Archive for June, 2016

Decolonization is not a Metaphor

Posted on June 27, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, Ed890, First Nations, Masters, Race, reflection |

I just finished reading Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s article called Decolonization is not a metaphor. It was a great article that challenged me on how our liberal arts education has started to use the word decolonization to describe any type of activism or social movement that is related to anti-oppressive education.  Some people seem to lump decolonization into being “critically conscious of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and xenophobia” (Tuck & Yang, 2012). Tuck and Yang are clear that this is not what decolonization is, and decolonization should not be used as a metaphor for all of these others things.

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Regina’s pride parade. Photo credit and story at CBC.ca

“When metaphor invades decolonization, it kills the very possibility of decolonization; it recenters whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future. Decolonize (a verb) and decolonization (a noun) cannot easily be grafted onto pre-existing discourses/frameworks, even if they are critical, even if they are anti-racist” (Tuck and Yang, 2012).

Tuck and Yang make it very clear that “decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life” (Tuck and Yang, 2012). Not surprisingly, AGAIN my mind has been opened to thinking about these concepts in a new way. Never before had I thought about decolonization as a term that applies only to Indigenous reconciliation and repatriation. Perhaps this is because I just finished a University class called Introduction to Post Colonial Theories that touched on many different colonial/imperial histories and topics. I was under the impression that decolonization is fighting against colonialism in general… and I was under the impression that colonialism in general was around anything capitalistic, Eurocentric, and “White privilege.” Tuck and Yang were very clear in their article that we are doing more harm than good when we use decolonization as a metaphor for all of these other critical theories. When we do this, we produce a false Settler innocence to try and reconcile Settler guilt and involvement.

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“Save Indigenous Land” Photo credit: Survival international

I am once again embarrassed to admit how easily I am wrapped up in a colonial way of thinking. As I have been working on this Treaty 4 Reconciliation project,  I actually thought I was taking the initiative and really helping to decolonize our world in the local Aboriginal context. After my Post Colonial class, I felt some pride in being moved to take part in First Nations activism because of my position as teacher here in Saskatchewan, and how I was affected by the TRC’s Calls to Action. After reading this article, it has become very apparent to me that no, decolonization is always about re-centering Indigenous peoples. It’s about accepting and learning how Aboriginal ways of knowing are at the core of decolonization, and this is always in direct relation to the land.  Again, I need to start seeing things differently.

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Aboriginal ways of knowing are at the CORE of decolonization; this very idea has been resonating with me a lot.  First Nations ways of knowing are centered around Indigenous spirituality, rituals, and ceremonies.  I cannot take up this work of reconciliation without becoming familiar with Indigenous spirituality, rituals, and ceremonies… AND entering into them.  When I began this work, that wasn’t on my agenda.  In fact, as a White Christian female Settler, I have some tensions there. I can honestly say I don’t know where I fit when it comes to Aboriginal beliefs and customs. I am finding myself consistently battling spiritual and knowledge based tensions. I know that to continue this journey, I need to start having an epistemological, ontological, and cosmological relationship to the land. Tuck and Yang say,

“In order for settlers to make a place their home, they must destroy and disappear the Indigenous peoples that live there. Indigenous peoples are those who have creation stories, not colonization stories, about how they came to be in a particular place – indeed how they came to be a place. Their relationship to land comprise their epistemologies, ontologies, and cosmologies. For the settlers, Indigenous peoples are in the way and, in the destruction of Indigenous peoples, Indigenous communities, and over time through law and policy, Indigenous peoples’ claims to land under settler regimes, land is cast as property and as a resource” (Tuck and Yang, 2012).

For me to move forward with reconciliation, I need to start digging into my understanding and relationship to the land. I need to start becoming familiar with the spiritual side of First Nation’s history. If I re-tell the history of Treaty 4 for my project without acknowledging and entering into the spiritual/cultural significances present at the time of the signing, I am not RE-telling the story of Treaty 4, I am just telling the story of Treaty 4 again.  I know my next step is trying to figure out where I fit as I blend my own spiritual understandings of creation and promise with those of our First Nation’s ancestors. But as you can guess, this is not going to be a mere day long journey…

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Moving Horizons: Exploring The Role of Stories

Posted on June 21, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Ed890, First Nations, Masters |

This article was about the process of decolonizing White teachers/subjects through story. Teresa Strong-Wilson speaks about how colonization often occurs through stories, and how we need to work at fighting against and resisting colonial generalizations that sweep through education. Strong-Wilson implies that decolonization shouldn’t happen at the expense of the Indigenous people, but that “White” subjects should be taking responsibility for the process as well.

“Decolonization is about changing lives and, in connection with research, conducting studies in different ways that directly benefit Indigenous peoples, instead of once again subjecting them to a research process that has ‘extracted and claimed ownership’ of Indigenous ways of knowing only to reject the people responsible for those ways of knowing” (Strong-Wilson, 2007, p. 117).

Strong-Wilson’s goal is to decolonize the “white” subject. She suggests doing this through the deformation and reformation of identity (Strong-Wilson, 2007, p. 117). She shares her experiences working with teachers on this decolonizing journey. She talks about which types of literature they read growing up that influenced their beliefs and attitudes towards First Nations people.

I really appreciated Strong-Wilson’s ideas on decolonizing teaching/education specifically. I know that my own decolonizing journey has not only affected my personal learning, but what and how I teach in the classroom. Strong-Wilson says, “A decolonizing education for white teachers involves “bringing forward” the storied history presently subsumed within their teaching but in relation to post colonial-stories for the purpose of provoking a different story that can open and shift their horizon” (Strong-Wilson, 2007, p. 119). I was really challenged on how I am resisting colonial stories.  Strong-Wilson asserts that it is not just about using Indigenous stories or stories that have minority characters in them.  She points out that too often, the stories that have a racial minority main character end up having a storyline ABOUT their racial difference and/or overcoming their differences to be successful.  The “Other” is still illuminated and examined as “Other.” Strong-Wilson actually suggests a balanced approach of not only using post-colonial literature but challenging and resisting colonial literature. Without a critical examination of colonial literature that is commonplace in our society, one cannot move forward with decolonization.

This article challenges me when I look critically at my own Treaty 4 project. Within the re-telling of Treaty 4, the First Nation’s subjects will be the focus. They will be the focus because of their position as “Other.” I specifically said I wanted to help tell the story of Treaty 4 from a First Nations point of view. I feel like I am doing exactly what Strong-Wilson pointed out around stories with minority characters. It is making me question if I need to add a larger element of resistance to the colonial style literature around the signing of Treaty 4.  Perhaps re-telling the story of Treaty 4 from both points of view, (White/Aboriginal) with thoughtful critical questions would suffice? I feel like I am struggling to find a balance between my desire to re-tell the history of Treaty 4 from a FN point of view and my desire to help White settlers disrupt their own historical understanding of Saskatchewan’s history. Can I do both well? I will be looking towards my First Nation’s elders and allies for advice on this one.

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I’m Sorry

Posted on June 19, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Christian, Church, cultural, Ed890, educational, First Nations, Masters, personal, Privilege, Race, reflection, Unsettling the Settler |

Chapter 6 of Paulette Regan’s Unsettling the Settler Within is all about Apologies. She says that an apology and/or testimonial exchange can be a decolonizing act. Her position as part of the TRC committee allowed her to sit in and listen to Survivor’s heart wrenching testimonies of their experience with residential schools. Although she was extremely moved, the interaction between herself and the Survivors was limited as she was working within the bounds of a government project.

“I am mindful that my apology, although heartfelt and sincere, was offered within the constraints of the ADR pilot project. My words were spoken in private within the context of a claims resolution process that, though more informal in nature, was still bound by legal convention” (Regan, 2010, p. 174).

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ADR via Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

Regan obviously felt limited in her response to Survivors. She was honoured that she was allowed to be a part of those conversations, but her position with the government also hampered a full response. That said, she allows her readers to explore the idea of how Settlers (like her) fit into a testimony and apology context.

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“Healing Walk 2014” Photo Credit: Jen Castro via Flickr

“Testimonial exchange may well be healing for certain people, and to some degree the very concept of healing has become analogous with decolonization. Within this context, one can talk about healing individuals or a nation. But the healing metaphor has been used almost exclusively with regard to Indigenous peoples. We have heard far less about the settler need to heal” (Regan, 2010, p. 175).

This paragraph moved me. I am not constrained to a title or a government position.  I am free to speak my mind (within limit) without legal ramifications. I have the freedom to explore my own thoughts and feelings that perhaps Regan didn’t. In reading this chapter, I have realized that I have been learning so much about decolonization over this last year, but I have never had the opportunity to apologize. So in honour of taking a step towards decolonization and acknowledging my settler need to heal, here I go.

I’m Sorry

This apology is going to start with a firm rejection of the “Canadian peacekeeper” myth.  If I am going to own and apologize for my White Settler side of Canadian history, then I need to do that while fully rejecting the “victorious Canadian Western Settlement history” that I grew up learning. From this point on, I am acknowledging that Canada is not a peacemaking country, and it never has been.

As a teacher, I need to apologize for working within and reinforcing a neo-liberalist society. I acknowledge how the institution of education (which includes me) often works directly against Indigenous ways of knowing. It inspires and drives capitalism, and I really don’t challenge this enough. When I have lunch dates with my students, and I ask them what they want to be when they grow up, many tell me about dream jobs that will make them rich. I wish I could say that I used these opportunities to challenge and reveal the downfalls of capitalism and how it affects my young students.

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“Dr. Ladybug” Photo Credit: Donnie Ray Jones via Flickr

As a believer in Jesus, I am sorry for what people have done in the name of Christianity. I am so sorry that people who said they loved Jesus actually just loved power and control. I am sorry that the residential schools were run by Christian churches. I am broken over the idea that people thought Aboriginal students needed to be stripped of their culture, their language, their heritage, and their families so that they could be “Christian.” I am grieved that many people will never be able to trust Jesus’s words in John 10:10 that say, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

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“Mary’s Indian Residential School and cemetery” via National Post

I apologize for all the times I was a bystander. If you asked me about some of these topics a few years ago, I would try to convince you I was innocent. I was not.  No matter what level or depth of understanding one has on these issues, silence is a stance. Not asking more questions is a stance. Not digging deeper into why things are the way they are, is a stance… and a privileged one I might add. I have been a bystander to unjust acts, and there is no innocence there. Here, I am nothing less than guilty.

To all of the First Nations students who have gone to University, I am sorry for thinking that you were handed a free education, and that this wasn’t fair FOR ME. I am sorry for the times that I had misguided discussions about this and I used my privilege and ignorance to speak hurtfully and perpetuate very racist, uninformed ideas. I wish I would have known some of the Treaty misconceptions  earlier. I’m sorry that it took me 28 years to even start this journey.

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First Nations University of Canada

I am painfully sorry that I ignorantly tied poverty, drug abuse, homelessness and other social issues to race. I can’t believe I am capable of simplifying so many huge interconnected social issues and reducing them to a biological factor of the colour of someone’s skin. Here I must apologize for not seeing how the systemic racism has been initiated and then preserved by White privilege… my White privilege.

I know that I could continue. There are many things I am learning daily that I feel like I need to ask repentance for. But in this moment, I am going to stop; I’m not going to ask for forgiveness. I’m not going to expect forgiveness. This apology is not a way to relieve White guilt. This apology was not made so that I can feel better and then move on.  In fact, I don’t plan on “moving on” any time soon.  This apology is a way to take hold of the responsibilities of Settlers. This apology is to shift the obligation of reconciliation from the shoulders of First Nations people onto the shoulders of Settlers. This apology was a way for me to Unsettle the Settler Within.

unsettling the settler

 

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Unsettling the Settler Within: Chapter 5

Posted on June 16, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, Ed890, educational, First Nations, Masters, Unsettling the Settler |

unsettling the settler

In Chapter 5, Paulette Regan gives a short history of some of the Indigenous views of laws and peace. The colonial understanding was that First Nations people were savages who had a backward, unstructured way of life. When the Canadian government entered into treaties with the FN tribes, the government representatives assumed that compared to the First Nations people, they were the more progressive ones. They often puttered through the First Nation’s traditional ceremonies and spiritual practices just until they could get the FN leaders to sign away their land in the treaties.

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“Indian Land for Sale” Photo Credit: Nebraskastudies.org

“As we have seen, through the prairie settlement period, Morris and his fellow treaty negotiators, along with various Indian Affairs bureaucrats, had similar attitudes and viewed treaty making simply as the legal mechanisms required to access Indigenous lands for settlement purposes. In understanding treaty negotiations, they went through the ceremonial motions required of them but with no apparent understanding, or appreciation for, these sinews of diplomacy” (Regan, 2010, p.158-159).

In chapter 5, Regan uses the Blackfoot and Iroquois tribes as examples of how First Nations tribes were organized to uphold peace and maintain bureaucratic systems of law and order before the numbered treaties were signed. She values Indigenous visions of diplomacy, and though I don’t have time to go into detail, she explains many of the diplomatic processes that First Nations tribes had/ have.

Furthermore, I love that Regan connected the importance of FN law and peacemaking with the work of the TRC. She speaks about how one of the TRC’s roles is to try and recognize the significance of Aboriginal oral and legal traditions.  I especially liked when she said: “For reconciliation to be an authentic truth-telling process, it must profoundly disturb a dominant culture history and mindset that ‘misrecognizes’ and disrespects the oral histories, cultures, and legal traditions of Indigenous peoples, including their histories of peacemaking” (Regan, 2010, p. 147). She suggests that there are definite ways Canada can adopt FN practice when it comes to implementing law and political practices.

When looking at my own Treaty 4 Reconciliation project, I want to be attentive to the ways that First Nations elders have pointed out the flaws and injustices in the treaty relationships.

“The elders tell us what went wrong in the treaty relationship they established with Canada, of how treaties that were negotiated according to their diplomatic protocols were subsequently dishonoured as Indian policy and legislation overrode the spirit and intent of the treaties” (Regan, 2010, p. 160).

Any conflicts that Canada has had over treaties, land, or resources is due to our (settler) misunderstanding of the Treaties, not the other way around. In Regan’s job as the director of research for the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada, she has been in contact with, and researched many First Nations elders, Survivors, and Aboriginal people’s opinions and remarks on Treaties. Regan quotes Peigan elder, Tom Yellowhorn when he says, ” The Peigan’s initial enthusiasm for the peace treaty grew into bitterness when the seriousness with which they took the agreement was later not reciprocated by the government… For the Peigan the ceremony of peace making was solemn, undertaken with much gravity, especially when they smoked the peace pipe” (Regan, 2010, p. 160).

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“Tom Yellowhorn and family” Photo Credit Gordon Crighton via Glenbow.org

I want to make sure that as I work on this Treaty 4 project, I am not re-telling it from a colonial perspective.  Our Canadian history has been told from a Settler point of view long enough.  As I am in consultation with First Nations elders, I want to allow for some tension and strain in the re-telling. I want to try and give voice to how the elders of that day would have been feeling. I want to be attentive to the First Nations laws and peacemaking practices that were not only present at the signing of Treaty 4, but that were used long before European contact.

 

If you are like me, and don’t have a lot of experience with First Nation’s ceremony, I watched this video of a pipe ceremony which helped me understand a bit of what it may have looked like at the signing of the treaties.

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Unsettling the Settler Within: Chapter 4

Posted on June 14, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, Ed890, First Nations, Masters, Race, reflection, Unsettling the Settler |

Chapter 4 brings light to The Alternative Dispute Resolution Program (ADRP) that Ottawa set up in 2002.  It is a program that was created to settle thousands of litigation claims filed by former Indian Residential School (IRS) students against the Crown and various churches. I had never heard of this program until reading this chapter, and as Regan explained how it worked, I can see why many First Nations people were frustrated with its implementation.

In its essence, the ADRP tried to use a Western model for claims resolution to deal with Aboriginal contentions. The ADRP became another colonial tool for re-victimizing IRS Survivors.

“This reconciliation discourse was actually a living testament to the ongoing dysfunction, violence, denial, and unequal power that characterize Indigenous-settler relations. In this sense, our dialogue contains all the elements of an abusive crazy-making relationship – victims name the abuse, which perpetrators either deny or acknowledge with a promise to reform, while pointing out all the supportive ways in which they are helping victims” (Regan, 2010, p. 112).

Alternative-Dispute-Resolution

I find this picture from Michigan State University’s College of Law telling. This is the picture they use to advertise their ADRP program to law students.

I was quite shocked when I was reading how the ADRP was going about trying to “compensate” Survivors for their losses. The ADRP negotiators were trained to be “neutral,” (how neutral can a White, upper middle class Settler be?) listen to the testimony of Survivors, and then hand out a pre-set limited amount of money based on claims of sexual and physical abuse.  It was written right into the plan that monetary rewards would only be given for those two types of abuse. Loss of culture, language, heritage, and family relations did not play into the settlement. The entirety of The Alternative Dispute Resolution Program was flawed to begin with. When Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, including Paulette Regan, began to debate the value or lack of value of the program at a Calgary conference in 2004, Regan explained it as Native and non-Native people “engaged not in a dialogue but in two monologues, as we talk past each other” (Regan, 2010, p. 115). I think this is a great picture of what dialogue often looks like around Indigenous contentions, especially at a governmental level.

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This article is quoted in Ch. 4. Gov’t officials took heat on how the ADRP wasn’t promoting healing or reconciliation.

What I take into my own Treaty 4 project is how easily colonial ways and understandings creep into processes that are meant to work for reconciliation.

“The dynamics of symbolic violence are evident in the visceral exchanges between residential school survivors, government officials, and church representatives in public forums and less visibly in the everyday bureaucratic processes and practices that serve to reinforce colonial power relations. This subtle violence is all the more elegant because it is embedded in a language of healing and reconciliation that is seductive to both the colonizer and the colonized, albeit for different reasons” (Regan, 2010, p. 116).

I have to admit, this quote from Regan scares me. Thankfully I have had my Masters supervisor, Mike Cappello challenge me right from the beginning on being the “White Knight” with this Treaty 4 Reconciliation project. That said, I am becoming increasingly more aware of how Euro-centric understandings and approaches to reconciliation are embedded right in my life, and therefore into my project.  When I look at my journey critically, I think a lot of the reason I wanted to do this project had to do with me wanting to “solve the Indian problem.” I wanted to fix what was wrong.  I wanted to do something about the injustices that were being revealed to me.

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“White Knight” Photo credit: Richard Paterson via Flickr

When I would explain my dilemma on not becoming the “White Knight,” to friends/ colleagues/peers in my Masters classes, some people would take part in White talk where they told me not to worry, and that I was doing such a good thing by wanting to work on this project. I am realizing more and more that I have to be so careful while taking up this reconciliation project!  If anything, I have learned that I need to be willing to completely abandon it if the First Nation’s elders and allies I will be working with don’t feel like this is an adequate way for me to help work towards reconciliation. This chapter helped me realize that for too long the reconciliation process has been on the backs of First Nations people. The ADRP relied on the IRS Survivors to do the work of re-living their abuse, fighting for compensation, and moving forward.  When is it our turn as colonizers/settlers to take responsibility for our own history and work towards reconciliation from our end? Where do these understandings fit into the way I take up my Treaty 4 Reconciliation Project? Who/what audience should my project be intended for?

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Unsettling the Settler Within: Chapter 3

Posted on June 12, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Ed890, First Nations, Masters, Race, Unsettling the Settler |

peacemaker

Photo Credit: Bittermilk.com

Regan dives more into the “Peacemaker Myth” in chapter 3 of Unsettling the Settler Within.  She discusses how Canada is built on this faulty notion that we are peacemakers and peacekeepers, and always have been.  She uses example after example to prove that this is not the case. She explains how a lot of people tend to compare the colonization in Canada to colonization in the USA, and how they think Canada’s is less violent because of treaty making.  She proves them wrong by showing how government officials and policy makers like Alexander Morris, Duncan Campbell Scott, and David Laird used policy to impart cultural and societal violence towards Canada’s Indigenous people. She even reveals how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police managed to secure a peacemaker reputation from Canada’s early days. “For the most part, the celebatory legend persists. A nation of peacemakers emerged from this popular literature, particularly the valorization of the North West Mounted Police in poetry and pulp fiction produced from the 1880’s to the 1940’s” (Regan, 2010, p. 103).

I was shocked when Regan reminded me of the popular series that played on television in the early 2000’s called Canada: A People’s History. I completely remember watching these shows on CBC. She quotes some astounding lines from an episode titled, “Pioneers Head West: Can Ottawa Settle the Frontier Without Bloodshed?”

“Canada’s answer to the western dilemma; bring peace and order to the West before the settlers arrive. This was established through the NWMP who developed good relations with the natives and encouraged them to negotiate with the Canadian government. During the 1870’s, the natives signed a series of treaties, which transferred land to the Canadian government and transferred Plains Indians onto reserves… by 1880, the frontier had peace and order and was ready for white settlement” (Regan, 2010, p. 104). 

canada a peoples history

Photo Credit: CBC

Regan describes how time and time again, Canada has built up this peacekeeper myth until it has become Canada’s truth. It perpetuates the idea that there were these ‘Great White Man’ heroes who must overcome enormous obstacles to fulfill their national dream” (Regan, 2010, p. 105). These popular myths and their idolized heroes are explaining and justifying the actions of Canada’s past and present. I can definitely see how these myths become the inherent foundation of our country, and how after a while, no one even questions this identity, but rather simply believes it all to be true.

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“Mountie” Photo Credit: Sean via Flickr

When looking at how this concept will be reflected in my Treaty 4 Reconciliation re-telling project, I have decided that I would like to emphasize the fact that First Nations people deeply valued the ceremonial customs and spiritual practices around treaty making.  They were entering into these treaties with an understanding of human connection, and they desired to establish trust and respect with the Queen’s representatives. On the other hand, the treaty negotiators spoke a language of peace while offering lies.

“They gave chiefs the treaty pen to touch and thus signal their acceptance, these representatives of the settler government needed no weapons except their false words. Indigenous diplomats who had brought their own diplomatic principles and ceremonial practices to the negotiations had no way of knowing that peacemaking as they understood it had been perverted into an act of symbolic violence” (Regan, 2010, p. 101-102).

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“Treaty Medal” Photo Credit: Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada

I have tried looking for video clips of a re-enactment of the signing of Treaty 4, and I haven’t found any good ones.  I am worried about how big this project is getting as I would really like some videos to be a part of my project. If I must, I am going to try and get some filmmakers help in re-creating parts of this re-telling, although I also understand that as I move forward, I want to be extremely sensitive to video taping and re-creating the ceremonial and spiritual practices of First Nation’s culture. I will be looking for guidance from my First Nation’s elders and allies in this way.

That said, if anyone reading this knows of anyone who is in the film industry who would like to help me create some short video clips, I would be happy to get in touch with them!

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