Thursday, August 18, 2016

Karen Get's Unsettled

After some "low-tech" networking (which included doodling on a huge, white role of paper), six of us found each other around the topic of Treaties and ally work. Together, at the Historical Thinking Summer Institute (HTSI) in Vancouver last July, we created a full day professional development workshop which we called, "Crossing Boundaries: Our Shared Treaty Stories".   
Karen Jones is from Dinsmore, "A beautiful community situated in the heart of west-central Saskatchewan", population 269. She brought to our group the gifts of humour, humility, honesty, and honour, as you will see in her reflections below, based on some prompts I sent her, hoping she would contribute to Treaty Walks.
Our view from the conference room during the 2016 HTSI at MOV

Hey, Sheena. I finished Paulette Reagan’s Unsettling the Settler Within, and you need to know that I think about this process of unsettling every single day.  You all have started something that I hope leads to some transformation personally and in my community.
I came to the 2016 HTSI because of a newfound passion for History and teaching History.  I am a language teacher with degrees in English and this veering off into History-land is new and exciting.  I came back home from one History-teaching event and said to my husband, “I have finally found my people!”  I’ve always loved teaching, but now I feel a new sense of purpose and enthusiasm.  This Institute has been on my radar for a couple of years because of my belief in the value of the Historical Thinking Concepts, and the Vancouver venue this year cinched it:  this was the summer to go!
I was drawn to this project group for two reasons: warm, friendly personalities that were very welcoming, and a deep sense that ally work and learning was what I NEEDED to do...important personal work that I had been setting aside for far too long.  I also felt really blessed because of the Saskatchewan connections in this group, knowing that I will be able to continue networking and pursuing my learning with people at home.
My *Jam Session opening song was the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling”:  I’ve played that song in cover bands for years and appreciate the music and the message, but I LOVE the harmony vocals.  It is also symbolic:  I felt peaceful with our choice of project, felt peaceful in that place and time, and felt peaceful with the group members: we were a fantastic mixture of talented people that would create beautiful harmony as a group.  But I also knew that starting this journey was going to lead to an irreversible “unsettling”: a shakeup of my settler assumptions and peaceful feeling as a privileged person in this country that will make me question my own history and will transform my teaching. (*Note, the "Jam Sessions" were idea generating opportunities, and our group began the Jam Session by literally thinking of a great Jam song, which then became a symbolic idea, the more we thought on it.)
This workshop that we’ve developed is a starting point of a journey.  I would call it: “First Steps on Your Treaty Walk:  Beginning the Journey of Discovery on the Road to Indigenous Ally-ship."  It really makes us dig into discovering our own treaty story and to change the way we behave and think.
I had three most memorable moments:  What has really changed me this summer is the realization that my family’s story is also a treaty story.  So simple and so obvious, but I just didn’t get it.  “We are all Treaty People” didn’t do it for me...but now it’s clear.  Finally!  I also take Sheena’s “Be Awkward” comment to gives me permission to just start and reach out and take the steps, stumble, get up and LEARN.  And finally, when we started working as a group I was very humbled by the experience and knowledge of all of the group members.  I verbalized my shame about my ignorance around this topic:  this group was very supportive and empowering, and I will never forget that. 
Key take away?  That all we have to do is start.  That we can’t change the past, but we can change our behaviour and thinking today to transform the future.  That I can do something to facilitate my own unsettling, and that I can share that journey with the people around me so we can work on this together.
My ancestors arrived in Canada in 1907 and homesteaded on Treaty 4 territory.  They became prosperous thanks to the use of that land, and I am the fourth generation to live and farm here.  My goals are to live in gratitude for that blessing to my family by making connections with the First Peoples of this territory, learning more about Treaty and Indian Residential School truths, and taking that humility to my classroom to live as an example of a settler/colonizer who is working on unsettling/decolonizing.
My ally story is just beginning.  I just finished reading Paulette Regan’s Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada, and feel better prepared to start this process.  What’s ahead?  More reading (want to find Victoria Freeman’s Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America  first...and then the list continues!)  My goal is to attend some of the Treaty 4 Celebration week in Fort Qu’Appelle, SK.  We’ll see where this leads.  Exciting, emotional, uncomfortable...and about time! 

"I am extremely grateful to all of the women in this HTSI group: you are wise and talented, and it was a privilege to meet you and work with you," says Karen to end her thoughts, then adds, "You all truly messed me up this summer... it has made me question EVERYTHING!"

Karen has articulated the beginning of her journey, using humour and humility, and this is where I also want to be as an ally. Kete-ayah Alma Poitras wrote a "testimonial" for my website, but she is sending the encouragement to all of us, like Karen, in our many stages of ally-ship.

"I will be honoured to be a small part of your website by writing a few lines in regards to the importance of creating and having authentic allies, just like you, yourself, who is trying to walk that journey, or who has started to walk that journey already. May you reach many because it is also a healing journey for both the non natives and the first peoples of this land. You are much appreciated, 'nitohtem', my ally." Kete-ayah Alma Poitras
Sheena, Kathryn, Rachel, Melanie, Pia and Karen

Karen and I, two Saskatchewan pirates, on the False Creek Ferry,
our morning commute to the Historical Thinking Summer Institute
at the Museum of Vancouver, July 2016

Kete-ayah Alma Poitras singing "wâhkôhtowin" as we sing our song
at the Treaty Four Gathering, September 2015 Youtube "As Long as the Grass Grows: A Treaty Song from Saskatchewan"

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