Saturday, October 11, 2014

So Much Hope. So Much Beauty.

My grade nine students are zipping up binders, pushing in chairs, and spilling from my new classroom. I go to the back of the room and pull a box from the lowest shelf. It's heavy, full of shiny magazines, Kitoskayiminawak Pikiskwewak: Our Young People Speak: The Treaty Edition. We sold quite a few this summer at the Treaty 1-11 Gathering in Fort Qu'Appelle, and now University of Regina Professor Michael Cappello has wiped out my supply, ordering thirty-five to use in his education class. I am delivering the magazines to Houston's because Mike and some of his education students are driving to Fort Qu'Appelle to pick them up. They have invited me out for lunch, too, to talk about Treaty Education. 

Students reading their 2014 magazine at spring Gala Book Launch 

The sun is shining, the leaves are crisping yellows and orange. It's only nine degrees, and  if it was a bit warmer, we would have met at Treaty Four Park. I lug the heavy box into Houston's, and there sit five young women and professor Mike. After quick introductions we begin our conversation. They explain the purpose of their trip, to open up a space in which they can continue their dialogue and dream to form an Anti-Oppressive Education Club at the UofR and to meet me. We order; I get a small salad, because I will be doing a lot of the talking. 

The students tell me that they've read some of my blog in one of their classes, and I ask if they notice I've stopped blogging. "I wasn't going to mention that," says Mike. 

I tell my story of growing up on a farm, teaching one year at Luther College, then living and teaching on a reserve in Black Lake First Nation, Treaty 8 Territory, then moving south, back into Treaty 4 Territory where I was born and raised, all the while, not realizing the significance of Treaty in my own history as a settler descendant. 

The meals begin appearing. "This is so much," they say about the large portions. 

"I should have warned you," I say. 

I tell of my Treaty awakening. How I started Treaty Walking. How I was tired of alienating people when I tried to talk about anti-racism. How I thought maybe blogging and doing something weird, like walking to school for 200 days, might give me opportunity to share what I'm learning in a good way. 

I take a bite of my grilled chicken. I dip it in the house salad dressing. Mmmm.

I put on another hat, President of the Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation for Research into Teaching, and I pull handouts from my briefcase about Action Research, left over from an inservice last week. I tell them that Action Research is a way of being: questioning, acting, reflecting, and then cycling through a new question, new action, new reflections. Treaty Walks have been informal Action Research. I suggest their group might be interested in applying for a McDowell Grant. They talk amongst themselves, and I crunch on my salad. 

I start whispering, telling them about being in Italy this summer with my husband and taking a Creativity Workshop in Florence and how we used stage whispering to share our writing with our whisper partners. I tell them, I want to whisper something to you. Everyone leans in. I tell the young women and my friend the professor about conflict I have every year with a few students and a few parents when I take the students to the Treaty Four gathering. I tell them that I get my hand slapped regularly.

"They are disciplining you," says Mike. 

I confess that I often feel sorry for myself, but how I recently, finally, viewed one of the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes sessions with Jane Elliott (because my husband sat me down and said, "you need to watch this"), and how my life is very blessed and privileged, and nobody should be feeling sorry for me because of my little bit of activism and occasional figurative slaps. 

I tell them how my husband is coaching me that I need to perfect my discourse. I am great at creating awkward, uncomfortable spaces in which anti-racism conversations can take place, but I don't know how to "nail it in" as Jane Elliott would say. I tell them that I have about ten years left in me as a teacher and that maybe these will be my best years, but I have lots of learning to do. 

"See, look at her, she's been teaching a long time and she doesn't know the answers," Mike says, and smiles at me. I nod. 

"So remember that you don't need to know all the answers when you think you need to know the answers," he says.

I tell them that every day since I stopped blogging -- seriously, every day -- I have had a two hour blog topic on my mind and in my heart. I have been overwhelmed. I have been burned out. But I have taken some time for renewal and the energy is returning. This luncheon is part of my recharging. 

We are finishing our lunches, or all we can eat, and asking for doggy bags. We sip water, talk about the SAFE Conference in Regina that we will all be attending October 24th dedicated to Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppressive Education. 

I wish I had time to take them on a quick tour of Fort Qu'Appelle, but they will drive around on their own, and they really want to see the school. Mike takes the cheque and we leave.

We walk the hallways at Bert Fox Community High School, and I'm seeing my students through these young educator's eyes. So much hope. So much beauty. 


  1. Beautiful post, Sheena! You are so inspiring. I'm glad our lunch could be part of your recharging. For me, it was more of an awakening, so I thank you for that!

  2. Truly, you were six-hearts-strong shooting energy, hope, and joy directly into my teacher heart. A heart transfusion? A carebear stare? My teacher soul has been saved over and over by moments like this. May you fill your career with spaces for renewal.