For Angela, The NFB Movie That Tells Me The Teacher Gets It
by waaseyaa'sin christine sy
For context, this story has been unfolding on my FB for about a week. It’s the story about my kids’ adamant stance that she would not participate in a mock provincial election that was being taught about in her class (public elementary school). Up until the days just before the mock vote, which occurred on the actual day of the provincial vote, she learned much about the parties and voting however she maintained her stance that the government is colonizing Indigenous peoples and “It doesn’t make sense to my mom to participate in government that does this and I agree with that”. She also was clear that she paid attention to the various party platforms and not one of them spoke about what’s important to Indigenous peoples and so why would she vote for any of them.
She was told she had to participate.
After I raised my concerns about the “option of not participating in voting” being a choice in the curriculum, she was given an accommodation to leave the class during the voting curriculum.
What? An accommodation?
Not the point AND not good enough AND no. Just no.
Accommodations. Read: staving off fires; not solving deeper problems.
The whole thing resulted in many emails to teacher and principal and me naming, articulating, rhetoric-ing, educating, advocating, logik-ing, and being candid. It ended up with “Fine. She does not attend school on voting day because the option to not participate in voting is not being included in the curriculum and a plan is not in place for students who choose not to participate. Instead, we will be on the land, we will learn there, we will frolic, eat good food, and play. We will ceremony tomorrow. She will be out of school for a few days.”
So, Kathleen Wynne won and yay because she knows some Anishinaabemowin and she’s a woman and she’s a lesbian. Presumably, the sense from social media is that this will result in more life for many more of Us than the diminishing of life that would incur if Kathleen Wynne was a heterosexual man who doesn’t acknowledge Indigeneity. I neither disagree or agree but I do know the Conservatives only seem to like money, not life. I also know while Kathleen Wynne says amiigawech, aanii, and boozhoo I would rather hear her say, decolonization, Indigenous Nationhood, Nation-to-Nation relationships.
Anyways, all that happened over there and me and my girl and our lives happened over here.
And the dialogue between the teacher and I (with some exchange with the principal) continued via long email exchanges over the weekend, pre-meeting with principal.
That’s kind of cool.
I wasn’t expecting that after the silence and persisting the voting cult(ure).
Turns out the silence was breathing space and thinking space.
This is trusting our guts in what, when, how to communicate. This is being open and honest with each other. This is throwing your hands in the air ’cause you just don’t care and you have other breathing holes, for now. This is throwing your hands in the air ’cause no matter how hard you fight, or how friggin’ “right” you are, you’re still beat. You are beat. This is knowing it and going, “Ok. Carrying on. Not the first, not the last. We’re all doing it. For a long time. Come at it again cuz they’ll be more opportunities, no doubt.” This is throwing your hands in the air ’cause you damn well care but you have no more energy and yea, Anishinaabe life is more breadth and depth than provincial voting curriculum.
This space, the silence, this is space that turns a conversation around. A turn in the feeling. A turn in the thinking. A turn in the seeing of the world.
This is a turn.
Not a soap opera.
This is not a soap opera. This is real life, man. Privileged life but real life, here, in our world.
Words and arguments and perspectives and not changing our stance about Indigenous truth and caring about Indigenous truth kind of things were shared over the weekend.
On Monday, my girl came home: Mom, I walked into the classroom to see the teacher teaching about Turtle Island. She drew a big turtle on the chalkboard. And the bulletin board by the library? FILLED with all things about us. There was even a picture of Liz. And a map of the treaties in Ontario. We had to do internet searches on Curve, Alderville, Hiawatha and Ville de First Nation–”
“Ville de First Nation?” I asked all squinty eyed and furrowed brow, heart in my throat because what was I hearing? Is this true? All t h i s Indigeniety in June, the month when nothing really but filler happens…is it true? Or, is it just filler.
“Yes. Ville de First Nation.”
“And something about Mexico came up.”
“Ah. Oh well. Effort, yes. What else?”
“There were books on each of our desks. They were written for school teachers but they were written by people around here about Indigenous peoples all around here and the world. The Haudenausoneeeeeee, the treatieeeees. Therewaslotsofstuffinthere. Lots.”
“And? How do you feel, think about it all?”
This all went down by 3:45 and by 3:50 an email was immediately sent to the teacher and the principal acknowledging this exchange in our home. My girl was excited and happy and content. She saw herself in the class. I told the teacher about my girls experience and shared with her that I thought her efforts were impressive. I said thank-you. Not a polite thank-you; a genuine ‘it is everything’ kind of thank-you. I left out the important part about having to work very, very hard to get to this point. No need to throw gas on a fire going out, na? lol. Had enough fire, enough fire these past few days.
And, Tuesday, this:
“Mom, today the teacher put the word Indigenous on the chalk board and asked all of us to talk about what we think of when we hear/see this word. She also talked about colonization.”
“She talked about colonization?”
“Hmm.” Maybe not filler. Maybe not.
“And, mom, she did a good job. When one of the students said they thought colonization was an okay thing because sometimes countries have to go and take over other countries, she said, no it’s not okay. She said, just because I want your hand device does that mean I can come into your space and take your hand device? Mom, she was really good. She said nice things, like I mean, she took her time in how she talked about all of it, like it was important. And then we watched this movie. Can I show you when we get home?”
Aaaand, so we watched “For Angela” when we got home.
I saw me and my girl there. I saw the women in my life and their children. I saw the power and privilege young white male teenagers have with adult Indigenous women. I saw the rush and broken zipper and self-hatred. I saw the responsive principal. I saw the mom’s shifting of priorities and desire to hold the one who harmed her child accountable. I imagined my girls’ teacher watching this and thought, she gets it. Holy shiii, she gets it. And, she showed it to those kids today. Those kids in that classroom where 99% of them are white.
I burst into tears. For my girl. For me. For us. So stressful. For the teacher. So stressful (?).
My girl has been trying to have her story/our story validated throughout the year. Every year. Particularly colonization when they are learning about ‘bad things that have happened somewhere else’. Always to be acknowledged but never engaged or really validated. The past week has been stressful in dealing with the teacher’s silence, denial, wrangling with truths, commitment to her truth that she did everything in line with solid curriculum and representation re: the voting and the planning of Indigenous curriculum for June. The way she portrayed her truth, which was truthful, had me at times convinced there was something wrong with my thinking; that somehow, I was reading things wrong, negatively. I even doubted my girls truth and perception for like, a nano-second. To be sure, this is not about right or wrong, bad or good; this is about nuance, essence, truth, life.
So then, after spending time with the teachers truth–reading the emails and pondering this and that about the email–and spending time with the absence of our truth in her words and spending time with our own truth, I realized that we each have our truth and these are strands in a flowy veil on a windy day.
What to do with strands of truth in a flowy veil on a windy day. What to do…
The teacher is a good person who believes she is a good person. She is a good person. I believe this, too. Good is a crappy word; laden with value judgements so, what I mean here is…um, well, she is a good person. She is a committed teacher, professional, insightful, cares about the students, and teaching. These are just some things. She tries. She tries. She is human. I couldn’t imagine my girl being in anyone else’s class. I trust my girl with her in that class and on field trips. But if the best my girl and our kids can get is a good person who tries but doesn’t really engage Indigenous truth to the point of weaving into their own truth which ultimately displaces Indigenous truth (e.g. democracy), it’s simply not good enough. I told her essentially I accepted that she had her way with the voting. I told her, yes, it’s her class and so be it. That’s how it goes. She gets to persist her values, beliefs, ideals in a classroom despite being faced with Indigenous truth.
I told her also that yes, everything she says about the voting etc. was true in some senses and that my girl agreed with much of it. But not all of it. I said ultimately, none of it matters anyway because the voting has been and gone, and June is here and nothing happens in June so who cares really about Indigenous curriculum.
Then I told her my truth. Again. The way I see it. The truthtruth. I said, from where I stand, persisting your own truth, your own values, beliefs, ideals because you can, and doing this in the face of Indigenous truth being presented to you, and compelling people to participate in your truth despite having their own, is assimilation.
I wrote more, it’s true, but I deleted the part about white supremacy. Gas and fire, you know.
Now I don’t know what her relationship with that word “assimilation” is or what her knowledge of that word here is in Canada but I imagine when a good person hears that they are engaging in assimilation, that makes them maybe raise an eyebrow and re-visit their good person ways. Maybe it makes them want to change the trajectory of that story.
Now of course, this is just my imagination. I don’t really know what’s happened here to compel the last few days of Indigenous curriculum. R E A L L Y important curriculum. Really, really effective curriculum and pedagogy. Maybe it’s true that she had planned to do all this the second last week of the school year as she indicated when I first raised these concerns. Maybe. What I do know is never before has this thoroughness been witnessed–the range of the story this time includes the really hard part: colonization, racism, gender violence. And she did it. She did it. I don’t know what prompted the turn but what I do know is that whatever happened, happened and the story my kid is coming home with is a good one. It’s a good one.