By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre
As a child, I frequently watched the children’s television show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Of course, I never met Mr. Rogers, but like many children I felt that I knew him and that, somehow, he knew me. Now, as an adult, I remember his stories and advice and have a deeper appreciation for the lessons he taught. “Be kind, smile, be a helper, and look for the good in yourself and others,” he told us. These are simple and meaningful messages that stand the test of time.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.”
Our shared experiences over the past year with our families, neighbours, communities, and indeed the world, have united us. This is one of the unexpected benefits that the pandemic has offered us for the taking. In this time of continued uncertainty, stress, and change, I suggest that there is no better way to respond than with Fred Rogers’ lessons of empathy, connection, and the opportunity to help others. I believe that this is the real work of humanity and that it preserves and heals the soul.
Family Day 2021: Hello Neighbour!
As we look to Family Day 2021, we can take some of these lessons to heart and act on them. We can find inspiration and inner-strength in Mr. Rogers’ example, and extend our family to include our neighbours, friends and even strangers along our path.
While we continue to maintain physical distance for everyone’s health, each of us still has the opportunity to make a difference for others. As we continue to spend most of our time with family in our own homes, let’s think about how we can become helpers and better neighbours.
Family Day 2021 Challenge!
In previous blogs, I’ve sent out a challenge to readers and here’s one for 2021! On Family Day, this Monday, February 15 (and every day), be a helper! Try some of the suggestions below and see how the people you come in contact with (either within 6 feet or virtually, of course) feel cared for and connected. I hope you’ll find these ideas useful and share them with your families as well as the ones you support in your work.
Make cards to share. With your family members, create cards. Encourage your children to join in with their own pictures and messages. Deliver the notes to your neighbours; perhaps a local senior’s residence or hospital. Hand them out to strangers you see on your travels. Imagine the lasting impact of this simple gesture.
Share in a project. Many groups are already rallying friends and neighbours to share in common projects and activities. Capture your outdoor adventures on video or in photos, create a community time capsule, or build birdhouses to keep our feathered friends sheltered from the cold February days. Connect on a virtual platform like Zoom to share your ideas and progress.
Take a walk and SMILE at everyone you see. Smiles are contagious and make everyone feel better.
“Be a helper” coupons. Handing out coupons for helping with everyday tasks like shoveling driveways, preparing a meal, or reading a story together will surely lift spirits – the coupon recipients and yours. Be creative.
Commit to regular check-in calls with those who may be alone and lonely.
Plan a virtual games night with family, friends and neighbours. There are lots of apps and ideas online for virtual all-ages fun.
Welcome to the neighbourhood! Come on in!
One of our collective tasks in raising the next generation is to create an understanding of what it feels like to have empathy, compassion, and to care for those around us – in good times and in bad. Let’s make an effort to share generously the good in ourselves and our families, and see the good in others.
By Karen Majerly, Communications at Work and Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager
As we carry on into October with managing the return to school – and work for some of us – in person or virtually, you can probably use a few more trusty tools to help families as they grapple with these uncertain circumstances. Now is the perfect time to get familiar with the resources on the Our Kids Network website – all there to support your vital work with Halton children, youth, and families.
Strengthening the capacity of the professional community
Let’s start with the centre of it all – the Our Kids Network community. As a collective impact network, OKN builds the capacity of community organizations that support children and their families. You are likely already familiar with OKN’s vision: All children and youth thrive! Be sure to review the full explanation of OKN’s renewed mission and role to fully understand how the network builds capacity in the professional community.
As a professional working with children and youth, you might know that OKN conducts and shares research, develops resources to help you achieve your goals, and brings people together to achieve collective impact. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing among organizations means everyone across the region – including you – is supported in their work toward the Halton 7, the ideal living conditions we want for kids and families.
Using data to plan and improve programs and services
Our Kids Network collects and shares research on what children and youth need to thrive. This trusted information can support your day-to-day work and planning. Visit the Research Resources section on the website to find a range of community reports, survey results, and planning tools that include neighbourhood-level data.
Make this your first stop to learn more about your neighbourhood and municipality, as well as how to interpret and use data to best plan and deliver services.
Upgraded Data Portal
OKN website users like you report that the new Data Portal 2.0 makes it even easier to find the data you need, then customize it to make your own maps, charts, and graphs.
The DP 2.0 contains Halton data from the 2003-18 Early Development Instrument survey, Kindergarten Parent Survey, and Tell Them From Me (TTFM) / OurSCHOOL survey, and includes the most recent health and Canada Census data.
Also in the Research Resources section, you can learn about the frameworks and strategies OKN uses to guide its work and support alignment.
One of these key elements is the Asset-Building Framework. And at the heart of asset-building sits meaningful relationships – the key to OKN’s and your work.
Visit the Building Relationships section to learn more about Developmental Assets and Family Assets, and definitely explore the popular Asset-Building Toolkit, full of information and inspiration to help you bring positive child and youth development into your own practice and work environment. In the Facilitator’s Library, you’ll find tools to help you present workshops such as “Everyone’s an Asset-Builder,” and conduct informative meetings to educate families.
Enhancing understanding of Indigenous Reconciliation
Explore the informative information available to help you increase your own and others’ understanding of Indigenous history and perspectives. Expand your own Indigenous literacy – an understanding of the culture, context, and rights of Indigenous people and the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – and then share what you’ve learned with your colleagues and clients.
You may be particularly interested in viewing examples of Indigenous Land Acknowledgements and learning about how to determine territorial lands.
Take advantage of the OKN community and resources
You’re part of a community of organizations, agencies, and professionals across Halton that Our Kids Network strives to connect and support. Use the diverse OKN website resources to inform and inspire yourself and other professionals as you make your many positive contributions to the lives of young people and their families.
Thank you for your efforts and please reach out with your comments, questions, and ideas.
By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
What do Orange Shirt Day and shiny new shoes have in common?
For many of us, pandemic or not, the beginning of a new school year is marked with the ritual of purchasing new clothes. Phyllis Webstad is the founder of Orange Shirt Day. Her grandmother bought her a new orange shirt to wear on her first day of Indian residential school. For my aunt, the excitement of wearing shiny new shoes to school was only eclipsed by finally being in school with her big brothers and sister. The thrill of starting school in new clothes didn’t last long. The children had their new clothes taken away as soon as they arrived for their very first day of school.
I often identify myself as a fourth generation Residential School Survivor.
A stretch in some people’s eyes, given I didn’t actually attend residential school. In a recent conversation with one of my aunts, I was reminded that my Mooshum, my great grandfather, was identified as the twelfth person to be enrolled at Lebret Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. My grandparents and my father attended that same school, and I have had the privilege to learn first-hand about residential school from two generations before me. Our family has a long history with the Residential School System and I am still coming to terms with the long-term effects of this as I parent my own children. I guess this is why the impact of the residential school experience is called “intergenerational trauma”. It doesn’t skip a generation.
If you think about it we all tend to parent in the way we were parented. I grew up in a fairly rigid household. My father wasn’t parented by his parents for most of his life. He was raised in a system that denied him his identity and culture. I was raised with similar rigidity and values. Rules had to be followed or punishment ensued. Being on time meant being at least ten minutes early. My sister and I had many rules about how we could dress and how long our hair could be. We had to play sports – team sports preferred – and there was no getting out of it. While other kids were enjoying Easter break, my sister and I were at softball camp getting ready for the season, but only after we had attended all the religious ceremonies associated with Easter. As a parent, I now look back on my childhood and can understand why following rules was so important to my father.
But I didn’t always get it. I think about the way my father always walked with his toes up in the air. It looked odd. He told me it was because the floors were cold at residential school and you had to walk with as little of your foot on the ground as possible. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe his stories.
Stop and think about the children in your life for a minute.
Can you imagine the government taking them away from you, often with the threat of incarceration if you did not let them go to a school that might be days away? My auntie was so excited to be with her siblings. When pressed to discuss though, she explained that she was able to see her big sister in the halls once in a while, and sometimes her brothers on Sundays after mass, if there was a sporting event. She shared a dormitory with many other little girls away from their parents for the first time. She told me with a sad smile, “Reality set in that first night, but that was the way it was. You didn’t question it.”
So maybe you too can see why I didn’t get it. I We simply cannot imagine our children not being able to share in the rituals of bedtime stories and cuddles, or not having their siblings at their side to comfort them. The Residential School System was an implement of the Canadian government which was determined to methodically “take the Indian out of the child”. This seems unbelievable to us today. We cannot imagine not having the right to question government policy and the elected officials who represent us in Ottawa.
And in some ways the system worked. My father’s and my family do not speak our mother-tongue language, Cree. The same is true with spiritual practices, but we are revitalizing this aspect of our lives as best we can.
I am sharing with you the TRUTH in Truth and Reconciliation. Perhaps you are thinking the same thing I did when I listened to my father’s residential school stories. Everyone has a ”I had to walk to school and back in 40 degree below weather uphill both ways” story. I began to understand the scope of the atrocities of Canada’s Residential School System right around the time I took my first Indigenous Studies course in university. I was in my twenties before I really began to comprehend my own family’s long history with Canada’s education system. I apologized to my father. I knew then that his stories were true and I regret that I only came to this realization after learning about the traumatic impact of residential schools in a Euro-centric institution of higher learning.
I have come to realize that my family primarily shares fond memories of their time at Lebret Indian Residential School.
They are reluctant to speak about the difficult times. My aunts and uncles talk about how they learned to play musical instruments, the championships won in hockey and basketball, and that they were able to wear their own clothes on Sundays. It is astounding to me that all of my dad’s siblings went on to post-secondary education. Indeed, many of the graduates of Lebret Indian Residential School went on to varied and interesting careers such as NHL scouts and actors in some of Hollywood’s biggest films.
Upon reflection of my family’s experiences, I realize that in order to survive at residential school, and to cope with the awful memories, it helps to look on the bright side of things. The positive stories I hear mask their unfathomable painful experiences. Going too much beyond fond memories takes gentle and careful prodding. Laughter is used to nudge those difficult memories to the surface.
Playing team sports was required, but it also meant it might be the only time you could interact with a sibling. Being on a team meant you belonged and had support of team mates in the classroom and dormitories. If you learned that your little brother was being bullied, you took care of it on the ice or the field. Being part of the choir meant you might be able to leave the school premises to sing at a neighbouring church. If you were deemed intelligent enough, the priest could arrange for you to further your education. It is clear from these stories that Indigenous people did not have control over their own lives. Some would argue, we still don’t.
Without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.
All Canadians bear the burden of the truth of the harm and trauma caused by Canada’s Residential School System. If you don’t think it affects you because you are not Indigenous, I encourage you to continue learning about Truth and Reconciliation. There are excellent, free courses available such as the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada program.
We are all interconnected in some way. Reconciliation is important for all Canadians and without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.
On Sept 30, wear an orange shirt. This is a day to be a good ally, remember those who were taken by the Residential School System and commit to learning more about the truth. Help carry the burden and build a better future for Canada.
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.
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.
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.
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).