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Same Same, But Different

By | 2016, Asia | No Comments

You know those movies were people travel to amazing places? There is always this one moment where they realize just how different their new environment is from everything that they have left behind and that realization comes as such a surprise that it literally takes their breath away. They sit there, paralyzed by the beauty of what they see and feel around them. The smell, the colors, the heat, the view. Everything collides in this one special moment where in awe, they sit, utterly alive to all of their senses. My experience was nothing like that…

If the exoticism of Thailand dawned on my senses at all, it grew on me at such a pace as to possibly rival that of a snail. But of course, none of this is to say that Thailand was not beautiful or that the smells and the sights weren’t radically different than anything I had experienced at home (My local farmer’s market in rural Alberta had not prepared me in the least bit for what I would see at the Sunday Walking Street Market). Its just that, it didn’t really shock me. What I wanted was a big “wow” moment. I wanted fire to rain down from the sky and lightning to strike the earth but what I got was a hearth of slow burning coals and an irritable sense of calm that was undisturbed by things that, in my opinion, ought to have disturbed me.

Of course, I felt uncomfortable (what true born Canadian wouldn’t feel at least a little out of sorts cooking in the soggy heat of Southeast Asia?) and there were many things that caused me anxiety, like attempting to talk to people who might not necessarily be able to answer me in a language I would understand and crossing the street (A challenge comparable to the barrel jumping drama in the old Donkey Kong video game), but I just wasn’t blown away. And for a long time, this really bothered me because I was terrified of missing out on something really important.

So I took some time to think about it and the more I did I realized that part of the reason I found Thailand so “normal” was because what I saw, were people. Regular human beings just like myself. The only difference was the way that they chose to live their lives. I guess I had expected them to be radically different from myself, almost un-human, which I guess is likely due to the way that “the Orient” is portrayed in movies and auctioned off in advertisements as a place of exotic otherness. Regardless, the irritating calm that I had felt from the start, was due largely to the fact that I recognized a bit of myself in the people around me. I saw individuals with emotions, dreams, hobbies, friends, families, trauma, poverty all of which are elements present in my own Canadian society. All of those things, were just dressed up a little differently on this side of the world. While in Canada our humanity was dressed for the sort of geographical and sociological environment we had grown up in, here in Thailand, they had the exact same humanity,  but it was dressed for the sun and followed the traditions of a history that was radically different than the one I knew. We were all human. The Thai people were no different than Canadians. We were, in a few words, same same, but different.

Finding Identity

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation, Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The fifth in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

Driving into the Mattagami First Nation I was taken aback by how beautiful the area is. Situated along the Mattagami river, spruce and birch trees line the community while the lingering rain clouds add an air of mystery and green signs of spring to the forest floor. The houses were plain, two stories with trucks in the driveway. The buildings, small. As we drove in we kept turning left, up the hill to the band building. Our big group walked inside and was ushered through a small curved hallway into Chief Walter Naveau’s office, there he greeted us.

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Only a few could fit inside the office and, as my attention turned, I heard him quietly tell Lyndsey, our MCC representative, that his own son had asked if the residential schools actually existed. Continuing on about miseducation, Walter said that after 150 years of learning someone else’s history, it was time the people learn their own. He said, “how can we learn someone else’s history and culture when we don’t even know our own.” His office has taken three years to develop a module curriculum in which the people of Mattagami are able to learn their people’s history. The people of Mattagami are now able to learn their own history and traditions in order to find their identity.

I have been learning that a result of residential schools and restriction of First Nation peoples to a reserve has resulted in a loss of identity. Symptoms of that loss include addictions to drugs and alcohol and most importantly; suicide. For generations Anishinaabe people have been told that their traditions, such as sweat lodge, smoking pipe, engaging in ceremony, and doing round dances (all part of their culture and spirituality) are evil. They adopt the mentality of the white man but at the same time are not accepted in the white man’s world.

Today elders in Mattagami do not approve of playing the drum, or performing ceremony. They are scared of the spirituality the actions bring because they believed the white man’s lie. The lie that their spirituality is wrong. Instead, ignoring and losing their traditions has resulted in loss of identity and brought on a reality of youth suicide pacts like those in Attawapiskat. Losing their traditions has brought more harm than good and Chief Walter is doing everything he can to bring back native customs by teaching their history and the real truth behind residential schools.

Once, in his youth, Walter was addicted to drugs and suicidal. The first moment he experienced a drum circle he knew who he was and his life turned around. Now he dedicates his life to rebuilding his community by giving his people identity through education and experiences like the one that changed his life. The admirability of his story impacted me. I believe that First Nations people can bring themselves out of their identity crisis as long as they can find who they are once again through the renewing of traditional practices.

Moose Bones and Truth

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation, Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The fourth in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

Well folks, here we are in Timmins, a city so dusty that many of the graffiti tags are done with fingertips on glass windows (I don’t know whether to blame the spring, the mining, or the unfrequented selection of roads along our route). This marks the beginning of the segment of our journey with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for the Aski Learning Tour. Today was a day of exploration. We started with a presentation by CreeGeo Mushkegowuk Information Services, and from there set out on winding back roads that surrounded our train of vehicles with grey clouds of dust to get to Miken-otaski. When the tall teepee and glow of the warm fire became visible, we were welcomed with smiles and got the opportunity to participate in a traditional cookout consisting of goose, moose, bannock, dumplings, and Labrador tea. After our stomachs were stretched to their full capacity, Annie pulled out a box of freshly caught whitefish to smoke over the fire. We stood in awe as she dexterously decapitated and gutted the fish. However, we were not warned that we were standing directly in the splash zone of the gory deed. That’s a story for another time, but I just had to mention this incredible feast.

The real highlight of my day was what began as nothing more than an impromptu stroll. Amanda (the 14-year-old daughter of our MCC Learning Tour coordinator, Lyndsay) led me down the trail to see an older cloth teepee on a nearby site while pointing out different plant species and their uses along the way. We found that the teepee had been taken down, but I learned a lot from the 4-foot-something wealth of knowledge on the expedition. In addition to the typical conversations about school, pets, and family, she told me about exciting and hilarious encounters with animals in the woods we were travelling in, identified droppings, and explained several traditional ceremonies. By this time, we had been joined by a few more members of the group. We decided to make the most of this time by doing some exploring in the area surrounding the trail. In the clear, flat area where the old cloth teepee once stood, we came across scattered bones of some poor unfortunate soul that were picked clean. Among these remains was a spine, the size of each vertebra comparable to a small dog’s pelvis. Based on this enormity, it was unanimously decided by our bunch of unqualified people that this thing must have once held a moose together. In myself, this discovery revealed a possibly morbid fascination in skeletal systems and paleontology.

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Don’t fret: this little excursion did not pass by without a lesson. If I hadn’t gone on this little hike or cut up my legs by trudging through thorns and branches in the woods, I wouldn’t have found those bones. I wouldn’t have had my interest in historical traces peaked, and I wouldn’t have learned from Amanda. Something I’ve noticed in my observations of the First Nations cultures is the great amount of value they place in the passing-down of knowledge and tradition. Amanda (an indigenous girl herself) is more aware of her culture’s traditions than any non-indigenous person her age that I’ve met. I myself know close to nothing in comparison about my own ancestral history, but a new determination to dig for it has been placed in me. Like the moose bones and truths about First Nations, it will have to be intentionally sought after. In the same way, if you don’t go out seeking answers and truths for First Nations issues, you won’t find them. They are intentionally buried, and you won’t just stumble upon them by walking along the beaten path. The government and the public make sure of this by working hard to conceal the abominations to this nation and to our own unearned European dignity. If we sweep all of our unflattering history under the rug, we won’t ever need to address it– out of sight, out of mind. But the truth is that it did happen, and it’s time to move the rug and clean it up. The key is knowing where we come from and who we are, awareness, and education– whether it be self-education, curriculum-based education in school, or educating the public on corrected misconceptions of indigenous issues and the people themselves.

On another note: although today I ate moose meat for the first time- heck, I even held the very core of the animal’s physical body in my hands- I still have yet to see a living, breathing moose. I’ve made it one of my goals on this trip to spot at least one of these (increasingly likely to be mythical) creatures, which has proven to be a challenge. Wish me luck.

The Danger of an Uncritical World

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation, Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The third in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

We met with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Friday, April 29th, 2016. We were scheduled to meet with Jon Thompson, the Director of Health & Social Development, but were also given the pleasure of dialoguing with one of his associates William David. William David was “the mining guy”, being heavily involved in mining policy at the AFN. He was an extremely articulate gentleman with an incredible breadth of both educational as well as hands-on experience.

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We talked about many things including the AFN’s relationship with the Hill, how change is made in policy and government, First Nations people’s right to self-determination and how to engage non-aboriginal people in conversations about First Nation’s issues. However, by far, what has most securely captured my attention are William’s words concerning people and the terrible things they do.

It is so easy to demonize those that commit human rights violations. Their actions are often so shocking that they quickly become an all encompassing label, excluding the possibility that the subject in question was anything but an atrocious human being. However, William had a unique perspective that helped to frame human rights perpetrators in a much more forgiving and human light. While not removing the responsibility of any given person for their actions, Will added a specific qualifier, which also served as a challenge for those who wished to be a force of positive change in the world. He said that people, as in, anybody, can do the most dangerous things when they are uncritical of what they are doing and the systems that they serve.

It can be easy to do something terrible unintentionally, especially if a person is not critical about what they are doing or what they are supporting. Sometimes, the tendency is to imagine that those who have committed the worst human rights violations were terrible from the start, perverted by nature and only committed these specific crimes after hours of prolonged thought about how to make the world a worse place than it was before. However, Will’s perspective allows for a much more nuanced approach. Anybody has the potential to do terrible things. Everyone is capable of great evil, but they are also capable of great good.

In this case, the worst actions are conceived when people to not take the time to think about what they are doing or who they are supporting. People must learn to take the time to reflect on their lives, especially on how their actions might affect others. Rarely do our choices only affect ourselves, more often, they have a wide reaching impact on both those dear to us but also on those unknown to us. The world is an interconnected web of relationships and systems, therefore, it is imperative that we examine both our relationships as well as the strings that run between the various systems of which we are apart. No man is an island; everyone belongs to the system of the world and each of us is responsible to our neighbor at home and abroad.

Education for Reconciliation

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation, Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The second in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

 

View from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill

View from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill

It’s a beautiful morning here in the capital as we gather ourselves to cars and head down to the Bronson Center. We are scheduled to meet Ian and Katie from KAIROS this morning and the group seems to be buzzed to see what’s in store for us. We arrive into a jungle of an office; trees and plants climbing over stacks of books, the sun streaming in the windows over the ensemble of broken furniture patched together to form a communal table. We gather and share names and stories.

KAIROS, a Canadian Ecumenical justice initiative, partners with existing advocacy groups in countries and communities that ask for help to support the local efforts around advocacy. Today, we learned that, on the Canadian front, KAIROS partners with the Legacy of Hope Foundation. The two have put their efforts into raising Canadian awareness around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action which focuses around the impact of residential schools and their negative inter-generational impact.

Right now, their approach to the conversation is through education as practical action. To accomplish this goal KAIROS’ employees and teachers use the acronym EPIC: Engage, State the Problem, Inform about Solutions, Call to Action. They provide material such as Education for Reconciliation Action Toolkit to engage audiences. Anyone can obtain this toolkit, take it back to their communities, and introduce these topics to groups, students, and friends. In the booklet they state that their goal is, “to ensure every Canadian child learns about the Indian Residential Schools, Treaties, colonization and the contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to Canada’s past and present and can then be a leader in the long-term work of reconciliation.” Approaching education through truthful story telling will teach children, as upcoming leaders, how to make better decisions for our collective future.

Through this conversation the inclusion of the Indigenous voices is the only way to change perspective and approach for this conversation to continue within each specific community across Canada. The goal of KAIROS calls us as citizens to acknowledge a responsibility we have to our country–peoples to share the true history of our ‘home and native land’ so all it’s residents can be ‘glorious and free.’

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My intention after hearing their passion for the education of individuals and after gathering their materials is to practically apply this to my life back in Halifax. Ian and Katie have connected me with some local partners in my area and I am anticipating how I can contribute my skills in a practical and helpful way when I return home.

Banderas y mi origen verdad

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

I’ve been back in North America for almost a month now. From busing across Europe, to the flight to Toronto, to my train ride home to Ottawa, and my flight back out to North Dakota, I’ve had quite the whirlwind adventure. Through the hustle and bustle of constantly moving from place to place, I have adopted a mentality I have never before found myself able to grasp.

I’m not a patriotic person. In fact, as a dual citizen, the concept of being patriotic becomes both more diluted and more complex. Which country do I identify more with? What is identity in culture? How can I be proud of coming from a first-world country? The latter question is the most troubling to me in the question of patriotism. However my mentality, as aforementioned, has come to a heightened state of existence.

Throughout our travels in Europe, I found myself captivated by flags. When we landed in Spain it was hard to believe we were in another country. Obviously it looks nothing like New Brunswick, but it doesn’t look entirely foreign either. It wasn’t until I saw the Spanish flag blowing in the wind that I fully realized we had made it. This theme was consistent for me on the trip. Each new place was made real to me by each new waving flag. Each culture, beautifully unique and captivating in its own way. Each place diverse and rich in history. Each place worthy of its identity as a nation. Though much was good, taking in so much culture slowly wore on me, and throughout the travels, I grew a little more weary day by day.

Something about traveling in Europe really brings out the beauty of calling Canada your home. Everyone there seems to have such a strong respect for Canada, such a strong sense of friendship. It wasn’t until Canada day in Paris that I found myself actually homesick for Canada. The real shock came to me in the homeland.

After returning to Canada and staying with Liam’s family in Kitchener a couple of nights, I began my trek home by train to Ottawa. I was in a sort of traveler’s shock. I was tired, but not worn out. Content, but ready to be home. Alongside my train, about two hours into the ride, a Canadian flag was waving in the wind atop a pole to the west. This moment was the most Canadian I’ve ever felt in my life. The peace dawned on me that no matter where I go, Canada is back home waiting for me. A strong, secure nation where I have family and friends. A stationary place to rest and regain myself before traveling again. For the first time in my life I think I truly understand the concept of national pride, though my version is without any sense of supremacy. I am simply thankful to have a home like Canada.

So here I find myself back to working in a western-themed town in North Dakota, located in my birth country. Back to being known as ‘the Canadian’, and for the first time with a sense of national pride without arrogance. Each morning at work, just after raising the American flag, I get to raise the Canadian one and remember what flags represent.

Traveler’s blessings,
– Madi Smith

Canadiana

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

I stood on Canadian ground yesterday.

France dedicated the Vimy Ridge land to Canada to erect a monument to Canadian soldiers who fell in the Great War. The monument itself is beautiful, and how Veteran’s Affairs Canada chose to arrange the park and historical site was very tasteful.

Informative, interesting, very respectful of the events that took place there.

The rolling green grass from exploded ammunition; grazing sheep; damp errie tunnels and sun soaked trenches. The Austrian pines covered the once barren battlefield with a cool shade and brought to mind an idyllic Sunday afternoon scene. Hard to image the horrors that took place here along the 20km front.

Every part of  the experience called out to that portion of my soul that I believe makes me Canadian.

But, I’m a pacifist. And, discussing with others later I realized it wasn’t the glory for country (dulce et decorum est) but the sympathy for my neighbour that drew me into the history. Vimy defined our country. It robbed us of so many brave and determined men. We took the front and the front took our sons, our brothers, our future fathers/bankers/farmers/Prime Ministers…etc.

I don’t want a war to define my country. I don’t want to fall into the belief that it brings honour. I respect the men and boys who fought but…there is a French quote from the Protestant Museums that says when you kill a man you don’t kill an ideology you simply kill a man.

What did WWI accomplish, and even WWII? Land was gained, but to what avail? Nazism is still alive in Germany, did we truly defeat it?

In fact, what is ever truly accomplished by war? But, the words, the poetry, the names from those who went. They stir my heart with pride more than any victory. Men, who in the face of fear and death, gave so much more than they could or ever intended to give.

Our country lacks a unity of identities. We have no national name to call ourselves to. I’d challenge every Canadian to come to Vimy, to stare our dead in the eyes and ask them who they want us to be.

Selina

Where’d the Bad Guys Go?

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

The past few weeks, the carnage and slaughter and senselessness of the World Wars have been a common theme for our program days.  It began with our stay in Dresden, a cultural mecca of pre-war Germany that was levelled ruthlessly during WWII without precedent, literally disintegrating thousands of civilians in the middle of the night as they huddled in their bomb shelters; it is now a city alive with a sense of restoration and commemoration of the past.  Next was Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp that became the model and training centre for the running of all other camps during Hitler’s dictatorship, where thousands of lives were worked away, and tonnes of innocent blood soaked into the ground that is now a garden.  This past week, we’ve seen the front lines of WWI–Vimy Ridge and Hill 60, and Ypres–where men threw themselves headlong into the work of killing and dying; where men suffered and slogged witlessly in the trenches and tunnels of bloody, muddy, otherwise insignificant kilometres.

A few days ago, we visited a museum focusing specifically on the battles around Ypres in Belgium, called the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’ in recognition of John McCray’s famous poem.  Here I learned that Belgium had been promised the ability to remain neutral but found itself overrun with the armies of its neighbours, forced to fight or fall, because of its bad luck to be in between the two great enemies, France and Germany.  Poor, unfortunate Belgium!  The entirety of Ypres was reduced to rubble after three battles meant to defend it, and is now surrounded by over a hundred cemetaries, many of the gravestones marking the graves of soldiers “known only to God.”

I think the hardest thing about all of these experiences is having to acknowledge and coming face to face with the conviction that Canada, the “good’ side, also slaughtered and rejoiced over fields of battle strewn with snuffed out lives and spread the myth of the glory of war.  Admitting that there was no “good” side in these horrific events, realizing that all that really mattered were the lives that ended and the lives that only half continued and the lives that were left behind, has definitely been a challenge for such a determined believer in the romanticism and heroism in everyday life as I am.  Why is it so easy to glorify the victory of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge–the troops who didn’t even have their own country yet, idealized with wonderful comraderie and determination–after all, we did what the powerful French and British couldn’t!  Why is it so unpleasant to see the shell ravaged territory, to hear of the Allies, the “good guys”, creating killing fields, deliberately trapping the young, hapless “enemy” into several crossfires at once?  Why is it so easy to make a monster of another people, and not realize that this tactic is one of the most dangerous enabler of that sequel to the Great War that was to end all wars??

The In Flanders Fields Museum brought this home in a new and poignant way with its indiscriminate display of both sides, any nationality involved in the war, from any “side”.  Here’s a few of the quotes they had:

I caught sight of a German the day before yesterday. He was building fortifications 50 metres away from me. I had to kill him, didn’t I? I took a rifle, quite calmly I took aim, and he fell. And yet I can see the features of that man with perfect clarity.  I think it’s very much like a murder. Horrible!” -Maurice Laurentin

They came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks.  What were our men to do? Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men.” -Count Gleichen, Christmas 1914

The night of Christmas Eve, 24.12.14, it was my privilege to play Father Christmas and to carry a Christmas tree to my company commander in the trenches at the very front.  There was a new moon, and the bright starlit sky was lit even more brightly by the tracer bullets from the two front lines.  For me, they were beautiful Christmas illuminations.  Nothing was heard, except machine gun fire from time to time, or a short burst of shots.  Sometimes an infrantryman would shoot to the left or to the right of me, but I knew that the enemy would not use me as a target, despite the light which was as strong as day, because I was Father Christmas, and I was carrying the decorated tree.” -Carl Muhlegg

“All sorts of stories have been circulated regarding the meeting of the enemy and British troops between the trenches.  Luckily the troops holding our immediate line of trenches just waited until the Germans got out of the trenches, then they let them have it, rapid fire; it stopped any of this ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ sort of nonsense.” -Bryden McKinnell

I for one see no accusable monster here. I’m ashamed to have ever believed in “the enemy”.

Is becoming “green” a global idea?

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

As a “Westerner,” I thought I knew so much about the importance of global warming to governments, schools, businesses and organizations in Canada. When I came to SE Asia and saw smog, garbage-filled everything, unnecessary burning, and just nothing noticeably “green,” I couldn’t help but think that “Westerners” were on a better track than SE Asia when it comes to “green” issues. Don’t get me wrong; coming here I did not expect SE Asia to be completely out of the loop when it comes to green issues, just not practising everything to the degree the “west” has. I have seen so many people, promotional commercials, ads, and articles telling the people of Thailand the importance in changing or learning how to adapt to these global issues. But are these ideas being embraced and practised? Just like in the west where we decided to make a change in our lives to help out with these issues but don’t really act on our words, the same applies in Asia.  But when I am here seeing countries that are economically not even close to Canada (like the Philippines and Thailand) doing what they can to try and improve the awareness that this world needs to change environmentally, I am encouraged.  For examples, in the Philippines we visited a beach that was dotted with the most beautiful and enormous wind turbines. North Western University has a green campaign. In Thailand we learned about the harmful effect that dams will have on water supplies and the whole country. We also learned about ways Thai farmers can adapt to the new changes in the weather. One of our guest lecturers, Jeff, who has an experimental farm, had a great answer to face this critical issue – learning to change the way people farm and view the land that will actually help the earth and environment heal itself. He does this by acting green and helping locals understand the issues at hand.

These sights and ideas have had a huge impact on me because if they take the first steps in their situations why can’t we help bring more awareness to our part of the world and to our daily lives at SSU. But there are huge issues that really hinder green movements from being more widely spread. Brianna and Lindsay did a news presentation about the upcoming world meeting on climate change. Thailand’s stance is not a very good one because they say they will not follow recommendations until the major first world countries do their part. Due to political instability in many SE Asian countries, I fear that there won’t be anything put in place by the governments that will help regulate the greenhouse gases or put in place any green movements.

By being in these countries where “green” thinking isn’t totally noticeable, I have been proven wrong. By having the chance to see many people and countries doing their part, I have learned that a part of my duty is to help spread the word about what we can do to help make our communities aware. If cause and effect actually works, then green issues can be spread around the world.