Writing the Self 4: Not Your Average Grease Monkey

Man, I really hope I’m not the only girl. I walk down the dark, narrow hallway to the Auto class. I had chosen to take it so I could fix any issues my car had on my own. However, I was beginning to wonder if it had been such a good idea. I round the corner, and see the open door. I take a deep breath, and walk in.

There is not one girl in the crowd of faces looking at me. Crap, crap, crap! Suddenly, one of the boys speaks up.

“This is Auto Mechanics…What class are you looking for?”

I smile and say that this is where I’m supposed to be, walking on wooden legs to my desk. What have I done? Just then, the teacher walks in. It’s Mr. Haacke, my old welding teacher, and he smiles when he sees me.

“So, you’re the princess among the frogs, eh?” He chuckles, and sits down. More students continue to file in. All of them are boys. Behind me I hear whispering, and manage to pick out one recurring question.

“What’s a girl doing here?”

What have I done? I think to myself for the hundredth time.

The year goes on. As I speak with more of the other students, it becomes clear they still think I will fail. Some are nice and we become fast friends. Others are patronizing, offering to help me and talking to me like I’m stupid. However, I soon prove them wrong. By the time we get to the lab portion of the class, I am well ahead of the majority of them. I go in more confident than before, eager to continue to prove them wrong.

And I do.

I change tires and balance them just as well as any of the boys. I take apart a brake and put it back together twice as fast as any of them (maybe having smaller “delicate” fingers isn’t such a bad thing?), and finish top of the class.

While I found, and still find, this experience to be amusing, it made me think about what our society expects of each gender. Today, even after many women’s rights movements, women are still classified as the weaker sex; supposed to stay at home, raise the kids, do the cooking and housework. When someone acts out of these norms, like when I joined Auto Mechanics, it creates conflict. We have become so used to seeing these gender roles displayed that we have begun to accept them as normal and as what we are supposed to do. But what happens when we don’t conform?

New Learnings – Treaty Ed Camp

One of the points from the Treaty Ed Camp keynote presentation that really stuck with me was that we all have treaty rights. In the past I never thought of it like this, and it lets me understand more about the treaties. Part of the reason it is so easy to think that we don’t receive any benefits from them is because the promises that are made to benefit us have been so well upheld that we don’t even see them or think about it. This allows us to disassociate ourselves from the treaties and the problems that Indigenous people involved are currently facing.

Another point I found interesting was when she mentioned the little girl who asked: “If people thought they were doing the right thing, why did they work so hard to cover it up?” This simple question debunks so many myths around the treaties: that we are upholding them; that we made them to benefit everyone involved; that any issues with them have been accidents or oversights, and were not the intention of the government. Nobody tries to hide something if it is meant to do good. Once people are willing to accept that things aren’t what they have always been presented as, we can begin to move forward and make reparations. Like Charlene Bearhead said, “It’s not about being ashamed. It’s about acknowledging what has happened, taking responsibility for our part in it, and then taking action to prevent it from recurring.”

Both of these points opened up new doors for me as a future educator. It gave me ideas for how to make the information seem more important and relevant to the children, and also gave me arguments to help explain its importance to their parents. They make the treaties become something of the present and the future, not just something from our history. This made the information feel more important for me to teach, rather than just another subject I need to cover.

I chose to go to the “Resisting the Resistance to Treaty Education” for the first session because I thought it would be the most helpful in the future, especially because I hate dealing with confrontations. It helped me understand where people’s resistance to Treaty Education may be coming from, which will ultimately help me to address it in a way that will help them understand why it is so important. It also gave me heaps of ideas for how to incorporate Treaty Education into other subjects and open up conversations, rather than teaching it only as a part of Social Studies. This will help me be able to cover more of the Calls to Action in a way the kids will be engaged, as well as help the kids see that the treaties aren’t just a part of the past, they relate to everything that is currently happening around the world.

I also attended “Beyond the Blanket – The Birth of Canada.” It really helped me understand just how much Indigenous peoples are oppressed by society. Their traditions, something that is native to this land, aren’t seen as Canadian. They are seen as another cultural tradition that has nothing to do with us. Because of this, we still aren’t ‘Canada,’ or at least Canada as it is supposed to be. The First Nations Wampum belt showed two lines that were parallel, symbolizing how our relationship was supposed to be us walking together. This is so far from what our society actually is. We don’t have a country of ‘good neighbours’ yet – which is what Canada was supposed to be.

Overall, these sessions really helped me gain a deeper understanding of why Treaty Education is so important. It helped me to see it as more than a subject or a history lesson, instead allowing me to see them as part of a fundamental relationship for Canada. It made it more relevant to me and helped me come up with ideas to make students see how applicable it is for them as well.

Writing the Self 3 – Strange Ideas: It’s Called Racism

“There’s a new girl!”

“What’s her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Jane, I think.”

“What’s she like?”

People’s excited whispers follow me as I walk to my new class for the year. Every year it’s like this; the first day of school reunites old friends and brings new ones.

I sit in my chair, waiting eagerly as I notice the new girl’s desk is next to mine. A shy girl sits down, and I introduce myself with a smile. She smiles back gratefully, and says her name is Jane. She moved here from Korea over the summer, and was extremely nervous about starting at a new school. Just then class starts, interrupting us.

Finally, we are let out for recess. I am given the task of showing Jane around the school so she doesn’t get lost. As I give her the grand tour, I find out that she also loves “Harry Potter,” reading, and drawing. We talk and laugh until class resumes, once again putting a pause on our conversation. The day goes on, and as Jane and I become closer, I introduce her to more of my other friends. During writing time, she shows me how to write my name in Korean, which I then write on all my notebooks. At the end of the day, we get on the bus and sit together, talking and laughing until it’s her stop. We say goodbye, and promise to sit together again tomorrow. After she gets off the bus, the other kids start laughing.

“Did you see her eyes?”

“She smelled funny!”

“Her accent is weird.”

Shocked, I stay silent. Sure, she talked a little funny, but she had just come from Korea, and their language is so different. I didn’t understand why they were making fun of her: she seemed really nice. Finally I get up the guts to say so, and the others just laugh.

“Sure, she’s nice and all, but she’s weird.” This causes more giggles, and finally we arrive at my stop. I get off, confused. I’m quiet as I eat my after-school snack, and Mom, noticing, asks what’s wrong. I tell her what happened during the day, and she smiles sadly. She explains that some people don’t like people who aren’t “white,” and treat them differently because of it.

“It’s called racism,” she said. “Some people can’t get past appearances, and think that there is only one way to look, sound, and act.” I stay silent, and that ends the conversation. I had never realized that this was an issue. It was so contrary to everything we were taught both in school and in church. We were told everyone was equal, and should be treated fairly. In church, we had people from all over the world, and they all had amazing stories to tell of how they got here. My favorite Sundays were the ones where they would tell their testimonies, partly because they described things I had never seen before. However, until this year, there had only been white kids in our class, so we had never had any instances in school that challenged what we were told. I had never encountered anything like this before, and I didn’t even know what racism was, nonetheless understand people’s reasons behind it.

But by the time I get up the next day, I’m only more resolved to be her friend. We had gotten along so well and had so many of the same interests, I wasn’t going to let other people’s strange ideas ruin it. After all, who else was I going to talk about “Harry Potter” with?