Friday, February 24, 2017

Canada 150: Not Just Beaver Tails & Puck Bunnies


In the past year, I've been working in educational settings a lot more. Various age groups, various projects, various residencies relating to Metis arts, Canadian history or themes on reconciliation. Although I had some teaching experience, it is quite a different challenge to be standing in front of an audience in a classroom or a theatre that is eagerly awaiting a talk about stuff that is much more personal than teaching how to colour correct a beer can in Photoshop. Sometimes it's difficult and painful but I keep doing it because it is enjoyable to connect with so many people in an open yet largely safe forum. Schools are meant for safe discourse after all. Yet, more than anything else, I keep doing it because I just can't seem to get over being lied to throughout my whole student career.
We were ALL lied to.
As I retreat to my studio in solitude on the days when I'm not running a workshop or doing a talk, I try to reflect on why I'm still so angry about it but the fact of the matter is I do know why. I’m angry because I almost lost my culture. I’m angry because I’ve been forced to assimilate. I’m angry because I’ve been working so hard to find my own identity all these years while facing the reality that I will still never be accepted as who I am by some. I’m angry because while I was lucky to be sitting in classrooms being “shaped into an ideal female citizen” others (some of them kin) were being oppressed simply because those who were brainwashing me wanted everything from those they were oppressing. I’m angry because I protested vehemently against Apartheid in my youth to the point of almost being kicked out of school but never knew until just a few years ago that the regime was actually a Canadian invention! I’m angry because the doctrine I was being force-fed to accept as being the only true, fair, pure and just way of living was also actively supporting those who were doing everything they could to conquer the original inhabitants who had helped them survive in the “new world” only a few years previous. AND it’s still happening today in Canada! It’s just evolved into a different form.
My conclusion during these times of reflection is always to channel the anger, to do my part to help reconciliation by not only telling the truth about Canadian history but by helping to find ways forward. There has to be balance. It's one of the reasons why I created the Reconciliation 150 tshirts and student award. It's another reason why I chose to continue doing design and illustration work for orgs like the Elementary Teacher's Federation of Ontario and Nelson Education -- because they are also actively trying to create accurate, responsible and respectful content for students who need to learn about Canada’s true history. It’s also a reason why I tell kids the true meaning of the song “Ani Kuni” when we sing it and the real reason why we don’t use our arms when we dance a jig. It’s why I will always be welcoming to any person, young or old, who finds the courage to ask questions. At the same time, I continue to create my art showing the positive aspects of my personal experience because there really is a lot to be celebrated. I want people to know the good stuff too.
Thankfully, there are so many researchers and academics who are now working diligently to right the wrongs of the past. Here’s a shout out to all the usually unsung heroes who have been working so hard to rewrite Canada’s history. Dr. Olive Dickason, Arthur Ray, Jacqueline Peterson, JenniferS. H. Brown, Sebastien Malette, Sherry Ferrell Racette and Kim Anderson, just to name a few. There are so many more hardworking researchers out there but these are the academic authors whose work I’ve referred to over again to help guide me in my own work. They are the ones sifting through and documenting the evidence. Their work will help us all find a way toward reconciliation. Their work is what is helping me find ways to disseminate my own truth, to find myself and reconnect with a past I thought would never be found. Unbeknownst to them, they are part of my “team” in my quest toward truth-driven education. I am grateful to them and all those who are on the same path.
Upwards and onwards!