Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I Raise My Hands to All of You: An Interview with Melanie Scheuer from #HTSI2016

"Before I begin," says Melanie, "I would like to acknowledge the traditional, unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations”.

These words are my introduction to Melanie Scheuer, a Social Sciences teacher from Frank Hurt Secondary School in Surrey (a 40 minute drive from Vancouver), BC, in the shared territories of the Katzie, Kwantlen and Semiahmoo First Nations. We work together in the Museum of Vancouver at the Historical Thinking Summer Institute, July11-16th in "jam sessions" and a "final project" along with Kat, Rachel, Pia and Karen.

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

Melanie: I had been experimenting in my courses (Social Studies 11, First Nations 12, Social Justice 12, and History 12) with Historical Thinking Skills for the last few years and felt I was not doing them justice and needed to learn more. I wanted engage with them in a supportive environment that provided depth of understanding, sample classroom applications, and hands-on experience. Furthermore, I wanted to learn how these thinking skills could be intergraded with Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing, and how they could be utilized with social justice perspectives and issues.

Sheena: What drew you to our project group?

Melanie: All the members in our group expressed an interest in reconciliation and allyship. Being on my own journey of reconciliation as person with mixed heritage (French, British, German, and Métis (from Quebec so Métis with a small m = métis)) I have been working on encouraging and teaching others at my school about Aboriginal worldviews and understandings, the legacy of colonization, and the importance of being an ally via all staff workshops, department focus days, department meetings, and one-on-one mentorship. Our group at the institute seemed like a perfect space to continuing on this path of accountability and apply several skills from “The Big 6” Historical Thinking Concepts to ground the ideas and approaches of knowing our history and moving forward together.

Sheena: When we began our "Jam Session" for idea generation, what song did you put forward? Why is that song significant or symbolic?

Melanie: I put forward the song "Transatlanticism" by the band Death Cab for Cutie. The song speaks of a person wanting to be closer to another they care for but the world has been flooded and an ocean separates the people from one another. In this distance there is a desire expressed to bridge the gap and start to become closer. This particular song seemed fitting to me symbolically in regards to Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples, the findings of the TRC, the journey that all peoples of Canada should be on, and my own path of healing, understanding, and activism.

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

Melanie: "Allyship: The Path Forward". 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 discussed our various interests, what was your "ah ha" moment?

Melanie: My “ah ha” moment cannot be narrowed down easily as there were multiple. However, the first day that we grouped and began our Jam Session stands out to me. It was when we had finished sharing our songs, a bit about ourselves, and our interests that I realized I was not alone on this journey. Not that I thought that I was absolutely alone in this life-work, but it was reassuring and inspiring to see that other people are doing the same work I am and that we will make a difference.

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

Melanie: The key take away from the Historical Thinking Summer Institute is a comprehensive understanding of the six concepts and how to work with them educationally. I now am confident in revamping my courses “easily” to integrate historical thinking more fully. I also feel I have the ability to share this knowledge, as Department Head of Social Studies, with my department colleagues to enhance their understanding. Moreover, I see that Indigenous ways of knowing and social justice perspectives are integrated into these concepts and the skills lend to a more critical and connective look at history and our current societal issues. In regards to our project, I take away a renewed sense of commitment and feel validated in the path I have chosen. The knowledge we shared and incorporated into our projects is sound and inclusive and I am looking forward to engaging my colleagues in another workshop that will unsettle them so we can really begin to work together. In addition, I take away new friendships and allies that I will continue to turn to and communicate with even if we are provinces away from one another. I know I have a support network.

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

Melanie: I was born and spent my first 6 years in Port Hardy, British Columbia, which is on the northern tip of Vancouver Island - the traditional territory of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation. Then I moved to Vancouver on the BC mainland – the shared territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. While growing up, I realized that not everyone was treated equally and I was drawn to learning more about the injustices based on racialized identity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability, age, etc. My own personal experiences reinforced the intersections of oppression and I deeply disagreed with the way our world was constructed (still doJ). In post-secondary, I focused on social justice issues through sociology, history, gender studies, and Aboriginal studies, and finally was horrified to learn that BC had denied the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and had willingly denied and defied Aboriginal rights and title in often brutal and inhumane ways. I also became aware of my Indigenous heritage and began a journey of knowing the history of Canada and Indigenous Peoples and my place in this “relationship”. In BC, as a result of the provincial and federal government policies, there are virtual no treaties. Historically, there were two treaties signed – The Douglas Treaties from 1850-1854 and Treaty 8 in 1899. Currently, there are over 200 BC Nations and/or Bands either engaged in the treaty process or negotiating with government outside the treaty process. We have had some modern treaties - Nisga’a, Tsawwassen, Tla’amin, Maa-nulth, and Yale - but the process takes multiple years and it makes me wonder if treaties and agreements in principle are still being avoided by the government. When I became a secondary school teacher, I wanted to pass on our country’s and province’s dark past and connect it to the current reality. I also wanted my students to know whose land they were on and the impacts of legacy of colonialism, patriarchy, sexism, heteronormativity, ableism, etc. on various peoples. My ally story began years before my life as a teacher, yet being an educator provided me a platform to share knowledge widely with my students and colleagues. When I attended the TRC release of the 94 recommendations in June of 2015, I vowed to do all I could in my profession and my personal life to realize the calls to action. After all, if these are not taken up in education, then where? And if not now, then when? It is time.

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

Melanie: I am privileged and honoured to continue this journey with you and others who have awakened. I raise my hands to all of you.

After we say our goodbyes, Melanie turns to me from across the room, and holds her hands up, palms towards herself. "I raise my hands to you", she says.

"That's new to me," I say.

She comes back across the room to explain this gesture of friendship and gratitude, originating from the Coastal Salish peoples. Melanie sharing this custom does-me-in, my eyes watering and my throat tightening. This simple gift is not simple at all, but has been passed down through the generations, and here this friendship and this history is being offered to a settler descendant, like me.

Sheena, Kat, Rachel, Melanie, Pia and Karen at
Historical Thinking Summer Institute 2016, Museum of Vancouver

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