prayer
• Buffalo Lodge: Honour Song
• Dr. William Asikinack, BA (W. Ont.), MED (Ed. Admin)
• Jaqueline Anaquod –Grassroots- Aboriginal Feminist
• Elizabeth Curry – Coalition For a Green Saskatchewan
• Performance- Shannon McNab
• Dodie Ferguson-Canadian Postal Union of Workers
• Bob Hughes- Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism (SCAR)
• Leonzo Barreno – BA Honours (Indig Studies) MA (Justice Studies) University Of Regina
• Larry Kowalchuck- Human Rights Lawyer and Activist
• Shannon McNab
• Laura Stewart
• Jayda &Jordynn Delorme
Draws for Door Prizes
Buffalo Lodge Drummers to Close the day
• Emcee • Mr. Howie Thomson

ELDER Cheryl Littletent
DRUM Buffalo Lodge Singers & Buffalo Lodge Ladies

Entrance and Parking is located on South West Side of building

Here's a little writeup ahead of time from the Leader Post.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

For Such a Time as This on Cross Country Checkup

"Sheena, have you turned your radio off and are you able to hear the program through your phone?" the CBC producer asks.

"Yes," I say. My hands are shaking. I'm short of breath.

"Good, because you're next."

I've texted Andrea, Victoria and Michael. I'm next in line on Cross Country Checkup. Call Mom. I put down the cell phone and pray for a clear mind and the words I need to say.

And then I hear his voice. It's Rex Murphy. I'd know that cadence and intensity anywhere. He's introducing me, welcoming me to his show, and then asks me to speak.

I'm not sure what I say, I'm that nervous. I know I say something about unimplemented treaty being the biggest issue facing our MPs who are going to Ottawa tomorrow. I say this is the first time I've written to the Prime Minister, and I thank the leaders of Idle No More and Chief Theresa Spence who have helped me engage. I talk about being a white, settler Canadian descendant, how my people have been benefiting from treaty for generations, while our treaty partners have not benefited from treaty. I talk about First Nations leadership as treaty keepers, and note the CD Dan Bellegarde gave me called "Chief's Forum on Treaty Implementation." I hope I said something about this being a Canadian issue, not an Aboriginal issue, and if we are good in our relationships, the other things, like the economy, will right itself.

Then Rex asks me something about the economy and I say, "What? Here in Saskatchewan? Oh, that's way over my head." He tells me I'm honest and after some niceties, I think we hang up.

But, I'm not sure. Thank goodness Andrea heard me and we talked and she said I was just fine.

It's a little later, now, and my heart rate is back to normal. I'm in blogger mode.

I love the story in the old testament about Esther. A beauty pageant, followed by death threats, a calculated risk, irony, and eventually, a happy ending for the good guys. I love the phrase I borrow regularly, "For such a time as this." Esther's wise old uncle says, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)

Just to be clear. I'm not calling myself royal, and I certainly haven't won a beauty contest, ever! But I do feel that I've been prepared, as a white, settler descendant, newcomer-lately- to-Canada, for "such a time as this."

My treaty walks have helped me be ready to listen to the leaders of Idle No More. Listen to the Chief's Forum on Treaty Implementation. Listen to Chief Theresa Spence as she began and stepped down from her hunger strike. Listen to my First Nations friends in our Sunday Circle and at Fort Qu'Appelle's Community Outreach. My treaty walks have prepared me to listen, and today, on CBC's Cross Country Checkup, to speak up.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

from my cousin who walks with me

for you dear cousin,
I read this in a novel I was reading- where the past seemed to come alive and flavor or speak to the present...
From the Lace Makers of Glenmara, by Heather Barbieri. "Sometimes I think there's too much history here...  That the land won't let us forget what pains us. It's not a bad thing, the remembering, it's an important part of who we are, the suffering that shapes us, that reminds us how strong we can be."
I think the strong sense of history also helps us to dream of what can be and give us hope again... the picture of the treaty medallion- with the treaty partners shaking hands- of coming together, brother to brother, sister to sister- of being able to rediscover and base our lives again on the spirit and intent of the treaties. I guess it's the two sides of the coin... the hurts, but also the dreams shaped by the past that is so strong here.
The quote made me think of Fort Qu'Appelle and of what is in your heart.... love ya, angela

Angela on Echo Lake

Friday, January 25, 2013

Community Circle at Kate's

Another beginning as we gather in Kate's living room and considered the events that have brought us together, a diverse group, who are hearing possibilities and prophecies; who are experiencing relationship and resurgence; who are dreaming hope and harmony; who are calling for prayer and peace; who are round dancing friendship and family.

This is a community circle. May the ripples be many.


We Day Paper Chain

Our facilitator places a large envelope on our table and walks around the room full of teachers, placing envelopes on other tables. I am half listening to the instructions. This is a competition. Something about making paper chains, and the paper needs to be such-and-such wide and however long.

I'm at We Day training. Our school division is encouraging us to take students, and our high school is planning to take 35. On the Regina lineup press release, We Day promoters say, "Young people earn their way into the event by committing to take action on at least one local and one global issue through Free The Children’s year long engagement programs."

I don't want to play the simulation game. I never do. It's like games at a shower. Ugg. What I really want to do is have a side-bar with some of the women who were talking earlier about the power-issues around which students to select. I want to say, "That's just the point, if its seen as an opportunity with the kids who have the most power -- the best of the best -- to continue keeping their power, then it's I Day instead of We Day.

But now my group has started cutting strips of construction paper, and another group comes over to ask if they can see our ruler. We have two. I say, "Just take one."

Then my colleague Andre gets the tape out, and I say, "Let's put little strips along the table."

Our neighbour table asks if they can have some tape and Andre points at his stock-pile along the edge.

I get it. We're a have-table, and those around us seem to be have-nots. I'm a little interested now. Suckered in, I critique, but I wonder who else needs things we have. So I go to another table, see they have tape, and suggest they put the tape along the edge like we're doing. When one of the other tables asks if they can borrow tape, I tell them about that other table, because we are already supplying for three tables. I see some people ripping rather than cutting the strips, and I see our scissors are busy, so I don't offer our scissors. The scissors man is deep in conversation with someone who has come over to see him. I'm wondering if that person is a spy, or a distraction, sent to get him off track, but he's making the strips and visiting, so I leave him alone.

The facilitator announces we have about one minute, and then my buddy, Robin, from next door says, "Let's join chains." And pretty soon, we are adding chain upon chain and the clock is ticking down, and the chain just keeps growing.

I wish I was taking notes, but I don't even have a pen. The debriefing discussion is really good about all the ways this exercise could be used in the classroom.

The facilitator says this is the second time, since they've been in Saskatchewan, that the people changed the rules of competition and made a joint chain. Home of cooperatives, we call back. Home of medicare. Tommy Douglas turf. I'm so proud of Saskatchewan it almost hurts.

Our facilitator tells us that this chain activity was developed as part of their upcoming Aboriginal awareness campaign.

I'm looking around the room, and we are predominately white teachers. I know that I'm buying into one of my favorite myths, that Saskatchewan is all about taking care of each other and working together. I wonder how the conversation would change if the room were half First Nations or First Generation Immigrants.

Well, We Day, you've got me thinking. And hopefully, you'll help this next generation do more than just think, but act, together, for the kind of province, country, and world we want.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Into Healing Manitou Waters

I drive into the shallow valley at five-thirty. The winter light gives me frozen lake against  gentle hills. Blue, white and grey-brown send rest into my road-weary eyes. I check in. I park in the lakefront lot. I haul suitcase, briefcase, laptop, purse, and book bag into my room-with-a-view of Manitou. I go for supper, windows overlooking the snowy scene. I review my notes, while eating Greek chicken, rice and salad.

I have McDowell Foundation meetings in Saskatoon, but I'm getting too old to drive the four hours, then be "on" all day, and still drive home. The recovery time takes its toll, so I'd looked for a hotel in Saskatoon, but they were all sold out. Every last phone call. Nothing. If I didn't have awesome cousins and friends in Saskatoon, I might have felt like Joseph and Mary with no room at the inn. (I had planned to put a I'm-in-town-come-have-supper-with-me call into facebook land because I got heck last time I was in Saskatoon and didn't call my loved ones.)

Then a last hide-away thought had hit me. Manitou Springs. Michael had been to Watrous and told me about the water of Manitou Lake. I'd phoned. There was room!

At seven I'm walking down the hallway in my bathing suit and white Manitou Springs robe, and I stop to read the legend as told by Dan Kennedy. The mural along the wall shows a summer-time Indian camp, and the cognitive dissonance clangs like a fire bell in this quiet hallway. I love this stuff even as I feel convicted to speak out against it. Romantic Indian legend of the plains-long-forgotten, me in my white robe, watching from the future. I'm a walking stereotype, right past the still-as-stone stereotype, no energy to even take a picture for my treaty walks blogs where I'd have to unpack the messy, invisible settler suitcase that rolls along behind me.

I wade into the golden water in the giant pool. I slip onto my back, the salty water kicking my feet out from under me. The minerals tasty on my lips. The jets swirling the water. I spin in circles until I'm so dizzy I have to stand up.

I'm asleep early and awake late, just in time for the free hot breakfast and to hear travel-not-advised on the radio. I run out into the high windchill wind, start my Envoy, run back to the hotel. Only now do I snap some photos, consider the opportunity to blog on my Manitou stay. Afterall, Manitou means spirit in Algonquian, and I've just spent the night seeking healing waters and rest at this inn.

But I don't think too much as I drive out of the valley and into the storm. It's enough that I've been here. It's enough that my mind has been stilled. It's enough that I take with me the gifts of this place that I will return to, Great Spirit willing.

And as I write this a few days later, I am remembering to say thank you to the first people of Manitou Lake, and thank you to our Creator for letting me share in this water, and this land that holds us all.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Prayer Request

The silver coffee perk's light is glowing red as people file down the school hallway, toward the library, dodging kids running in and out of the basketball game going on in the gym. We're not sure how many to expect, so we've left tables set up as usual. People fill one table, and then as more come, a circle forms with the two rectangle tables in the middle. It's Tuesday night, and our Sunday Circle has signed up to host the second event in Fort Qu'Appelle's Week of Prayer.

My new friend, Virgina, brings us a song she wrote. Her husband Allan shares a song, too. This lovely couple, from Manitoba, are studying at the Full Gospel Indian Bible School at B'Say'Tah. Cousin Brian shares a song he wrote for the Chapman Stick inspired by Isaiah 58. I read the scripture silently while he plays.

I hold a green sheet that says, "Prayer Requests for Fort Qu'Appelle's Week of Prayer." I had stopped by Outreach yesterday and left a sheet if anyone wanted prayers for anything specific. There are six men's names on the list.

I explain that we often pray in a chain-prayer style, and ask if people feel comfortable participating. I see nods, so I say that I'll start, we'll go around the circle, and I'll finish.

We pray together. We pray for our community. We pray for unity. We pray for protection. We pray for the six men by name.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Surprise Round Dance on the George Stroumboulopoulos Show

A round dance.
A friendship dance.
Holding hands in a circle.
Someone singing.
Drums beating or maybe just
some hands clapping the rhythm
I'm so happy to see a round dance
surprise the cbc audience
go George go

-- Sheena

Sent to all on the national Living Into Right Relations email list, for wide distribution.

Hello Friends

Here's a link to a clip from cbc television of Wab Kinew apparently improvising a flash mob round dance on the George Tonight show with George Stroumboulopoulos.

You can watch the round dance segment at this link, or if you tune into the show tonight (Monday) after the news you can see the whole interview, in which Wab talks to George about Idle No More, and about how all Canadians are treaty people.

For me this is empowering to see how the Idle No More movement is about celebrating Aboriginal culture too, and about inviting solidarity with non-Aboriginal allies. We often see the INM events presented solely as protest, but they are much more positive than that.


Here's our Round Dance on the intersection between Highway #10 and #35 in Fort Qu'Appelle, January 11th, 2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Prairie Wild Community Engagement Meeting

I met Jess Gordon, of the Idle No More movement, at the Treaty Four Governance Centre, after our Unity Walk on Friday, January 11th. She encouraged us to promote acts of resurgence.

As a white settler descendant, I am very proud of my heritage which I will bring to the Community Engagement Meeting on February 9th in Fort Qu'Appelle. Our family practices resurgence when we eat together, tell stories, make traditional foods on the holidays, travel, read, and keep in touch with relatives.

I also want to support my friends and neighbours, our treaty partners, as they practice "resurgence" within the context of our community. Let's go to this February 9th meeting, friends and family, and help shape our community.

of the
Town of Fort Qu’Appelle!

12:00 noon - 3:00 pm


What is an Official Community Plan?An Official Community Plan is a comprehensive policy document to help guide
the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle with growth and development
25+ years into the future.

What is Placemaking?Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and
management of public spaces. This placemaking session will engage
community members in a number of exercises to create a shared vision for the
Town of Fort Qu’Appelle. The information from this session will inform the
Town’s Official Community Plan along with action items in order to
implement the ideas that are formed in the session.

ph: Elaine Hanson (306) 332-5212 or Kerri Ward (306) 332-4426
Email or
On the Idle No More -- Official facebook page, Jess posts a definition of "resurgence".
1. A continuing after interruption; a renewal.
2. A restoration to use, acceptance, activity, or vigor; a revival.

” By asking “How will your ancestors and future generations recognize you as Indigenous?” I offer a challenge for us to begin re-envisioning and practicing everyday acts of resurgence.” – Jeff Corntassel,

So…What stories will you share today? What word will you teach your children in your language? Who will you go hunting with and who will you share it with?


Friday, January 18, 2013

Period Three Kids think Smoke Signals Good Viewing to Understand Idle No More

A house on fire -- blazing orange, red, yellow and the sound of crackling, spitting, roaring, falling --these sensory details open the movie Smoke Signals. I've never seen this movie but my period three students -- about half First Nations and half Settler descendants -- have convinced me to watch it within the context of Idle No More.

We plan to "go for coffee" and discuss on Thursday. Thanks Sierra for the initial suggestion.

I remember hearing about the movie years ago, but I'd written it off as Hollywood fluff. Within the first few minutes of the movie, I see it's going directly into some harsh reality. Within the first half hour I've shed tears, but I've laughed hard too. I can see why Rolling Stone called it "One of the best films of the year!" and why it was distinguished at the Sundance Film Festival. The fact that it stars Adam Beach is okay, too.

When we finish viewing, the students write conversation starters for us to take the the coffee shop on Thursday. Warning. Spoiler alert.

1. What do you think of when that girl burned the trailer?
2. I wonder why Victor's dad died?
3. What do you think of Thomas?
4. I wonder why Victor was so mad all the time?
5. I wonder why Victor's dad left. Why he ran away?
6. I wonder why Victori's dad never went back to see his family.
7. What did you think of the whole movie?
8. What do you think about Thomas and his stories?
9. My favorite scene was when Victor went to Arizona.
10. I wonder why Victor cut his hair in that trailer.
11. I wonder why Thomas wanted to go with Victor.
12. My favorite scene was when Victor realized who he and his father were because it shows that everyone can move forward.
13. I wonder why they didn't say goodbye to the one woman.
14. I wonder why Victor is so mean to Thomas.
15. What do you think the point of the movie was?
16. What do you think about Thomas and Victor's journey to Arizona?
17. What do you think of the way the "cowboys" acted towards Victor and Thomas on the bus?
18. My favorite scene was when Thomas was telling the story of fry bread because he makes it sound delicious.
19. What do you think about the car crash?
20. What do you think of Victor's dad?
21. I wonder why Victor's dad chose to live in Arizona.
22. My favourite scene was when Thomas changes his shirt because it says, "Fry Bread Power."
23. My favourite scene was when they got in a crash because it showed that Victor actually cared about others.
24. My favourite scene was when the cop was interviewing them because they didn't get charged when I thought they would.
25. My favourite part was when he dumped his father's ashes because it was heart warming.

At the coffee shop we divide into two big tables, each taking half of the questions and conversation starters. At my table, as we sip coffee and nibble donuts, we take turns leading the discussion.

"Why did the girl burn the trailer?"

"It wasn't needed anymore. It was because of the things Victor said and his dad said. It smelled bad."

"What is the significance of the fire?" I ask.

We talk about the symbolism of fire as taking life and giving life. The way the fire imagery starts and ends the movie. How fire cleans things and brings healing.

"These two are children of fire and ash," Sierra quotes from the movie.

"What do you think is the point of the movie?"

"Healing, how people heal differently. Like the road trip was healing for Victor. Some people heal through talking, like Thomas, and Susie and Arnold healed by telling their secrets. Arnold had to get away to quit drinking as part of his healing."

"Forgiveness, life and death, life on the reserve, humour."

One of the First Nations girls says there's nothing to do on the reserve, just like in the movie, but then another First Nations girl says, "You can go fishing if there's a lake."

One of the white girls asks, "Do you have to have a licence to go fishing?"

"No, we can just fish, and we use spears or nets." She is smiling.

"We do," says the other girl and smiles, then takes a bite of her donut.

"Yah, we all have to hunt with bow and arrows. We have to fish with spears. Everyone has to have a tipi." The First Nations girls are laughing, and the three white girls at the table are laughing too.

I say, "This sounds like the way we tell our American neighbours to the south that we all drive dog sleds and live in igloos." I comment on how the movie exposes the lies and laughs at the stereotypes, but also shows some of the complexity behind the stereotypes.

The next question is "Why did Victor cut his hair?"

"When a loved one dies, its a sign of mourning and grief to cut your hair."

"It's also a signal that Victor has forgiven his dad and started healing."

"Or, started forgiving his dad."

"Long hair is symbolic of pride."

Another question is, "Why is Victor so mean to Thomas?"

"Thomas has better memories of Arnold, Victor's Dad, than Victor does. Arnold took Thomas to Denny's. Arnold was nice to Thomas. Thomas is also socially awkward and annoys Thomas."

"Why did Victor's dad leave?"

"Wife kicked him out. No she didn't, he just left. It was the best thing he could have done."

One girl is shaking her head. I ask, "Could he have healed if he stayed?"

One girl nods, but another across the table says, "No. He had to leave."

The last question we have is "What do you think about Thomas and his stories?"

"They're B.S. and lies. They're something he's good at. He's not smart socially. He's awkward. He's funny. He told lies to make it interesting. Remember that fry bread one?"

I tell the kids that I think the movie is also asking the questions, "What is truth? and Can a lie-filled story actually tell the truth better than the cold, hard facts?" And then I add, "I think Thomas' stories are part of the healing. I think they're magical, even spiritual."

The students head back to the school in time for lunch.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

John Bird Gathers Christian Responses to Idle No More

Received from John Bird...

Sent to all on the Living Into Right Relations email list. Please share widely.

Hello Friends:

It seems to have come to this, I am sending digests now. My apologies for the volume of information of late. There is an embarrassment of riches out there these days, and I feel/hope that each piece I forward is another important shard contributing to the larger mosaic picture. I try to make sure the Indigenous voice is prominent among the pieces I share, although not exclusive.

There is also an embarrassment of poor and misleading coverage out there in the mainstream media, so we are doing our best to counterbalance that by sharing what we feel are the best. I'm hoping to slow it down a bit as we go forward, as I feel anyone who has managed to read even most of what I've been forwarding should now have a good understanding and background to interpret developments as they occur. Any comments you wish to make about these thoughts will be appreciated.

The members of this email list are primarily, although no longer entirely, Christians (most, but not all, being members of The United Church of Canada). Certainly the impetus for setting up this list, and for continuing it, comes out of a faith tradition that calls us to love because God first loved us, to love kindness, do justice and walk humbly with our Creator, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. It also comes out of a recognition that we need to redeem our history as a church that has erred in linking its identity with imperialist and colonizing powers, and has done some terribly wrong-headed and harmful things as a result.

That faith and understanding underlies our work and commitment, but we don't often make it explicit. Perhaps not often enough.

So today, I share with you two articles, by two Sarahs, that do explicitly enunciate their own Christian responses to this current situation, plus another prepared by Indigenous leaders with the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies.

The first is by Sarah Shepherd, who toiled amongst us for a number of years in Partners in Mission, in the United Church's national offices, and is currently communications coordinator for Citizens for Public Justice in Ottawa;

The second comes from the magazine Christian Week, and was prepared by: Terry LeBlanc (Mi'kmaq/Acadian), Adrian Jacobs (Cayuga), Wendy Peterson (Metis) Shari Russell (Saulteaux), Ray Aldred (Cree), Richard Twiss (Lakota), Randy Woodley (Keetoowah) and Andrea Smith (Cherokee), all with the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. Adrian Jacobs, it should be noted, now serves as Keeper of the Circle (principal) of the United Church's Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre:

The third is by a lower-mainland British Columbia blogger named Sarah Bessey (you can read more about her on her website):

And finally, this link will take you to a summary of key points raised by the National Chief and the Prime Minister at their meeting on January 11, 2013, and commitments made by both sides. It comes courtesy of BC-based Ha-Shilth-Sa, Canada's oldest First Nations newspaper:


John Bird, Program Coordinator
Aboriginal Justice and Right Relations
United Church of Canada

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

John Bird Catches Up

Sent to all on The United Church of Canada's Living Into Right Relations email list. Please circulate as widely as you can.

Hello again Friends:

Having been under the weather during the weekend and beginning of this week, I now (no surprise) find a big backlog in material I want to share with you. So here's a round-up of things I have missed sending out. Sorry to dump so much at once; as always, feel free to pick and choose what you wish to read/watch.

A link to a National Film Board film by well-known Aboriginal filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin about Attawapiskat. It is called The People of The Kattawapiskak River and is apparently only available online until Friday, so if you wish to watch it, you'll have to hurry:

A blog from The United Church of Canada Moderator Gary Patterson, written on the morning of the Jan. 11 meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders:

A public message from Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo, after the Jan. 11 meeting:

We have wondered ourselves, and have had others ask us, where is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in all these events around Idle No More and Chief Spence's spiritual fast? My colleague, Cecile Fausak, just found this statement on the TRC website, which I share below, along with a Winnipeg Free Press article that says Chief TRC Commissioner Justice Murray Sinclair has asked Chief Spence to end her fast (in a facebook statement, apparently):,%20AFN.pdf

An article by J.R. Miller in the Ottawa Citizen, explaining some of how and why First Nations view the role of the Governor-General and the Crown differently than settler Canadians do:

A letter from World Council of Churches General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit to Prime Minister Harper. When Olav visited Canada last March, he participated in an ecumenical gathering with national Aboriginal Anglican Bishop Mark Macdonald, Andrew Wesley, and Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Wilton Littlechild at Toronto Council Fire. During the event and afterwards, he expressed how important it was that WCC continue to be in solidarity with Indigenous peoples.

Article from the Globe and Mail by Anishnaabe writer Hayden King talking about the diversity among First Nations:

Reflections by Anishnaabe writer Leanne Simpson on the meaning of Chief (Ogichidaakwe ) Spence's fast:

We have so much to learn as we struggle to decolonize ourselves.

Blessings to all,

John Bird, Program Coordinator
Aboriginal Justice and Right Relations
United Church of Canada

Open Letter from Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence

"Sent to all on the Living Into Right Relations email list. Please circulate widely."

Dear Friends:

Attached and pasted below you will find the text of an open letter from Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence to her fellow chiefs and grand chiefs.

I'm glad she has released this letter and I'm glad to be able to read (and to share) her words directly, unfiltered by the corporate media. I find it very helpful and moving to read what she has to say.

John Bird, Program Coordinator
Aboriginal Justice and Right Relations
United Church of Canada

Victoria Island, Ottawa, January 15, 2013

Att.: All First Nations Chiefs and Grand Chiefs

Re: Status of Hunger Strike and National Leadership Situation

Dear Chiefs and Grand Chiefs;

Today marks the 36
th day of my hunger strike, 35th day for Mr. Raymond Robinson of Manitoba and yesterday Mr. Jean Sock from New Brunswick was his 28th day and his last. We owe a great depth of gratitude to Jean for his support by joining me and Raymond in our protest. In return we extend our full support and we respect his decision to end his hunger strike to attend to his ailing mother, and also to be with his youth who are struggling to comprehend our cause. We pray for his complete recovery and we send prayers to his mother, his family and to have a safe journey home.

With this letter, I want to make it clear once again the purpose of our hunger strike as well as to inform all of you the state of my health and Raymond. We also wanted to take this opportunity to express our position of the events leading to the meeting of January 11, 2013 and the current situation we are in.

As I stated from the beginning, something had to be done to bring our Nations immediate needs, treaty implementation issues among many other issues to the brought attention of the PM along with the Crown in meeting on Nation to Nation basis at the earliest time possible.

Now, that the meetings with the PM and the Governor General have taken place, despite the fact that the Chiefs met with them separately, like many of you the confusion has yet to subside as I continue to wait for the details in what was actually achieved. It is without a doubt, the events leading up to the meeting of January 11, 2013 with the PM and the evening with the Governor General, as well as the communication breakdown that day and into that night truly tested our unity once again.

Along with Mr. Raymond Robinson, Mr. Jean Sock and I, we call on all of you not to waste any more energy on determining the future of our National Chief - for what took place for the past month is beyond us all as individuals. We all began with a purpose, we had a plan, we need now to refocus and stick to the original plan to propose and follow our own agenda. This is our best chance to settle the struggles our Nations have had to endure for far too long.

We need the National Chief as much as we need each other. With the challenges ahead, we need to spend less energy fighting amongst ourselves; instead we must focus on finding a common ground, a common understanding and respecting each other’s goals and objectives. We must stand united, strengthen our unity and agree on an agenda that works for all of us and not just the few. The politics within our camp can wait and work itself out on its own time.

What we have endured here at the island is a small price to pay compared to what our ancestors, our own mothers and fathers endured. Putting aside the real purpose of our hunger strike, this was our way to pay tribute to our ancestors who have forgone some of the harshest periods in our history, to honor those among our Nations who continue to struggle for the basic standard of living to this day, as well as to raise new hope among our youth and to protect our future generations.

From the beginning, the support and prayers from all of you, from our grassroots, elders, women and particularly the youth brought us comfort and assurance that we are all in this together. This must continue.

Many of you have asked me directly or called on us indirectly to stop our hunger strike, but as we stated before, our exit or to end this hunger strike will be on our own terms. We ask all of you to respect that and ask you to refocus on the spirit and the intent of this movement.

Together, meaning the Idle No More movement, as hunger strikers, others who are fasting for the same cause with the support of our grassroots, our protesters, you the leaders, we have all been part of something historic which brought in all of us a sense of pride; our people have come together in solidarity for a common cause. The citizens of this country have also taken notice and we have their attention. Soon the rest of the world must to be informed and this Government along with the Crown must accept that the only way forward in this country is a renewed relationship with First Nations, but that it must begin with in a meeting with both the PM and Governor General present.

We are honored to be able to contribute to raising awareness of our Nations pressing issues, past and current struggles, as well as the challenges ahead. As more protests are being scheduled, we hope that the peace be maintained and ask all of you to encourage your members to remain peaceful and respectful.

Furthermore, we acknowledge and respect the Idle No More movement, their founders and spokespeople for promoting awareness of the controversial omnibus bills recently passed in the Senate. Our fights may be different, but our dreams and hopes for our people are common.

We will assess carefully our next steps in the coming days and will continue to remain optimistic. Our spirits are up, but we are growing weaker by the day but we do our best to maintain our health. We ask you to respect our choices and to leave us the decision when and if this hunger strike should end.

My fellow Chiefs, on behalf of Mr. Robinson and Mr. Sock, we thank you for your continued prayers and support. We ask you now to focus on the task at hand and please do not to worry about us; our people and our youth deserve real change and nothing more. May the Creator guide us through the challenges up ahead.

Gichi Meegwetch,

Chief Theresa Spence

Attawapiskat First Nation

Cc: Shawn Atleo, AFN National Chief

All AFN Regional Chiefs

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What "Exactly" are the Protests About?

I remember New Years a few years back. Dennis brought his guitar and we sang a few songs. He wears a big cowboy hat and his voice is gentle and kind, just right for working with horses. He mostly posts about his love for horses and his training techniques, but just yesterday he read my post about the "Ally Bill of Responsibilities" by Dr. Lynn Gehl, and Dennis asked me this quesiton

Sheena, I haven't read all your blogs but can you tell us exactly what all the protests are about by the 1st nations it looks like there is disagreement among themselves. Your insights would be much appreciated.

Hi Dennis. I've been on my "official" treaty walks for over a year and a half, my masters of education degree focuses on anti-racism, I lived on-reserve for five years, I've had many First Nations friends over the years, I have First Nations cousins, my parents took me to pow wow's when I was little, BUT I am still just a student in the study of the impact colonialism has had on the first people's of our country. If you want to begin to understand the issues behind Idle No More, you must go back 250...400 years and re-learn our Canadian history. This is why this post regarding an Ally's Bill of Responsibilities is so important. I have not walked in the shoes of the oppressed. I have mostly benefitted from treaties which have never been implemented. We have a deep, dark history to unpack, and then a long, long road to walk toward justice. I'll post some related links to my blog below.

Here is a series of speeches in print form to hear from a variety of FN leaders, summing up what needs to be done to implement treaties (and sadly, what hasn't been done, and the consequences...)

Dennis, here's another entry point.

Dennis, here's the basic history, rethought, in news article form.

Dennis, here's my first awareness of the movement "Idle No More" and it included a prayer gathering. Intriguing that people are talking so much about prayer in this movement. Sounds like something followers of Christ would be interrested in.

Dennis, if you are new to the concept that Canada was formed by extensive treaty making, here's a blog post that may be helpful.

One more, Dennis, and remember, you asked

Sheena, I think we have a good understanding of our past history with the 1st Nation people. We have fostered a few and are required to spend time and learn of the history - it is sad that we have made such huge errors and mistakes along with the animosity it has created. I am very glad to see you taking this journey. We look forward to your answers. As I said there seems to be disagreement and separation among the 1st nation as well as our Canadian nation.

Hey, Dennis. Although people are calling for unity, First Nations people are as diverse as my heritage of Scotts/Irish/British and Norwegian. As any group of diverse people, there will be diverse opinions. The British crown entered into treaty with diverse Nations; I don't think we need to be afraid of disagreements as long as we are all talking. And maybe, especially, listening. If you have a good handle on the history in general, then I'd look at the speeches from the Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation. There is so much rich leadership being offered our country from these treaty keepers. Thanks for your engagement on this historic issue.

Note: Dennis' question and interaction is used with permission.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ally Bill of Responsibilities by Dr. Lynn Gehl

This is an excellent reminder to all allies. In my study of anti-racism, I have considered some of these points in articles like jona olson's "For White Anti-Racists: Avoiding the Detours in the Journey Toward Justice" and the classic "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh.
I will never be "done" reminding myself of these responsibilities because it is so easy to make it about oneself, rather than the people we are walking alongside.
Here's some words from my sacred teachings: "If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand." (Philippians 2, The Message)