Sunday, November 6, 2016

First Nations and the Future

Throughout my experience in EDUC 530 I have learnt many valuable lessons about First Nations Metis and Inuit culture that I will carry with me as a teacher. I came to a better understanding of my own biased values and worldview. In contrast to Aboriginal value systems, one can summarize the value systems of Western Europeans as being linear and singular, static, and objective. The Western European concept of time is a good example of linearity. (jagged world wk2). Whereas aboriginal values are a realm of where  “All things are animate, imbued with spirit, and inconstant motion. In this realm of energy and spirit, interrelationships between all entities are of paramount importance space is a more important referent than time.” This has changed my perspective of how first nations people see the world. For all Canadians to move forward as one it’s vital to acknowledge the atrocities of the past, moving beyond cultural appropriation and developing a grassroots sense of appreciation for cultural diversity.

In 1876, the government of Canada combined the Gradual Civilization Act and the Indian Enfranchisement Act into a single piece of legislation. The Indian Act, though amended over the years in important ways, remains a central fact of life for First Nations people in Canada. “The Act reinforced the powers of Canada’s government over First Nations and extended those powers in significant ways. It regulated virtually every aspect of the lives of First Nations people in an effort to promote assimilation. The Indian Act continued to disrupt traditional forms of government. It added new regulations about who qualified as members of a band, which determined who could vote in band elections. The Indian Act had a negative impact on the roles of women and Elders in traditional First Nations. Many traditional government practices held women and men as equal participants, and Elders as respected advisors and leaders. After the Indian Act, women and Elders were effectively removed from all official processes of government. The government policy of assimilation led to the restriction of many activities that First Nations people practised in order to transmit their cultures. The Indian Act’s most significant legacy was to rule and restrict the lives of First Nations people, even though its stated intent was to protect the rights and privileges of the first peoples of Canada” (Wk8)  Residential schools were established to assimilate First Nations and Inuit children into the dominant English-speaking, Christian culture. Many of the values and morals of this culture were in conflict with traditional Aboriginal values and customs. Residential schools were put in place in the 1860s. In 1920, Canada amended the Indian Act, making it mandatory for First Nations and Inuit parents to send their children to Indian residential schools. The last residential school in Alberta closed in 1988. The last federally operated residential school in Canada closed in Saskatchewan in 1996. Five to six generations of First Nations and Inuit peoples were subjected to the residential school system. Children as young as four were removed from their families and taken to spend the majority of the year in institutions, often far away from their homes. Children were forbidden to speak their language and unable to follow their traditional customs. As a result, they often became ashamed of their language, culture and family. Some parents were forbidden to visit their children and did not see them for several years at a time. Limited funds meant overcrowding and unhealthy living conditions, and children were exposed to diseases such as tuberculosis. Deputy Superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott estimated that overall “fifty percent of the children who passed through these schools did not live to benefit from the education which they had received therein” (1913, p. 615). (wk8)The structural violence of the indian act and heinous acts of Indian Residential Schools need to be acknowledged by all Canadians for true reconciliation to occur. To not acknowledge these important factors that have plagued our first nations people and have carved out an unwilling path. The indian act and residential schools have created huge waves and the ripples will be felt for generations to come. As Canadian’s we need to become aware of the frank reality of these institutional, physical, sexual and psychological acts of injustice that way we can stand with our First Nations people to work to create a shared vision of the future in which we can all have unbridled opportunity to thrive .

During the first portion of the class we talked about when does appreciation crosses the line to appropriation. Although this seems to be a very easy thing to determine at times it’s more complex. Cultural appropriation is generally when the dominant culture takes intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions or artifacts without their permission. This was seen with the resource that I had chosen with my partner for my resource evaluation. The book that we had chosen was “ The Legend of Blue Jacket”. This book was a great example of appropriation due to the fact that it was largely focused on a white person who is adopted by an American First Nations tribe and became the most successful war chief the tribe had ever known. With a little bit of research it is largely supported by historians that the famous war Chief Blue Jacket was not a white American. The author unwilling took the tale of Blue Jacket and introjected a white character to likely appeal to the racist sensibilities of a white audience American audience for monetary gain. As a result the culture of the first nations people is trivialized and used as a vehicle to propagate the idea that white people are superior. However, appropriation isn’t always quite so easy to identify and classify. There are many instances where people use different cultural influences that can be open to subjective interpretation to whether or no they are committing an act of cultural appropriation. Even in certain circumstances where acts are vetted by an authority figure within a cultural group it can still be interpreted as appropriation instead of tasteful cultural appreciation. This is also exacerbated by how social justice is a very much on the radar of the masses. It’s in my opinion western society has been historically very oblivious, callous, racist and bigoted regarding the impact of cultural appropriation and recently there has been a reactionary realization that has caused many people to steer clear of any use of any other cultural values, artifacts or knowledge.

Within my first field experience I saw this reactionary approach in the elementary school i visited for a week. The school had adopted a policy that made it completely unacceptable to celebrate or even acknowledge any cultural holidays, celebrations or traditions in fear of excluding others, misrepresenting a culture, assimilating others or appropriating culture. I understand this precautionary approach, however I feel it is in many ways it can be counterproductive to learning to appreciate each other's difference and learning to live in harmony. I had a personal experience with this same circumstance. I was visiting Tofino, British Columbia and there was a store selling items designed by the local Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations first nations people. There was an insulated mug with a beautiful grey whale design at a First Nations owned and operated art gallery I found incredibly striking, and had a personal connection with as I had just gone on a whale watching tour where we had seen a grey whale. I thought to myself though, “is this cultural appropriation?” “am I exploiting intellectual property?”, “am I trivializing a culture?” and as a result of this internal turmoil I too adopted a precautionary approach and didn’t make the purchase in spite of my honest and well intentioned appreciation of the art. A hypersensitive precautionary approach is somehow a very Canadian means of interacting with another culture. Canada’s cultural mosaic causes Canadians regardless of their cultural affiliation to be very timid, cautious and  at times awkward when it comes to interacting or experiences other cultural practices. I see various advantages and disadvantages to this, but my hope for the future is that we as Canadians can carve out socially acceptable avenues for genuine cultural appreciation to take place.

When I spent a year abroad in New Zealand I temporarily worked at a holiday park located in the center of the North Island near Tongariro National Park. A holiday park is kind of a mix between a campground and a motel. Here I cleaned the showers, toilets and rooms in exchange for a free place to live as I looked for a job. While I was working here a school group of grade 6 students made the trip out and were staying at the holiday park as they were skiing at the nearby ski hill. After they had stayed for two nights they expressed their thanks by performing a Haka. The Haka is a type of ancient Māori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield, as well as when groups came together in peace. The dance was used to honour our work and it was a stunning example of cultural appreciation. Of the approximately 40 students and 10 supervising parents and staff only 5-10 students appeared to be of Maori descent but they were all incredibly engaged while performing the Haka. Through the performance I gained an understanding that everyone understood and appreciated the value and importance of Maori culture within the greater modern New Zealand culture. On top of this, the performance exuded a powerful and authentic sense of pride and honor to the Maori people and themselves.

(Featured in this video is a spine tingling Haka Performed by the students of Palmerston North Boys’ High School for at their beloveded PE and Math Teacher Mr.Dawson’s funeral service.)

I believe that Canadian First Nations people and the Canadian majority need to work with each other to understand one another on a level that is beyond a civil tolerance of one another. Canada could really stand to learn from New Zealand's relationship with their indigenous Maori peoples. This isn’t to say that things between New Zealand's Government and the Maori peoples are perfect but there has been a lot of progress that has benefitted their nation as a whole. The Maori have much like Canadian aboriginal populations have struggled with treaty rights, racism, abuse, assimilation land claim issues, cultural appropriation and most importantly mistrust towards one another.

In Canada there is a long history of mistrust, treaty issues, cultural turmoil but there is also a prevalent element of patronization towards indigenous peoples that needs to stop.
In 2008 our Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an apology for residential schools. In Stephen’s apology you can sense of half hearted patronizating feeling in concert with Stephen’s crocodile tears. in my intrerpritation this was initially used as a political tool to disassociated from the responsibility and to make amends to a certain degree. Despite this poorly executed apology a lot of positivity has developed as a result. The Truth and Reconciliation commission that came as a response of this apology was a call to action to help make amends to tragedies associate with the residential schools in Canada, but was concluded in December 2015. The TRC’s mission was then passed onto the University of Winnipeg to become the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. The mandate of the TRC is to put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future.” Although I believe this is an important step in the right direction what I feel is lacking within the Canadian cultural landscape is a grassroots bottom up, authentic sense of reconciliation. In conversations with some of my well educated friends about the residential schools they expressed that they had no idea what residential schools were and what they had done to first nations peoples. There needs to be more advocacy and activism from the people of Canada not just from an top down institutional level. A problem with top down institutional changes is that they despite their good intentions, they come off at clinical, white washed, insincere attempts to make vague connections. When individuals stand together and speak from the heart about the harsh realities of our past that is when we can discover an authentic pathway to grow together. In addition to this I think we need to follow the recommendations as mentioned in Robin DiAngelo and Özlem Sensoy article on Radical Pedagogy when working on grassroots progress :
“1.Strive for intellectual humility.
2.Recognize the difference between opinions and informed knowledge.
3.Let go of personal anecdotal evidence and look at broader societal patterns.
4.Notice your own defensive reactions and attempt to use these reactions as entry points for gaining deeper self ­knowledge.
5.Recognize how your own social positionality (such as your race, class, gender, sexuality, ability status) informs your perspectives and reactions to your instructor and those whose work you study in the course.”

Following this approach will allow for grounded conversations that inform sensible dialog about sensitive and controversial topics that can be loaded with emotion. As a future teacher I feel honored and privileged to have a position in which I can engage students in a dialogue that will promote the unification and progression of social justice of all Canadians. I felt that Alberta Educations recommendations for aboriginal students are not only valid for aboroginal students but for all students.

“Aboriginal student learning is enhanced by a safe, comfortable classroom environment—a community of learners. Aboriginal students do their best work when they experience: • a sense of belonging as respected and valued students • the spirit of mastery that comes through encouragement of their gifts and competencies • independence developed by opportunities to develop inner control and responsibility • the spirit of generosity that reflects core values of sharing and community responsibility (Brendtro, Brokenleg and Van Bockern 1990).” (wk8 our words.)

Looking to the future of Canadian cultural equity and equality I’m very optimistic. Looking at the leadership that Canadians are electing is reflective of the values that we as Canadian’s want represented. As a Calgarian we have a Muslim Mayor, a female Premier and a Prime Minister who is a self proclaimed feminist. We also live in a time where social media and technology act as an incredible catalyst for social reform and change. Even if we reflect on the past fifteen years women’s rights and roles have changed, LGBTQ populations have become much more liberated and diversity is becoming a point of interest and celebration rather than division. This is why I think Canadian First Nations populations will be the focal point of pride in the future, because people are becoming more and more aware of how important and incredibly powerful their culture and voice is in relation to Canada as a whole.

(Featured in this video clip is a band called "A Tribe Called Red" which is a Canadian music group who has received a lot of attention for their powerful fusion of musical genres. I believe it's a sound that embodies the Canadian spirit moving forward. )

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