Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hope for Canada: Tomika Pinay Reflects on the Blanket Exercise

For ten months, four young women from Bert Fox Community High School -- Tomika Pinay, Mercedes Tupone, Leeza Curin, and Eraine Croucamp -- were called on by teachers, community members, university professors, and organizations to present "The Blanket Exercise" an interactive experience, developed by Kairos, which brings "Canada's Indigenous history up to the surface" as Tomika says. "The blanket exercise isn't meant to point the finger of blame or shame toward settler descendants, it's a tool to bring us together to work, and towards a better future. It's not about what we can do to fix the past, it's about what we can do to fix the now."
The following is a reflection written by Tomika.
Leeza, Mercedes, Tomika, and Eraine
after presenting the Blanket Exercise at the Estevan Comprehensive School
Hope for Canada
by Tomika Pinay
"The first time I participated in the blanket exercise I was overcome with sadness. I was upset because I did not know how awful the things my ancestors had to experience. I was heartbroken that the indigenous history of Canada has been hidden and forgotten about. After the initial feelings of sadness a small, inkling of pride crept upon me. There have been so many attempts to annihilate our cultures, but we are still here. After the government's attempts to "kill the Indian in the child" and to erase our history, we are still here. It is a miracle that our indigenous cultures are still such a huge part of who we are. Canada's Indigenous people are still living, breathing, and walking on this earth, are still a part of Turtle Island. 
"My most memorable experience facilitating the blanket exercise was one of the first times Leeza, Eraine, and I performed the exercise at the UofR. At this particular time, we were presenting to a university class, but I can't remember which one. The class was very respectful and fully participated in the exercise. There was one young man who I'd had the chance to speak to, and his feelings on the exercise at first were very negative. He told me that the exercise brought on feelings of blame and shame. That isn't what the Blanket exercise is about. It's about bringing Canada's Indigenous history up to the surface. We cannot change the past no matter what we do, we can only move on from now and change our futures. Our job as treaty people is to acknowledge our past and to rebuild the relationship of Indigenous peoples and settler descendants. The blanket exercise isn't meant to point the finger of blame or shame toward settler descendants its a tool to bring us together to work, and towards a better future. It's not about what we can do to fix the past, it's about what we can do to fix the now. 
"I've learned that the people who are willing to learn will get the most out of the Blanket Exercise. Even those who don't want to listen or learn, something will stick. Through doing the exercise I've gained a lot of hope for Canada. There is a problem of racism in North America,but teaching and listening to people from all walks of life has given me optimism for our future.
"My hope is that everyone who has participated in the exercise has taken something away that will impact them positively. Because I know it has impacted me greatly."

Tomika, Mercedes, Leeza and Eraine at ECS

Tomika with grade ten students at Bert Fox
 Debriefing Blanket Exrecise, ECS
Mercedes, Victoria, Leeza, Eraine, and Tomika with Kete-ayah Alma Poitras
after presenting the Blanket Exercise at the Estevan Public Library.

Eraine, Tomika, and Leeza posing for a picture to send Mr. Koops
as we eat at his favourite restaurant in Regina, after a Blanket Exercise presentation.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Bird's Eye View of Treaty Four Gathering

The many levels of organization are coming together as Treaty peoples work together to prepare for the Treaty Four Gathering, September 12th to 18th in Fort Qu'Appelle.

Monday at noon there will be a feast. All are welcome.

"Empowering Women" is the 30th Treaty Four theme; Monday evening there will be a gathering facilitated by the University of Regina at the Governance Centre, as families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls share their journeys.

Just to name a few of the student activities, Tuesday to Thursday, there will be traditional foods, traditional medicines, dry meat, hide tanning, treaty teachings, traditional hunting, teepee making, old time tipi, dream catchers, Blanket Exercise, Orange Shirt Day awareness, Veteran's tent, and many other activities with FHQTC, SICC, FNUC, RCMP, Treaty 4 Education, and Sparky the Fire Dog mascot. All day Wednesday there will be an Interactive Career Fair.

David Johnson, the Governor General of Canada and Caroloyn Bennet, the Canadian Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs will spend all day Tuesday in "Crown-Treaty four Relations".

Wednesday evening there's a talent show; Thursday evening a dry dance; Friday evening is Crystal Shawanda in Lebret. Saturday morning is the parade; Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday is the pow wow.

Last year, Andre-Boutin Maloney and his photography students from Bert Fox Community High School photographed these great shots from a bird's eye view on the pow wow grounds, after most students had gone home from the activities of the day.


Monday, August 29, 2016

What Was the Most Emotional Moment of the Blanket Exercise? ECS Students Reflect

For Aboriginal Storytelling month last February, four students from Bert Fox Community High School were invited to the Estevan Comprehensive School to present the Blanket Exercise which tells the history of Canada through the voices of indigenous peoples. The blankets represent the land and participants play the role of sovereign indigenous peoples. The facilitators play the role of Europeans who first come to the land as friends, but as the power begins to shift, and Treaties are broken, assimilation and colonization become a reality.
Tim Lee and James Jones, teachers at the Estevan Comp, assigned reflection questions. This is the third of five questions asked.
What was the most emotional moment for you? Why was it emotional? Consider the speaker's values, perspective, biases and tone.
  • The most emotional moment for me would be when they took away Nate's baby. It was emotional because of what it would be like to actually have a child and then it gets ripped away and you never see them.
  • The most emotional moment for me was when the aboriginal kids who were forced to attend residential schools came home to their families, but the kids were shamed and ignored. I got emotional because I don't like being left out. The speaker had a sharp tone when telling the tribes to shame the kids.
  • When they instantly killed people who had the white cards. It was emotional because I had the white card.
  •  The most emotional moment was when the blanket got smaller and smaller, symbolizing their land. Another very emotional part was when people started dying from disease or residential schooling. It was emotional because it felt real and kind of made all of it a reality instead of a story that was "back then".
  • The most emotional was when the readers called out the people with yellow and blue cards. The people with the cards died and did not come back.
  • The most emotional moment for me was when I was given a yellow card and then sent away to residential school. Upon returning to my blanket with the others they were told to turn their backs on me which really stung.
  • The most emotional moment for me was when we were in the talking circles and I saw how little some people cared. They were disrespectful to the speaker. It made me angry how some people have no respect for another's heritage or traditions.
  • The most emotional part, though I am emotionless, would have to be when they pried poor Carlos from Nate. Poor guy was devastated. I mean the way they put it when talking about the Residential Schools makes you kind of realize how bad it really must have felt to have your children yanked from you with no chance of return.
  • The most emotional moment for me was definitely when the young girl in our group from Fort Qu'Appelle explained to us that 2 or 3 generations of women in her family were forced to attend residential school. I found that this was emotional because the facts that we had just learned became more than a statistic, it was this girls' life. I also found that it was interesting when the girl told us not to blame ourselves for the decisions of our ancestors. Her tone was very forgiving, even as she spoke about the damage it caused her family.
  • The most emotional part for me wasn't actually part of the Blanket Exercise, it was when we were in the groups at the end. The girl that was with us told us her story and it was about apartheid because she was from South Africa and it was very sad and realistic. It could somewhat be compared to the whites and Indians but in her case it was Blacks and Whites. Her tone was sad and we could really understand her perspective and there wasn't much bias towards it.
  • The most emotional part for me was when I heard how many of their people were taken away from their families to go to school. It was emotional for me because I deeply care about my family and can't imagine them being taken from me.
  • The most emotional part was when everyone started to leave. The blankets got smaller. People started dying because of disease. It was emotional because that's what they went through.
  • The part I found most emotional was when people were getting killed. I was one of the people who got killed right away, so it showed how fast things happened.
  • The most emotional part for me was when they were talking about how they just took the kids away from their parents. It was emotional because the kids and their parents don't deserve to be separated. Kids need their parents in their lives to be role models, but they couldn't because they were taken away from them and treated terribly.
  • Having people on my blanket turn their back on me when I came back from Residential School was the most emotional moment for me. It was emotional because I have a general idea of what it feels like to be isolated due to my religion. however, it made me feel isolated and a much higher level because there was not much they could do about it.
  • I felt a respect for them (indigenous peoples) when it was all done.
  • The most emotional part of the presentation was when the girl in our group was talking about how suicide has really affected her life. When she started talking about it everyone grew really quiet and we were all listening to her. She said she had many suicide attempts. The way the crowd hushed showed that we had respect for her. She spoke in a quieter tone which showed that she was touchy on the subject and it was hard for her to tell her story.
  • The most emotional part was the Residential Schools. It was hard hearing how the children were taken away and have no idea what's happening to them or where they are. I couldn't imagine the pain the parents of children would feel.
  • The part that struck me the most was when they told the people with yellow cards to stand on a separate blanket, representing the ones who were forced to go to Residential Schools. Then they told us to walk back to our blanket and as we did, everyone turned their backs. It was heart breaking to see that no one cared. The speakers tone at the time was very demanding and fearful. Everyone listened, setting the mood that this was not a happy time.
  • The most emotional part was when the girls took away the babies. It was the reality that so many babies/children died while they were getting taken away.
  • The most emotional moment for me was when the older woman there walked around and yelled at the people on the blankets. The reason this upset me was because you could sense the amount of disrespect the First Nations got treated with. The way she yelled and talked made it seem real.
Note. Excerpts from the ECS reflections on the Blanket Exercise can be found on Treaty Walks question by question on the following dates:
1. What was your general impression or thoughts about the Blanket Exercise? Did you enjoy participating? August 14th, 2016
2. What did you learn from Friday's presentation? August 23rd, 2016
3. What was the most emotional moment for you? Why was it emotional? Consider the speaker's values, perspective, biases and tone. August 29th, 2016
4. The Blanket Exercise is designed to inspire action. How could an event like this inspire people? What could we do? September 2nd, 2016
5. Analyze the overall effectiveness of the presentation. September 9th, 2016

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Becoming Worthy of Reconciliation: Truth and Education

A deeply disturbing event has happened in Saskatchewan. On the same day as my baby's fourteenth birthday, another woman lost her twenty-two year old son.

A deeply disturbing event has happened in Canada. While my newcomer grandparents, aunties, uncles, and parents were going to school, the ancestors of the woman who lost her son were being picked up by the RCMP, the church, the government and sent to Residential Schools.

What is missing from Canada's Truth and Reconciliation process is the confessions of the colonizers. How can we, as a society, expect to act toward reconciliation when we have not, as a society -- in very systemic ways -- acknowledged our racist past, acknowledged our racist present, the legacy of 100 years of our profit at the expense of "100 years of loss" in Indigenous communities.

We are in need of a great season of humility. We are in need of a great season of education.

I have listened to survivor after survivor model deep humility, telling stories from Residential School, often embarrassing and humiliating stories. I listened in Fort Qu'Appelle. I listened in Saskatoon. I've listened on Youtube. I've listened in the coffee shop. I've listened over the phone. Many First Nations people have spoken their truth.

Have survivors had the opportunity to hear settler-descendants, over and over, with deep humility, confess that our people's economic profit (through the clearing of the land for agriculture and other acts of colonization) has been at our Treaty partner's loss? Have survivors heard us speak out over-and-over against racism? Have survivors of colonization heard us own our past from which we have built our present? Have survivors heard us speak with deep humility, as we share embarrassing and humiliating stories of oppression? Have we spoken our systemic truth?

If we are to be worthy of reconciliation, which is being generously offered to us by First Nations peoples, we will need to offer deep humility as the beginning of our truth as we educate each other and ourselves about our shared history.

"Will truth bring reconciliation?" asks Rosanna Deerchild on CBC's unreserved. "Not without education," says the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Justice Murray Sinclair.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Snowball Fights, Collage and Recipes: Strategic Planning for Outreach is Fun

We open our first Fort Qu'Appelle Community Outreach Strategic Planning meeting with a snowball fight. Don't ask. You had to be there. But by the end, we've learned that Valerie has a motorcycle license, the Outreach is Ellen's joy, Shiela is taking her kids on an epic holiday, Keitha has been involved with Outreach for 12 years, and Sheena's imaginary childhood name was Susan. Like I said, don't ask.
Strategic planning begins with environmental assessment and background information
so we pull out the markers, scissors and magazines and have some fun. "What is Outreach?" we ask ourselves.
While I am still gluing my collage, we listen to each other share what has brought us to this Outreach table. Valerie, her students and staff at the Elementary School were so happy to partner with Outreach in a food sharing initiative last year that she wants to get even more involved. Keitha speaks of the importance of Outreach to the community that she has been a part of since she was a girl. Ellen shares how she was immediately accepted into the conversation the first day she walked into Outreach and remembers how everyone was hugging Keitha as they left and calling her Auntie. Shiela tells us of making Fort Qu'Appelle her community, moving to and from for many years, and how she now wants to give back, especially for the children. I tell my friends how I had promised to never take Outreach for granted again, after it closed it's doors a few years back, but then re-opened. I have met Keitha, Ellen, and Shiela because of Outreach, three of my four friends at the table.
We tell each other the story of our collages. Each collection of images and words are inspiring. Next, we comb through old files of newspaper clippings, grant applications, fundraising, and miscilaneous reminders of who we are. Of course, many of my files include lists, donations, receipts, volunteers, and maps of our annual Christmas Dinner. We answer the question,"What is Outreach?" in three words.
Love  Hope  Kindness
Safety     Friendship       Love
Advocacy   Reconciliation     Relationship
Community Acceptance Sharing
Friendship Family Food
To help us summarize our thoughts, we each write a recipe for Outreach. At the end of the evening we pose for a selfie; well, I pose for a selfie with four powerful women at my back and a whole wall of dreams ready to scooped, stirred, measured, marinated, blended, baked, spooned up, and served. Can't wait to dig in.
Valerie, Ellen, Shiela, Keitha and me
holding our recipe cards.

Strategic Planning board









Friday, August 26, 2016

Let the Light Shine on Our Canadian Identity Parades

"For most of my life, I had this particular story about being a Canadian, and I don't have that story anymore. I don't yet have a new one," says Sue Bland as I visit with her at her Art Show in Fort Qu'Appelle.

It's Canada Day, 2016, and I am just returning from walking in the parade with about fifteen people wearing orange shirts to raise awareness about Orange Shirt Day, September 30th, a day to honour those who survived Residential Schools and to remember those who didn't.

"I think reminding our country about our shared history and those difficult stories can make us even more Canadian," I say, trying to remember what I'd told the CTV reporter, Cally, who had wondered why we thought Canada Day was a good day to promote Orange Shirt Day.

"Have you blogged about it?" says Sue.

I laugh. Sue, who is an ally far ahead of me in experience and humility, knows I have not blogged my continuing Treaty Walks for over two years.

Ever since Canada Day and that conversation with Sue, I have been thinking about the significance of being a settler descendant Treaty Canadian participating in events designed to celebrate Canadian identity. At the root of our discussion, I believe, is the idea that when we bring up these difficult stories of our shared history, we are, quite figuratively, raining on people's parades.

This takes me back to a conversation I was having with a young academic, Sara Solvey, born and raised in Fort Qu'Appelle, who is working on her Masters at the University of Alberta. She and I were discussing the awkwardness of settlers (like us) acknowledging Treaty land, how we struggle to say it and we struggle to hear it.

I am asked to sing O Canada at the SPOKE n' HOT bike Rally in early August; these thoughts about Canadian identity and history are percolating in my mind and heart. I begin overthinking my desire to acknowledge Treaty 4 territory before I sing, working on many drafts, working on my tone of delivery. I write about that adventure and post it on my blog so that it will publish at the moment I begin singing O Canada at 9:00am.

When I arrive at the bike rally, I relax because I only recognize a few faces. It's silly, but it makes me more comfortable to think I'll be making my little speech before singing O Canada to settler-descendant-strangers and not settler-descendant-town-folk. When I speak as an ally, I'm often aware that I'm making settler descendants (like me) awkward or I worry that if there are First Nations people present, that I am awkward in my gesture of solidarity. I do not see anyone I know who is Indigenous at the rally. I am thankful that I will be able to remind these visitors that they will be riding through our valley, around our lakes, on Treaty land. Maybe, for some, this will be their first time hearing this historic reality.

The organizer of the event is a little older than me. Before handing the microphone over, he makes a beautiful speech about always wanting to begin the bike rally with the singing of O Canada. He gets a little choked up. He laughs, acknowledges that he speaks with a British accent, but he has been in Canada for a long time, and he's so proud of our country. He hands me the mic.

Here I go. Red scarf at my neck. Upbeat voice on.

I am happy to share O Canada here
in historic Fort Qu'Appelle
in the heart of Treaty Four
in the traditional territory of the Cree and Saulteaux nations,
in the traditional territory of the Nakota, Dakota, and Lakota nations,
and in the homelands of the Métis nation.

Thank you for standing, and sing with me. O Canada.

I begin singing, in a lower pitch than O Canada is usually sung. A few people join in right away. Some have removed their bike helmets.

O Canada, our home and native land
True patriot love, in all thy sons command
With glowing hearts, we see thee rise,
The true north strong and free

More and more are now singing.

From far and wide, O Canada
We stand on guard for thee

When we get to "God keep our land, glorious and free" enough people are singing that it actually slows down the tempo.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

There are a few moist eyes. Helmets are strapped back on. Over one hundred settler-descendant-Cyclists turn their bikes toward the start line behind the Rexentre, Fort Qu'Appelle, Treaty Four Territory.

The announcer takes the microphone. "On your mark, get set, go."

The sun is shining on this SPOKE n' HOT event. No settler is hurt in the acknowledgment that they are cycling as Treaty partners through the traditional territories of First Nations and Metis peoples. There is no rain on this parade.

Waiting for O Canada and the start.
Start line.

 Finish Line

Waiting to sing O Canada

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Asking Kete-aya Alma for a Classroom Name

When I accepted a new assignment at my high school, to facilitate an Adult 12 program for students who have been away from school for over a year or who are at least 19 years old, one of the first things that fired my imagination was the idea of asking Kete-aya Alma Poitras for a name.
When Sandy Pinay-Schindler had visioned a magazine, written by students, to focus on Indigenous peoples and topics, she went to Elder Sam Isaac, took him tobacco, had tea, and he gave her a name for the project, Kitoskâyiminawak Pîkiskwêwak Our Young People Speak. Having seen the beauty this naming brought to our five year magazine project, I wanted to invite this same possibility into our program.
I have taken Kete-aya Alma tobacco to ask for her guidance twice before, once for help with my song, "As Long as the Grass Grows: A Treaty Song from Saskatchewan" and once for help with our Orange Shirt Day, September 30th, 2016 preparations. I texted Alma again, and asked if she would be available to meet with me and accept tobacco for this new request. She agreed.
As always, Alma lead with deep listening. I talked all about my hopes and dreams for this program. Alma accepted the tobacco and then had many insights for me right away. She told me that she would take the tobacco to her sweat lodge and pray for guidance and that a name would come.
At the end of our conversation, she told me that after she gives me a name, I should approach a Dakota elder and a Saulteaux elder to ask for a translation into these other Indigenous languages of the people in our community. With English as a fourth language, this will give us many insights into the potential of the name. It will inspire my leadership and reveal strength in my students.
I will text Alma soon to see if she has had opportunity to proceed with finding a name, but until then, I await this naming, knowing that blessings will follow. 
Kete-aya Alma helping me learn four Treaty words in her language:
miyowîcêhtowin, pimâcihowin, wîtaskêwin, wâhkôhtowin

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nenasnį ha

Black Lake Dene First Nation
Treaty 8 Territory
Circa 1999

Moira and Tasha Alphonse
Victoria and little buddies, right outside our house.
Moira and Victoria, in their play-forest, five steps to the left of our front steps.
Re-viewing Black Lake, excerpts from one album only.

What do I need to do to begin to accept the gifts that First Nations and Metis people offer me? (Adapted from Pete and Cappello, 2014 SAFE Conference, UofR)

How will I let these gifts change my assumptions about anti-racism work? (Adapted from Pete and Cappello, 2014 SAFE Conference, UofR)
I will remember you.

Nenasnį ha.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What Did You Learn from the Blanket Exercise Presentation? ECS Students Reflect

For Aboriginal Storytelling month last February, four students from Bert Fox Community High School were invited to the Estevan Comprehensive School to present the Blanket Exercise which tells the history of Canada through the voices of indigenous peoples. The blankets represent the land and participants play the role of sovereign indigenous peoples. The facilitators play the role of Europeans who first come to the land as friends, but as the power begins to shift, and Treaties are broken, assimilation and colonization become a reality.
Tim Lee and James Jones, teachers at the Estevan Comp, assigned reflection questions. This is the second of five questions asked.

What did you learn from Friday's presentation?
  • I learned just how far the Europeans were willing to go to eliminate First Nations people. From killing them with disease to putting them on reserves, Europeans were doing the wrong thing.
  • I learned that the land literally got taken away from the Aboriginals.
  • I learned that many Aboriginal people sacrificed their lives to fight for justice and for their families.
  • I learned that the Aboriginals went through a lot and that even in 2016 we (settler people) don't acknowledge or are not educated on what they went through. Also, what we learn in school just scratches the surface of all the history.
  • I learned what all happens to the Natives, how much land they gave up and how poorly and unfairly they were treated. It was not all good for them and it still isn't.
  • I learned that indigenous people are still suffering today. Many people get upset over how they get "special" treatment and free education and other rights. They still are today, however, still under influence from aspects of the Indian Act, and many of the agreements made as Treaties are ignored or exploited by those people's advantage (those with power's advantage).
  • I learned that First Nations peoples lives were hard. They didn't get the things we have today, they didn't get to spend time with their families. They had to go to Residential Schools away from their brothers, sisters, Mom, Dad, and the rest of their families. I learned it hands on and it made more sense to me, because it was hands on.
  • I learned a few things from Friday's presentation, like how much more likely Aboriginal youths are to attempt suicide than other youths. I also learned that First Nations people have been treated very poorly, until recently when Stephen Harper made a formal apology. I learned that Residential Schools happened to more than just one generation. I also learned that Aboriginals were given blankets infested with small pox.
  • I learned about all of the hardships that First Nations went through, although I had a slight idea of what my ancestors went through, I know more thoroughly now. I also learned about all the broken promises there was and how aggressive Europeans were when reducing reserved land. I learned about many statistics and how far they have come since then.
  • I learned about the suicide rates among First Nations youth. I also learned how many people died during all of this. If you looked ath how many people there were and then look at all the people at the end, it really puts how many people died in perspective. learned that many of the problems that Aboriginals have could be easily solved, but no one's putting in much effort to do so. For example, schools on reserves get two to three thousand dollars less per student. I learned many children were forcefully taken. I also learned that Europeans purposefully exposed them to disease.
  • I learned that life for indigenous peoples was harder than could be imagined by doing the Blanket Exercise, but it made me learn the main point was to step into their shoes.
  • I learned about things such as suicide are incredibly higher for Aboriginal youth, which is really sad; no one should feel like they have to end their life. It also made me realize the isolation that Aboriginal people endured and how that really effects a person. I also learned about the effects of Residential Schools and how being taken from your family and never returning can have a negative effect. I was given a yellow card during the presentation, which meant I was sent to a residential school and I couldn't even begin to imagine how hard that would be.
  • I learned a lot of the smaller details that are put on the back burner in a classroom. It's easier to learn from people your own age because they talk in a way that is easy to understand.
  • I learned how much higher suicide rates are in First Nations communities. They are so much higher because of the hard living conditions. They are exposed to racism every single day. I also learned that not everyone that is Metis or Aboriginal looks like a Metis or Aboriginal. Life is harder for the ones that may not look Caucasian. They are picked on less because they don't look the part. You can never tell what people are going through because people learn to hide it. Lastly, I heard and realized that this Aboriginal history is our history as well.
  • I learned that when kids were taken to go to Residential School, the parents didn't know where they actually went. I also found out that suicide rates are six times higher in Aboriginal communities and ten times higher in Inuit.
  • I learned how poorly First Nations were treated. Although you may not be a part of what happened, it is still our shared history and affects everyone. I also learned that the First Nations are very willing and accepting of the past and willing to move on with an apology.
  • That the Canadian government back then was terrible. The government seemed to try and force everyone to be "equal" instead of just accepting that everyone is different but can be equal with those differences.
  • I learned about how quickly Europeans came to North America and took all (most) of the First Nations land. Many facts were told to me that I learned too, like how the Indian Act is still in the Canadian Constitution, that in ten years the Europeans took 60% of the First Nation's land and that First Nations youth are more likely to commit suicide than Caucasians.
Note. Excerpts from the ECS reflections on the Blanket Exercise can be found on Treaty Walks question by question on the following dates:
1. What was your general impression or thoughts about the Blanket Exercise? Did you enjoy participating? August 14th, 2016
2. What did you learn from Friday's presentation? August 23rd, 2016
3. What was the most emotional moment for you? Why was it emotional? Consider the speaker's values, perspective, biases and tone. August 29th, 2016
4. The Blanket Exercise is designed to inspire action. How could an event like this inspire people? What could we do? September 2nd, 2016
5. Analyze the overall effectiveness of the presentation. September 9th, 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

Kat from Heritage Saskatchewan Shares her Treaty Story

“Living Heritage” is the banner tagline on the Heritage Saskatchewan website. “Our values, beliefs and ways of life shape our sense of identity, belonging and place, connecting past, present and future.”

Heritage Saskatchewan Education Coordinator, Katherine Gilks, is an articulate, young professional. I meet Kat at the Historical Thinking Summer Institute in Vancouver, July 2016. She is a passionate Saskatchewanian with an interest in all-things-history about our province. She promotes Heritage Fairs regionally and provincially. I hope to participate in a Heritage Fair with my students this year, and Kat is an enthusiastic coach.

Together with four other women at the HTSI, we develop a professional development workshop with a working title, “Crossing Boundaries: Our Shared Treaty Stories”. I ask Kat if I can interview her, and I am thankful to share her journey towards becoming an ally.

Sheena: What is your Treaty story? What is your Ally story?

Kat: My ancestors came to what is now Canada (specifically what is now the province of New Brunswick) between 1783 and 1840. At this time (and during the time since 1635 when some of my family came to what is now New York), First Nations peoples were seen as less advanced and unsophisticated, but their autonomy as nations was recognised. The Peace and Friendship Treaties were signed that referred to sharing the land and resources as communities existed alongside each other. There were differing opinions on what this “sharing” entitled. Many groups of immigrants set up small communities along rivers and gradually the First Nations communities were reduced to smaller and smaller territories. That said, the Peace and Friendship Treaties are still in effect and the terms therein are significantly different than those of the later numbered treaties in Western Canada. While they were racist and paternalistic, they also were more respectful of First Nations rights to the land and presumed that First Nations people would assimilate naturally, rather than be forced to do so.

My family lived for many years on the traditional lands of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Mi’kmaq, Wabanaki, and Passamaquoddy peoples. I was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, in the traditional territories of the Cree and Saulteaux peoples, in a city where everything but the cemetery is named Wascana (despite it being an anglicizing of the Cree word for “bones”).

For much of my family’s history, we did not have much interaction with First Nations peoples. This was primarily due to the tendency to stick to one’s local community, and since First Nations communities were separate from the English, Irish, French, etc. communities that my ancestors lived in, they largely viewed them as remote, “other”, exotic peoples who largely existed in the past tense. (Albeit in the early days, they were scared of them because they were strangers in the wilderness while the First Nations were familiar with the territory.) Like most European-Canadians, I think, they didn’t pay any attention unless First Nations treaty rights clashed with their livelihood. From my recollection, this did not happen very often.

Thus I grew up unfamiliar with First Nations except for what I learned in school and from the media. I can recall that I thought that First Nations peoples existed in their respective cultures and then Europeans arrived and everyone built log cabins and sod huts. Growing up in a very multicultural era, I simply thought that First Nations peoples still had their culture just the same as Ukrainians, Chinese, Indians, Germans, etc.

I learned about residential schools from a museum exhibit when I was nine years old. Gradually, I came to understand the complicated and horrible history that occurred. Nonetheless, it was still very removed from me.

My experience has been a mix of frustration, ignorance, and wanting change. The frustration has been primarily with those who still think that history has nothing to do with themselves or that loss of privilege is oppression. I am still very much at the awkward stage of ally-ship, because I have not had much personal interaction with First Nations people, nor has my family historically, and because I know that there are so many different stories. There is no one shared experience.

I need to be able to learn and listen more.

Sheena: What brought you to the Historical Thinking Summer Institute 2016 in Vancouver?

Kat: I was interested in learning about how history, heritage, and historical thinking are taught in schools, as education is not my background, so as to better be able to apply historical thinking to Heritage Saskatchewan’s programming. Attending this Institute was “going to the source” about what historical thinking is and how to apply it.

Sheena: What drew you to our project group?

Kat: Prior to forming the groups, we had all already talked about our various backgrounds and what we wanted to get out of the Institute, as well as our various individual situations. We had a lot of common interests, especially as my focus is broader than just one level of education. It was also good to work with a combination of people from Saskatchewan (my area of focus) and other parts of Canada about the same issues.

Sheena: If we were presenting our project at a conference, what would the blurb in the agenda say?

I quite like how Melanie put it and I like Karen’s title for the workshop.

First Steps on Your Treaty Walk: Beginning the Journey of Discovery on the Road to Indigenous Ally-ship.

A workshop to unsettle, recognize privilege, and help begin the process of decolonization among educators. Where we will work to know our history and move forward together as allies to create an education system that is founded in Indigenous knowledge and perspective, is inclusive and accepting of all peoples, and moves us on a path of reconciliation.

Sheena: As we discuss our various interests, what is your "ah ha" moment?

Kat: “Go forth and be awkward” and how we are all treaty peoples and have our own treaty stories. One of the many hurdles that I face in my work is that people want to separate themselves from historical events (such as saying that they had no part in residential schools) and resistance to a loss of privilege. Education in this is crucial not just for children – although the school is where change starts – but for the 25-55 age group who are the parents of today’s children and the grandparents of tomorrow.

Sheena: What is your key take away from our project and the Historical Thinking Summer Institute?

That we are all part of a continually changing story, and that historical thinking is something accessible to all as long as we have the courage to teach it.

Sheena: Is there anything else you'd like to tell me?

Thank you very much for this interview. I enjoyed meeting you and look forward to working with you more in the future! This is an excellent blog.

When we are first sitting together in our group, we begin our "Jam Session", intended for idea generation, by each thinking of a song – on the spot – that is symbolic of the topics we want to explore. I think of Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They are a Changing”. Kat isn’t so quick with a specific song, but when we push her, she says that it would be something from the “nebulous genre of indie-folk”.

Kat continues, “What draws me to that genre of music is first, its ability to put one at ease at the same time as on edge, usually by mixing a relaxing or fun tune with poignant lyrics; second, its tendency to have meaningful lyrics that are thought-provoking; and third, its general down-to-earth-ness.

“Sounds like a good music-scape for our project,” I tell her.

“Go forth and be awkward,” I add.

Pictures from fence line along Treaty Four grounds
Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan, "Land of Living Skies"

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Picnic and Music at the Friendship Centre

"Will you be able to bring some blankets to the park? I'm busy making sandwiches now," Keitha says on the phone.

"For sure," I say. "I'll bring a whole tub of blankets." I am thinking of a pink bin full of blankets that we use in the Blanket Exercise. It seems to me that sharing them with Outreach friends in Pocket Park is a way to bless the blankets for future use.

But, August 10th we wake up to dark clouds and by 10:30 it is pouring.

Keitha and Ellen make the call, we will picnic at the Friendship Centre.

Keitha, happy to see everyone out for the indoor picnic.
Doug plays under the peace sign.
Shantal, Keitha's Granddaugther, and Leon, Shantal's Dad.
Ellen and Abby

Miranda and Mark, two more of Keitha's Grandchildren.

Louella, a longtime volunteer at Outreach.

Arletta and Lorne

Eleanor telling Abby that it's her birthday on Saturday.

Eleanor, always laughing.
Leon and Alivin, making the photographer laugh so hard the camera wouldn't focus.

Louella, Nikki and Eleanor

It's a simple thing, to share sandwiches, fruit, and veggies around the same table. We are thankful for the Community Outreach. We are thankful for the Friendship Centre. We are thankful for spaces that we can be together.

Douglas Song has put a picture on Facebook with this message:

"Join Community Outreach at the park and share food and music! You don't have to be musically talented (like me) to participate. It will be on 10th and 24th of August at 12 o'clock."
I hope he brought the guitar in out of the rain.
I hope the Sun is shining next Wednesday.