Introducing “Critical Ontology and Indigenous Ways of Being” by Joe L. Kincheloe

Posted in Uncategorized on July 11, 2014 by onepercentyellow

Introducing “Critical Ontology and Indigenous Ways of Being”:

Using Indigenous Perspectives to Consider Conflict

The author of this article, Joe L. Kincheloe, served as Canada Research Chair at the Faculty of Education at McGill University and was the founder of The Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy. From this foundation in critical pedagogy, his chapter proposes tenets of critical ontology to penetrate the identity construction of would-be educators and researchers. He uses Indigenous epistemologies as foils to the Cartesian construction of self, society, and reality, and pushes scholars to engage with the Other as a way to critically examine the Western construction of selfhood.

(Click HERE for a wonderful video in which Kincheloe elucidates some of his pedagogical beliefs)

Engaging with Kincheloe was easy for me as I also subscribe to the values of critical pedagogy (that being exposure of inequality in the dominant paradigm through examination of and action on the emergent nature of reality, or conscientization). The reading made me question when and where my own critical consciousness awakened. I wish I could say that it was when I first went abroad and lived for 4 years in Asia, but I know that my first foray into the land of the Other was not marked by reflexivity, but by exoticism. I found the cultural differences fascinating, engaging and interesting, but had very little to say about the contributions these cultures made to my understanding of the world and myself. It was not until I was introduced to Sociology, Linguistics and Literary Theory and then participated in a study abroad program to Cuba that I began to see differently. When I returned, all I could do was shake my head at all those who claimed the greatest gift travel could offer was knowing how wonderful Canada is when you return.

So with this intimate knowledge of critical ontology, one could dream I have “cultivate[d] humility without which wisdom is not possible” (Kincheloe 198), but the waking reality is far more steeped in Western ideology than I care to admit. I recently realized this when I came into a heated discussion with my boyfriend’s brother (I’ll call him Tom) over topics ranging from economics and politics, to the value of socialism and community, to extractive industry and the philosophy of work. I left the conversation exhausted and was frustrated with myself at my inability to communicate my point effectively. As we both retired, he mentioned the community group he is a part of and the work they were doing on land use in the area. As I went to sleep that night, my own entrenched Cartesian dualism struck me hard. Why did I feel the need to push him into my own way of thinking? Why did I refuse to concede any of his points? How had everything become so black and white?

On my second reading of Kincheloe, I decided to take direction and investigate Indigenous modes of conflict resolution. Perhaps other cultures could assist me in further extracting myself from the Western individualist perspective. While I have only scratched the surface in this research, I have a couple preliminary considerations to offer here.

Conflict resolution in Ni-Vanuatu society uses storytelling and metaphor to avoid personal attack while exploring contentious issues. Further, they use song, poetry and silence to allow space when debates become heated. I had considered this tactic that night as I lay awake in frustration. Why had I not asked Tom earlier how his worldview manifest in stories of his life? Would this have revealed his involvement with the community land-use board and offered a different metaphor to examine the situation? Of course I also wondered why I couldn’t just keep my mouth shut!

In the Mi’kmaq society, the web of relationship is more important than the assertion of absolute righteousness. Harmonious relationship with all our relations (including the animate and inanimate natural world) is of utmost importance. The most striking image from this reading is the sacred circle, a symbol common to many Indigenous groups. “The traditions of the circle suggest seasons, lifecycles and eco-spiritual forces that both govern and protect human life and ecological balance” (Bowers 295). When conflict occurs, it is never the individual who stands trial, but his or her entire family, their extended community, and even the land. A circle cannot be formed with only two individuals present. If we are to consider our own moments of conflict, multiple relationships are pulled into play as we confide in our closest friends and allies and rally our strength to continue the push toward “right”. Perhaps if our society asked all those people to come to the town square to satisfy these conflicts, we would be more willing to approach each other with the humility that denotes wisdom.

My questions to you:

On page 195, Kincheloe speaks of the potential for Western life to appear as bizarre to someone from another culture. Share an experience where difference has revealed your own bizarre norms. Alternately, watch this scene from God Grew Tired of Us and comment on the notion of freedom presented.
In my example above, it can be argued that I privileged my own values of critical ontology over Tom’s belief in a dominant Western narrative. Is Kincheloe’s reading meant to only dismantle Western ideals and hold up the value of Other ways? In this same vein of questioning, I’d like to highlight Timothy’s response in Week 5 where he is “irritated that all aspects of colonialism are assumed to be horrible, catastrophic, and never in the best interests of the colonized.” How can we extract the positive contributions from the colonialism? What are they?
Thanks in advance for your responses!

Works Cited

Bowers, Kisiku Sa’qawei Paq’tism Randolph. “From Little Things Big Things Grow, From Big Things Little Things Manifest.” AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples 8:3 (2012): 290-304. Web 5 June 2014.

Kincheloe, Joe L. Critical Ontology and Indigenous Ways of Being: Forging a Postcolonial Curriculum.” Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations. Ed. Yatta Kanu. Toronto: U of T, 2009. 181-202. Print.

Walker, Polly O. “Storians: Building on Indigenous Knowledge to Enhance Ni-Vanuatu Mediative Capacity.” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 30:5 (2013): 309-328. Web. 4 June 2014.

Right Relationship – Nurturing connection to the land through time and contemplation

Posted in anthro 610, spirit of the land, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 14, 2013 by onepercentyellow

An integral aspect of the Spirit of the Land (SoL) course at Augustana is the nurturing of a contemplative practice.  We have used a number of approaches (Buddhist, Christian, Archetypal Psychology, among others) to encourage stillness, silence and presence in a world that does not place great value on these traditions.  It is a way to push students beyond the breakneck pace of their day-to-day lives and into a space where it is possible to hear the still, small voice of inner self.  With that Being (that inner self), we can mindfully explore the existential connection with the natural world, physical space, and community of beings in which we all live.  When questions of sustainability, ecology, and right relationship are explored from this contemplative foundation, it becomes possible to consider agency and knowledge from the perspective of the natural world, rather than simply the perspective of conservationists or preservationists.

In reading Peter Bates and David Natcher et. al.’s articles on Northern Canadian First Nations groups, and Susan Crate’s article on Soviet Indigenous groups (all found in Arctic Anthropology), I was struck by the connection between the contemplative tradition as it has been expressed in our SoL class and the traditional knowledge of these groups. This type of knowledge is not the kind that one can simply look up online and Get It.  Like meditation, like yoga, like mastery of any discipline, this is a knowledge that is grounded in Being.  It is developed through practice and integration of a more conscious way of taking action.  Rather than going through the motions of doing something, we are pushed to embody what we do – be mindful, feel it deeply and make it a part of our Being.  It also points to the emergent nature of knowledge.

The Northern groups Bates and Natcher et. al. worked with, revealed a unique perspective of time and sentience that sits in opposition to the dominant Western approach.  First, the Northern groups were reluctant to place emphasis on a future orientation.  For those doing work in sustainability and ecology, this poses a considerable barrier.  The drive is to create policy or research agendas based on predictable changes in the natural world, but those who hold the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of this space do not orient themselves to the future in this way.  The Huslia residents, for example, do not “allow events that lie in the future to organize one’s life” (Natcher et. al. 119), and thus cultivate a radically present-oriented relationship with time and the natural world.  In presence, we are forced to listen to the subtle changes of the natural world, “accepting that the future cannot be known [and allowing] appropriate preparation for uncertainty, rather than condemning a traveler to futile struggle against it” (Bates 90).

As we have explored presence in the SoL class, we have attempted to quiet our future-oriented ego self in order to hear the present-oriented inner self that is connected to all other beings (both animate and inanimate).  In our exploration of the present moment, we have heard experiences of individuals (like Takota Coen) who have meditated and communicated with plants, and (like Sylvia McAdam) who have literally fallen in love with landscapes.

With such an orientation to time, I would argue, we can find a connection to the agency of the land – reflected in Natcher et. al.’s description of the Koyukon.  Individuals in this community were reluctant to speak of the future of climate change, animal migrations, or other aspects of the natural world as they felt it negated the power of the natural world to participate in the conversation.  During this reading I began to think of the natural world as a family member, and such summits discussing the possible futures of the natural world as equivalent to discussing a sibling behind his or her back.  I could picture it as a sort of gossip session in which well-meaning scientists, policy makers, and social researchers are trying to determine what to do with that troublesome black sheep of the family.  Then I pictured how infuriated I would be if I found out about such talk while I was absent. What if we were to host a present-oriented intervention rather than a back-room decision of when to ship someone off to rehabilitation.

Any good relationship requires presence and the sensitivity to see that the other has the agency to change.  When we are in harmonious relationship, we appreciate the gifts of the other and reciprocate.  We acknowledge the essential presence of the other and accept emerging aspects with curiosity and gratitude.  When we are in wrong relationship we become controlling, demanding and dismissive.  We center meaning on our own power and end up consuming rather than collaborating.  These readings highlight different ways of seeing my relationship with time and natural systems, and encourage me to foster a present and emergent relationship with the world around me.

All this as I watch winter unfold for the first time in 4 years.  As I approach winter with a welcoming respect for its essential place in this landscape, I feel better able to reconcile with this black sheep.

Works Mentioned (I apologize for any formatting problems… I just wanted to get this post up!)

Bates, Peter. 2007.  Inuit and Scientific Philosophies about Planning, Prediction, and Uncertainty. Arctic Anthropology  44( 2): 87-100.

Crate, Susan A. 2006. Elder Knowledge and Sustainable Livelihoods in Post-Soviet Russia: Finding Dialogue across the Generations. Arctic Anthropology 43 ( 1): 40-51.

Natcher, David C., O. Huntington, H. Huntington, F.S. Chapin III, S.F. Trainor, and L. DeWilde. 2007. Notions of Time and Sentience: Methodological Considerations for Arctic Climate Change Research. Arctic Anthropology 44(2): 113-126.

Conservation, Preservation and the Noble Savage

Posted in anthro 610, spirit of the land, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 14, 2013 by onepercentyellow

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  We’ve all heard it.  How do we miss the mark?  By failing to be in relationship.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been reading a lot on conservation and preservation of the natural world.  I’ve read about the National Park system, started with the landmark Yellowstone National Park, and the varying levels of success this system has seen.  On the one hand, the model has been adopted around the world, prompting governments to set aside tracts of undeveloped, unexploited land for preservation in a natural state.  Considering the clearing of forests, the breaking up of ancient prairie, the draining of wetlands, and the piece-by-piece dismantling of entire mountains, the preservation of natural spaces, thanks to the national park programs, seems a great boon to us – a gift to today’s children who have received the pleasure of visiting unplundered earth.  But this system is not without complications.  With an exercise of power, there is always compromise.

National park systems have, by and large, included removal of the human element as a part of the natural system (Chatty and Colchester), and in the tradition of Cartesian dualism, we suddenly find ourselves both in and out, living a contradiction and straining to be and not be at the same time.  Of course, humans are nature.  We are from the Earth.  We rely on her systems and cannot hope to live without this connection.  Our bodies know this.  As I’ve been exploring in Spirit of the Land, our spirits know this as well.  But our minds – oh our ego-warped minds – separate us from nature, place us above her systems, place us in CONTROL of her systems, where we begin to exercise will – severing relationship in favour of domination.

So what is the danger in setting up protected spaces?  Well, there are 3.

  • First is the effect on the space.
  • Second is the effect on the people of the space.
  • Third is the effect on the philosophy of space in general.

We are from the Earth, and our removal, like the removal of any of the natural elements of an ecosystem, has a profound effect on an area.  The introduction to Conservation and Mobile Indigenous Peoples mentions how periodic clearing of land in Africa would open up areas for larger game to graze, and how forest fires would provide needed nutrients to increase biodiversity.  Sometimes it is not our removal but our intervention that changes these natural systems.  I took an Anthropology class at the University of Alberta in the 90’s with Eric Higgs.  This was my first exposure to the notion of preservation being a problematic intervention in the natural world. Dr. Higgs put up two slides.  One was a valley bottom full of trees.  The other was the same valley bottom sparsely populated by trees and full of grassland.  Which one is from 1910 and which is from 5 years ago?  Fire suppression in the national parks had changed the landscape and grazing animals no longer had access to the spaces opened by natural fire.   Our absence and our protectionist presence is more complicated than it seems.

Second, we have national and international interests intervening in a local ecology and economy, such as in Miguel Montoya’s example in “Negotiating the Tropical Rainforest.”  These spaces become appropriated in service of ideals played out on stages far removed from the life that happens on the ground.  Values and image displaces direct engagement with the land and demonizes those who have lived within a subsistence relationship with a space.  Sometimes, as with Paul Nadasdy’s example of sheep hunting in the Arctic, this pushes individuals to use exploitative measures not typically employed in order to reap the benefits for the community rather than for the service of outsiders who wish to appropriate and manage the wealth.

Perhaps the greatest danger, however, lays in the mentality of those who live outside of these areas.  Who do you know who would dare to litter during their picturesque drive through the Icefields Parkway?  Would those same individuals balk at litter in their own concrete neighbourhood?  Would they ever see the concrete itself as an unnatural object?  When we set aside spaces as “nature” and separate them from the rest of the earth, we create a dual space.  One where nature is valued and exploitation is prohibited, and another where nature is taken for granted, or simply not even acknowledged, and exploitation is commonplace.  It is sometimes difficult to recognize that even in the middle of the concrete jungle, there is nature all around that deserves the same respect and appreciation as other spaces.

Finally, a brief comment on First Nations, #idlenomore and the natural world.  There is so much being said about the path forward in harmony with the Earth.  #idlenomore has brought hope and energy to those who have been looking for a mode to galvanize the environmental movement, and it’s tempting to simply herald First Nations globally as the model for right relationship with the land.  As my fellow student in Anthro 610 and Spirit of the land guest speaker Daniel Bogart-O-Brein state, it is First NationS – not a single nation, and we must be aware of the multiple perspectives on land use and relationship.  We cannot simply lump all indigenous groups into a single culture.  Nor can we romanticize these relationships as inherently conservationist, as argued by Eric Alden Smith and Mark Wishnie.

So, where does that leave us?  Well, I think it comes back to a Land Ethic.  We must feel love before we can act in right relationship.  This comes from having a relationship with the land where we live.  This is the sustaining kind of long-lasting relationship we wish to have with those who are most important to us.  The kind that allows us to see each other with messy hair and morning breath.  We cannot rely on others to create that relationship for us – be that permission from government or First Nations groups.  We should not (and cannot) wait for popular media to galvanize us into an eco-fad.  If we are to create right relationship we must do it individually, mindfully, and continually.  Like any great relationship, it takes time and concerted effort.

Works mentioned (I must apologize for citation formatting, but I just wanted to finally get this post out there!)

Chatty, Dawn and Colchester, Marcus. Eds. Conservation and Mobile Indigenous Peoples: Displacement, Forced Settlement, and Sustainable Development. Berghahn: UK. 2008. (Miguel Montoya’s paper is the second chapter of this book).

Smith, Eric Alden and Wishnie, Mark. “Conservation and Subsistence in Small-Scale Societies.” Annual Rev. Anthropol. 29:493-524. 2000.

Nadasdy, Paul. “The Anti-Politics of TEK: The Institutionalization of Co-Management Discourse and practis.” Anthropologica. 47:2, 215-232. 2005.

Higgs, Eric, et. al. Culture, Ecology and Restoration in Jasper National Park. U of A Press: Edmonton. 1999.

Sustainability – there are so many levels

Posted in spirit of the land with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2013 by onepercentyellow

I’ve sat to write this post a number of times and always feel like I don’t know enough to tackle the discussion.  In my course on Environment, Traditional Cultures and Sustainability, we were asked: What is sustainability?  Course readings pushed us to ask how we consider sustainability in the way that we relate with not only the natural world, but the people and cultures that populate the planet.

Take, for instance, the reading by Raynaut et. al. in Sustainability and Communities of Place.  The essay looks first at the varying definitions of sustainable development, of which there were “no fewer than sixty different definitions” (Raynaut et. al. 21) in 1995, and outlines a very useful way to consider the varying realms of sustainability.

Here’s a picture of the continuum they construct in the reading.


In my process of considering sustainability, I came across the final discussion panel of the 2008 Slow Food Nation gathering.  Of particular interest was Wendell Berry’s discussion on Scaling Down our Carbon Footprint (at 13:24).

“For too long humans have been spared, mainly by the cheapness of the fossil fuels, from the universal necessity of local adaptation.  It is ultimately an inescapable biological imperative that human land-use economies should correspond as closely as possible to the ecological mosaic.  To this we no longer have even the illusion of a second choice.”

Berry speaks to the center point, to the tension between the 4 points of Raynaut et. al.’s analytical tool.  It is only because of the systems we have built, systems grounded on exploitation of the elsewhere and future, that we have been able to collapse the entire continuum into the satisfaction of the here and now.  In Berry’s argument, it will only be through the return to the necessity of local adaptation that we will again come into a dialectical relationship.  A dialectical relationship recognizes, as Leslie Main Johnson stated in her text, Traveler’s Story, Traveler’s Path, that the “landscape has agency” (Main Johnson 204).  Cultivating that relationship in the here and now – remembering that in dialectics, reality is constantly emerging – leaves space for proper use of human cultural and physical technologies in SERVICE rather than TENSION with future and elsewhere considerations.

Of course, ethical considerations for the privileging of one agent over another will largely define what service looks like.  And I look to Aldo Leopold and Spirit of the Land to encourage those conversations.

A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.

the land agent

Posted in MAIS with tags , , , , , on September 12, 2013 by onepercentyellow

In my first week of readings (last week… oops) for my Athabasca Anthropology 610 course, I came to a full stop in the middle of the book.

 “In indigenous concepts landscape has agency” (Johnson 204). 

Of course it does, but I have never heard it put this way before.  The agency of the land – the Gaia principle – imbues the land with not only its own existence, but its own set of relationships, its own choices and actions to be taken, and leaves us pondering what our own role is in that continuum of creation.  If landscape has agency, what am I in wake of the land’s power (being of and from it)?

And when I recognize that the Earth is its own living system, of which I am but a small part, I begin to relax and relinquish control, even in just a small way.  I give up control as I do when I set down the chip colonialism has placed on my shoulder.  I am not responsible for the “civilization” of the world’s people.  In fact, I don’t have the answers my culture tells me I have.  There are systems of knowledge I have never conceived of.  There are types of blindness I suffer because I have never been taught to use my eyes.

And I consider this against the human systems we have created – the economy, the military-industrial complex, the church, the state – I wonder if these reified systems, too, have agency.  Is there something living in them, a kind of animation?  Have they grown and experienced evolution throughout time, only to have reached their now monstrous form – all teeth and claws – at the head of the food chain?

And that brings me to the life that comes when we feed our traditions.  Those reified systems have reached their zenith because we have fed them.  We consult them; we speak their names; we channel our energy and beliefs through them, and, in turn, our lives are lived through them.  But is this relationship simply another empty cup to raise to our lips?  Are we satiating ourselves on a diet of empty calories and failing to dip into the nourishment of fellowship? 

I ask you to try this simple tradition.  Before your next meal, sit in contemplation of the food you are about to commit to your body.  Consider where each part has come from – the energy of the sun, the water and minerals from the earth, the lives that have ceased.  This is not an exercise in guilt, but one in gratitude.  And as you thank each part for its part, ready your body to receive this bounty.  Permit your body to exact the full transaction of energetic existence.  Breathe – knowing full well that it is not that you are pulling in air, but merely allowing it to enter your body – a place where it wants to be.  And then enjoy your meal.  It feels different to eat in this way.  This is presence.


Johnson, Leslie Main.  Trail of Story, Traveller’s Path: Reflections on Ethnoecology and Landscape.  AU Press: 2010. Print.

Slowly becoming

Posted in MAIS, Online, Uncategorized with tags , on September 4, 2013 by onepercentyellow

It has been a long time since I’ve written in this space.  I hope to remember to record my experience of presenting in my first academic conference at some time, but this is not what has brought me back to this space.  I’m here because I might just get the chance to share my great passion for connection in the digital world.  I might just be about to teach alongside my mentor – the person who has so greatly inspired me to consider the importance of taking on the vocation of being an educator.  I might just get to affect and be affected by a group of amazing Augustana students this semester.  And maybe this will help me reach that final goal – that final push toward the completion of my masters degree – and after such a long, tumultuous, and affecting road, I want to do it right.

So.  I’ve been invited to be a part of Spirit of the Land, an experiment in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) by the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta.  Now that all the big names have been dropped, I can tell you how this MOOC is different, how we’re shaping things to be our own, and how I have become passionate about my capability to contribute in a meaningful way.

Now I’ve been a student, staff, and most recently over the summer, an actual contracted instructor at Augustana for many years.  It’s been a foundational part of too many of my final papers to count.  Every time I write about education (which is a lot during my MAIS program in adult education) I reflect on the deep shifts of meaning I traversed through my time at Augustana.  I attribute this to the sense of responsibility Augustana and other small Liberal Arts universities have for the kind of people our students become. When I come into contact with an institution or a teaching methodology that does not pay attention to this fundamental connection between teacher and student, I balk. I cringe.  I shut down.  And then, since I don’t take things laying down, I push.  I know I have done my share of pushing in my program at Athabasca – some appreciated, some not – and that I will at some point experience the same when I meet myself in my own classroom.

It comes back to this.  When a student enters a classroom, s/he opens her mind, her way of seeing the world, her way of knowing, maybe even her heart, to the perspectives of the theorists taught in the class, and, what’s more, the perspective of the professor who is presenting the theorists taught in the class.  I remember in my first year at Augustana I was speaking to one professor.. asking “but if postmodernism is wrong, then…”

“wait a minute,” he said. “Who told you that postmodernism is wrong?  Perhaps you should decide that for yourself!”

Wait… I can do that??

So.. from that value-laden, and consequential perspective on being an instructor, I prepare myself to work on this MOOC… which is actually an OOCC, I consider what it is I’d like to contribute to the way the individuals in this course see the world.

First – what is Spirit of the Land about?  It’s about developing a community land-use ethic.  It’s about Aldo Leopold’s assertion that one day we will see the land and our relation to it in the same way we see our relationship to one another.  That we will feel ethically responsible for the destruction and desecration of life we are bringing about on our planet.  And we will do this in community, for “nothing so important as a land ethic is ever ‘written’.  It arises in the minds of a thinking community,” says Leopold.

Second – it’s about community.  It’s a course that is happening over breaking of bread with one another.  With “students” and “community members” cooking together and then sharing the nourishment of deep intellectual consideration of important issues.  It’s about connection.  It’s about conversation.  And it’s about bridging our classroom/intellectual/academic worlds with our embedded/emotional/physical/spiritual worlds.  And it happens together.

Further, it’s about connecting to the great healing stemming from the recognition of the great wrongs that have been done to the people whose tradition, language and culture grew from a relationship with the land we are living in and growing on.  The First Nations people who have, for so long, been relegated to the sidelines for their naive relationship to the natural systems of our planet. These people who can stand #idlenomore and are defending mother Earth with their words, their hearts and their bodies.

All of these things appeal to me greatly.  And I’m being given the opportunity to demonstrate how these types of connection can happen in the digital world.  Throughout my research into connectivist learning theory, I have grown to understand that the digital world is not just a place to go to get information, it’s a place to form a trusted network that moves beyond the vetted tidbits of information fed through the traditional forms of media.  Social networks are ways to understand the world from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  When Arab Spring happened, when China shut down the internet, when #occupywallstreet led to campus protests being peppersprayed in a place of higher learning, I came to realize that people who are connected to one another without necessarily going through the mechanisms of censorship share the opportunity to make social truth transparent.  This is in direct opposition to those who perpetuate lies.

There are a lot of lies happening about our relationship to the natural world.  Our relationship to each other.  Our relationship to ourselves.  These lies can be combatted with a connection to like-minded individuals who have explored the importance of developing a healthy, balanced, ethical relationship to the systems that sustain life.

How can I not be absolutely honoured to be a part of something so beautiful?

The end of an era – and a difficult relationship with my father

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by onepercentyellow

And this is a post I have wanted to share for quite some time…. Back in the summer when I was reflecting on the digital life I create here, I was leery of sharing my own experience of my father’s struggle with cancer.  Partly because my family is a rather closed group who does not share their struggles openly.  Adding to that my estrangement from my father, I felt it wasn’t right to write the reflections on his struggle that I would not share with him in person.  So I refrained from using this space to explore those feelings.

But now I have just been called back to Canada from my time in Peru because my dad returned to the hospital and passed away.  I was able to make it home in time and was able to play some music for him in the hospital.  It’s what I really wanted to do.  With his passing I feel finally free to explore some of the difficult feelings I have about him.  My relationship has been conflicted and for that reason, largely absent for the last 15 years, but at his funeral I was able to give a eulogy I am happy to share here.

As @cogdog – one of the great sharers – told me, it’s just “slowly letting people around you know what you’re going through”.  And in my time searching for other difficult eulogies to write, I thought, perhaps my sharing will help another girl in another library somewhere in that great wide world recognize that she can also remember the good things while giving space to acknowledge the bad.  This is one of the most important things for me to remember.  It’s ok to feel angry and frustrated by the actions of others.  This is what teaches us how to draw healthy boundaries that protect us.  Some of those walls are between ourselves and those closest to us.  Many times those are the most important ones to draw!

So on February 27th, I stood and sang one of my favourite songs – one that has been deeply connected to my year – In My Time of Dying, by the Be Good Tanyas, and I read this eulogy for myself and the people who really understood.

I am standing here as Brian’s daughter to pay tribute to the life that passed.  This is a difficult eulogy for me – not because it is for my dad, but because I have really only known him when I was a child, as I have been largely absent from his life for the last 15 years.  There are many of you here who have entered his life more recently, and I hope that my memories of him ring true to the Brian you knew as well.

Of course, every parent hopes to pass some wisdom to their children, and dad, I’m sure, was no different.  As I sat and considered what to say today, I focused on the lessons I have learned from him.  I am a student after all – a lifer, I’m afraid.  So what did dad teach me in his time here?

The first lesson is one of the earlier ones I remember.  Respect for the natural environment and for our animal brothers and sisters.  I recall one of the regular trips out to Laurier Lake.  Derrick and I and some of the other kids had gone down to the pier to do some fishing in the afternoon.  I’m sure I was only 6 or 7 years old at the time, but I knew how to cast and how to jiggle the line to keep the fish convinced that they were chasing after a tasty treat.  Well, I caught one, and reeled in a mid-sized fish!  While I was old enough to fish on my own, I was not yet old enough to remove the fish from the hook – a dangerous and difficult job.  One of the other kids ran up to get dad to come and take the fish off the hook for us.  In the meantime, we discovered that when you had the full weight of a fish on your line, you could cast the line much farther than with the tiny weights!  When dad came down, we were casting and recasting the caught fish into the lake, teasing it with a continued struggle for its life.  He was furious.  It wasn’t right to treat the fish this way – we had to respect the fish and treat it properly because it was a living thing.  Even though I was young, and my memory is terrible, I remember that day.  Later on, in reflecting on the parts of his life I did share, I saw that love of nature and respect for the natural world in the ways he farmed and took care of the animals on the farm.  Don’t get me wrong – we were always the top of the food chain – but there was no place for the unnecessary suffering of animals on the farm.  Even if that meant one animal would have to die to curb the suffering of the rest of the herd.

Dad had lessons to teach me about people as well.  Dad had space for people from all walks of life, and while he would tell jokes like the rest of them, everyone was welcome at his table.  I remember regularly visiting and staying at various Hutterite colonies around the Western provinces, and heard his stories as being accepted as a white member of the first nations groups.  In particular, I remember visiting him in Valleyview and meeting Little John and Donald, two first nations brothers who lived in a schoolbus in the bush.  Whether we were picking them up hitchhiking on the highway, going out to check their traps with them, or having a special meal at the house, these guys were invited into life as anyone else was.  Dad simply wasn’t the judging type.  It took all kinds of people to make the world go around, and he shared his life and ours with everyone.  I think this is one of the reasons I find it so easy to walk into about any culture on the planet and fit myself into the normal rhythms of life – even though I often stick out like a q-tip in a box of pencils.

Maybe it was because he came into contact with so many types of people that dad found himself a jack of all trades.  He experimented with his career, trying on different hats and taking in the breadth of what there was to offer.  From his early days of selling vacuum cleaners, to driving gravel truck, to farming in Daysland, to running the infamous Bald Eagle Inn, to farming just about any animal he could find up in Valleyview, to driving taxi to working construction, to owning a store and running a rototiller business, to his later days of equipment operating and buying and selling property, Dad certainly tested his hand at a wide variety of work.  I’m sure he took pride in his ability to do the work he needed in order to make life happen.  I’m certainly happy that I approach even menial tasks as an opportunity to shine – a trait I see in my brother and sister as well.

The last lesson dad taught me, was one of the most difficult, but one of the most important I think I will learn: we cannot outrun our demons.  Now… When I started my masters program, I had an experience with my first professor that almost spelled the end of my program.  We locked horns and my stubbornness nearly led me to quit.  I recognized that I would need to exercise a bit of humility if I were going to reap the benefits of having a learning relationship with my professor.  A trip to India introduced me to a custom whereby young people are affixed with bangles that are meant to distract the demons that are known to visit us – especially in our teenage years when we are least rational.  I adopted the custom, attaching 12 bangles to my wrist – bracelets that do not come off (to the dismay of the security people in the airport), They only come off when they fall off or are broken. They remind me that I am a student, and in order to become a great teacher, I must first learn the humility of a student so I will later understand the power my students will give me. When I lose a bangle, I know I am one step closer to beating the demons of my own pride.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I have not been a part of dad’s life for a number of years.  I have made my own life and have often wondered how I would react at this moment.  In writing this, many places have opened within me, revealing long hidden spaces where both anger and joy lived.  And in that mess of emotions, I have found a lot of pride.  In moving past that pride, I have found a way back to the dad who taught me to take joy in the natural world.  I remember trips down the river and hunting excursions, camping trips and all the wonderful animals on the farm.  He taught me to take an interest in all kinds of people, the community in Valleyview that recognized us as the farm family of the year, the touring musicians at the Bald Eagle Inn, the people from all sorts of backgrounds who remember dad as a warm and generous person.  And I am able to celebrate the ability to embrace whatever kind of work life throws your way.  I am warned in his passing at the vice of pride – a deadly sin that keeps us from knowing the world – that keeps us afraid of knowing the world in an authentic way.  While I do not propose that I am beyond this life-long and difficult lesson, I will lay down one of my demons today and move forward with these valuable lessons from the teacher who was my dad.


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