Category Archives: First Nations

“Hawk”: it’s all connected

I was sitting at home tonight heartbroken, confused, and saddened by the news that Colten Boushie’s killer walked free after being found not guilty by a jury of non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan. Disbelief that a man killed a kid and walks away as if nothing happened. I am seeing the effects of colonialism and systemic racism. A settler society found a settler not guilty according to manipulated settler legal proceedings. As this news was breaking, I was reading Hawk by Jennifer Dance, the story of a young Dene kid who gets leukemia and makes connections to the oil industry upstream from his reserve and connections to the animals who live around him, especially the hawks, whom he is named after.


I was asked to create a wishlist of books at my new school this year. I did a lot of looking, trying to add a lot of different voices into the library, especially Indigenous and Metis voices. So, Hawk ended up being one of the books approved and purchased. I haven’t read it before. I haven’t heard of it before. But it looked interesting, was written for teens, and was approved for purchase. So now there are students around this school reading this book and I thought I better read it myself.

I realize that life is a constant catch-22, as Dance states in the book, because of the oil sands: we need jobs to support people yet what is the impact of the oil sands on the land, the animals, and the humans who exist by the oil sands. It’s hard to talk about critically about oil in this town without feeling like I’m betraying people and also being a hypocrite, seeing as I am employed by the government that relies on oil money to pay my salary.

But that tension is what is present in Dance’s book. She makes some pretty heavy-handed comments about the oil industry and links it directly to illnesses an, animal extinctions, and land destruction. But she’s not wrong. As Adam, Hawk and he was called as a baby and now called again as an older teen, is diagnosed with leukemia and it changes everything. As he is in the hospital, he connects with a hawk that he and his grandfather saved from a tailings pond while on a tour of his dad’s worksite. In the hospital, he is gifted with the sight of the hawk and sees through the hawk’s eyes. He sees the pain and suffering of the animals and the land that he grew up on. He sees the disruption of migration. He sees the mutations and the deforestation. For his final class project in Gr 10, to move on to Gr 11, he shares his story: Hawk-eye View. He shares his story and his connection to the oil sands and the connection with the hawk to his community in a packed theatre that is sponsored by a major oil company.


So, as I’m reading this book about how settler society has disrupted the lives of both people and animals in Northern Alberta I can’t help but connect this colonozation and push for resources to the Colton Boushie case. This family and this community has been painfully disrupted as one of their young people was shot in the head while seeking help on a farm property in Battleford, Saskatchewan. His cousin, Jade Tootoosis, said, “I pity them [the farmer and his people] because I don’t understand why they feel so much hate for someone they don’t know.”

When I think about Canada’s push toward reconciliation, I feel a responsibility as a teacher to teach the truth and expose this racism. So, I am grateful that there are students in my school reading this book. We need more voices and perspectives shared. This isn’t just a settler country, this is a country of treaties. We are all treaty people. I must have hope that the young people of Canada will learn and will make change so that racism doesn’t mean that young people are shot in the back of the head, or living with illnesses from contaminated water. There is much work to do.



“The Back of the Turtle”: gentle reminder

Thomas King is a brilliant storyteller.  I wished for two things reading this novel: one, that he was telling it to me over a course of meetings over coffee or a meal, and two, that it wouldn’t end.  The world and characters he created were so life-like and curious that I was slowing down near the end of the book to make it last longer.



In the novel, a First Nation on the West Coast is completely destroyed by a newly created bacterium, GreenSweep.  Not used properly, GreenSweep kills everything and everyone in its path in the hopes of clearing brush to lay a pipeline. The irony is that the man who helped to create GreenSweep is Indigenous and knew people in the Reserve that was completely destroyed.  How do you seek forgiveness?  How do you make up for life’s biggest mistakes?

This novel is grounded in the Earth.  It shows the importance of the relationship between people and Earth and what happens when that relationship is taken for granted or exploited?

In the beginning of Barkskins by Anne Proulx, she includes this quotation:

In Anitquity every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit. These spirits were accessible to men, but were very unlike men; centaurs, fauns, and mermaids show their ambivalence.  Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of that particular situation, and to keep it placated.  By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in the mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects. (Lynn White, Jr.)

After years of reading Canadian Indigenous literature, I am still amazed by the generous humour that they employ.  The humour is gracious because the atrocities that have occurred in Indigenous communities is horrible, yet often times authors approach their message with humour, which engages all readers.  We know that satire is one of the most powerful means of bringing about new thoughts and change, yet this story is a gentle humour that is embraces and brings in readers to the story.  The story is then heard by more and thought of more.  Yet, I believe it comes from a generous spirit.

One of the most heartwarming moments for me was the surprise appearance of some Alberta Elders: Narcisse Blood and Leroy Little Bear (pg 119).  I first ‘met’ Narcisse Blood through Elder in the Making, an amazing film that documents Treaty 7 and the people of Southern Alberta. In “Episode 5: A Broken Treaty,” Narcisse Blood talks about his experience in Indian Residential School.  He took an old school and turned it into Red Crow Community College.  The moment that stands out that he says he is a “person that wants to learn.  A persona that respects myself so that I can respect others.  If I can become a human then I can relate to the land better.”  In “Episode 6: Death and Renewal” Narcisse Blood speaks again.  “The land is like our mother…  We don’t take for granted that the sun is going to come up every morning.  We greet the sun because we woke up.  So we wake up and that gives life.  Our non-human relations have rights to be here.  The folly is when we think that man is it.”  The teachings of Narcisse Blood are beautiful and reminded me as I read The Back of the Turtle that as humans we have lost of connection.  In the episode, Narcisse Blood says that our folly is a kind way of saying stupidity.  As humans, we need to reestablish our relationship with our non-human relations.  In Blackfoot culture, they often say the phrase “All my Relations.”  They acknowledge all of creation and honour creation by saying this phrase.



Leroy Little Bear is such an important person in Alberta.  He is a Blackfoot scholar is striving to teach us about the connection between humans and the land.  He is also an advocate for justice and works with prisoners and those without means to find justice to work in the system. I know I don’t have permission to say this to make make this judgement, but to me he is a modern day warrior.  He is tenacious, wise, and generous. In a lecture at Congress 2016 in Calgary.  His lecture compares Western metaphysics to Blackfoot metaphysics:”Big Thinking and Rethink Blackfoot Metaphysics: ‘waiting in the wings’.” He talks about the difference between Western and Blackfoot ways of knowing.  In Western culture, we value reason and work around the idea that God’s creation is good and therefore stagnant.  In our thinking, we categorize and run experiments.  We value the objective facts and like creating and finding order out of chaos.  In Blackfoot culture, they think differently and so see the world differently.  As Little Bear says everything is in flux and motion, and the Earth is never stagnant.  People are made of energy waves, and once they die the waves stop but are not gone.  Blackfoot culture sees more in observation and processes.  Blackfoot draws from the idea that chaos is a constant, and ceremonies seek to bring order.  So when a Blackfoot person says “All my relations” they are talking about non-human relations because they see all of Creation as animate.  For Blackfoot people, renewal is essential.  Ceremonies are all about renewal that use the same songs, prayers, stories, and ceremonies to bring order to the chaos.  An essential way of thinking is sustainability.  Little Bear says that Native Science is grounded in sustainability and our work is to engage in the process and action of renewal.  Even the languages show this difference: in English we like nouns and naming things, yet in Blackfoot it’s all about process and actions, movement.  So when we learn, we need to renew, collect, and see the connections, not divide and create dichotomies and cause and effects.  Within the novel, King shows the difference between different creation stories and different ways of working with the Earth.  Little Bear in his lecture talks about how Western thought likes to create prophets, people who can predict what will happen.  That is shown in King’s book how Dorian tries to control and predict how to manage environmental disasters caused by his company.  Yet in the end, it is Creation itself and the chaos she creates that brings the characters together, even strangers, as they seek to push a boat off of the beach.



Later in the novel, King references another large personality: “The Donald.”  His character Dorian is the CEO of the company that created GreenSweep and it is his job to try to make the devastation of the use of GreenSweep, and later a tailings pond spill in Northern Alberta near Fort McMurray to go away. As he is looking for a place to eat, he is referred to The Stock restaurant in the Trump Tower on Bay Street.  As he describes his decision, he says this about Trump: “The man was extravagant and arrogant.  A loud-mouthed egotist who gave wealthy people a bad name.  Trump might have been nicer, Dorian speculated, if he had made his fortune on his own rather than having it handed to him by his parents” (Pg 367).  King shows the lack of connect to land.  He shows what happens when people manage nature instead of exist and work with nature.  The thinking is different.  Trying to predict, manipulate, and exploit seemingly stagnant resources shows the complete disconnect to Creation and the different way of seeing it: not as chaotic, but as something ordered and reasonable to gain from.

What happens to communities, people and places, when environmental disasters happen?  Gabriel, the man who created GreenSweep, comes back to his community and becomes part of the people who bring the community back to life.  It’s different, yet they are in it together and connected to the land and the place.  In the end, King offers hope and a way forward.  Nature recovers and is strong, and people are the same, if we just stop to observe.



“Tecumseh and Brock”: The War of 1812″: battle in The Endless War

I love Canadian history, which is probably why I love the Alberta grade 7 curriculum so much.  I taught about the War of 1812 last year for the first time, yet I didn’t fully understand the history of pre-Confederation until I read James Laxer’s book Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812.



Laxer focuses a lot on one of the major issues of the war: seizure of land.  The American settlers want land, and they make policies to aggressively move different First Nations off of their land that they have used since time immemorial.   The massacres and loss of life is hard to read about, especially the rotten deals that the US Government made with weak chiefs for land.  Laxer shows how the American greed for land allowed them to believe that taking over Canada would be as easy as marching in and taking over.  They had no idea that the people living North of the border would want to stay loyal to England.  They assumed that everyone wanted to be part of what they were doing and would want to join in on the ideologies.  Sure, many did move or side with the US at the beginning of the war, yet as British North America (Canada) saw the way the US fought (pillaging and sacking towns and burning villages and homes), they wanted no part in what was happening.  The stand against the new American ideals and way of governing was something that people north of the United States didn’t want a part in.  They were content to stay a colony, making its own way while staying connected to England.



Although Brock dies early in the war, the relationship between Sir Issac Brock and Tecumseh is the most important part of the story for me.  Brock wanted to keep Canada a colony, in British possession.  Tecumseh wanted to keep his people’s lands theirs, and saw that the British were to side to go with.  Their respect for each others’ goals and their common battle strategies of going on the offensive produced an amazing leadership duo that surprised the poorly prepared Americans.  Tecumseh was a great leader and almost acheived his goal because a major part of the Treaty of Ghent negotiations at the end of the war was to set aside a large portion of land that would become a sovereign nation for the First Nations tribes of Eastern America.  Laxer calls this this the Endless War.



I believe that in war no side wins.  There is only loss.  This is true for the United States, as they lost the opportunity to gain the land and trade access that Canada would have given.  They also lost the fight against their sailors being pressed into the Royal Navy.  The British lost because it cost them so much money and so many men.  Yet is the First Nations who lost the most: they lost all of their land and they lost all protection of their lands and they lost their leader.  The Endless War continues to this day, in both Canada and the US.  Yet the relationship between Tecumseh and Brock provided Canada some hope: we Canadians can work together with our First Nations neighbours, because in the end we forged friendships and relationships for hundreds of years that were mutually beneficial.  We just need to get back to that place of respect and working together alongside each other to make Canada a country that truly does believe in reconciliation.



Despite my aversion to reading about bullets in knees, bloody massacres, and the newest types of weapons, I really enjoyed Laxer’s book on the War of 1812.  It truly helped me to have a better understanding of why Canada and the US are so different, and will remain different in our politics and ideologies for hopefully hundreds of years to come.



“Had Brock and Tecumseh lived, it is reasonable to speculate that Brock would have used whatever influence he had to win the deal for Tecumseh to which he had committed himself…Tecumseh’s confederacy was the final occasion in history when native forces played a crucial role in determining the outcome of a geostrategic struggle in North America (Pg 297).



“Birdie”: power of prayer

I’m not quite sure how to write about this novel.  It took me over a month to read it.  I had to set it down to read a book for work and then a book for book club.  But I think that was for the best.  Birdie, by Tracey Lindberg, isn’t a novel you can rush.  The main character, Birdie, is in a state of rest and otherwordliness through the novel and I think to rush this novel is to brush it off, just as people would brush of Birdie’s inner journey.



Throughout the book Lindberg shows the devastating effects of broken, abusive families and how at times inner strength isn’t enough.  Birdie grew up with some nasty uncles and that shapes her life.  She ends up on the streets of Edmonton from the small Reserve.  Mostly, Birdie likes the city because of the anonymity.  She doesn’t have a past or a present in the city.  She can just be Birdie.  Yet this life allows her to avoid confronting her teen years, and eventually she slips into another world.  She is from a line of shapeshifters; her Grandma was also a shapeshifter at a time when this ability was seen in the community as significant.  For Birdie, she ends up in a psychiatric hospital, living within herself.

Yet I’m not sure if Birdie’s experience is the true story.  Once Birdie leaves the psychiatric hospital, she ends up in Gibsons, BC where she finds work and an apartment at a bakery.  This is where I think the story requires time.

Birdie retreats into herself for healing and the women around her–her boss, her aunt, and her cousin–do everything possible to make sure that Birdie stays alive.  They visit her, they talk with her, they change her, they make food for her, they take on her job at the bakery.  And that’s just it; this book is about Birdie, yes, but it’s also about the need for community, especially for female community.  How do you rush that?  Birdie is in ceremony within herself, seeking answers and healing from another world.

While reading this, I couldn’t help but think of all of the amazing Water Warriors who have created community at Standing Rock.  Women are protectors of water and they have been awakened to their role and are making a stand for their people, and all of North America.  The camp is all about prayer.  These women have created a prayer community to demonstrate and show the sacredness of water.  Prayers can’t be rushed.



The positive outcome for those Water Warriors is a testament to the power of prayer.  The media focused on the protesting and the government’s response, yet this protest was about prayer.  One of the local photographers I have meet along the way in my teaching is Joey Podlubny.  This man has chosen to tell the story of some of Alberta’s First Nations through photography.  A couple of weeks ago I was excited to see an email from Joey in my inbox with a link to his latest project: a photo essay about prayer at Standing Rock.  The essay starts with these words: “If you plan on going to standing rock, the main course of action is to pray.  That is the wish of the elders circle. ‘The greatest action you can take is prayer’.”

So as I think about Birdie, I feel that I need to read it again, this time with the mindset of prayer.  Healing through community with other women and prayer.



“At night you can hear prayers, singing and drumming in between the frequent helicopters and planes  that the hired police fly low over the camp” (Joey Podlubny).

“Sometimes when you see something every day you forget its mystery” (Tracey Lindberg).



“The Inconvenient Indian”: better together

I don’t know why I haven’t read this book until now, meaning I should have read it earlier.  I am grateful for a friend for suggesting it; I think I just needed a personal endorsement.  I can say that reading The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America has been a fascinating, heartbreaking, and informative (of course, with a lot of humour!).



I have been learning a lot and listening a lot lately about Aboriginal ways of knowing and traditions through professional development at work.  The Government of Alberta is now adding in information about First Nations, Inuit, and Metis ways of knowing into the Teacher Quality Standards, something that gives hope and forces a lot of change within each school.   In the draft, it states:


A teacher develops and applies foundational knowledge about First Nations, Métis and Inuit for the benefit of all students, and supports the process of reconciliation, by: (a) understanding the historical, social, economic and political implications of: • treaties and agreements with First Nations; • agreements with Métis; • the legacy of residential schools; and • the impacts of intergenerational trauma on learner development; (b) using the programs of study to provide opportunities for all students to develop a knowledge and understanding of, and respect for, the First Nations, Métis and Inuit; and (c) supporting the learning experiences of all students by using resources that accurately reflect and demonstrate the strength and diversity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

Although in the draft phase, the government will be releasing the official update any day now, and I know this new qualification has a few teachers feeling apprehensive because they have not taken the time to think about First Nations, Inuit, Metis knowledge as being as meaningful as Eurocentric knowledge.

In his book, King talks about how First Nations people have become invisible: society sees a stereotype, which is not helped any by the media.  King challenges readers who believe in the idea that what happened is in the past, and we should all move on.  Yet I teach Social Studies (History) and I can say that textbooks and materials like to breeze over anything that has to do with Canada’s relationship with First Nations people.  Throughout the book, King writes about a different narrative, a different story.  He is asking his readers to see the past and how it plays a role in the present.

Dwayne Donald writes a lot about Indigenous Metissage: he believes that the histories of First Nations and of Settlers should not be separate stories that don’t intertwine.  He argues that both stories belong together in relationship, just as it was when the treaties were signed.  Yet non-Indigenous North Americans have tried for years to erase and ignore anything First Nations.  Donaldson is calling educators to weave together both systems of knowledge and histories (Canada’s ‘Indian problem’).  It’s time for separation and marginalization to end, and as a Blackfoot Elder said during a conversation, education is the new buffalo.  In an article by Vivian Lee about Donaldson, she writes: “When considering Aboriginal perspectives, the tendency is to only take the surface “artifacts” of culture (the beads, the dances, the food, etc.) and to comprehend them under a Euro-Western lens. The foundational indigenous philosophies which provide those “artifacts” with meaning are not considered and so the story is incomplete. In this way, misunderstandings and misrecognitions are perpetuated.”



This is the fear many educators have about taking up the work of including Indigenous knowledge as valid in the classroom: it will become a surface exercise, a nod to a dead tradition from pre-contact North America.  Yet, the work has begun.  There are teachers who are trying, and that is the point.  Indigenous knowledge can no longer be ignored, derided, or left in a romanticized past; it has taught people how to live on this land for thousands of years, successfully, and has the possibility of continuing to do the same for us now.

So I’m with Donaldson and King: time for change.  King talks about Native actors: they either play a Native person or no person at all, which again continues the stereotype and provides an excuse to ignore what is actually happening around us.  These portrayals are not helping us see a real and vibrant culture: it allows us to keep our romanticized or racist ideas and feel that we have support in our systemic racism because mainstream culture has deemed it ok.

This week in Calgary is Aboriginal Awareness Week.  I am grateful that I live in a city where the mayor sees the importance of this work.  Food, dancing, family, laughter, and fun: who wouldn’t want to get involved during Aboriginal Awareness Week?  Any chance to learn from each other and braid together a positive story is time worth spending.



“The fact of Native existence is that we live modern lives informed by traditional values and contemporary realities and that we wish to live those lives in our terms.”  (Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian)

“So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)



“Decolonizing Education”: beyond the add-on art project

Marie Battiste’s book Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit has really challenged me!  I picked up Battiste’s book in a effort to learn more about Aboriginal ways of knowing while trying hard not to appropriate a culture that isn’t mine.



With in the first few pages, Battiste lays out some interesting and hard-to-read facts about Aboriginal learners schools: “Aboriginal peoples in Canada and Indigenous peoples throughout the world are feeling the tensions created by a Eurocentric education system that has taught them to distrust their Indigenous knowledge systems, their elders’ wisdom, and their own inner learning spirit.” (Pg 24)   Indeed, that was the goal of Indian Residential Schools.  Get rid of the culture, the language, the religion.  I am happy to say it didn’t work!  Yet, there is a lot of work to be done.  Battiste writes, “Canada must dispense with all notions of superiority, assimilation, and subordination and develop a new relationships with Aboriginal peoples based on sharing, mutual recognition, respect, and responsibility.” (Pg 26)

So as teachers, how do we do this?  I want to make sure that I don’show disrespect by merely throwing in a few stories or artifacts or art projects into my units.  That’s the opposite of what should happen.  Battiste is calling for a shift in how we view education, students, and learning.  When I read the article “Using First Nations icons in school ‘not culturally safe,’ says Ron McLester,” I knew that I was on to something that others were thinking about and talking about.  In the article McLester talks about non-Aboriginal teachers trying to incoporate Aboriginal ways of knowing in the classroom without the proper training and protocol: “What I think the problem is, is having a non-indigenous person using traditional indigenous knowledge in a way that may not be culturally safe or be approved to be authentic by the community.”  So knowing your community and getting connected with the right Elders is crucial.  I love how the articles ends: “The way forward is together,” McLester said. “We share the world, we share the Earth, we share the air, so the future’s together. So let’s do it in a way that is respectful.”

And that’s where my journey is at right now.  I’m connecting with Aboriginal educators to make sure that I am teaching in a way that is respectful.  I’m becoming aware that I teach more and more using a circle, using stories, and sharing common and prior knowledge.  I’m learning along with the students.  I haven’t finished reading Battiste’s book yet because it is a heavy read.  So I continue on, hoping to decolonize the education system, at least in my classroom!



“The current structure helps preserve class structures and a ruling elite rather than sort our everyone according to their inherent capabilities.” (Marie Battiste)

“Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10-25)




“Surprised by Scripture”: let’s get political

We are in the midst of a long and painful election campaign. #AngryOldGuy, #BathRobeGuy, #HairGate, #PeeGate, #PeopleLikeNenshi. It seems that the election has started to become more and more ridiculous and it is a bit disheartening to watch as a proud Canadian.


Yet I am encouraged because the countdown is on and there seems to be a lot of articles like this floating around lately: :A Real Nation Would Not Let This Happen” from Maclean’s. The last line really got me thinking: “I don’t know who to be more ashamed of, our politicians or us.”

After reading Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues by N.T. Wright, I am even more convicted to act and become more involved in active politics. “The church is to prove the world wrong about justice . . . The world thinks it knows what justice is, but again and again the world gets it wrong, favoring the rich and powerful, turning a blind eye to wickedness in high places, forgetting the cry of the poor and needy who the Bible insists are the special objects of God’s just and right care. So the church, in the power of the Spirit, has to speak up for God’s justice, in the light of Jesus’s ascension to the throne of the world, and to draw the world’s attention to where it’s getting this wrong. This has immediate and urgent application in holding our governments to account concerning justice for the world’s poorest, who have been kept poor by the unpayable compound interest owed to Western banks on loans made decades ago to corrupt dictators. The injustice has itself been compounded by our governments’ breathtaking bailing out of superrich companies, including banks, when they defaulted: the very rich did for the very rich what they still refuse to do for the very poor” (Pg 193-194).

Wright doesn’t mince words in his book. He calls out people who claim to follow Christ and says that if they are not holding their governments accountable, then they are not following Christ. He asks: “How do we shape a generation through which the Spirit will convict the world of sin (in the face of Western arrogance and assumed moral superiority), of justice (in a world where biblical meaning, justice for the poor, has been obliterated by justice in the shape of state-sanctioned violence), and of judgement (in a culture that acts as if it were the arbiter of truth)? That is the challenge” (Pg 195).


So, how can all Canadians who believe in love, especially those who believe in the love of God, show their love and act in ways of love? Wright would suggest that we live our lives to reflect Jesus’s ministry of loving those who society rejects. He suggests that we get political: email, write, and call up our politicians to demand action for those who are the most vulnerable in our society and in the world.

How do you find your Member of Parliment? Here.

How to write the letter? Here.

What Global issues to write about? Here.

Where to find information about the current refugee crisis? Here.

How to address Governemnt Officials? Here.

How or what to write about Canada’s First Nations’ children? Here.

Where to find information on Canada’s missing Aboriginal women? Here.

I don’t think there are any excuses as Canadians. We have let the silly actions of our political parties to distract us from the real issues. We need to hold the media and the government accountable.

So, I am challenged and convicted to start writing letters. Join me?


“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Act 20:35)

“We care more about postal service, child care and tax credits for the suburban middle class than we do Aboriginal issues. What kind of a nation are we?” (Scott Gilmore, in his article)