Friday, July 5, 2013


It’s no secret.  Whilst comprising just 8% of the adult population in Saskatchewan, Canada, First Nations men account for 80% and First Nations women account for 87% of the occupancy of all the inmates in the Saskatchewan prison system.

It’s no secret.  Only 31% of First Nations high school students in Saskatchewan, Canada, graduate with their grade 12 certificate, compared to the 91% of Non-Aboriginal students who graduate with their grade 12 certificate.

It’s no secret.  This is a social imbroglio. This is cause for concern. 

Could there be a simple solution? 
Keeping First Nations adults out of prison is keeping First Nations students in school.
Or to put it another way:
Keeping First Nations students in school will keep First Nations adults out of prison.
Or to put it yet another way:
First Nations prison populations would be lower if First Nation high school graduation rates were higher.

If this is the solution, then it must be acted upon.

I know, I know.  This seems a rather arrogant viewpoint as expressed by this person of privilege.  I am white and middle-aged and middle-class. (Because I am a person of privilege, does this mean I live a life of misinformation and misadventure?)

My friend and colleague, Dawne, too, is privileged.  She is beautiful and bright.  She has a very strong work ethic and has a high regard for her family and her culture.  She is Metis.

Dawne has just been appointed as an Aboriginal Advocate for Aboriginal high school students.  It is up to Dawne to create and write her own job description.

Dawne clearly has a tough row to hoe.  The current practice for keeping First Nations students in school seems to be the lure of beading dream catchers and building inuksuks, participating in drum circles and talking circles, receiving Circle of Courage philosophies, instructional drams of speaking Cree, and blaming the brown-face low graduation rate on lost land entitlement, residential schools, and the designed cultural genocide on the part of our government.

(Brown-face, a catch-phrase coined by Aboriginals in leadership capacities, has been the descriptor this past decade, seemingly in response to the historically racist, red-skin.  Treaty lectures and exams on such are now a mainstay in Social Studies, History, and Native Studies curricula in efforts to increase the low brown-face graduation rates. Elders and their Aboriginal consulting ilk tend to blame the plight of Aboriginals on the residential school policies of yesteryear; and there are other people too, including my daughter, Natika, who refer to this unflattering bit of history as genocide.  (Too harsh a word for my liking, though I could handle the phrase, unconscious cultural genocide, I suppose.)

Yes, yes, how irreverent.  Methinks, not so, when you consider that no one, save for some Elders and professors at the First Nations University of Canada even speak Cree.  I am speaking about urban Aboriginals, not those Aboriginals living on rural reservations, or those living in the Northern climes.

Dawne, the newly appointed Aboriginal Advocate, believes in Individualism – a theory maintaining the political and economic independence of the individual and stressing individual initiative, action, and interests.

To practice the concept of Individualism, one must first understand some other abstract words, Stereotype, Racism, and Prejudice.

Stereotype – a thought that may be adopted about specific types of individuals.
Some examples of stereotypes:
Blacks are athletic.
Muslims are terrorists.
Asians love Math.
Italians and the French are the best lovers.
Rappers are gangsta’s.
Aboriginals are drop-outs.

Racism – views, practices, and actions reflecting the belief that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called races, and that members of a certain race share certain attributes which make that group as a whole less desirable, more desirable, inferior, or superior.
Some examples of Racism:
Blacks used to be regarded as the property of white folk.
African Americans are two to three times more likely to be pulled over and searched by the police when driving their cars.
Brown-faces need to special accommodations in school classrooms.
Aboriginals face many barriers, simply because they are Aboriginal, when striving to achieve their grade 12 graduation certificate.

Prejudice – an adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
Some examples of prejudice:
Dylan is Aboriginal, and because he is Aboriginal, has certain barriers to overcome before he can achieve a grade 12 certificate from high school.
A group of teenage Aboriginals just hanging around must be gang members.

To catalogue all Aboriginal students as having a particular block of barriers to overcome is both prejudice (because someone has pre-judged the situation), and racist (because someone is arrogant enough to think that a student needs help just because of skin color).
In a line: 
To insist that all Aboriginal students have barriers that bar their education is prejudice and racist and non-productive.

(I am aware of the research and I am a believer of the statistics. I do know that many Aboriginals, generally speaking, have barriers, poverty being just one example.  Other barriers that have been expressed are that Aboriginal children are the products of generational welfare, and that Aboriginal fathers and sons have long-time gang affiliations, and Aboriginal males are filling up the prison system, leaving Aboriginal females and children to fend for themselves.

Aboriginals, statistically, have such barriers.  Non-Aboriginals, specifically, may have these same barriers.

The disproportionately high prison rates and disproportionately low graduation rates experienced by those of Aboriginal ancestry are the direct and indirect results of lost land entitlements and residential schools.  This is the bully-pulpit oratory preached by those Aboriginal people in power.   

This particular tactic fits in neatly with our Western concept and nature of time, for we, in the Western world, tend to move along our life paths in a linear fashion, left to right, past to present.  This is our nature.  Sadly, these claims, in a great part, are true.  Sadly, these claims, in a great part, have a monetary solution.  The evils of the past, it seems, can be cleansed by the almighty dollar.  Government pieces of silver, it seems, can restore dignity.

The sterling solution, however, is an appeal to the past rather a plan for the future.  Such an appeal signals there is no collective solution.  The solution to minimizing the criminality and maximizing the educational outcomes of First Nations people lies in Individualism, enacted now and in future. 

The solution is also up to Dawn, in her role as Aboriginal Advocate, and her actions of Individualism, one person at a time.

In western school systems, our practice has been, and is currently still, to generalize, to be prejudice, to be racist.  Simply stating that Aboriginal people have barriers impeding their education is, in itself, a barrier.  

This political rhetoric restricts passage because firstly, this is a syllogism based upon a faulty premise: All Aboriginals have certain barriers that make it difficult for them to succeed in school. And then following this premise:  Dylan is Aboriginal.  Dylan has particular barriers that make it difficult for him to succeed in school.   

This particular piece of deductive reasoning has become the classic argument, an acquiescence to the groupthink mentality of Pity me because I am Aboriginal.

Secondly, there is the expectation that I, being a white-face and member of the hoi polloi, have an obligation to uphold all the entitlements by simply paying for the sins of my fathers out of my pocket.   
To date, this idea is simply not working. 

Individualism, a program meant for tailoring (something) to suit the individual (pun intended), is the only solution to this much maligned social problem of municipal, provincial, and national concern.

Going back to Dylan, suppose that Dylan is skipping classes in school.
A sidebar (pun intended):  There is a direct correlation between attendance and achievement in determining school success.  Generally, students who attend their classes pass their classes.  Students, who do not attend their classes, fail their classes.  Statistically, Aboriginal students have high non-attendance rates.  For reasons whatever, lots of Aboriginal students choose not to go to school.  Now the naysayers of Aboriginal authority will preach that this non-attending behavior proves that our schools do not offer the cultural knowledge to keep Aboriginal students engaged in their classes.  I say that presenting inuksuks and dream catchers and beadwork and Treaty curriculum is not working, not even when delivered by Aboriginal teachers and Aboriginal Elders (as if there would be a difference depending on the skin color of the person delivering).      

Now whether Dylan is brown-faced, yellow-faced, black-faced, white-faced, or two-faced, should not determine the action taken.  Dylan, as an individual, should be held accountable by his teachers, who in concert with Dylan’s parents/guardians, can work together to correct Dylan’s delinquent attendance in school. Suppose that together in conversation and action, it has been determined that Dylan is not in school because his family cannot afford the bus tickets necessary to travel to and from.
If, in fact, Dylan is Aboriginal, and there are significant dollars allotted to assist Dylan in transportation and other areas, then, indeed, Dawne can contribute to Dylan’s rescue.  (I’ve certainly no quarrel with this because of the statistical facts.  More people of Aboriginal descent are poor, compared to people of European descent.  If Dylan’s immediate problem is transportation, and because his family cannot afford bus tickets, then this is an individual issue of need, not an issue of Aboriginal entitlement.)

If Dylan’s non-attendance at school is determined in concert, by his teachers and family, that Dylan just does not want to be there, would rather be elsewhere for whatever reason (drugs or gangs being a couple of extreme but common examples), then Dawne can assist Dylan and his family in this regard.  It could be there are monies available for other recreations (e.g., live theatre, e.g., boxing academies, e.g., gym passes, e.g., service- providers) and Dawne could help determine the worthiness and readiness on Dylan’s part in any or all these matters.

Admittedly, this particular blog post merely skims the surface of the cultural problems apparent in our prisons and in our schools.  Truly, there is no way to gloze the reality, the plight of Aboriginal people in the past and in the present.  Whatever lures have been employed to date, are not shiny enough bait to keep our Aboriginal youth in school and out of the correctional institutions.  We, an entire community of the homogeneous we, need to re-think the past strategies, re-think the bait used so far to hook students to stay in school.  We’ve got to think deeper, and drag harder, to design a lure that is appropriate for each of our students, no matter the color of their skin.

Ignoring other solutions is to ignore societal change.  Abrogating any ideas/solutions that are contrary to the present groupthink of Aboriginal victimization is pragmatically irresponsible, arrant nonsense, in fact.   Resisting change because of certain ancestral (I dare say, anachronistic) commitments is like packing a quiver with broken arrows to go on a buffalo hunt. 

Broken arrows.  Broken promises.  Broken dreams.

is pictured above. Eden, my grand-daughter, is eating her first ice cream cone.

Eden is the daughter of my daughter, Natika.  Eden is of the HUU-AY-AHT First Nation.

Eden began in the garden of Huu-ay-aht, on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  Huu-ay-aht is an efflorescent of bald eagles, black bears, sea lions, grey whales, and orcas.  Huu-ay-aht is the rainforest along rocky shores and sandy beaches and ocean swells; Huuy-ay-aht is where the rivers hug and kiss the Pacific.

Eden is not yet dreaming of her education, but her good mother is.  It is apparent that Eden has a brown face.  It is not so apparent that Eden may need some type of accommodation to graduate with her grade 12.  If Eden does need accommodation, it will not be because of her brown face.

I shall close this olla podrida (literally a rich seasoned stew, pun intended) with a philosophical question: 

Is my friend, Dawne, an Aboriginal advocate?   
Or an advocate who is Aboriginal?


Three members of the busking community marched in my CHAUCERIAN PARADE this week:  Brian, Myles, and Devon.  All three busk in front of Liquor Board stores.

  • Why don’t you ever return my calls?  Brian asked in passing on a downtown sidewalk.  Brian is scruffy, eats out of back alley bins, and, in part, was inspirational for me taking up the harmonica.  (After listening to him blow into several harmonicas from his collected set I thought to myself, I can do that!)

  • Ah yes, B, commented Myles.  He plays that pan.  He never plays anything but that Far East stuff.  No country, no rock, no nothing, but that Far East stuff.  Myles is a liquor board store busker that stays seated on the sidewalk.  Myles never looks up.  Myles always has a stogie stuck on the right side of his bottom lip.  Myles thinks he’s a really, really, good busker.  (Actually, Myles does play a decent guitar and he has excellent pipes.  Too bad he never, ever looks up at his customers.)

  • Devon and I have a history.  Four years ago we were both busking on the mean streets of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  Devon is the quintessential folk artist.  He is a virtuoso on guitar and blows an impressive harpoon.  Cap-a-pie, Devon looks the perfect busker, short curly shock of hair, t-shirt, and faded jeans. Devon just made over 400 dollars busking for six hours in front of two liquor board stores.
          Busking is the best, says Devon.


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