Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I honestly wondered what all the fuss was about.  A Grade 8 student from Balcarres school, Tenille Starr, wore a sweathirt to school with the words, “Got land?   [front of the shirt]  Thank an Indian [on the back].”  She wore it to school on the first day after Christmas vacation, without incident.  Later, however, she was told to change because the sweatshirt offended some people who thought the message was racist.  The school later relented.

So what’s the problem?  The message on the shirt sums up Saskatchewan history in five words.  First Nations had been estalished on the land since time immemorial.  In a harsh, forbidding climate, they evolved a lifestyle hinging on what the land provided.   

Europeans arrived, and began settling the land.  They brought disease, and a much different approach to the land.  Whereas First Nations saw the land as a gift from the Creator to be shared, Europeans saw it as a resource to be individually owned and exploited.  Even as they understood the threat to their way of life, First Nations helped the Europeans survive in a foreign environment.  They partnered with the newcomers in the fur trade. 

After their conquest of New France in 1760,  the British wanted to protect the interests of First Nations to ensure their allegiance and to prevent having to fight any more wars, especially with the threat of revolution brewing to the south in the Thirteen Colonies.  The Royal Proclamation of 1763 reserved lands for First Nations peoples and ensured that any access to those lands would need to be negotiated in public by representatives of the British crown and documented in written treaties.  With the Royal Proclamaion, the Crown recognized aboriginal peoples as nations, and established a precedent for the Numbered Treaties, which made extensive Western expansion possible.

In the late nineteenth century,  more and more Europeans came to settle in the West, which the Dominion of Canada purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1869.  With the bison herds disappearing and their people dying from contagious diseases the Europeans brought with them, First Nations could see that their traditional way of life would no longer be sustainable.  They would need to find a way to assure their future in a changing world.  The Numbered Treaties provided just such an opportunity.

The First Nations never intended to give up or sell their land.  Their intention in negotiating the treaties was to share the land with the newcomers  through witaskewin, a relationship allowing peoples of different origins to live together in peace and harmony.  They would be able to preserve as much of their way of life as possible, and still obtain the knowledge and means to thrive in a world that looked much different.  The Crown would have access to the land.  Ultimately,  First Nations preserved some land for their people, and obtained education, a medicine chest, protection from starvation,  and training in agriculture (or so the treaties stipulated).  Settlers could settle  the land in peace, and develop it to the depth of a plow.  They could practice their religion, continue their way of life, speak their languages, live in freedom.  If anyone in Saskatchewan has land, then, it is because of the Numbered Treaties, just as Tenille’s sweatshirt indicates.

Anyone tempted to say in response to that slogan that First Nations peoples get so much for free needs to check the facts.   In European phraseology, First Nations people paid for their education and health care for all future generations when their leaders and the Crown signed  the Numbered Treaties  beginning in 1871.    Those treaties were to last as long as the grass grows, the sun shines, and the rivers flow.  

Treaty Education has been mandatory in this province since November, 2007.  Reaction to a simple sweatshirt shows just how vital education around treaties is.   Treaties benefit everyone.  After all, we are all Treaty people.  That should no longer be a surprise to anyone.

For more information on the Royal Proclamation, see Aboriginals: Treaties and Relations http://www.canadiana.ca/citm/themes/aboriginals/aboriginals3_e.html .  

Thursday, January 23, 2014


One year ago, on this day, I clicked Publish on my very first blog post.  

I was apprehensive.  I told only the members of my writing group, and my family—maybe twenty people.   For two months. 

Not until the end of March did I have the courage to click on a second button.  This time, it was the Facebook icon under the blog post.  I shared to Facebook.   The status quo held for about six months. 

Then, I got up the nerve to share a post to Twitter.  I still don’t always, so some dregs of my initial apprehension linger.

 87 posts later, I am still writing.  Still enjoying myself.  Still reflecting, making connections, and growing.

Still amazed that people other than my friends and family, people scattered all over the world, would spend precious minutes with me every week or so.  Some of you have posted on the site; many more have sent your comments by email, or remarked in person.  Your support has been so encouraging, and I am deeply grateful.

So I will keep clicking Publish as often as I can, and I invite you to keep reading and sharing.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Given that I am on the on-ramp merging into the throughlane of age, I pay attention when articles or postings about age surface.  For that reason, I actually clicked on a link someone shared on Facebook, entitled 37 things you’ll regret when you’re old.  Not so much into regret, but rather focused on the present moment,  I was curious about what someone else would think I might regret about my life.

I am guessing the regrets enumerated in the list are in no particular order, or maybe the order in which they occurred to the author, a message in itself.  I wonder why Not spending enough time with loved ones ranks #35 while Not travelling when you had the chance leads off as #1.  Articles that simplify life into a categorical list of principles can have value.  They can offer an opportunity to reflect on guidelines we may have chosen to live by, and then neglected or ignored.   The other side of that coin is that they can also be dangerous.  Here’s why.

Let’s go back to Regret #1, Not travelling when you had the chance.  The benefits of travel are axiomatic, and I have never heard anyone complain that they had traveled too much, except maybe individuals who try to sustain insane business travel schedules through multiple meetings, hotels, restaurants, time zones, and climates for months on end.   Some people have the opportunity to travel and choose not to for reasons all their own.  They have other priorities.   I am fortunate to have visited a few places I always hoped to see.  I’ve traveled more than some, far less than others.   Nothing to regret here.

What about Regret #6, Being scared to do things.   Let’s take fear as paralysis out of the equation right off the top as an extreme.  How about narrowing the scope to fear’s persona, anxiety.  Notwithstanding its negative potential, anxiety can be a safety switch, an intuition that prompts us to reflect on the consequences of our actions and make more informed decisions for our own benefit and that of the people around us that our decisions impact. 

I will use myself as an example.  I have never zip-lined, and I don’t snorkel, simply because I don’t feel comfortable in those situations.  Perhaps I don’t trust the technology, or I don’t have the requisite skill-set not just to survive those activities but to enjoy them.  Yet, I have biked down the Klondike Highway in the Yukon, and I have navigated a Segway through the downtown streets of Dallas, Texas, and Washington, D.C.  Even more daunting, almost every week in my church, I perform as a liturgical musician before hundreds of people.  I make myself vulnerable, and conquer my anxiety, each time.   So, yes, I have been scared to do some things, and I have also gone way out of my comfort zone and conquered more than a few demons.  No regrets here, either.

I did pause at Regret #13, Not listening to your parents’ advice.  Parents are well-intentioned people, and their advice is heartfelt and meant to be beneficial.  Sometimes, though, parents are limited by their experience and their worldview.  Their advice may grow out of a worldview that worked for them, but might not fit  the future that their children are building.  Some advice from parents is gold, and some is not.  A developmental task of adolescence and young adulthood is differentiating between the two.  Kahlil Gibran says to parents, 

Your children are not your children. 
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. . . .
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts . . .
You may strive to be like them, but seek ot to make them like you. 
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yeserday.  (from The Prophet)

My own parents gave me encouragement rather than advice.  I strive to emulate them.

One more.  Regret #16, Supporting others’ dreams over your own.  Supporting others is a beautiful thing, but not when it means you never get to shine.   Life is all about supporting the dreams of others.  Teachers do it for a living.  They invest their entire lives in helping people cultivate the skills they need to realize their dreams.  In so doing, they realize their own dreams.  As for shining, the most accomplished people I know are not concerned about the recognition that comes with shining.  In fact, the less others know about their pivotal contributions to successful projects, the happier they are.  Their deeds are their voice.  They live out a friend’s memorable words, “I don’t need that.” 

Sir Nicholas Winton didn’t need that, either.  In 1938, when he was 29, a friend asked him to help out with a project in Prague.  Winton abandoned his skiing holiday to help out a friend.  He would orchestrate the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, just prior to the beginning of World War II.  For almost fifty years, no one had any inkling of Winton’s humanitarian efforts.  He did not tell a soul, not even his wife.  In 1988, while rummaging in the attic, his wife, Grete, stumbled upon a scrapbook with photographs of the children her husband had saved.  Winton did not need to shine.  For the entire story, see Nicholas Winton:  The Power of Good at http://www.powerofgood.net/story.php 

It’s so easy to orient our lives by standards others set for us, even people we don’t know and who don’t know us.  The influences are insidious.  Well-intentioned information and lists can perversely create an artificial standard for a meaningful life.  In fact, I cancelled my twenty-year subscription to a women’s magazine for that very reason.  I realized that I was no longer the artisan of my self-worth barometer.   Now, a few kilometers along on the highway of age,  I can read 37 things you’ll regret when you’re old with detachment.  And without regrets.

37 things you'll regret when you're old

Friday, January 3, 2014


Happy New Year!

Best films, best photos, most newsworthy events, most memorable statements—all I hear or read since Christmas is lists.  So why not throw my hat, or rather my list, into the ring of New Year listographers.  Here are my favorite personal and professional reads, in English and French, from 2013.

1.              Joseph Boyden’s complete works:  
a.     Three Day Road is the best novel I have read set during World War I.  It is the poetic and gripping story of First Nations youths who become snipers in the Canadian army;
b.     Through Black Spruce, winner of the Giller Prize in 2008, is the story of Will Bird, a former bush pilot in Northern Ontario,  and his family, as the challenges of cultural flux impact their lives;
c.      The Orenda, the story of First Nations characters Bird and his daughter Snow Falls, and the Jesuit missionary Père Christophe, at the time of first contact between First Nations and Europeans in Canada.  Boyden spares nothing in his dramatization of the mutual impact of the cultures.  The novel is so powerful that I had to read the book in increments to digest the characters and the events, and to make connections between the past that Boyden describes with such empathy and insight, and the present.  Wab Kinew, Winnipeg hip-hop artist and broadcaster, will defend The Orenda during the 2014 CBC Canada Reads from March 3 to March 6.

2.              Almost John Green’s complete works: 
a.     Looking for Alaska
b.     An Abundance of Katherines
c.      Paper Towns
d.     The Fault in Our Stars (movie to be released later this year). 
Green peoples his books with memorable, distinctive characters with unusual idiosyncracies.  Miles Halter from Looking to Alaska, for example, collects the last words of famous people.  Green’s words also provide insight on concepts we think we understand.  In An Abundance of Katherines, he distinguishes between prodigies and geniuses:  “Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has previously discovered.  Prodigies learn; geniuses do.”

3.              Two books on the horrific experience of First Nations after Treaty in Saskatchewan and the West: 
a.     Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and Loss of Aboriginal Life by James Daschuk;
b.     A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape by Candace Savage.  
4.              For the educators among you, two books on rubrics:  
a.     How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment by Susan Brookhart walks educators through building and using rubrics for assessment;
b.     Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assesssment by Maya Wilson points out that rubrics can narrow a student’s perspective on the characteristics of “good” writing, and presents an alternate to rubrics in writing assessment.

5.              Two series in French targeting adolescent readers:
a.     Z. de Cathleen Rouleau, quatre tomes qui racontent les aventures de Zachary Zed lors du début du secondaire;
b.     Les bravoures de Thomas Hardy de Phillipe Alexandre, une collection qui offre une perspective différente sur les conflits de l’adolescence—s’en sortir en organisant des projets qui répondent au besoin d’autrui.   Félicitations à l’auteur d’avoir créé un personnage intéressant, des interactions authentiques, et une intrigue engageante hors du genre fantaisiste.

6.              I also thoroughly enjoyed:
a.     Tenth of December by George Saunders, a masterful collection of short stories I purchased after hearing Saunders on The Colbert Report and because December 10 is my son’s birthday;
b.     Room, by Emma Donaghue, a novel about a woman held in captivity for seven years, narrated by the son she bears during that time.  This book is an eerie harbinger of the plight of Amanda Berry,  Gina  DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, freed after ten years of imprisonment in Cleveland in May, 2013.
c.      La petite rapporteuse de mots  de Danielle Simard (texte) et Geneviève Côté (illustrations), une histoire touchante d’une petite fille qui collectionne les mots que sa grand-mère a perdus.
d.     Write Beside Them, Penny Kittle’s narrative detailing her successes and challenges teaching writing to high school students.  This is an honest, compelling, and real book—the highest compliment I can give to a professional work.

In July of 2012, I set a goal to read more and to document my reading as an incentive.  Notice my goal had nothing to do with New Year’s resolutions, which I never make.  I continue to carve out nooks for reading in the sculpture of each day’s projects and demands.  The treasures I have shared with you today engaged my mind and heart, and altered a few personal paradigms on both personal and professional fronts.  What more can you ask of a book?