Part of the heritage mural at the Upper Fort Garry Park in downtown Winnipeg that shows indigenous children being taken away from their parents to residential school.
Just over a decade ago I was teaching grade ten and eleven English at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School. For one reading assignment I gave my students some memoirs written by residential school survivors. For most of them this was their first introduction to this shameful part of Canadian history. Many of my students were shocked. “Did this really happen?” they asked me in disbelief.
I led tours for more than a hundred teens during the recent seven months long Insurgence Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It featured indigenous artists from across Canada. The nature of some of the art pieces on display led me to ask the junior and senior high students if they had heard of residential schools. Without exception they all had, and most could tell me about their devastating legacy. The young people on my tours knew far more about indigenous history and culture then I ever would have growing up in Canada in the 1950s and 60s and far more than teens knew even a decade ago.
I realize we have a long way to go to achieve real truth and reconciliation but things are changing.
Bold and Beautiful
Another Shameful Chapter in Canadian History
Filed under Canada, Travel
Where was it made? Not in Canada! I was visiting a highschool class where they were learning about Canada’s place in the global community. In order to get the kids thinking about Canada’s economic relationship to other countries the teacher had them examine each item of their clothing and look at the tags to see where they came from. Not a single kid in the class was wearing something made in Canada. All their clothes came from Asian countries. That got me curious. I went home and checked out my closet. Guess what? My closet is full of stuff from Asia too. My bathing suit was made in India. My shorts in Vietnam. I have shoes from Thailand. Most of my T- shirts come from Cambodia. The majority of my clothes were manufactured in China, even my winter faux fur coat. My winter boots were made in Vietnam. I could find only one thing in my closet that was made in Canada. A pair of moccasins I inherited from my mother. I love to wear them around the house because they remind me of her. But they appear to be the only thing I own that was made in Canada or even North America. I decided to do a little research. I read it is more likely your clothes were made ethically if they were made in North America and from what I read about clothing workers in a variety of Asian countries they make disgracefully low wages and many work in awful conditions. I am going to try to be more conscious when I shop to look for things made in Canada. I wonder how many I will be able to find and how much more expensive they will be.
Wash Day Tragedies
Almost Touching Justin Bieber’s Shoes
Shooting the Rapids 1879 by Frances Anne Hopkins
I learned so much about voyageur sashes when the Winnipeg Art Gallery education guides toured the St. Boniface Museum recently. Voyageurs were French workers employed to transport furs for the Hudsons Bay Company.
Our guide Bailey told us the sashes could be up to three meters long and were used for many purposes including providing support to prevent voyageurs from getting hernias when they lifted the one hundred pound bales of furs Bailey is standing beside in the photo.
The sashes made of brightly colored wool could also be used……. for carrying belongings, lashing a canoe to your head during portages, tucking objects like a knife behind when the sash was around your waist. It could serve as…….. a torniquet for broken bones, a belt, a scarf, a wash cloth, a towel, a saddle blanket or as a tumpline worn on the head to help carry heavy objects. The fringes on the end might have important keys tied to them or be used for mending clothes.
Louis Riel’s sash
The Metis, a people with both a French and aboriginal heritage, adopted these sashes from the voyageurs and called them ‘un ceinture fleche’ or ‘arrowed belts.’ Nowadays the sash is worn by members of the Metis nation as a symbol of pride. The sash in the photo above belonged to the founder of Manitoba Louis Riel, a Metis man who was certainly proud of his heritage and his people. In this statue of Louis Riel on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature you can clearly see his sash tied around his waist.
An Award Winner Inspires Teens
Eating Bannock Voyageur Style
Although I was very sad to see The Marrow Thieves voted off Canada Reads yesterday the fact that American War by Omar El Akkad remained a contender means I can write about it while it is still in play as a possible winner. We have heard so much talk from politicians about terrorists, and how we need to protect ourselves from terrorists, and this book tells us how we can do that………create more equality between the haves and have nots of this world and stop wars. Wars and their aftermath create terrorists out of young people with promise and potential.
Sarat the protagonist of American War is a child living in a time when the United States has become a third world country because of climate change and a divisive civil war. The war means Sarat is deprived of her father, proper schooling, medical care, adequate food, clothing and shelter. She is suspectible then to a mentor who can provide her with some of those things and most importantly give her life a sense of purpose. She is easy prey for terrorist recruiters.
This is a dark, dark book. I started out liking Sarat. My affection turned to overwhelming sadness and anger for what Sarat became. What a waste! American War puts a human face on terrorism and helps us understand that the recipe for creating terrorists is failing to address economic disparty and deciding to solve differences with war. Violence and poverty create fertile ground for terrorism to flourish.
American War is just way too depressing and hopeless a book for me to want it to win Canada Reads. Since my first pick The Boat People and my second pick The Marrow Thieves have both been eliminated from the show I will have to cheer for Forgiveness to win today even though it was my number three pick.
Is the Solution to Ending Terrorism Really This Simple?
I Never Got Used to the Guns in Israel
The Shady Area Between Violence and Non-Violence
Filed under Books, Canada
Well at least things righted themselves a little in the Canada Reads contest yesterday. Precious Cargo which I wanted voted off the first day is gone now and The Marrow Thieves which I championed yesterday has remained. My blog readers responding to yesterday’s column were vocal on Facebook about The Boat People’s elimination. One said it was an absolute travesty and another felt the panel members were sadly lacking when it came to being connoisseurs of good literature.
My third place pick for 2018 would be Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto. The first part of the book completely captivated me. Mark tells the World War II story of his maternal grandfather who was from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and served as soldier stationed in Hong Kong during the war. The Japanese take him as a prisoner. I felt such a strong connection to this story because the history of Hong Kong was part of the curriculum I taught at an international school in Hong Kong and I visited all the places where Mark’s grandfather’s story unfolds with my students as we learned about what happened when the Japanese attacked and occupied Hong Kong during World War II.
The Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong where many Canadians are buried
The cemetery where all the Canadian soldiers are buried in Hong Kong was my very favorite place in the city. Woven in with this narrative is the story of Mark’s paternal grandmother, born in Canada, whose Japanese family was living a good and prosperous life in Vancouver when World War II broke out. They lost everything when the Canadian government forced them to move inland. Mark’s grandmother’s family ends up working like slaves on a sugar beet farm in Alberta and living in a chicken coop.
Mark Sakamoto made me really love his grandparents and so I was sorry that during the second part of the book we hardly heard about them. The latter part of the book is all about Mark’s mother and her fight with alcoholism and addictions and how those impacted her son. There are brief references to his grandparents in this section but I wanted to know so much more about how they related to their grandson and to his parents as they walked through so much grief. How did they feel about their children’s divorce? What was happening in the grandparents’ lives during this time? The story about Mark’s mother is a riveting one but I agree with some of the Canada Reads panelists who felt Mark should have written two books, one about his grandparents and another about his mother.
I hope Forgiveness doesn’t get eliminated today. We will see if my hopes are realized. I have one more book to blog about and that’s American War. I am having a birthday lunch with my niece today and she LOVED the book so that should give me additional perspective when I blog about it tonight.
A Riveting Read
Questions After Watching the film Silence
Filed under Books, Canada
I can’t believe it! They eliminated by far the best book! I can only think of one reason the Canada Reads panelists removed the wonderful book The Boat People on their first day of debating and that is because they were being protective of their own books. They knew Sharon Bala’s novel was the best and so they decided getting rid of it would give their books a better chance.
So…………now I have to pick another winner and I’m going to choose The Marrow Thieves. This is a story set in a future when global warming has devastated much of the earth. Most people no longer have dreams but indigenous people still do and so they are being hunted by ‘recruiters’ who want to harvest their bone marrow thinking it holds the key to recovering the ability to dream. The story centers around a strong group of indigenous people unrelated to one another and from different First Nations who have banded together and become a family as they flee from the recruiters. I really think this book should win because ……………
- Although the main character is a young sixteen year old boy named Frenchie there are some wonderfully strong female characters in the book like the old woman Minerva -full of courage and tradition, the little girl RiRi full of curiosity and liveliness and the young woman Rose full of rebellion and independence.
- The book ably covers two issues very important to Canadian society- climate change and reconciliation with our First Nations.
- This is a young adult novel and I want it to win because more people need to discover that books labeled young adult can be great adult reading too.
- Unlike American War, the other Canada Reads novel set in a dark future The Marrow Thieves actually leaves one with some semblance of hope for our world and has likeable characters you can cheer for.
- We are constantly rethinking just exactly how the word ‘family’ should be defined and have come to realize families can each look very different. The Marrow Thieves really makes us think about what it means to be part of a family and not just your biological family.
I am almost scared to pick a new book to win Canada Reads when my initial choice was eliminated on the first day. I hope The Marrow Thieves fares better today. Whatever the outcome I’ll blog again tomorrow about one of the other books.
The Boat People
Canada Reads Starts Today
Filed under Books, Canada