What We will Remember and other Thoughts on the Pandemic as Halton Families Meet the Return to School Challenge

By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre

In the middle of March, as I was closing my office up for what I thought would be a couple of weeks, I saved this picture as my screensaver.

Little did I know at the time, that six months later, we would still be living in this seemingly alternate universe. It feels like a lifetime ago. The picture of this little girl and her chick is still on my computer and each day when I look at it, I am reminded of what is really important during this time of stress and uncertainty.

As children, families, and teachers contemplate the return to school and academic learning, I have been listening closely to parents about what they both feel – and fear. For many, finding nuggets of hope and optimism strengthens their resiliency and ability to carry on. For others, the worry and fear overwhelms them and the reptilian brain takes control creating a propensity for instinctive fight, flight, or freeze responses. Fear and anxiety want comfort and certainty, and we know when it comes to COVID-19 there is no certainty. We can, however, find comfort and support in each other, maintain our sense of optimism, take hold of what we can control, and attempt to let go of what does not aid us.

So how do we take back our sense of control? How do we find our courage, our creativity, and soft hearts in order to protect and guide our children?

First and foremost, we cannot project adult fears and mindsets that negatively influence our children’s view of the world and their healthy growth and development. We must avoid righteous indignation and judgment and find a way to work together with compassion, tolerance, and a collaborative spirit. Our children need us to do this. And they need to watch us do this.

I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Hiam Ginott, teacher, child psychologist, psychotherapist, author, and parent educator.

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

Every day parents and teachers have the opportunity to get up, take a few breaths, find gratitude, and make a conscious choice to create a healthy and nurturing environment for the children in their lives; to create a warm, sunny day out of the rain and cold.

I believe that this school year will not be about academics. I believe that it will be about the chance to strengthen our resiliency and relationships, and build deep, nurturing interdependence. Now more than ever, we understand how interconnected and reliant we are on each other – in our families, in our communities, and on a global level.

Finally, as I look for the silver lining in all this, I hope it will be the opportunity for parents and professionals to realign their relationships with children in the way nature intended. To restore the adult’s rightful place – in charge and with the responsibility and wisdom to lead our children through this pandemic. Now is the time to show them that they can depend on us and trust us to do what is best for them.

Collectively we can do this. When this pandemic has ended, what will stand out most in our memories is how we treated each other.

Young Milton Artist Mixes Compassion and Creativity to Make a Difference

Introduction by Vanessa Box-Jones, Our Kids Network Milton Community Hub Coordinator.

Shiuli Khanna is a grade 12 student in Milton, Ontario. She is an aspiring young artist and community volunteer who is passionate about engaging and supporting people and her community. Her work has been displayed in the Milton Art Centre gallery space.

Young Milton Artist Mixes Compassion and Creativity to Make a Difference

By Shiuli Khanna, visual artist, a grade 12 student, and community youth volunteer

I moved to Milton in grade 7 after spending a few years in Toronto. At the time, I was a scared 12 year-old kid who didn’t want to move from the big city to a “small town”, but the five amazing years that I’ve lived in Milton have definitely helped me become the passionate, creative person that I am today.

I’ve designed posters for the Milton Youth Advisory Task Force advertising, for the Milton Youth Awards, and my work has been on display in the gallery at the First Ontario Art Centre Milton. I’ve also been a member of the Milton Youth Task Force (MYTF) for 4 years. We work to impact our community and be informed, connected and empowered community leaders.  After one of our MYTF meetings, Vanessa Box-Jones, the Our Kids Network Milton Community Hub coordinator and an adult ally who works with our group, told me about an amazing opportunity to paint a mural for the Hub. I rarely turn down an opportunity to create art, so of course, I said yes!

Inspiration for the OKN Hub Mural

My inspiration for this artwork was all the wonderful people I’ve met in Milton. This town has become my home and I really wanted to portray its diversity and multicultural aspects in my mural. In fact, most of the pictures I have painted are either based on photos in my gallery or events I’ve seen. Whether it’s handing out flowers for the International Women’s Day March; walking around Milton during the coldest night of the year to raise funds for the homeless; or even just holding the door open for someone – simple acts go a long way, and I love picturing them in my art. I remember getting caught in the rain while waiting for the bus, luckily I had an umbrella. Someone else who was also waiting for the bus wasn’t as lucky so I offered to share my umbrella. I felt really good knowing that I made a difference in some way.

Shiuli stands beside her mural artwork, which will be installed at the Ontario First Art Centre Milton. The installation has been postponed until COVID-19 Emergency Measures are lifted.

Making a Difference by Getting Involved

Milton has a variety of opportunities to get involved in: the annual Milton Fall Fair; the Railway Museum; and farmers’ markets to support our local farmers; and many other seasonal events in downtown Milton. So to the people who may think there’s nothing to do in this “small town” (as I was once believed); I say get involved in our wonderful community and get to know more people!

You can join community groups such as the Milton Youth Task Force, where youth have the chance to share their voices and advocate for the youth of Milton. You can also put a smile on someone’s face by volunteering at the Milton District Hospital. I volunteer in palliative care, and being able to make someone smile can make your entire day. You could start a band and participate in the Battle of the Bands event, or perform in the Milton Fair. Youth have the opportunity to show their many talents during Milton Culture Days events with music, intricate henna (mehendi) designs and more. You could join the Fine Arts Society of Milton and have your artwork showcased in the First Ontario Arts Centre Milton gallery!

Artistic Expression and Future Plans

Art is everywhere and I love making it whether I’m painting, sketching, or just doodling. When I can’t convey my feelings and emotions through words, I turn to art because it allows me to express myself freely without being judged. I’ll be graduating in a year and my aspiration is to attend medical school. Medicine is an incredibly stressful field, so I’m glad that I have art as an outlet when times get difficult. Though I can’t say for sure how art will fit into my future, it will always be a part of who I am. And I know that if I had never come to Milton, I’d be a very different person for sure.

Follow Shiuli on Instagram @shiulikhanna.

The Jingle Dress Dance: Self-expression and Healing

This blog has been edited for accuracy (paragraphs 7 & 8) and republished.

Introduction by Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

Raven Sutherland is Plains Cree and Saulteaux from Lake St. Martin First Nation in Manitoba, currently living in Ontario. Upon learning that Raven is a competitive jingle dress dancer, I invited her to write a blog on this entrancing cultural art form to help OKN celebrate National Indigenous History Month. She has been dancing for more than 10 of her 20 years at seasonal and competitive powwows.

As a recent graduate from the Conestoga College Advertising and Marketing Communications Program, Raven plans to integrate inclusivity, emotion, and empowerment into her work.

The Jingle Dress Dance: Self-expression and Healing

By Raven Sutherland, Jingle Dress Dancer

The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people in Ontario and is known to be a healing dance. As Indigenous people, we believe in the healing of this medicine. 

I was called to the jingle dress dance at a very young age and have now been a jingle dancer for over 10 years. For me, dancing means healing, love, and the honour of carrying on such an important gift given to us by the Creator. In learning the dance, I was taught that you dance for the ones who can’t; for the ones whose culture was stolen; and for the ones who are sick. Jingle dancing is a very meaningful art form that dancers put all of themselves into. It is a part of my identity and a huge part of reclaiming my culture, because I am an intergenerational survivor of the Sixties Scoop. 

Regalia

What I love about the regalia we wear for powwow dancing, is how different they all are. That’s because our regalia is a form of self-expression and represents who you are as a person. Some designs, colours and feathers are passed down from generation to generation. Others are created by dancers to express themselves.

My regalia focuses on the colour purple because I have always been drawn to that colour. I want my regalia to be bright, colourful and something I feel beautiful and proud wearing. My mom and I design all of my outfits together and I often have a vision of what I want it to look like before I come to her with an idea. Creating regalia can be healing for many people and brings families together.

Modern day jingle cones and lids are sewn onto dresses by Indigenous dancers. The jingles sound like rain and they carry the prayers up to the creator. Traditionally, there are supposed to be 365 jingles on a dress; one for every day of the year. While you sew your dress, you should be thinking good thoughts and prayers.

Petitioners can give the jingle dancers tobacco to pray for them, or for something specific. A particular song and dance will be dedicated to the person who gives the tobacco.

Powwow

One common question I hear is “Can I attend a powwow if I’m not native?” The answer is yes, of course! We welcome everyone from all walks of life to come and experience our culture. There are plenty of “powpow 101” resources online. Do some research before you attend or if you’re unfamiliar with the dances. A word about powwow etiquette: please never touch or pull on a dancer’s regalia or take a picture without their permission. Each dancer has a personal and spiritual connection to their regalia that must be respected.

So come and join us at powwow, have an open mind, and enjoy our traditional food, song, drumming and dances. It is an amazing experience and an educational opportunity for you and your children.

Happy National Indigenous History Month!

For more information, read Pamela Sexsmith’s story about 76-year-old jingle dress dancer Evelyn Thom, a powerful role model and inspiration for young dancers. Windspeaker Publication.

National Indigenous Peoples Day: What does June 21 mean to you?

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

On Sunday, many of us will be celebrating Father’s Day. Some of you will be enjoying a beautiful day reading a great book, by an Indigenous author, of course (#Indigenousreads). For Indigenous people in Canada, June 21 is a very special day: National Indigenous Peoples Day.

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been a long time coming and is now a day devoted to celebrating the unique and distinct culture and heritage of Indigenous people all across Canada. June 21 is also the Summer Solstice and, as such, is a traditional day of spiritual ceremony and celebration for Indigenous peoples.

Three Indigenous people in traditional dress are smiling and talking
Photo credit: Government of Canada – National Indigenous Peoples Day  

This year coming together to celebrate will look very different for us. Rather than feeling the beat of the pow wow drum deep in my heart, I will have to celebrate with virtual and televised events. For me, it will also be a day of reflection on how far National Indigenous Peoples Day has come as a significant day of observance and celebration in Canadian culture.

I look back fondly to the late 1990s, when my sister and her husband were living in a very non-Indigenous suburb of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan! This particular neighbourhood was newly developed and had expensive homes backing onto a large lake with walking trails. It was the central gathering spot for the community.

My brother-in-law decided that June 21 would be a great day to introduce his family to the neighbours. He arranged to have a tipi erected by the lake and ensured there was bannock and jam for us to share. He welcomed their non-Indigenous neighbours, and we relaxed and talked together all evening. It was wonderful! Everyone was so inquisitive and grateful for the opportunity to enter an actual tipi, and the questions were respectful and genuine.

I never let this special day go by without a celebration (even a quiet one) of some kind. This year, in addition to all the events happening on the internet, I intend to take a walk (physically distancing of course), on the Moccasin Trail in the Town of Oakville and give thanks for being Indigenous.

What will you be doing?

Conversations about Racism with Children. This is personal.

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

Have you had a conversation with a child or youth about racism?

It would be difficult not to if you have a school-aged child or youth in your life. It’s a daily conversation in my home these days. While trying to encourage my 10-year-old to continue with her Grade 5 studies in order not to be a middle school drop-out adding to the number of Indigenous people who do not complete high school, I learned she has been watching Black Lives Matter demonstrations and protests on social media.  She has a hard time explaining how to add fractions, but she can show me how to signal if she needs a helmet in a demonstration or how to escape riot police.

My 14-year-old son has some pretty strong views too. I asked him how to make an Instagram post all black to show my support for the Black Lives Matter protests and he argued against it.  Not because he doesn’t support the movement, but because he feels people are jumping on a band wagon. He questions whether people are doing what seems easy or are they actively advocating in their lives every day. “Wow,” I thought, “I think I might be doing something right as a parent.”

I have a sense of what my kids are thinking about when it comes to racism, because I have these conversations with my kids regularly. To be sure, they are tough talks. As an Indigenous mother, it can be heartbreaking, but I do not have the luxury of choice. My kids are Indigenous in Canada. I have to ensure that they have the tools to deal with inevitable racism.

How do I start discussing systemic racism? 

My children were so excited to receive their Registered Indian cards in the mail. The fact that they are Registered Indians, as defined by the Government of Canada’s Indian Act – systemic legislation designed to assimilate and civilize the Indian – seemed like great place to start. It’s not like Mom hasn’t rained on their parade before.

So, I started with the Pass System. Notice how “system” is right there in the name. Systemic racism should be easy to spot, really. Canada’s Pass System required any Indian wanting to leave the reserve – for any reason – to ask permission of the “Indian Agent”. In fact, almost all activities required permission from the Indian Agent.  My children’s Kokhum (grandmother) had her own experience with this person.  “The Indian Agent sure was mad when your Mooshum and I got married”, she told my kids. “Your Mooshum didn’t ask for permission to marry me. Good thing we didn’t get married on the reserve. It may not have happened!”

I have also only touched on the Residential School System with my kids. These topics must be presented in small doses, and as necessary. Children can easily be overwhelmed with such heart-breaking information and need time to digest it.

Unfortunately, I have to speak to my children about the racism they will encounter at school, in sports, and with friends, and also with well-meaning non-Indigenous people in their lives.  If I had a Loonie for every time I heard “But you don’t look like an Indian. I think you mean to say you are Metis.” when I was growing up… Well I’d rather not think about that number right now. It didn’t take me long to learn that explaining the fact that I was a Registered Status Indian and band member of Peepeekisis First Nation, wouldn’t get me far with non-Indigenous parents and teachers who felt the need to set me straight on who I am. As a child, I always wondered why I was the one teaching them. They were the adults.

My son, who is very proud to be Indigenous, wears his identity on his sleeve. Literally. He recently did a peer to peer exchange with youth from Attiwapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario through Hockey Cares. You might recall hearing about Attiwapiskat in the news a few years back. The community realized a cluster of suicides and called on the Federal government to provide adequate mental health services.

The youth in Attiwapiskat gave out ball caps and hoodies with their community crest and the words “Proud to be Native” as gifts. I beam with joy to see my son wearing these items. As a kid growing up on the prairies, I knew that identifying yourself as a First Nations person could be dangerous. It still is actually, when we remember Coulton Boushie, the young Indigenous man who was killed by a white farmer in rural Saskatchewan.

Back to my son. He endured a racial incident with his friends this winter. I found him sobbing in his room one day. A visceral sob that I recognized. He was in pain. A pain that a mother’s kiss wouldn’t fix. Apparently a virtual game he was playing with friends got heated. Words were exchanged. None of them good, including my son’s. It got to the point where my son was told, “Go back to Residential School and get (insert word for sexual assault).” I never learned about Indigenous people in school, yet I went to a high school surrounded by First Nations reserves. Not one teacher, nor topic in the curriculum, was Indigenous.  I also never thought that this current generation, now learning the truth about how Indigenous people have suffered, would use this knowledge against us. It was a week of tough conversations in my home.

I recognize that this is my son’s story to tell and, traditionally, stories should really be told in winter. But I will say a prayer and ask for forgiveness because I think it is an important story that illustrates the importance of talking about racism with our children. You may be thinking, “My children are not racist. I know my kids.”  Some of you are saying, “We are first or second generation Canadians. We know racism. We are in Canada because we left that behind.”  Maybe you are saying, “This is Canada, Halton or anywhere else. Racism doesn’t happen here.” Yes, it does.

I am closing by recommending resources that I hope will help you talk about racism with children and youth. Start the conversation. It is never too early or too late. Make an effort to understand what they are thinking. Help shape their worldviews to be inclusive of all, respectful, and kind.

Take some time to explore the resources linked below and to do your own web research. The resources are there for you as to use as tools for making change.

How to change systemic racism in Canada. What does racism look like in Canada? Web series called “First Things First“, and produced by TVO, features Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She tells us the story of Jordan River Anderson and why she continues to fight the Canadian government to gain rights for Indigenous children.

What needs to change to end systemic racism in Canada towards Indigenous peoples. Anne-Marie Mediwake of CTV’s Your Morning show interviews former MKO Chief Sheila North who reacts to some Canadian politicians denying systemic racism.

How can I help? Eddy Robinson is an educator on Indigenous issues. In this TVO web series called “First Things First”, Robinson explains why asking “How Can I Help?” is not the right question.

Racism: Indigenous Perspective with Senator Murray Sinclair. How and why do the impacts of history persist? How racism is directly or indirectly manifested in our society?  What are our obligations to address racism? How do we reconcile divisions created by racism? How do we directly or indirectly reinforce racism?  How is racism holding us back? In this video Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs explores these questions with Senator Sinclair.

21 Things You May Not Have Known About the Indian Act. Activist and author, Bob Joseph, looks at some of the restrictions and impacts imposed on First Nations (some have since been removed in revisions of the Act).