Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Raven's Great Light Show

I honestly don't know what role Leprechaun plays in Irish culture, but like most, I have heard it said that Leprechaun sits at the foot of the rainbow with a pot of gold.

It was that that got me to thinking.

I had just recently returned ftom a trip to the Arctic filled with stories and dreams.

One of the most exhilerating experieces I had had was being in the front row watching the spectacular show of the Aurora Borealis - the Northern Lights.

Like many, I listened and I dreamed. I heard stories and I let my imagination run wild. When it was over and done: Raven's Great Light Show.

As I always do in creating my books, I meshed what I had seen, heard and dreamed. Mixed in with it all was Leprechaun sitting at the bottom of the rainbow. Whether or not Leprechaun was responsible for the rainbow I didn't know but in my mind, Raven was totally responsible for the Northern Lights and that was the story I would tell.

Next came a partner/an illustrator. Keep in mind that most of my partners are not illustrators but fine artists. What I needed was one whose work perfectly typified the Northern Lights. Enter Jasyn Lucas:

I reached out to this amazing Oji-Cree from Thompson, Manitoba. Illustrating a book would be new to Jasyn but he was all in. The rest is history... 

Thank you Vidacom Publication https://www.vidacom.ca/ for producing such a beautiful book. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Pandemic and a New Direction

I have lived through the tragedy of Canada's residential schools. I saw the start and end of the Vietnamese War. I was here when the Kennedys and Martin Luther King were assasinated. I experienced the break up of the Soviet Union, the taking down of the Berlin Wall and I saw the twin towers fall in 9/11. I was here when appartaid ended in South Africa and when the US elected Barack Obama, their first black president. I was one of the many shocked as the US elected Donald Trump their president. I have lived through many things.

Today' pandemic is as world changing as any I have seen.

This pandemic will have some major and lasting effects on my personal and on my professional lives.

As I write this in mid-May, ready or not, the world seems to be on the verge of reopening. It will  reopen with severe restrictions. It will reopen but likely not ever be the same. Change is usually good and in this case, good might come of it.

For certain, this new reality will affect what I do and how I do it.

I accept the need for change and have already embraced it.

My friend/manager/partner Chris Patrick and I have  decided to aggressively attack remote-learning.

We have already hosted two webinars that were both well attended.

What we will attempt to put in place is a programme by which I can go on doing what I have done for the past 20 years only working from home. The carbon footprint I have left on the environment during years of travel will be greatly diminished. Through remote-learning, I will reach many more students, educators and parents because travel, hotels, etc...are expensive. And finally, I will be in a better position to customize what I do to a greater extent.

I picture my reading with kids, sharing ideas and answering questions remotely in classrooms from kindergarden to post secondary.

I am ready to start sharing with teachers through staff meetings and pro-d as well as parents durinig PAC meetings or parent conferences.

I will, of course, continue to make myself available in person as this type of presentation is not going to disappear.

Change is a-comin' and we are embracing it for all the good things it offers.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Nothing as strong as Motherly Love

Over the years, I have learned that some things are factual. This is one of them. There is no love as powerful as a Mother's love.

And now, I have found a perfect school built on Motherly love, a school for new and expecting mothers, the Louise Dean School in Calgary, Alberta.

Over the past twenty years... I have presented on different continents and in several countries, provinces...cities and reserves. I have met and worked with countless communities and no where and at no time have I found a situation that exuded unconditional love as did my experience at Louise Dean in Calgary.

I am struggling with just how to describe the
school/community so I will use text from their website and pictures taken by Allison Orpe, the Assistant Principal at Louise Dean. Thank you Allison.

 Louise Dean School is a specialized Grade 9 – 12 education program for pregnant and parenting teens. Raising children can be difficult at any age, but becoming a parent before having the chance to finish high school presents a unique set of challenges for a teen mom.  Louise Dean is a compassionate and caring community that provides every young woman on campus with a comprehensive support system including physical and mental health care, child care, and a quality education as they move into their new role of family and community leadership.

The setting I found  myself in was to say the least unique; a gym filled with young moms and expecting moms, educators and of course children...young, very young, active and beautiful children.

In the gym with chairs against the walls and mats covering the floor, I spoke about the strongest love in the world, the love a Mother has for her children. I spoke of Mother Earth from whom we come and to whom we will return. I shared a creation story and a few Trickster Tales. And my listeners were amazing! Their hearts were open. Their minds were sharp. They wanted to listen and to learn for the betterment of their babies. Nowhere could a speaker find a better audience in spite of the fact that, on several occasions, various toddlers would approach me with open arms expecting if not demanding that I pick them up. How could any grandparent not oblige and do so with the greatest pride of having been invited to love them. If my stories were not enough of a hit with the kids, my flutes were. I went down on one knee and dropped any notion of not having anyone touch my flutes (which for health reasons we flute players usually do). 

Louise Dean is a magical refuge for many in need. It is a sanctuary that does what all schools should do, offer hope and guidance. 

Twenty years ago, during my last years in active school administration, our mission statement stated ...We are a sanctuary for students, parents and educators that will recognize and build on every person's gifts. Louise Dean brought it all back to me sugar coated in the deepest and best our world has to offer, a Mother's love. 


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Trust, Truth and Reconciliation

Truth and Reconciliation has numerous road blocks to overcome. One of these is what I am coming across daily; educators are worried about the potential repercussions of being truthful with their students.

I have come across another, being slandered by a twitter troll.

Someone tweeted that I was not Metis, that I was using my Metis status for financial  gain. This occurrence is worth sharing in order to highlight the reality of dishonest trolls on social media and to call on all Canadians to join in the fight for social justice.

I began writing about 25 years ago. I did well with two of my early books, If you're Not from the Prairie (on McLean's list of the top 20 Canadian children's books of all time) and The Elders are Watching. These successes opened the door for what became more books and a few awards. One was Voices from the Wild, published by Raincoast in Canada and by Chronicle out of San Francisco. I was the first and the only Canadian to win the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award awarded for the single best book of poetry to come out of the US in any one given year. I then wrote a series of five books on China, a few more on the prairie (my homeland), a few children's books and two books on reading. These two allowed me the freedom to begin conference work and school visitations.

What is key in this is that my first decade of writing was my most successful and that that was before I learned about and recognized my Metis background. My most successful days as a writer were prior to acknowledging my Metis lineage.

Somewhere along my journey, I did what so many Metis do. I sought to learn about my family's history.

I was quite sure that I had Native blood. Bouchards have been in Canada for 400 years. Merciers have been here as long. I wanted to know who they were so that I might keep their names alive. I wanted to honour those who live in me and who go on living through me.

I would accomplish this by learning where they had lived and died and by coming to  know something of their struggles. Today, I honour the man shown here, the man after whom I was named, my Grandfather Pierre Mercier.

What I came to learn was amazing. You can imagine how excited I was to learn that  my Chippewa Grandfather Pierre Charbonot had signed the Menominee Treaty of 1848. In signing that treaty, he gave up his rights to his land and was forced to leave Bay Settlement and travel west. So they moved to Minnesota, then to South Dakota and finally to Saskatchewan.

I came to learn all this after I hired a genealogist from Green Bay because I knew my family had lived around the Great Lakes.

Showing here is a letter that this genealogist wrote after accumulating legal documents going back to my Ojibwa Grandfather and my Osage grandmother.

Back to the troll/tweet. I heard through one of my publishers that a social media troll had tweeted that I was not Metis and was claiming Metis heritage for financial gain.

A person unknown to me had tweeted that, twenty years ago, I had been denied membership to the Metis Nation of BC.

I went to her Twitter page and asked her why she hadn't reached out to me before her posting.

I wrote that I had indeed been denied membership to the MNBC, something that happens to many seeking membership. I explained that MNBC told me I needed  more proof of my ancestry. I explained (to this stranger) that I had hired a professional genealogist whose word no one would dispute. Had she reached out to me before posting, I would have gladly shared the information showing my ancestry. I quickly started to understand that she didn't care about the truth but merely sought to defame me. She didn't acknowledge my messages or the letter authenticating my Metis lineage.

This was my first and only encounter with a social  media hater. I knew they existed but here was one at my doorstep. Where this would lead was not terminal but it was unfortunate.

The publisher who had heard about this posting cancelled my newest book and removed me from her list of Indigenous directors. She informed me that some retailers had been told about this posting and were concerned enough not to buy our books. These were people who had not read her tweet but had heard from others, others who had picked up on her hate and had unscrupulously spread the gossip.

I reached out to my lawyer who referred me to another lawyer who referred me to yet another. In order to sue for libel, a person has to put up around $50,000. The lawyers  I spoke with all assured me that this was a case I would win however, I simply didn't have that kind of capital.

Nothing has come of this. These trolls continue doing what they do.

Life goes on. However, there is something to be learned from it.
In order for the recommendations for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to succeed, we are all going to have to courageously do our share. I will have to fight this fight. Educators will have to  stand up and call out trolls and haters. They are quite obvious in their messages. Publishers are going to have to be strong in what they are doing. It is so easy to turtle and look away.

Social Media is often not a medium that brings people together as it was created to do. It can be and is being used as a platform that hurts and tears people apart.

If you hear anyone spreading hurtful lies or gossip, call them out. Those who spread gossip are as guilty as the source from which the gossip originated.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Back to school

Fall means back to school for students, educators and of course, for parents.

For one who makes his life writing, it's back to what I do. I dream and share my dreams through stories.           

For an author as prolific as I am, my past year was relatively quiet. It's time to rev things up a little.

Here is a look at what I have on the go.

The first book that should hit the shelves any day now is one that I wrote with my new granddaughter (Izabell - Izzy) in mind.

Izzy's Best Day - has been published by Rubicon (https://www.rubiconpublishing.com/) as one in their Boldprint series. My Granddaughter Izzy is of Indigenous and Caribbean bloodlines. She is a little girl typical of so many Canadians. In this, Izzy's teacher tries to have the class see what a diverse group of children they are. What comes out in this, of course, is that we are all related. We are all part of one family.

I was fortunate enough to have worked with Scott Brown on an earlier book so was thrilled when Rubicon asked him illustrate Izzy's Best Day. 

The second book that should hit the bookshelves this fall is being published by Vidacom Publishing (https://www.vidacom.ca/) out of Winnipeg.                                                                                                                                           
In Raven's Great Light Show I tell how the Northern Lights came to be...and even better than how they came to be, what might one hope to find if one was able to find the source of the Northern Lights.

I have spent much time in the North and have heard hints as to the source of the Aurora Borealis. I finally wrote this story.

As is the case in most of my books, I sought out the perfect artist with whom to collaborate on this. Jasyn Lucas (http://www.jasynlucas.ca/), an amazing Cree artist from Thompson, Manitoba, will take our readers exactly where I hoped he would.

We Learn from the Sun... When Medicine Wheel  Publications (https://medicinewheel.education/) asked me if I had  an idea for a primary focused story, I knew exactly what  I wanted to do.

One of my best selling books is the Seven Sacred Teachings. There are many reasons for this, however one that is key to its success is that Canada is looking for ways to successfully implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Reconciliation necessitates trust and trust can only be achieved over time. Canadians have to prove themselves. They have to work to understand what makes Indigenous people who they are. Our book the Seven Sacred Teachings speaks to the spirituality of Indigenous people. It does not talk about religion but rather the understanding that we are all part of one family. We all come from Mother Earth. When we die, we all go back to her. We must respect and protect our Mother and the best way to do this is to Learn from the Sun.

Kristy Cameron was my partner in both the Seven Sacred Teachings and DreamCatcher and the Seven Deceivers. Kristy is again here in this beautiful children's book. 

Fitzhenry and Whiteside (https://www.fitzhenry.ca/) is publishing a special book I wrote after spending most of last winter in the arctic. In the spirit of our Toronto Raptors motto, We the North...the book is called They the North

In this, I share what I have learned from my time in the North. I am speaking to the large majority of Canadians who have never been to the Arctic over which the Canadian government governs. How do they live? What do they eat? What are their challenges and their successes. 

My partner is Ippiksaut Friesen (https://www.qaggiavuut.ca/en/artist/ippiksaut-friesen), a tremendously talent Inuit artist from Iqaluit. Our release date is spring 2020. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Proud to be Metis

My Great Grandmother was a nun.

After giving birth to 14 children and her husband dying, the Catholic Archbishop granted my GGrandmother special permission to become a nun in the cloistered order of the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan. It sounds crazy but it happened. My GGrandmother was a nun. 

I knew her well. As a child, I often went to the Precious Blood to purchase sheets of hosts, sheets from which hosts are cut for communion. My friends and I loved the taste of this flat bread.

The only way I ever saw my GGrandmother was through grilled barriers, somewhat like a latticed fence. The monastery was cloistered. It was she who introduced me to the idea that we were Metis.  Her smooth, round fingers would reach through the lattice, touch my cheeks and she would say,  "Mon beau petit Metis!" "My sweet Metis boy!" 
My GGrandmother's mother was Jeanne Beaudoin, nee Charbonneau. She was buried in Kranzburg, South Dakota. Her parents were Pierre Charbonneau, Ojibway and Josette Bonneterre, Osage. 

Of this there is no question. We have every document necessary that show where they lived, where they were married and where they died. I know their names. I know their Nations. I am of them. I am Metis. And be clear in this; I didn't seek them out for personal gain or for membership in a Metis organization. I simply wanted to know. And when I came to know, my life changed.

I knew Odille Allard but I didn't know her mother or her Grandmother. The voyage I took in getting to know them was amazing!  Expensive but worth it. Years to achieve but worth it.

My voyage went like this.

Twenty years ago, I went to our local Metis Nation of Greater Victoria. There, I was introduced to Stan Hulme, a wonderful man and the volunteer genealogist who helped the MNGV. Stan did some research for me and came up with what he thought would qualify me for citizenship in the British Columbia Metis Nation. It didn't. We added to his research but that didn't suffice either. The BCMN needed more. I learned that citizenship requires direct, legal documents for every link leading to Native ancestors.

The first thing I did was to put the name of my GGrandmother, Odille Allard out on the internet asking if anyone knew her. I received a reply from Don Presser Jr., an accountant in Alaska. Don was her great nephew. Don kindly sent me a document showing that our mutual ancestor was an Algonquin woman who twice appears on the Quebec census as Marie Louise Manitookookoo (Sauvage), He also suggested that I contact a professional genealogist in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I did exactly that and Kris Matthies began what was to become years of research.

Kris found legal documents for every person in my ancestry. The process was time consuming and costly as the time it takes to find death/birth/marriage/baptismal certificates is substantial. Churches burn. Government offices close. Costly. 

After seven years, Kris had everything needed to show my lines back five generations. I knew the details of three generations back but I now had five.

My GGrandmother was Metis. By today's laws, she could have been a status First Nations woman but back then, they didn't care to count themselves either FN or Metis.  

Her mother, Jeanne Beaudoin, nee Charbonneau, was proven to be the daughter of Ojibway Pierre Charbonneau and Osage Josette Bonneterre. In today’s ruling on status, Jeanne Beaudoin would not have been Metis, having two First Nation parents, she would have been a First Nations woman. 

Victoria, me, my mother Cecile and my Grandfather Pierre Mercier
It should be noted that back then, Metis people did not want First Nation status, in fact they tried to conceal their bloodline and they worked to fit into mainstream society. The ramifications of the North West Resistance and the open racism toward Indigenous people had those who could, hide. My GGrandfather Narcisse Beaudoin's tombstone reads Nelson Bowdwine. He changed his name to try to sound/look English and thus white. He likely couldn't even pronounce the name. 

The next and final stage of my voyage was to ask Kris to plot out a trip that Vicki, Victoria and I would make, a trip to the homelands of these amazing people. 

We flew to Winnipeg, rented a car and drove to Kranzburg, South Dakota. There, we found the resting place of my GGGrandmother, Jeanne Beaudoin/nee Charbonneau. Victoria and I offered tobacco and played our honour song for her. 

We then drove across the Northern US, the same trip that our ancestors made, back to Bay Settlement in Wisconsin. As Kris predicted, we were unable to find Pierre Charbonneau or Josette Bonneterre's resting places but we did find the church in which they were married. And of course, we visited the towns and churches that Kris suggested we visit, that included the church where Odille was married. Can you imagine the pleasure that brought to me? I am French, Ojibway and Osage and I am Proud to be Metis.

I could obviously go on and on as I love speaking of them. Yes, I have written two books to honour them, The Secret of Your Name and Proud to be Metis.

Finally, allow me to share a couple pieces that speak to my journey and the pride I have in my ancestors and in my being Metis. 


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Thoughts on tattoos

Have you ever noticed how many Indigenous people and/or African Canadian or Americans are tattooed? Have you ever wondered why? Here are the thoughts of one who has lived in both worlds - white and Indigenous.

Turn on CNN or Fox or NBC or any major American network and spend 30 minutes witnessing their values, their hopes and their dreams. What you will soon come to see is that the vast majority of advertisements deal with "how to best save for your old age" or "how to extend your life"..."how to give your earnings to those who can spend them in your best interest". Almost everything you'll see deals with your dreaming of tomorrow, not today (and that sadly includes so much of religion).

A tattoo? How will it look when you are 94? If someone sees you tattooed, what will they think? Does a tattoo not mean that you are not living your life based on the common norms of living for tomorrow and not for today.

As a white person (I lived 44 years not knowing I was Metis), I spent my energies planning for the future. Pensions aside, I had a ten year plan, a five and a one year plan. As a principal, I had a monthly, weekly and daily plan. I had professional and personal plans. Heck, I had plans for those around me who didn't seem to have their own plans.

And then, my Grandmother came to me. Then, I came to see that I should turn around and swim downstream...rather than fighting my way upstream for whatever reason - education, money or ego, I learned to swim downstream and I allowed her the control that would make my life whole.

I quit my job and did that which I was meant to do - I began storytelling. That was 20 years ago. I turned myself over to my Grandmother (genetic direction) in all I do and in everything I am. And it's been good.

How does all this apply to tattoos?

Well, we Indigenous people tend to be storytellers. Through whatever means, be it art or music or sharing story as I do, we believe in and love stories. We use them to teach, to heal and to pray. Few will argue that tattoos are stories.

Secondly, no one knows, least alone me, how long I will live. To plan my holidays or where I will live or to plan my future on the assumption that I will be here for however long seems absurd. At the age of 64, I have watched my kids get inked. I am watching the youth I work with get inked. And I am seeing people of all ages and professions telling their stories through ink. And I liked it. Who better to get tattooed than a professional story teller?

The b&w showing above is my left arm. I thought out and planned and carefully selected an artist for each of the three. Each tells a story.

This summer, I am celebrating my writings and my books. With the help of tattoo artist Brian Dangerfield (and don't kid yourself...most of these tattoo artists are exactly that, artists who are aware of the impact they are having on their living canvasses) I am getting tattoed. We are using ideas and images taken from my book The Journal of Etienne Mercier, specifically my Raven Clement perched on a Haida canoe.

Simply put: fun!