The Power of the Picture

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I fell in love with Wab Kinew after I had the chance to hear him speak.  He was smart, funny, and was able to challenge the audience’s thinking and assumptions about First Nations people in a spirit of true reconciliation.  I first remember him from his days working as a reporter for the CBC, and became a fan after watching the 8th Fire series.  So when his book, “The Reason You Walk”, was released, it became number one on my “must read” list.

His journey from a reserve in Northwestern Ontario to Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba has been an interesting one, and the path has not always been easy.  One of the things that intrigues me is how someone can live through so many challenges and traumas to become such a strong and centered advocate, educator and leader.  So many people are not able to see themselves through the suffering they have faced.  I was curious to see if there was a hint in his memoir that could explain how he became the person that he is today.

I know that there is never one simple reason to explain how a person becomes who they are.  It’s a blend of experiences, opportunities, genetics, luck…. A million different factors influence our personal development.  However, there was one part of Wab’s story that fascinated me.

From the very beginning, he was told that he would grow up to lead his people.

I can’t help but think that the fact that he heard this throughout his life didn’t shape him.

It makes me think about some of the messages our kids hear.  From simple statements like “You just aren’t a math person” to more cutting remarks like “You’ll never amount to anything”, I do believe that the pathway someone takes in their life is greatly influenced by the messages that they hear that help to form the picture of what they see as possible.

Wab talks at the end of the book about how important it is to him that his own children have a picture of what it is to be a strong, proud indigenous person because this will help carry them through the difficult times in life.

Do your words and actions paint an image of strength and hope for the children in your life, or do they limit their possibilities?

Being Grateful for the Garbage

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With the end of the school year quickly approaching, I was reflecting with one of my students about all that she has gone through this year. It hasn’t been an easy road for her. There are many things she had to tackle that I wish had never happened. She’s had pain that no person should have to deal with. It would have been easy for her to become bitter, angry, and throw in the towel in the face of such adversity. It would actually be quite understandable.

If either of us had the power to change what happened, we certainly would. But as we talked, I realized there was another side to her experience. She didn’t give up; in fact, she has grown a lot this year, and not just academically. She’s learned a lot about relationships, coping strategies, leadership, and the skills and strength that she possesses. I do feel some sense of comfort as she leaves the walls of our little school and heads out into the big scary world that she is leaving with the knowledge that she has the ability to handle whatever the world throws at her.

I think about how often I get angry at the situations in my own life that I think are unfair. The difficult people that I have to deal with that frustrate me. The obstacles that get in my way. I don’t feel grateful for these experiences…. but maybe I should. I’m far from perfect, but navigating through these circumstances has taught me to be more patient, kind, and understanding. I’ve learned to be a better listener, and to be more collaborative in my work. I do think I’m a better person because of the tough times.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to muster gratitude the next time life kicks me in the teeth. It’s tough to see the positive when the negative is so overwhelming.

But I hope I can. I think I could find a little more peace in my corner of the world if I could remember that my life might be richer because it doesn’t always go the way I want.

Our Amazing Brains

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I LOVE this time of year. There is nothing I find more inspiring than an early morning bike ride. The world is still asleep, everything is calm, the air is fresh, and the view amazing as the sun creeps over the horizon in a million shades of colour. I feel strong and healthy with the physical exertion.

And then suddenly – WHAM! My front bike tire kicked up a huge stone, which hit me directly in the eye! I didn’t even see it coming! End to that peaceful, picture-perfect scene.

After the initial shock and realizing I was fine, I started thinking about what an amazing thing the human brain is. Because even though I had no conscious awareness of this thing flying towards my face, somehow my body knew enough to blink. Imagine how ugly this could have been if that stone had hit me in the eyeball!

It’s so cool that our brains have developed this ability to protect ourselves. We don’t have to stop to process and think about what to do. Our reflexes just kick in and defend us from harm.

The thing is, sometimes this wonderfully adaptive feature backfires on us. I think about the many students I’ve worked with over the years who lived in situations of constant fear. Their brains were always on high alert. And their reflexes were firing like crazy to try to shield them from danger.

These kids were in constant “fight or flight” mode. They would either shut down completely or strike out. And often they were labelled with such terms as uncooperative, non-compliant, bully, or violent. The adult response to these labels? Frustration, anger, punishment.

While I am a huge believer that the one thing that we truly control is how we choose to behave in any given situation, I do believe that there are some behaviours that are not chosen. I didn’t choose to blink – my brain kicked into auto-pilot to protect me.

And sometimes I believe that students’ behaviours are no more chosen than my blinking. They are the body’s response to danger.

And instead of creating safety for that child so that they can begin to relax and get in conscious control of themselves again, the labels we attach to them often serve to make them feel even more threatened.

What can you do today to help create the safety that your most at-risk students so desperately need?

Does Money Make The World Go Round?

I had the great pleasure of hearing Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation at a conference this week on the topic of Aboriginal education and business.  He passionately shared his experiences of the changes in his community that he has been a part of during the ten terms he has served as Chief.  His story is truly inspiring – the band proudly operates a vineyard, a winery, a golf course, a conference centre, among other things.  He has been central in creating economic prosperity that has benefited the community in many, many ways.

One of the statements he made was that when people talk about emotional, spiritual and physical health, that he thinks at the centre of that all should be a dollar sign.

At first, this statement shocked me a bit.  But then I realized, he wasn’t really saying money was all that was needed.  In fact, he argued that welfare is one of the worst things that ever happened to his people.  What he was talking about was the ways that economic prosperity can impact people.  He talked about the pride that he sees on the teenager’s faces when they earn their first paycheck.  He described the sense of purpose that the community has in creating something amazing that draws the world to it’s doorstep.  He talked about the ways these initiatives have brought people together.  He talked about the feeling of pride in being independent and self-sufficient.  In creating your own future and destiny.

He was talking about belonging.

Freedom.

Power.

Fun.

He was talking about how emotional, spiritual and physical health comes from people meeting their basic needs.

It made me reflect on the neediest students I have worked with.  Have I at times contributed to their feelings of inadequacy by doing too much for them in the name of “helping”?  Are there ways that I could instead have created opportunities for them to take control of their own lives, and feel pride in their achievements?  To feel that they are a part of a group that is doing something important together?   To become strong and independent people?

How can we do a better job of this with our students?

Comparing Pain

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It was a really long day at work. There was a million people all demanding my attention at once. There were deadlines looming that I couldn’t envision possibly reaching. The computer wasn’t cooperating, and I couldn’t figure out why nothing would load properly. Couldn’t anything just go right?

And to top it off, I had an hour long commute after this crummy work day was complete. By the time I got home, I had a pounding headache and I still had to deal with a disaster of a kitchen before I could even start thinking about preparing some kind of sustenance for supper. By the time the family was fed and watered, I was thoroughly exhausted. What a day! My poor husband got an earful that night about all the stress that I was feeling!

Ever have one of those days?

Don’t we all?

Now, I know that I have a lot to be grateful for. I live in an amazing country, with amazing freedoms, and amazing opportunities. I am blessed with a fantastic family and a group of incredible friends. I love my job. I have a beautiful home. I have a wonderful life.

I am not fighting cancer. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I don’t have to live in fear for my life because of political unrest in my country. There are a million things that I take for granted every day.

But that doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t just feel overwhelmed and tired.

This week, our Prime Minister’s wife expressed that she is overwhelmed and feels that she needs some additional help. And a whole firestorm of public outrage ensued about how someone who leads such a privileged life has no right to complain.

And then I thought about my day. Did I not have a right to feel the way I did?

I often have students come into my office that share the burdens they are living with, who feel they have no right to their pain because there are people much worse off in the world. I always tell them – it’s not fair to compare pain. Pain is pain. It hurts. If you break your arm, does it mean that you have no right to feel that pain because there are people in the world who have no arms?

Of course, it’s good to keep things in perspective. It does help keep me grounded to remember that I have much to give thanks for. I don’t want to turn into a person who chooses to be unhappy and wastes their life with constant complaining.

But at the end of the day, when it’s been a challenging one, it does ease my load to share my thoughts with someone who cares, and have them wrap their arms around me and tell me they understand, and that it will be ok.

When someone shares their load with you, do you validate their feelings, or tell them they have no right to feel that way?

Growing Together

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Every year since I first stumbled across Restitution, I’ve participated in the Restitution Summer Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  It’s a training session that is run at the end of August, and not only do I find that it helps gets me excited and motivated for the new school year, but the best part is connecting with a group of people who have similar ideas and beliefs.  I have met some of the most amazing people – some who have travelled from as far away as Iceland and India – and there is simply nothing like the energy that comes of sharing our stories and struggles and learning together.

Sound like something you might be interested in being a part of?

Truly – there is something for everyone!  There are many sessions being offered – from introductory sessions for those new to Restitution to advanced levels for those who have done training in the past.  There is even a facilitator training session for those who are interested in teaching these concepts to others.

Here’s how to get involved – simply click on the links below and you’ll find all the information you need:

Restitution Seminar Brochure 2016

Restitution Seminar Registration 2016

Facilitator Training Registration 2016

Hope to see you there!

 

Why Are We So Cruel?

A couple of events that hit the news recently left me incredibly sad at the cruelty that we humans can heap upon one another.  One was the tragic death of a young toddler in Austin, Manitoba who wandered off from his home and was found in a nearby stream.  And this week, the same thing happened when Fort McMurray, Alberta went up in flames.  In the midst of the most horrific experiences of their lives, other people pointed the finger and blamed the people involved for bringing these events upon themselves.

That mother should have been supervising her child more closely.

Its karma that the environment took down a city built upon the oil industry.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in your darkest hour, and to see such hurtful comments being thrown around social media.  Does any mother want to do anything to cause the death of her child?  Does any person really want to endanger the survival of our planet?

Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that my hands are covered with scars from a never-ending series of kitchen knife mishaps.  Now, I know that knives are sharp.  I am more than aware of the consequences of not being careful while handling them.  But it still happens.  Why?  Because I believe that I can save the time of pulling out a cutting board and instead slice up an apple in my hand to calm a screaming toddler.  I think I can be safe and get things done quickly at the same time, and sometimes I make a mistake in judgement.  And I’m sure thankful when I need stitches that I’ve never had a doctor tell me that I deserve to be in pain.

People do the best that they can, and sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

But in both these recent tragedies, I don’t think this is even the issue.  It’s not that anyone made a mistake in judgement.  Bad things simply happen sometimes, no matter what you do.  Kids get away from their parents, no matter how watchful your eye.  Forest fires do not target anyone; they just burn.

So then why must people point fingers and blame instead of having compassion?  When I’m getting my fingers sewn up, the medical staff  are gentle with me and freeze my hand so I won’t feel anything as they make it all better.

I wonder if it has something to do with power.  We all need to feel a sense of control in our lives, and when we see these terrible things happen to others, it makes us afraid that perhaps we could be vulnerable too.  But if we can find some fault with the victims of tragedy and convince ourselves that they did something to deserve their pain, then it follows that as long as we make better choices, then we can make sure nothing like that ever happens to us.

Of course, it’s smart to be careful.  Don’t drive while drinking, be careful with electricity, ensure you have supplies in your home to manage a power outage.

But don’t for a second think that any of us our capable of controlling everything so perfectly that nothing bad can ever befall us.  Sometimes we misjudge.  And sometimes things happen to us that were beyond anyone’s control.

And when they do, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could lift each other up when disaster strikes?

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