Category Archives: Punk Rock

“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.




“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 Massey Murder”: time of change

This year in my Gr 7 Humanities class, several girls did their final research project of Women’s Suffrage/ The Famous Five.  I was so inspired and felt like our future is in good hands by the way these young women looked at the rights of women and how equality is still something we are working on.  All of this happened while, during Silent Reading, I was reading The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray.  In our daily Say Something circles about our books, I was happy to share with my students that I was learning about Canada’s history, especially when it came to Canada’s working class and women.



The story of a young maid who shot her male master from a prominent Canadian family shocked Toronto, and not just because a Massey was involved.  Throughout the trial, women were pushing for more rights and more representation.  Women were entering the workforce because the men were gone fighting in the war in Europe.   Women were seeking the right to vote.  Women were becoming a bigger part of public life, like never before in European-Settler culture.  So when Carrie Davies was found not guilty of point-blank shooting her unarmed employer, people paid attention.  Carrie was made out to be a young, innocent English girl who had a sweetheart in the war and who sent money to her poor widowed mother back in England.  Self defence?  Fear of assault?  It was different times, yet Gray highlights how the murder case of Carrie Davies shows the shift in sympathy: Toronto did have rich elites, yet the working class was the catalyst for the push to free Carrie.



Although Carrie Davies disappeared from the public eye after her trial, Gray uses her trial to show how much Canada was desperate for change.  Through describing Canada’s efforts in the war and how that lead to Canada being its own signatory at the end of the war, Grey is able to demonstrate how the shift in power was coming from the grass roots, up through the government.  This was the time of women’s suffrage, of the Winnipeg General Strike, of  the disappearance of the influence of the old Family Compact left over from pre-Confederation politics.  This was also a time when women were beginning to break the ideas of women as house angels and were asserting their rights.



The trial of Carrie Davies hung on the fact that she was a young, innocent virgin was so afraid of being defiled and ruined that she shot her employer after he tried to seduce her.  As Gray states in her book, the court (Judge and Jury) were more sympathetic towards an ideal of what women should be and less sympathetic to the fact that she killed an unarmed man.  Gray explains that the times were different and that Carrie was in a vulnerable position, yet the concept of the ideal woman allowed her to walk away from the noose and live her life away from her past.  In fact, at the end, Gray writes that her own children and family had no idea that she had killed Charles Massey.  In an interview with both Gray and Frank Jones, the author of Master and Maid (a story written about Carrie years previous), Jones describes how he found Carrie’s daughter and gave a bit of a happy ending to the story: Carrie devoted her life to helping young women in trouble, even to the point of running a home for girls.  From her powerless position as an underpaid house maid, she was able to see the possibilities for others in similar situations.

One of the biggest contributors to fueling the controversy was the press: the newspapers at the time made Carrie’s case headline news.  Rival papers were telling different sides of the stories, reporters were finding interviews with family members, and one paper even started a legal fund for Carrie.  In that respect, Toronto in 1915 was similar to today: media plays a huge role in how we see our own society.  In fact, media loved Rob Ford and often fought over if he was a hero or villain.



Overall, I truly enjoyed Gray’s book.  It was about politics, a shift in societal attitudes, class wars, newspaper wars, actual wars.  I am grateful that I am a woman who has a job I like with enough money to provide for myself and that I don’t have to worry about work place harassment (and if it does happen, there are laws protecting me as a human, not as an innocent or disreputable woman).

2013_02_09_TorontoStarFebruary9-1915_640 copy


“As the country developed, so Canada’s laws, lawyers, and citizens adapted to its shifting values.” (Pg 285)



“Back Where I Belong”: finding joy again

Ever since hearing the words “Black coat, white shoes, black hat, Cadillac” on the radio in 1995, I have been a fan of the band Rancid. Over the years, their songs of social justice, righteous anger, and calls for change have spoken to me and have encouraged and challenged me. I have bought every single album they have released and I have yet to be disappointed.


Rancid just put out a new album: …Honor is All We Know. As soon as I popped the CD into my car stereo the very first song on the album made me smile and laugh to myself. The first song on the album is “Back Where I Belong.” That is exactly how I have been feeling lately and I couldn’t help but laugh that my favourite band was able to express what I was struggling to put into words! It was like meeting up with a friend who was able to hear what I was saying while seeing through all of the details and was able to repeat back my own thoughts with clarity and precision. I’m back where I belong.

“I’ve been gone way too long and I’m back where I belong.”

2015 is a better year. 2013 I thought was one of the worst, and then 2014 happened. So, 2015!


Why do I feel that I’m back where I belong?

Reason One: I have found joy at work.
I love teaching. I love literature. I love teenagers. Last year I was not encouraged, I was only teaching part time while subbing the other 0.5, and I did not experience joy at work. Since January, my co-workers have made an effort to make our department a place of joy and encouragement. Just last week, I received two anonymous notes of encouragement from my colleagues. Likewise, I was able to pass along some nice encouragement notes to some of my colleagues. That sense of joy and excitement to share my lessons, to work together with like-minded people, and to celebrate our successes we have had with our students have changed everything. I feel like I am back to how I want to be as a teacher and that is because of the support of those around me. I not longer feel like I am working in isolation and it feels great to be part of a team again!


Reason Two: Aboriginal way of knowing.
Since January, at work we have been looking closely at the Circle of Courage and how that leads to being a better educator. I learned this weekend at the Royal Alberta Museum that of the 70 Medicine Wheels in North America, 50 are within Alberta. So it feels like it makes sense to adopt and practice the Aboriginal way of knowing/ Circle of Courage in my teaching practice. The Circle of Courage looks at four areas: Belonging, Independence, Mastery, and Generosity. In order to fully complete and balanced, all four areas need to work together. A deficient or a surplus on one area means that the balance is off. In order to help each other become well-rounded, it is important to us to encourage, challenge and support each other in each area. As a teacher, this has helped me in establishing my classroom and in showing students that mastery is not the only goal of education.

Growing up, I spend years in Winnipeg. That city is rich with Aboriginal and Metis culture. For a long time I even thought that it was part of my own personal heritage. I truly enjoyed the learning about his aspect of Canadian identity and it was hard for me to move to Ontario where there was no mention of our First Nations and where Louis Riel was seen as a traitor and a rebel deserving of death. So, any chance I get to explore and experience Metis or FNMI culture, I try to embrace that way of knowing. For me, the adoption of the Circle of Courage in my place of work has felt right and good and I am continuing to explore how this reawakening will influence my practice and my way of being with others.

Ribstones, Viking, Alberta

Ribstones, Viking, Alberta


Reason Three:Sweet surprises.
Before the words “Pay it Forward” I had “Sweet Surprises.” Growing up, one of my favourite kid’s books was called “Sweet Surprise.” I have no idea who wrote the story and I can’t seem to find an image online, yet this book was revolutionary for me. Doing nice things for people without looking for a reward or acknowledgement. Spreading joy and surprises to others just to bring them joy.

I decided to go back to the premise this year. I wrote up a bunch of “Sweet Surprises” and put them into a decorated canister. Every once in a while, I’ll draw out a paper and see what sweet surprise is waiting for me to share with others. So far I have pulled out these surprises:
-send puns to friends
-buy Mom flowers
-take a moment–right now!–and DANCE
-send a gift to your sister

I have had so much fun putting together these surprises and then seeing the joy of the recipients has double my joy. I feel like I’m returning to my childhood roots of finding joy by spreading and giving joy. So, the Sweet Surprises will continue to happen.


After a few months (and even years) of feeling lost, I finally back where I belong. It’s been a long time, but I’m back.

“It’s a long, it’s a long, long way home / Man, I’ve been gone way too long and I’m back where I belong.” (Rancid)
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)


My Crew: that’s what friends are for

Although one of my favourite Rancid songs is about a guy having his friends around after a breakup, I can’t help but think of this song as my theme song for 2013! Honestly, it has been a “bad year, a lot to go through / I’ve been knocked out, beat down, black and blue,” but I know that I’ve got friends around to help me back up again. In fact, “I’m very lucky to have my crew.”

“Fall Back Down,” from Rancid’s album Indestructible. Fall Back Down


This idea of having friends around and the mysteriousness that surrounds friendship is nothing new. Katherine Philips was writing about friendship in the mid-1600s. In her poem “Friendship’s Mystery, To my Dearest Lucasia,” Philips writes:

Divided joyes are tedious found,
And griefs united easier grow:
. . .
Our Hearts are mutual Victims laid,
While they (such power in Friendship lies)
Are Altars, Priests, and Off’rings made :
And each Heart which thus kindly dies,
Grows deathless by the Sacrifice.

Having a friend who understands, listens, and accepts is a mystery. I think that we look for and need people to support us, yet we are often let down by others. That being said, there is a mystery to true friendship. I know that the members of “my crew” are there to help me back up again, are there to share in my joys, are there to listen to my griefs, and are there to open up to me and trust that I will do the same.


Family is family (and I LOVE my family!), yet friends are something completely different and wonderful. You choose to invite friends into your life and in return, you willingly step into the lives of others. There is a mystery to our willingness to be open and vulnerable to others in such a trusting way. I suppose it might come down to that old cliché: birds of a feather flock together.

On that note, I can’t help but send you over to this classic because “that’s what friends are for.” Enjoy!

There are friends who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

Punk Rock: right to the heart

. . . And Out Come the Wolves

. . . And Out Come the Wolves

Punk rock and its social justice message changed the way I saw others and, more importantly, the way I treated others. I am normally shy and I hate confrontation. In fact, the idea of butting my nose into a potentially dangerous sitation was not something I would ever consider while I was growing up. Finding the album ” . . . And Out Come the Wolves” by Rancid revolutionized that way I interacted with people, especially those who didn’t seem to have a voice. For me, the idea that you could speak out with a strong voice, that you could ask questions, and that you could rebel was freeing and liberating. I felt a sense of rage when others were not treated equal. After listening to punk rock and learning more about my faith (and the fact that my faith and what I was hearing in punk rock meshsed), I gained confidence and learned that speaking out was ok. In fact, I’m surprised I didn’t get leveled while in High School. I slowly gained the confidence to stick up for others and to ask tough questions. Sure, sometimes it landed me in detention, but Rancid inspired me to make people my business. Suddenly, the lessons I had learned in Sunday School at Church came to life and I learned to love others and seek to help those in need. I feel that Rancid lead me closer to acting like the radical Jesus I read about.

This plaid heart owes a lot to Rancid. (Seeing them in concert was, admittedly, a life highlight!)

So question on, and rock on!

“Your freedom is not an exuse to do evil . . . Show respect for everyone.” (1 Peter 2)
“Do you know where the power lies? It starts and ends with you.” (“11th Hour,” Rancid)