A New Age of Joy & Optimism for Indigenous Peoples in Canada

I love the picture of this little guy on the front page of The Vancouver Sun.  The sparkle in his eyes and the look on his face remind me so much of my son at that age.  With life comes the opportunity for grand adventure!  Joy is suppose to be part of every child’s life.  I hope that all things good unfold for this little man.  The title of the Vancouver Sun picture: “A New Age is At Hand”.  Colonialism did not work for the Indigenous people of Canada.  But there is hope and there is unprecedented optimism for the future.

A fierce pride in Canada’s accomplishments throughout its almost, 151 years of nationhood, is strong.  The is a realization that north of the 49th parallel existed for thousands of years prior to confederation.   The learning from the Indigenous people was invaluable.  Finally it is part of the national conversation.  Within the field of Education in British Columbia, there is a quest to embrace our history, even when it includes the shame of colonial structures and prejudice that allowed children to be separated from their parents and basic human rights to be ignored.

Summer solstice,  the longest day of the year, was chosen to be THE day to celebrate, recognize and honour the heritage, cultures and valuable contributions by the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada.  The Northwest Territories has celebrated this day as a statutory holiday since 2001 and The Yukon followed suit in 2017.  The day started with one of the teachers engaging me in a conversation of the use of “Indigenous” rather than “Aboriginal’ and the implications.  I had my phone out, googling, so we could determine why Metro Vancouver Celebrations were mostly using the word “Aboriginal” and “Indigenous” was being used on the national stage.   What was most respectful?  How do we explain the difference?  What I thought was indicative of this “new age” was  that it mattered.

One of our Grade 3 teachers, Janet Logie, is a committed student of history and volunteer at the Hastings Mills Museum at the Old Mill Park by Jericho Beach.  As a kid, my sister and my cousins, would regularly swing into the museum to check it out when we were at the park.  It still smells the same but the context has changed.  Amazingly intricate baskets and artifacts that were purchased as parts of private collections have been curated and recognized as significant parts of the history of Vancouver.  Recently there was a special event to publicly thank the Indigenous First Responders during the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886 who saved many lives.  Marissa Nahanee, of the Squamish Nation, performed the Paddle Song beside the replica of the historic “Tent City Hall” and volunteers served Indigenous herbal teas by Raven Hummingbird Teas in the museum. Our MP, Joyce Murray, brought formality, acknowledgment and thanks of the government.  It was a great event.  Our children are growing up with an appreciation of the contributions by the Indigenous community in our shared history when they go out to play.

The focus on the herbs grown and used by the Indigenous people has been a focus for Grade 2 teacher, Joan Phoenix.  Our PAC (Parent Advisory Committee) supported her financially in designing and planting a butterfly garden that would attract the butterflies once the primary children had observed the life cycle indoors and freed them into their natural habitat.  One of her parent volunteers, Sara Baren, teaches Urban Forestry at UBC.  She enlisted the help of Emily Tu, newly accepted to do a MA in Landscape Architecture, to work on the project.

They were instrumental in helping Ms. Phoenix to plant indigenous plants that would serve this purpose.  The Grade twos used books and iPads to research the traditional uses of the plants by the Musqueam and that are now widely available in grocery stores.

Our Grade 5 teacher, Melody Ludski, is currently doing her graduate work while teaching full time.  She has extensive background knowledge on Indigenous ways on knowing, as well as incredible sensitivity to the protocols required because we work, learn and play on the unceded lands of the Musqueam people.  To celebrate National Indigenous Day, Ms. Ludski booked accomplished Pow Wow dancer Shyama Priya, who has Cree roots on her mothers side.  She was taught by Coast Salish pow wow dancer, Curtis Joe.  She took the time to share the story of creating her regalia and engaged kids and teachers in dancing that reflected amazing skill and athleticism.  I was fortunate to go to a few pow wows with my friend, Latash Nahanee, many years ago and join in the dancing during the grand procession.  The only word for the heartbeat of the drum and the communal participation – Joy!  You could see it on Shyama Priya’s face and those of the children.

The Garden Committee, headed up by Grade 1 teacher, Kate Foreman, for many years has been planning an outdoor learning space.  Two portables were removed from our school site this year and the perfect opportunity presented itself.  Many teachers were very inspired by the idea of a circle with twelve large rocks for seating an entire class.  The size of the rocks and the placement to reflect true north, south, east and west were carefully planned and facilitated.  As a history major, I loved the possibility of reflecting Indigenous Culture as an early instigator of a democratic system.  Everyone has a voice in the talking circle and respect for divergent opinions is a basic tenet.   The Vancouver Board of Education was gifted a Musqueam word by Shane Point:  Nə́c̓aʔmat ct  It means ‘we are one’.  Our Nə́c̓aʔmat ct Circle will be a talking circle for problem solving, a listening circle to teach empathy, a way to incorporate medicine wheel teachings and understanding of the circle or life and the seasons and relationships with ourselves, others and Mother Earth.

The work of Laura Tait has been inspirational in helping our staff “to push the paddle deeper” in our School Growth Plan.  We will be developing and progressing through our own adapted version on the rubric based on her Aboriginal Understandings Learning Progression from SD68 Aboriginal Education.  I am so excited that another inspirational colleague, Joyce Perrault, will be helping us to navigate the path.  With her drum and her newly published book, All Creation Represented, we will be exploring the Medicine Wheel from an Ojibwe perspective  while sitting in our Nə́c̓aʔmat ct Circle.  The book states that it’s a child’s guide to the Medicine Wheel but with all I’m learning, the next hardcover, coffee table edition will be marketed to adults.  The book provides insight into relationships with ourselves, each other and Mother Earth.  I am feeling joyful and optimistic too.   We are heading out on a promising journey with optimism and joy and determination that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  will be respected in this chapter of Canadian history.

Note:  The phonetic pronunciation of nə́c̓aʔmat ct  is knot-sa-mots.

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Wild About Vancouver

Wild About Vancouver is a celebration of the outdoors being held from April 18-25, 2018.  Activities are planned by individuals, schools, sports organizations and community groups and centres.  All activities planned during the week are free to participants.   The goal for the week is to generate lots of energy, ideas and momentum for participation in outdoor learning, activities and fun that continues well beyond the week long celebration.  There are lots of opportunities to participate.

  1. Get ideas and register on the Wild About Vancouver  website. Tweet out lesson ideas, activities, events and blog links.  Be sure to include @WildAboutVan so we can retweet and generate some excitement!

Hashtags #getoutside #getoutdoors #outdoorlearning #outdoorclassroom #natureschool 

3.  Email blog posts to banack@ubc.ca

4.  Encourage a friend to participate in an outdoor activity.

  • Ideas from University Hill Elementary School for the 2018 Wild About Vancouver
    • scheduled weekly nature school / outdoor learning experiences
    • Hatch butterflies in the classroom
    • Create a butterfly garden for them to live in when they are released
    • Create an Outdoor Classroom
    • Start a leadership group to teach playground games
    • Plant Potatoes.
    • Start Worm Composting
    • Raise salmon fry  and release them into the wild
    • Read Gillian Judson’s new book, A Walking Curriculum with your staff or community group and try out a few of the walks or ALL 60!
    • Host an Earth Day Barbeque

#GetOutside  #HaveFun

For those interested outdoor enthusiasts outside the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, British Columbia, consider of the continuing the movement in your community!

Mothers Who Play

For obvious reasons, I am thinking a lot about mothering today.  Mother’s Day tends to do that.  I was fortunate to have a mother whom I adored and provided an amazing model of steadfast love, tenacity and optimism that I have carried with me into my adult life.  I have also had many other woman who have mothered me, including my step-mother, my grandmothers, special aunts, special friends and mothers of my best friends.  They listened to my stories and told me theirs, gave me advice, sometimes solicited and sometimes not so much.  They put on the kettle to solve the problems of the world or drove directly to Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavours.   Yet, what they all had in common was that we laughed together, talked and played a lot.  Conversations and learning were not planned events but came out of hours and hours of time spent together.

When my own kids were very young and I was frustrated in the midst of a messy house in the suburbs, surrounded by laundry, I made my best mothering decision.   The sunshine beaconed but I was nowhere near finishing any of the housework or laundry.  I knew at that moment that I needed to choose.  I was going to clean the house and finish the laundry or we were going to the park.  Going to the ski hill, going hiking or biking, going to the beach, going to the park, going to the library or going in the hot tub won.  The house was messier than aspired for, but I heard the stories my kids were willing to share, fed their interests, laughed and got regular doses of joy.   On the downward slopes on the parenting roller coaster, they provided the promise of better days to come.

I remember reading once that regardless of teacher training methods experienced, teachers often taught in ways that were most familiar to them.  For me the biggest influences on me as a teacher, were the women who mothered me.   Beach time and double solitaire with my Mom.  My Auntie Myrna and her “What’s your story, Morning Glory?”  Knitting, crafting and collecting stuff with Nanny Keenan.  Endless games of Yahtzee and Parcheesi with Grandma Derksen.  Playing cops and robbers with my step mother in the convertible en route to Mayfair Market and annual trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and the mall. Swimming up and down the pool with Mrs. Patrick debating anything and everything.  These were woman who liked to spend time with me, laughed freely and played with me.  What I brought with me into the classroom was a healthy appreciation of how I learned in environments where I was free to laugh and play with ideas and take more than one kick at the can to get it right.  They also taught me the importance of seizing the opportunity as it presented itself.  I feel so very grateful to the women who have mothered me.  They have helped me to learn the most important things I needed to do as a parent and as a teacher.

#WelcomeSyrianRefugees

imageOn December 10th, 2015, Tecumseh Elementary School paused to celebrate Human Rights Day and to consider the plight of Syrian refugees.  If you had a chance to read the Welcoming Syrian Refugees blog (Dec. 2015), you will remember that Marion Collins was reading Hannah’s Suitcase with her students and we had the idea to create peace art with the old wooden suitcase that my paternal Grandmother brought to Canada in 1947 to start a new chapter of life with her four young children.   With the help of the grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase has become an inspiration for representing ideas through art, reading, writing, listening, speaking and caring.

One side of the suitcase is decorated with messages of welcome to the Syrian refugees. The other sides are decorated with Jackson Pollock inspired art by Grade 3 students. Each colour represents each individual in Canada with all of our similarities and differences.  The finished masterpiece is the representation of all of us coming together to create something beautiful.  Tanya Conley’s students also made flags of the countries of origin of Tecumseh students and of the suitcase.  A local artist, Larkyn Froese, came into help the Grade 3’s with applying the flags on the project.  Grade 6 students wrote messages of welcome on fabric squares and sewed them on items of clothing to be displayed coming out of the suitcase.

The artwork became a catalyst for more questions and an inspiration for the reading and writing of Tecumseh students.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (The British Columbia chapter of the International Literacy Association –ILA), Ms. Collins continued to expand the project to include a literacy component with the entire school.   The experience of leaving home and family behind is a difficult experience as an immigrant and as a refugee. Many of the parents in our school community have given up good jobs in their home country and work hard, often with more than one job, to provide better opportunities for their children in Canada.  Ms. Collins spearheaded a writing project with intermediate students to interview their parents and discover family stories of hardship and triumph.  Several albums have been filled with the interviews and photographs for display with the suitcase.

This same family history vein was pursued by Ms. Conley’s HumanEYES art based initiative that celebrates the diverse life experiences of young people throughout the Vancouver, Coast Salish ancestral lands.  This project documented inter-generational and inter-cultural storytelling and celebrates the importance of family and maintaining cultural roots.  The project culminated with an intergenerational cookbook filled with recipes, art and family photographs of her 4th graders that has been included in the suitcase as well.

Ms. Collins, her enthusiasm and the desire of staff to get involved resulted in almost all of the classrooms in the school taking part in the project.  Several classes stopped to consider the notion of taking flight in war-torn areas with very few belongings.  They learned many refugees leave home with a house key in the hope their home will survive the war or as a memory of what was.  Several intermediate classes of students designed hamsa handsan old and still popular amulet for magical protection from the envious or evil eye in many Middle East and North African cultures.  They created keychains with the hasma hand, a key and a fimo sculpture of what they pack if they needed to leave home in a hurry.  Primary students wrote and drew about what they would bring and have created albums of their ideas for inclusion in the suitcase as well.

The #WelcomeSyrianRefugees project was first featured at the United Way luncheon for Syrian Refugees that was hosted at Tecumseh Elementary school this Spring.  The most common reaction from the adults viewing the project has been tears.  In the barrage of negatives on mainstream media and social media, there is comfort that Canadian children are welcoming their Syrian children with open arms.  There is also the hope that there are many Canadian adults who are doing exactly the same thing.

Note:  The title #WelcomeSyrianRefugees came from the Twitter handle of the same name that expresses messages of welcome not just to Syrian refugees.  This project will be on display at the Vancouver School Board during July and August 2016.  Our goal is for it to be displayed at a variety of venues as a way to warmly welcome refugees as they begin a new chapter of their lives in Canada.

 

A Season to Celebrate

June in schools…  The amount of things on the “To Do” list grows exponentially and it is easy to get overwhelmed.  The beauty of June in schools is the sheer quantity of things to celebrate.  Monday I was called in as an extra adult for the Grade 7 kayaking trip in Deep Cove.  My desk is a mess, I’m behind on email, I have a few more learning outcome checks to do with the class I enrol and the list goes on but duty calls… and I go kayaking with Grade 7’s.

As soon as we started out, our guide commented on how well our kids were doing.  The kids were quick to point out they had kayaking experience from Camp Elphinstone when they were at Grade 6 camp.  Some of these kids who were hard to lure off the dock during grade 6 camp were now confident venturing out towards Indian Arm in their two person kayaks.  When I perused the group, I could also find the kids resistant to speak English when they started at the school, laughing and talking with their friends.  Kids who worried about being part of the group were very much part of a community.  Venturing out to share the day with this group of Grade 7 students was a gift.  These same students will be walking across the stage tonight to celebrate their transition to secondary school.  The day promises to be busy with the preparations but the evening will encompass the pride of reaching this milestone.

We celebrated my son’s graduation from university this Spring.  The bursting pride, the verge of tears, the over the top amount of pictures were very much the same as all those accomplishments and transitions along the way.  It could have been riding his bike on his own, The Test of Metal Competition up Whistler, leaving elementary school or high school graduation.  The pause to come together and celebrate lasts and become the stuff of stories that endure for years.  I’m trying to keep this in perspective as I rush to attend end of the year professional commitments and retirements.  In each event is the opportunity to celebrate the big and small accomplishments along the way.  Enjoy people.  This is the stuff of our stories and the stories of our students down the road.  The promise of summertime relaxation is within our grasp.