A Complicated Love – Canada Day

#ThoughtfulThursday was created as a space to challenge our assumptions, stretch our imagination, and discover something new. If you’ve got some thought nuggets to share, feel free to send us an email!

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Trigger warning: readers may be triggered by the recount of enslavement, Indian Residential Schools, and the Chinese Head Tax. To access a 24-hour National Crisis Line, call: 1-866-925-4419.

The late Curtis Wilson, from the Kwakwaka’wakw Territories in British Columbia, is the artist behind the Canadian Indigenous Flag.

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Canada Day is tomorrow. Hands up if you’ve got mixed feelings about this day! *puts up both hands AND feet*

Being that this network is dedicated to helping educators create a more mindful, trauma-informed practice through the lens of anti-oppression, we will always encourage some real, raw reflection here (as opposed to not-real things like crypto.. ha!) – and it won’t always feel good.

As Canadians, especially with everything happening with the American Supreme Court these days, it’s very easy to say “I’m so glad we’re not living in Gilead!”

However.

The Handmaid’s Tale-style direction that Americans are afraid of right now has already happened to those who live on Canadian soil. In fact, it continues to happen, whether we like to admit it or not.

There’s no point mincing words: the first Europeans who came to colonize Turtle Island enslaved people and dragged them away from their families across the Atlantic Ocean. This happened on this land that we now call Canada too. These men also created a system of Indigenous genocide – 1920 Germany was designed after British colonialism. The last concentration camp in Canada, also known as Residential Schools, closed in 1996. Most of our network coordinators were in elementary school, oblivious to what was happening to children across the country, and oblivious to the fact that our peers were suffering enough trauma designed by our government to ripple across generations. And now, the foster system continues to steal Indigenous children from their families rather than provide the necessary support for healing. It’s continued genocide through intentional neglect and cruelty.

Oh, and by the way, less gory but not much better: July 1st was the day the Chinese head tax was implemented.

So where do we go from here?

Reconciliation in Canada is complex, and no doubt those who have found a way to build a home here will want to express gratitude and patriotism. We don’t have all the answers of course, nor is it our place to tell our members how to feel about anything.

So we’re giving folks space to share their thoughts. Here are a few.

Thoughts on Canada Day

“July 1 – Cancel Canada Day & September 30 – Survivors Day.

It is important to get your orange shirts from Indigenous artists and creators!!

We had our land, children, resources and lives taken away from us. The whole idea behind Orange Shirt Day is to spread awareness and to give back to Indigenous communities and we strongly believe that with TIHR (Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction).

So many of our relatives, who struggle and suffer with poverty and the impacts of trauma on the streets of Toronto, faced abuse at the hands of these schools. It is our honour to come to them weekly to offer ceremony and healing with the jingle dress dance, other dances and the sacred medicines. They continue to carry the songs, language and teachings themselves despite the forced and systematic assimilation they faced.

If you’d like to support by getting an orange shirt or other swag made by Indigenous artists that supports our community please visit our website in our LinkTree or email nativeartssociety@gmail.com for questions or bulk orders.”

Nakurmiik//Miigwech. – Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction

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“There are as many types of people living here as there are types of salmon. I would like to see us coming together in the future, not only my First Nations people, but all of Canada.” – Curtis Wilson

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“My parents are immigrants to Canada. Canada offered them protection from war, stability, work, and more. Being first generation, and a white settler myself, Canada has offered me many privileges. But this has come, and continues to come, at the cost of Indigenous peoples livelihoods. My parents were only able to immigrate because of the colonization of Turtle Island and Indigenous Peoples. Canada Day for me should be a day of reflection and honest conversation, but also a day of action and support of Indigenous peoples and initiatives. It’s time to give back.” – Karah

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I’m still figuring out my relationship with Canada. Am I glad to be here? Yes. Did my husband choose to propose to me in Ottawa? Yes. Do I recognize what my privileges have provided for me? Absolutely. Do I also recognize that my parents suffered being immigrants here, that my brother and I suffered as children of immigrants? Yes. Do I also recognize that my parents were able to come here and carve out a life for all of us off the backs of First Nations Peoples? Also yes. Lots of “also” statements, because that’s just how layered and nuanced things are. I’m trying to figure out what reconciliation means for me and my family, and it’s work that we owe to Indigenous Peoples of this land. They give us so much. The least we can do is honour them, and figuring out how to do so will be an ongoing journey.” – Karen

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#MyFlag means an ongoing fight to make Canada a better place for everyone. Even though Canada is an inclusive country, we must not forget the injustice people faced and are still facing. #MyFlag also represents new opportunities and unity. Canada also accepts so many immigrants and refugees, giving these people hope and a new beginning for them and their family. – Anonymous High School Student

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“Over the past few years, as my understanding of the true history of this nation has deepened, Canada Day has come to be marked with great tension. 

I sit with the knowledge that my parents came to this land with hopes of building a better life, that they managed to do it, and that this life we have here has been afforded at the expense of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. I wrestle with the narratives I was taught about the Church’s missionary work on this land having been raised Catholic. I contemplate the ways my own ancestors’ identities were erased as they were baptized in the name of Jesus, and the way colonizers drew lines across their land creating borders in South Asia. I recall my father expressing with despair how he thought having been born here would mean my siblings and I wouldn’t have to experience racial discrimination like he did. I wonder how we could have expected acceptance in a place governed by those who subjected it to the violence that divided our ancestral land.

But, as I do all of this, acknowledging there’s “no pride is genocide,” I also dream of the Canada I thought existed as a child. We have to sit with uncomfortable truths and take action in order to repair relationships with Indigenous Peoples and this land.

The tensions felt today have rendered Canada Day an annual opportunity to recommit to learning and unlearning, to putting pressure on government officials to respond to all 94 Calls to Action, and to reconciling.” – Alycia

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Sci-Fi Reality – “The Marrow Thieves” by Cherie Dimaline

#ToolboxTuesday highlights a variety of intriguing resources for educators and beyond in support of our ongoing journey towards a more mindful, trauma-informed practice. Resources centre the dismantling of anti-oppression, and come in many different forms: novels, articles, teaching resources, and so on. If you have a resource to share, send us an email!

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Trigger warning: readers may be triggered by the recount of Indian Residential Schools. To access a 24-hour National Crisis Line, call: 1-866-925-4419.


Set in a future where the plundering of natural resources has rendered Turtle Island apocalyptic, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline weaves a stark reminder of the continued violent exploitation of Indigenous Peoples and of the land. Its genre is science fiction; yet the abuse and fight for survival endured by its characters are entirely believable. The theft of Indigenous lifeblood has happened before. When the world becomes desperate, there’s nothing to stop it from happening again.

Deep in its sorrow, triumphant in its joy, and hauntingly beautiful, this is an excellent story to work through with older students in high school and beyond. There are references to children’s concentration camps in Canada, also known as Residential Schools. There are also references to the strength and endurance of present-day Indigenous Peoples in Canada as they work hard to revitalize their culture, language, and communities post-colonialism. Though classified as a Young Adult novel, The Marrow Thieves is a must read for everyone across Turtle Island as we reconcile with the ongoing genocide of the First Peoples.

Title: The Marrow Thieves

Author: Cherie Dimaline

Audience Age: high school and older. Strong readers in grade 7/8 may access with guidance.

Format: Novel

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 231

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If you’ve read this before, what did you learn from this book? Let us know in the comments!

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Teaching in the Arctic: Karah Kushnir

Our #FeatureFriday Series serves to honour educators and stakeholders of education in their ongoing hard work. Creating a more mindful, trauma-informed practice through an anti-oppression framework is not easy, but the work IS being done. Every day folk are not getting the recognition they deserve, so inevitably, we feel isolated in our grind. Our hope is that this series can be a reminder to you that we are NOT alone. Let’s connect and do this together.

So, this is Karah Kushnir (they/them). They were one of the panelists in our very first Discussion Panel in April. Everyone, say hello to my friend in the Arctic!


I’ve known Karah for a long time. We met during the early to mid-2010s when I was hosting YorkSlam, York Region’s Slam Poetry Show, and they were just a teen searching for community. I remember them sharing their poetry through the stage name Wallflower; I remember them creating and sustaining the York Region Rainbow Umbrella nonprofit for a while; I remember them going through school to become a teacher; and I remember when they decided to dedicate their life to working in and supporting Canada’s northern communities. Throughout the years, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing Karah develop into a remarkable individual who is confident, yet humble, in their approach to life. So when I launched the Educator’s Coaching Network through our first Discussion Panel in April, I knew I wanted them involved.

Also, it helps that Karah lived with me the summer of 2020 between contracts up north, and I got to meet their doggo: Zack! How majestic is he??

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Karah’s Work

Karah has been teaching Inuit and First Nations students in Nunavut and Northern Ontario for the last few years, and is soon moving to the Northwest Territories. As we’ve mentioned, prior to being a teacher, they founded the York Region Rainbow Umbrella (YRRU) in 2014, a nonprofit support and social group for LGBTQ+ people in York Region. During this time, they also used spoken word as a platform to talk about love, mental health struggles, and social justice issues.

Karah has always put in the work to support those who felt unseen, and to challenge destructive social norms that alienate and hurt young people. Now as a teacher, Karah works alongside students to advocate around current issues and empower marginalized voices. Make no mistake, this is no “white saviour” trope; Karah makes a point to centre student voices so that students themselves can create space for their needs to be heard – as should be our priority.

As Karah says, “We all have a story inside of us, and as a teacher I hope to help my students express it proudly.

They truly enjoy facilitating learning, and is relentless in providing empowering educational opportunities for their students – even when it seems like the country has given up on these kids in the north (more on this later). They’re a gem of a human ❤

By the way, check out Zack’s derp face. While quite obviously majestic, this is Zack at his core. A derpy boopy shmoopy boy and we love him 🙂

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Karah’s Writing

Karah is also a blogger! Here are a couple of pieces from them that they wanted to share. The articles highlight wisdom nuggets from Canada’s north, and Karah really wants the world to see the beauty of it all.

  1. 5 Things I Learned From Teaching Up North | Humans (vocal.media) – “The incredible spirit, perseverance, and connection to the land and those around, have blessed the lens in which I’ve seen my students. I’ve never felt more honoured to share spaces with folks than when I’ve taught in Igloolik, Kimmirut, and Poplar Hill First Nation. These kids are superheroes, and I dedicate this piece to all those I’ve crossed paths with.”  
  1. The Modern Inuk | Wander (vocal.media) – “It is important to teach one’s culture and celebrate it. It gives individuals a sense of place and community. Our identities matter, especially when they are presented from our own personal narratives.

Thank you Karah for being a part of the Educator’s Coaching Network! Sending good vibes and blessings to you and your family as you make your way further north to settle in the Northwest Territories.

Stay tuned for more #FeatureFridays! Our other panelist from our first Discussion Panel, Nelson Lew, is up next 🙋🏻‍♂️

Until then, don’t forget to join our mailing list for updates, as well as RSVP to our next Discussion Panel in August!

Poster featuring one of our panelists, Gabriel Malquisto from Manila, Philipines.

Humbly yours in Love, Peace, and Justice,

– Karen and the Educator’s Coaching Network

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Best Practices for Equity in the Classroom: Northern and Virtual Schools

The Educator’s Coaching Network held our very first Discussion Panel, “Equity at Work”, on Sunday April 10th, 2022 at 1pm. Thank you to everyone who joined us! Our next panel, Discussion Panel #2, will take place during the third week of August 2022. The topic is “The Culture of Martyrdom: caring without burning out”. It will be quite a discussion. Join our mailing list for updates. Exact time, date, and panelists to be announced shortly.

Recap of Discussion Panel #1

Equity at Work: Northern and Virtual Schools

It goes without saying that “equity” has become a buzzword that we all know must be applied to our practice as educators. Our students come from all walks of life, and they thrive best in a space where the adults responsible for their care are attuned to their needs.

It also goes without saying though that we are so overwhelmed and overworked in our professions that being able to provide equitable learning experiences for our students has become breathlessly challenging.

So what then?

The Educator’s Coaching Network sought to address this during our very first Discussion Panel on April 10th, 2022. You may have seen our poster floating around Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. We wanted to give educators the space to talk about all the obstacles within the education system that makes it so difficult for us to do our jobs. At the same time, we strived to have a helpful AND hopeful discussion about how we cope so that we can still do the good work for our students.

Our small and mighty crew of like-minded educators came to our virtual space to listen as our humble yet stellar panelists, Nelson Lew (he/him) and Karah Kushnir (they/them), spoke with me about all things equity. Nelson came from the perspective of having taught in one of Ontario’s Elementary Virtual Schools with me during the 2020-2021 school year, and then teaching hybrid music classes the following school year. Karah came from the perspective of having taught in Canada’s First Nations and Inuit schools for the last few years. We learned a lot from them in the time we spent together; and while one hour is never enough, there were some great nuggets from our conversation that are worth highlighting.

Those Wisdom Nuggets!

The virtual world of teaching is drastically different from teaching in First Nations and Inuit communities for obvious reasons. While things look different on the surface though, the common philosophy of equity for staff and students alike are ultimately the same.

  1. Show up for the kids.
  2. Show up for yourself.
  3. Be humble.
  4. Be adaptable.
  5. Build community.
  6. Find humour somehow everyday.

Easier said than done, of course. In fact, it feels utterly impossible some days.

Well, the good news is, students don’t really need us to be perfect (more on this in our next Discussion Panel, “The Culture of Martyrdom: how to care without burning out”). Karah and Nelson, like any good educator, both emphasize that we all have things to work on, and that’s okay. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re supporting each other.

First Nations and Inuit Schools with Karah

One of the biggest takeaways from our chat with Karah was that we must meet students where they are. This was especially true for Karah, who grew up in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. Coming from a place where the norms are that school comes first, and then ending up where kids miss school because they are off on a hunting trip – it’s enough to set you back on your heels. It’s a real culture shock to witness an entirely different way of being; and yet, this is the norm in many parts of our country. It’s something we must come to realize, understand, and embrace.

I laughed with Karah that it was probably good that they didn’t teach “in the south” first like a sweet summer child before going up to Canada’s Great White North. They agreed; it was just easier for them to go to these rural communities up north with a ton of humility and a willingness to learn without an urban educator ego in the way. It worked in their favour.

Even so, Karah has told me how they witnessed colleagues who did the internal work and put aside their preconceived notions of what education “should” look like. It’s hard work, but necessary, in order to meet students where they are. Many kids in northern communities won’t read beyond a 4th grade reading level in English, simply because the focus in their communities are just not the same. For Karah, if all they accomplish in one year is to guide these kids up just one more reading level in English, then they’ve done their job. Sometimes that’s just all we can do. And that, my friends, is how we provide equitable learning experiences in impossible situations: validating student individual needs, shedding our own preconceived notions of “should”, and meeting them where they are. It’s hard work, but uncomplicated, if we are willing to put our egos aside.

Elementary Virtual Schools (EVS) with Nelson

For Nelson, building community with his virtual class of 10-year olds was his focus. As he prepared for pandemic teaching, he knew that having students learn while isolated in their own individual homes was a recipe for loneliness; so, he made sure to prioritize connection above all else.

When he applied this framework to his virtual class, Nelson found the students connected in a way that allowed them to support each other in their learning, even though they were physically apart from one another. They felt comfortable voicing their needs, they felt cared for by their teacher, and they flourished more than anyone could have hoped for. This is another form of equity too, and meeting students where they are: understanding the circumstances, shifting focus, and responding accordingly to ensure student engagement. I worked with Nelson prior to our virtual school experience, and building community was something he was always good at when we taught together in a brick and mortar school. It didn’t surprise me that he made this a priority for EVS too, with much success.

What’s Next?

Reading about what Karah and Nelson have done with their students in a blog post seems like a no-brainer; however, the path to equity, crafted as masterfully as they have given their circumstances, is actually quite exhausting. The current systems in place makes it incredibly challenging for educators to create truly equitable learning in our classrooms. It’s easier to do so when we are partnered with incredible Educational Assistants (EAs) and other support staff; however, given the constant defunding of education in North America and beyond, it’s near impossible to get sufficient support to do our jobs well. As a result, educators like Karah and Nelson are expected to martyr themselves for the cause of education. I fell down this rabbit hole for years, as have many of my colleagues. It’s not sustainable. Enough is enough.

Our next Discussion Panel #2 will address this very issue. How do we care without literally making ourselves sick? Come and join us for a discussion on The Culture of Martyrdom: caring without burning out. This is relevant not just in education, but across many other people-centered industries and non-profits… and quite frankly, across all aspects of life.

Date and time, along with our panelists, to be announced soon. Join our email list for monthly updates.

Humbly yours in Love, Peace, and Justice,

– Karen and the Educator’s Coaching Network

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Biographies

Karah Kushnir (they/them) has been teaching Indigenous students in Nunavut and Northern Ontario for the last few years. Karah truly enjoys facilitating learning, and is relentless in providing empowering educational opportunities for their students – even when it seems like the country has given up on these kids. They’re a gem of a human 💖

Nelson Lew (he/him) has been working for the YRDSB for 15+ years, one of which was fully virtual during the 2020-2021 school year. He is currently the Music teacher at John McCrae Public School. Nelson is also a father, husband, uncle, brother, son, and overall good dude 😁 He’s had to provide equitable learning for music in hybrid mode! Madness, and mad props.

The Educator’s Coaching Network

I’m launching a network. Join our mailing list.

Mission: to support stakeholders of education in their journey to becoming more mindful and trauma-informed in their practice within an anti-oppression framework.

Countless numbers of us, even within our work environments and personal connections, feel as though we are putting in this labour alone. Working hard to support our students within a system that seems more hell-bent on maintaining a clean, status quo image than creating necessary change – it can be a very isolating experience. Scary too. Because those of us who do the work, especially BIPOC and gender queer and disabled folk, encounter abusive resistance. We come across anger. We come across people who will go out of their way to harm us and tear down our efforts to create a more just world for our children.

So I’m going to connect us all. Lofty goal. But there it is. There’s a power in numbers, there’s a power in knowing we’re not alone, and there’s a power in feeling the support so that we don’t feel that the weight of the world is on one solitary person.

I’m launching the Educator’s Coaching Network – in fact, I’ve already done a soft launch. With the support of some incredible educators, we had our very first Discussion Panel in April about everything equity, which went so well. I’ll write about it over the next week to reflect on what we’ve learned from our panelists. We look forward to the next one in August.

Thanks for being here on this journey with us as we build this thing. Join our mailing list, or reach out to me at mskarenau -at- gmail -dot- com for more information. It’s important work. We hope to do it well.

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