Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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Tina is the one for whom I will always grieve. She is gifted, yet only her disability is documented. She is sensitive to the world, yet the world turns against her and breaks her.... Please do not try to lock Tina into your reality. She has her own reality.
In one dream room
I am the dark one.
I am marked. I am hated.
I am their puzzle and the pieces do not fit.
In my dream room
I am myself.
Outside my dream room
No one understands my puzzle.
They cannot see
The pieces all lock into place
And I am a Good Life.
-from Tina’s dream room poem, A Canoer of Shorelines, pp. 250f.
Tina is the one for whom I will always grieve. She is gifted, yet only her disability is documented. She is sensitive to the world, yet the world turns against her and breaks her. Which one of your students is she? She must be from one of those places? Please do not try to lock Tina into your reality. She has her own reality.
Tina is the one on the edges, the one without a partner in gym class, the one with no group on the field trip, the one who does her own project; the one that students avoid or joke about. She is the one that teachers worry over, for in her presence they feel helpless.
Which one of my students is she?
Tina is Every Child.
Every Child is a good starting point for a reflection on Canada Day.
Canada Day is meant to celebrate all that has made this country great. This presupposes that the country was not great before “Canada” came into being through the political machinations of the nineteenth century. The history of disease, exploitative trading practices, environmental degradation, and negligence (particularly in the area of education), however, speaks for itself.
Many people are coming forward and saying that they will not celebrate Canada Day; it feels wrong to cheer and celebrate when every day, more bodies of residential school victims are being revealed. They, like Tina, are Every Child. They look to us, bewildered, trying to understand what they have done to be so hated. They were pieces of the puzzle that did not fit – and for that, they were swept away. They call to us, and until there is justice, how can there be celebration?
So what do we celebrate this day? This can be a learning day, a day on which we stand on the ashes and build. Not rebuild, please, because that sounds like we want to have the same structure again. Instead, listen to the ones who are mourning; sit with them, hear them. Grow from their stories. Prepare to change, for history has many hidden layers, which must be explored. Let this day be a starting point for our entire future. Let this be a day that lives on, that is not shelved and over in a week’s time.
I am reminded of a Grade 8 student, preparing his “poster advertising land in the West for Settlers.” I commented that his draft made it look like the land was empty. Was there no one living there? The eyes narrowed; a mischievous smile played about his lips. The final poster came with the caption: “A deal so good – IT’S A STEAL!!!”
Now that is history! Cree history!
Since Canada has claimed the land, it stands to reason that Canada must take responsibility for the children buried there. We all have a duty to build a world in which children are valued and have a future. We have a duty to celebrate Every Child.
In my last year of teaching, I worked with a very special teacher, always smiling, always with a good word for every student he met. One morning as we were going over educational plans, he shared, still smiling, a few of his “educational experiences.” The smile faded, and he leaned forward, hands clasped, elbows resting on his knees. “Now I ask you,” he said, “was I really such a bad little boy that I deserved to have that done to me?”
That is the voice of Every Child, a puzzle that is beautiful and shining, a Good Life that yearns to be affirmed.
The puzzle of Every Child is a hard one, but oh, it is sweet to see the pieces come together, after hard work and patience, to see the Good Life.