| Jun 05, 2008

Jun 5/08 - Early Literacy

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Early Literacy - June, 2008 An Apology to First Nationsby Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist, HFL&A

“Sorry,” Alicia mumbled grudgingly. She didn’t see the point. She didn’t think it was fair. But her dad had said, “Say you’re sorry!” and so she had.

Tears welled in the corner of Jordan’s eye and trickled down his reddened cheek. “I’m sorry.” No coaching prompted his heart-felt words.

Apologies are more than words. The entire nation has been keenly attentive to Stephen Harper’s apology to Aboriginal people on June 11. Did his words reflect something deeper than reconciliation? Did they reveal respect and admiration for a people through whom early European settlers owe their very survival, and through whom modern day environmentalists and some politicians recognize the teachings about Mother Earth as progressive?

An apology from someone who represents the voice of Canadians is tremendously significant. Yet the power of healing and wholeness among Aboriginal people will be felt more pervasively when mainstream Canadians become curious about Aboriginal culture; when they try to discover why Aboriginal teachings, culture and individuals inspire deep respect.

Stories can help us in our quest for understanding. The Seven Grandfather Teachings of love, knowledge, honesty, strength, humility, bravery, respect, for example, are embedded in many Aboriginal tales. Often a trickster with names like Coyote or Iktomi appears in stories as a mischief maker who wants to get the better of others but cannot because he hasn’t been honest or humble or learned one of these seven teachings.

The Song Within My Heart by David Bouchard is the story of a young Cree boy from a reserve in Saskatchewan who is going to a Powwow for the first time. His Kokum (grandmother) teaches him how to listen carefully to the drumming and singing to learn their message for him.

Turtle’s Race With Beaver by Joseph and James Bruchac is an Aboriginal tale reminiscent of the Tortoise and the Hare. Turtle wakens from hibernation to discover his home pond has been claimed by Beaver. Beaver doesn’t want to share the pond and challenges Turtle to a swim across the pond. The winner of the race will be allowed to stay. The loser will have to find a new home. Turtle uses wisdom over physical strength to win the race, and Beaver learns humility and respect.

First Nation Communities Read has chosen Ancient Thunder by Leo Yerxa as their pick for 2008. This beautiful picture book and winner of a Governor General’s Literary Award depicts the power of wild horses from an Ojibway perspective.

Educators and parents may find The First Nations Reading Circle a helpful resource for exploring Aboriginal books and culture with young children in their classrooms or home. The program, available on-line at http://www.sols.org/links/clearinghouse/firstnations/readingcircles/index1.htm, includes eleven different Aboriginal themes using a variety of books and activities that focus on making Aboriginal stories relevant to children in 2008.

We need to say “I’m sorry”, but the sincerity of our nation’s apology will be truly felt when we are also able to humbly say to Aboriginal people “Meegwetch, thank you.”

Susan Ramsay is the Early Literacy Specialist for Hastings, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington. You can contact her at 613-354-6318 (ext 32)

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