Students Write for Rights.

Anyone who throws the blanket note that teens and preteens are disengaged and ego-centric are clearly not seeing how amazing our kids are.

As part of our History curriculum, I have been talking to my students about how the Canadian government decided to treat the Cree First Nations people in the late 1800s (not well). Coincidentally, one of the cases that came up at Amnesty International’s 2010 Write for Rights letter-writing campaign was one of the Lubicon Cree in Alberta, who are currently living in poverty due to the destruction of their land by oil and gas companies (you can read about this in more detail here).

On International Human Rights Day, I joined millions in the letter-writing campaign and wrote a personal letter to Alberta’s Premier Stelmach, urging him to protect the rights of the Lubicon Cree to use their land and preserve their rich culture.

Today, I brought my experience to my grade 8 History class, showing them that 200 years later, the indigenous people of Canada are still being mistreated; 200 years later, our government is still violating Human Rights Laws. My students insisted I read my letter out loud, so I did. At the end of it, they cheered and asked, “Ms. Au.. Can we write our own letters to the Premier?”

My heart soared.

My students are Champions.

Scrap the formal History lesson. You can bet I said YES. “Let’s do it.”

And they did a fantastic job, at the tender age of 13. Here’s an example of one of them (grammar mistakes are preserved!):

Dear Premier Stelmach,

Greetings, Mr. Premier. My name is ——. I a writing this letter from Richmond Hill, Ontario, concerning the issue of the Lubicon Cree.

I know that it is not my place to write about such a subject, as I am mearly a simpleton next to you and your achievements, but I figured that I might be able to persuade you towards moving of Lubicon land, or giving some compensation for using it.

Indiginous people have the right to use their own lands for their own purposes. If you would like to borrow it, might I suggest asking first. Since your making a profit off of the land, maybe you could offer some sort of compensation or even a gift to the Lubicon Cree so that not only do two benefit from one, but you also get on friendly terms with the Cree.

These are just ideas, but keep them in mind. Think about how it would benifit you to have the Lubicons as partners instead of enemies. Thank you for taking your time to read my letter.

Much obliged,

There’s no question about it. I have amazing students. Amazing students who will someday learn to break out of the mold and do whatever it takes to make this world a better place.

It all starts here. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.


The Practice of Domination in Everyday Life

An Israeli settler tosses wine at an elderly Palestinian woman.

The article is presented to us by

It’s amazing how one seemingly subtle act of violence amidst an explosion of conflict can still become such an image of injustice.

The problem is no longer at the political and governmental level. It has become personal. And that is  one of the many reasons why the conflicts in Israel are such difficult issues to solve.

Photograph by Rina Castelnuovo/The New York Times.


The Rape of Nanking: Shining Human Courage

Earlier this year, I read Iris Chang’s “The Rape of Nanking“. The book as a historical piece is lacking in careful detail; however, it serves as a useful introduction to the Chinese perspective in World War II. As horrible as it seems already, there was more to this war than Nazi Germany and the Jewish genocide; there was more to this war than the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese by the Americans.


The horrors inflicted on the Chinese population in Nanking can only be described as appallingly gruesome. And of course, there will be cynics who growl at these incidences, point to these acts of absolute indecency, and declare that humans are implicitly evil.


What of those who discovered the raping, those who witnessed these atrocities, and risked their very own lives to put a stop to it? What of John Rabe? What of Schindler? What of the father who gave his own life to save his daughters from rape? There are Japanese scholars aplenty now who risk ostracization and death threats and seeing their careers crumble so that they can bring this story to light.

What of them?

For as there are so many who falter and become victim to human nature’s darkest potentials, so there are those who will rise above it and fight against this darkness with courage and strength. We cannot forget that there are both. We cannot forget to protect the world of the former, and we cannot despair so much as to forget and therefore discredit the efforts of the latter.

Being born and raised with parents who will do all they can to provide for me and protect me, I am one of the more fortunate ones. But I would hope that my fears of bodily harm and excruciating pain will not keep me from pursuing justice. And I hope that at the end of the day, if I need to put everything on the line, I will do it in the name of justice and all that is right and compassionate. Because at the end of the day, what else do we have? What else do we have but our principles and our dignity? What can mean more than fighting for what we believe is right?

Generation Y in North America is lucky enough to live in an age of affluence, so much so that our basic needs are all met as soon as we are born. I hope that in being so lucky, we do not lack in sheer human courage.