This week on Aboriginal Day, I was a guest teacher in Rosemary Todaschuk’s music room at R. F. Morrison School in Seven Oaks School Division. As I have done before, I had an artist’s rendition of Turtle Island on the Smartboard as an activation piece for the half hour class.
Now I have asked the students what they see in that image many times. Depending on their ages and experiences, they see many things. They see a turtle. They see land. They see Canada. They see the turtle’s shell is shaped like a heart.
Eventually we realize whether it comes from the students or from me is that we live on this land called Turtle Island or North America.
Isn’t it a mystery how the First Peoples knew this land mass was shaped like a turtle, before there were spaceships?
On National Aboriginal Day I tried a theatre game with the students that I learned last week at the Pathways to Reconciliation conference at the University of Winnipeg. This was a name game. Each person in the circle says their name and makes a body gesture to express the way they feel. The others mirror the gesture. I started.
“I’m Ms. Suzuki and I feel grateful to be on Turtle Island,” I said as I put both hands on my heart and and then spread them upward as I turned my gaze upward. Students followed my lead.
The most meaningful moment on Aboriginal Day was that children in that circle, circle of life, when it was their turn, said they felt that too. Many of them are newcomers to Canada in this Ukrainian Bilingual School.
When I talk to students in Winnipeg schools about our collective history with Indigenous peoples, I am often breaking the ice, a little unsure of bringing my own sense of urgency to their attention. I move steadily forward, just knowing it is a good thing to do.
Today I saw a post on Facebook where David Suzuki is saying he has learned so much from Indigenous peoples and is grateful. Yes. What if that became the norm?
Last week I attended the three day Pathways to Reconciliation conference (June 15 – 18) where I was really surprised at the scope and depth of this conversation on reconciliation. It was national and international. We heard of the reconciliation process in British Columbia, Rwanda, and Australia.
Judge David Arnot presented at a session on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
In the field of education in Saskatchewan they have a new set of three Rs based on rights, responsibility and respect. Within the rights, children have the right to know their Human Rights, Treaty Rights and Indigenous Rights.
Their responsibility is to make the world a better place, as is ours. The respect they will cultivate is for every citizen.
At the playback theatre workshop presented by the Red Threads of Peace Project, the participants were asked to share how they were feeling at that point in the conference. One fellow said it was the first time he felt relaxed. Another woman said she felt overwhelmed.
The improv troupe enacts or plays back from the input. I laughed heartily when the four members crouched in a heap as a large blue chiffon scarf wafted down upon them all. Daunted by the weight, they exclaimed, “So much information!”
As I’ve been pondering and reviewing my notes and recordings from the conference, I am overwhelmed. One survivor in the same said workshop shared that at first when she told her story of residential school, and others told their stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there was much sadness.
When Red Threads played back this part of her story they were again crouched in an organic mass and one actor wailed out in despair. But gradually the mass shifted its gaze and conscious outward and upward saying, “They can hear us, they can hear us!”
The survivor and healthcare worker from Alberta had also shared she feels the ancestors all around her now. When the improvisation culminated to its final expression, the actors exclaimed, “They can hear us” meaning the ancestors can hear us.
I am able to say to students in a cultural context, “We are singing to the ancestors,” when I explain how the Grandmother song is sung in the sweat lodge. I can teach them them we sing four times for the four directions.
I ask the children, “What do you think Manitou Mahkwa means in the Bear Song. They recognize Manitou sounds like Manitoba. I can lead them to understand the Ojibwe word for Manitoba means where the Great Spirit lives. Manitou Mahkwa means Great Bear Spirit.
I just love it when children expand on the conversation with their own cultural knowledge and understanding . . . excitedly, happily and proudly, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. The learning space becomes more level. We are learning from each other in relationship.
Cindy Blackstock was one of the presenters at the Pathways to Reconciliation conference.
Cindy loves daisies because they remind her of the brightness of children. . . the children of Indian Residential School, the Indigenous children in the custody of Child and Family Services in this country and the children who bring their bright voices to this conversation of reconciliation
I’m going to have to plant some daisies one day. Rosemary Todaschuk offered me some from her garden by inviting me to her class on National Aboriginal Day.
Cindy Blackstock has posted this insightful video on social media recently: