Saturday, July 29, 2017

WIPCE 2017

I was privileged to speak at the World Indigenous Conference on Education, July 24, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario.  My topic was Pedagogy of Indigenous Health: Indigenizing Curriculum for Community Wellness.  This is a very important issue as indigenous peoples from around the world embark on a journey to reclaim their identity and culture.  

I spoke to many delegates from around the world, saw old friends and made new friends.  I didn't take many pictures because I felt uncomfortable taking pictures and decided to just be.  So, the best and most interesting accounts are stored in my memory.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Deranger Brothers

Donald, Ronnie, Peter, Rossi, Max, Adam, (bottom) Billy, Freddy
Growing up with ten brothers, plus one, in the hamlet of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta was crazy hectic and unpredictable. I was always surrounded with strong-minded guys who knew how to diffuse conflict using humour and straight talk.   We have our differences but they will always hold a sacred place in my world. They are respectful of women, that is important quality to me.  Moreover, I never have to worry that they would disown me over any disagreements.  My brothers have never treated me badly, never said an unkind word about me or to me. We are family in every sense of the word. My brothers treated me like brothers treat their baby sister do the world over, teasing me, challenging me and protecting me. 

I am grateful that my brothers have the kindest heart and are responsible men; even through they experienced many challenges in their life. They struggle with their own demons resulting from residential school.  Although, they didn't all go to residential school, but the older ones, still had to go to Edmonton for high school.  

Some of my brothers fought alcohol abuse, and by-in-large, I am pleased to say they won.  I continue learning from them.    The bond that connects us is our culture and Denesuline language.  

Peter Deranger 2010
I love this picture, i took it at breakfast 2016
Peter is my oldest brother.  My earliest memory of him was in Uranium City, Saskatchewan.  He carries me through dense bushes on a narrow pathway until we reached the edge of the lake where a floatplane was waiting for me.  I remember my little arms clinging to his neck and didn’t want to let go; he whispered, be a big girl, as he handed me over to someone standing on the floats.  I watched him getting smaller and smaller as the plane went higher up into the sky.  He stood there, waving until I could not see him any longer. I think I was about three years old.
He always had a stacks of books, which I remember reading when I was younger.   He loves reading. 
Peter was an environmentalist, before the word became politically correct. And when it actually meant a way of life. He lived a simple life on the land with his young family when he was a young man.  Later, he became an activist and fought for Indigenous rights across Canada and into the United States. He is also a writer and a darn good storyteller.   He is a gentle man, not known for any outbursts and holds an attitude that is akin to a wise old man.  He is a hippie elder. 
“The land is our life.  We are related and connected spiritually to all creation. The wind of the north, east, south, and the west, is our breath of life.” Peter
“There was a time, a long, long, time ago, old people say “ inkonze” (traditional knowledge) ancient times. The legend says that animals turned themselves into people; salmon people, crow people, bear people, caribou people, etc.  and they would visit among real people.  They came to teach us how to care for our animal relatives and the lands we shared. However, in the early 1950’s when the children were forced into the mission, nuns and priest told us not to believe in these stories old people told us. Then we were taught to laugh at the legends.  We were told that our grandfathers were superstitious and simple.  Sadly our animal relatives communicated with us no more.”  That is how we lost our power. The truth is, this ancient power is still there.  It survives deep in our DNA, deep, in our soul and mind.  All we have to do is awaken it. Go to the land, sleep under the stars and among the trees.” Peter

I have many memories of Freddy when I was young.  I remember his wedding; it was December 27, just after Christmas.  His bride Hazel was so beautiful, they both looked so happy, over 300 well-wishers arrived at our house in Doghead after the church service, all in a celebratory mood. 

He was amusing. Once when I was living with him in Fort Chipewyan; he came home after getting a loan for his business.  He had tons of money. More money than I ever saw, which he proceeded to throw on the bed and told me to play in the money. I started jumping up and down on it.  He stood there laughing while I rolled all over the money.  Crazy what we remember as kids!

Freddy is a kind charismatic man.  He loves history and mathematics.  He has strong views on politics, which we sometimes disagree on.  I like that we can disagree on something and moments later he will tell me a joke.  He does not hold grudges and his smile can be so disarming.  His favorite saying to me is “Don’t say I know!”  And, I would say I know.  Lol

Jimmy is the brother who once took me to a political delegation meeting.  And before I knew it he was telling me I should go on stage to put my name forward to be a delegate. Next thing you know, I was on the plane to Ottawa as a youth delegate, sponsored by the Ghermezian brothers, famous for building the West Edmonton Mall.  I have no idea how he got them to sponsor me! 

He studied political science in university and was always interested in politics.  We could talk for hours about it.  He gave me so many recommendations of books on history and politics. He however, never forgot his roots and balanced city life with the natural appeal for the simple life of the land.

As an elder he has so much knowledge and is willing to share them with anyone who wants to listen. He calls me “the most beautiful big baby girl in the world! ” 

I will always remember Billy for his humour.  Politically astute and brilliant at making people feel at ease. A month before he passed away he called me and said he didn’t think he would make it until Christmas. I said, "don’t say that!"  But he knew, I am glad he called to talk to me before he died just before Christmas. 
He was a welder by trade. 

When I was young he would tease me all the time.  Once, after some of the boys came back with fish, just as he was going to tell me not to touch it, I had already put my little hand in the fish’s mouth and it closed around it. I yelled! He carefully opened the mouth and took my hand out. Then laughing, he told me to stick with washing dishes and leave the fish to the big boys.   

I never heard Pat raise his voice at anyone.  He is a gentle and calm man.  One of my favorite memories of him was when he received a guitar for Christmas.  He taught himself how to play within no time. 

And I will always hold as a special memory of when he told me about why love was the strongest emotion one could have.  He said, nothing else mattered but love. 

He is now a respected elder and teaches others about the special relationship between mother earth and humans.

Ronnie’s eyes sparkle like diamonds!  You get right away that he has found inner peace and wisdom. A memory I have is of him telling me to get onto the handle bar of his bike.  I remember feeling safe as the wind blew my hair, but at the same time, still feeling absolute fear as he peddled faster down the hill in Doghead.  In this memory, I still feel both the exhilaration and fear. 

He is an amazing human being, with so much positive energy.  He never complains about anything or anybody.  He practices Zen meditation.  He has learned how to cultivate mindfulness and positive energy. In fact, he is the person who introduces me to Buddhism after our brother Christopher died.  The fist book he gave me was “Living in theFace of Death”.  After reading the book on the plane from Regina, Saskatchewan to Ottawa, Ontario, I was convinced that Buddhism was right for me. 

Donald is my nephew but we were raised together, making him more like a brother.  I looked up to him.

He always had this big grin and a pleasant disposition. Since he is older than me, I remember him always being responsible and hard working.   I remember when he ran for school president on the student council,  the first thing he did was get a movie projector for the school.  I thought at the time that he could and would do anything he sets his mind on. 
One summer when the family was on N22, he went missing.  Everyone was searching for him.  Thankfully, I think, it was two days later, he walked back into camp.  

He walks the fine line of being a cultural man and being on the board of directors of  a major oil company.  He understands the struggle of protecting the environment and the necessary economy of First Nations.  He is a forward thinker, you might even say, futurist.    Certainly he is a man in the unique position of being from the past, present and future. 

My memory of Roger is he loved studying religion.  When he was about 13 he had developed arthritis in his knees but that never stopped him from doing things.  Even today, nothing stops him from getting where he needs to be.  He is the epitome of the nomadic spirit.  
One Christmas, he gave me an album - the Jungle Book.  I really loved that movie and would play the record all the time.  I don’t even know where he bought it.
A couple of years ago before our mom died, we both were heading into the hospital when a lady approached us.  We stopped and Roger started speaking Denesuline with her in a dialect I didn’t recognize.  He was speaking with ease, which really surprised me.   As it turns out he speaks many Denesuline dialects fluently.  Who knew?  It is something he picked up in his travels among the various Dene from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and NWT.
Roger is an artist. He studied journalism and native communications.  That investigative nature continued as he traveled around to different communities. He is a writer and is currently working on a collection of stories. 

This is an excerpt of his writing; 
I was spending Christmas at my mom’s place in Fort McMurray, where she moved in 1975, when I received an unexpected phone call from Yellowknife, NT.  It was a job offer that was to begin on January 2nd, 1982, in the land of the midnight sun. They offered me a journalist position over the phone writing for a bi-weekly native newspaper. That call made my day and my answer without hesitation was, “yes,” to be a newspaper reporter for a native paper that is what I went to university for. My expectation and enthusiasm was over the moon. Once, again, I’m going to experience something new, the people and the land!  However, I wasn’t in a rush. I enjoyed my time with my late mother at her Christmas dinner, and then I had a good few days with the rest of my family. I told them that I am leaving again. By now, most of them didn’t care because they were getting used to me traveling all the time.
Being up North overwhelmed me with something I can’t describe. Whatever it is, it first took my spirit in 1979 when I first went up there and it will forever be a part of who I am.  I was looking forward to this new adventure. 

1957 – 2016
He was my big brother, my protector and we were very close.   He could make me laugh like no other person and we certainly had plenty of laughs over many years.  I am so thankful to have had him in my life.  We spent so much time together, sometimes in silence. 
An early memory is when we were playing with a little ax in the yard.  We were way too young to play with axes.  Not sure how it happened but I ended up with almost cutting my tiny finger off and Rossi ran to get help.  I think, he always felt bad about it. 
Rossi loved to travel and hitched hiked across Canada when he was only 14 years old to visit a cousin in Ontario.  He was adventurous and playful but also had his serious moody side. 
Music and driving were his passions. He loved driving and earned a good living driving taxi in Edmonton for many years. 

I smile when I think about Chris, because I always think about this incident when we were young.  Chris and his best buddy Colin used to play in the hills behind our houses.  One evening we were waiting for him to come in for supper.  One of my other brothers went out to get him, apparently he was afraid to come home.  When we saw him at the door, we all burst out laughing.  He stood there, face blackened, and no eyebrows.  Apparently, he and Colin were trying to light a can and it blew up in their faces.  Fortunately, they were not hurt, just embarrassed.  
Chris was a great dad and loved his children.  You would see him taking them for walks all the time. 

Max is my youngest brother. Max was always very athletic.  When he was in high school he was part of a wrestling team and apparently very good too.  I remember when he came to visit me at university, he would walk up six flights with weights on his legs and still made it to the top before me. I don’t have many memories of him when we were young because he would always travel with our mom during the summer months to visit relatives in Saskatchewan. I remember that he loved to play with his cars and line them up across the living room floor.  And no one could touch them. 

Max is a deep thinker and mostly keeps to himself.  He is called “bushman” by some of his friends because he lives to be in the bush.   He is also a very compassionate person and was the caretaker of both our parent when they got older and needed someone to be there with them all the time.  He also took care of Rossi the summer of 2016 after the fire in Fort McMurray.  I think he missed his calling as a nurse. 
A couple of years ago he came to visit me in Ontario.  It was so nice to have him here.  Not only because he shovelled the snow. Lol  

Sunday, June 18, 2017


24 years and still he is part of our life... A time passed.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017


First Nation peoples in Alberta and Saskatchewan are all talking among themselves about an historic offer to settle their claim.  Earlier in 2017 some twenty Treaty No. 8 first nations received an offer from the Federal Government of Canada on an outstanding 1899 Treaty 8 specific obligation. It is unprecedented, but it took 118 years to get there!!! That is what I call patience.  The offer stems from a clause under the treaty addressing the agricultural benefits or, as it is known by the beneficiaries, “Cows and Ploughs”. 

It has been a long, protracted and expensive process to say the least. Most of the Treaty No. 8 First Nations submitted their specific claims to Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Specific Claims Branch for outstanding agricultural benefits in the early 1990s.  Around 2010, Canada took the position that all Treaty 8 First Nations with an outstanding agricultural benefits claim had to collectively negotiate their claim, which is when things began to move forward.  Albeit slowly.   It would still take an additional 6 years before a settlement offer that was worth taking back to their members was presented to the First Nations.

The Chiefs say they want members to vote to keep the bulk of the settlement in a trust for the use and benefit of future generations.  Members, on the other hand, see that Treaty obligation differently. For one, they believe they are the future generations of a Treaty that was signed 118 years ago. Moreover, they take this position from the Treaty document itself. This specific claim is different from other claims that are tied to land rights. In claims for lost land, the compensation replaces a capital asset, namely reserve land, which is held collectively as a whole for all members.

However, the agricultural benefit Treaty right benefits both the First Nation as whole and individual families. Most of the implements offered in the treaty, like a hoe, shovel, cow, seeds, etc. were to be given to individual families to start a small family farm. Therefore to follow that logic, a reasonable person would naturally accept that the majority of the settlement funds should be distributed to individual members to pursue economic opportunities.

A debate has ensued on whether the agricultural benefits Treaty right is a collective or an individual right.  Although it was not much of a debate at least one Chief and Council flat out refused to hear any other thoughts on the matter.  It is both a collective and individual right.  

While almost all the members believes that Canada’s offer is a fair and equitable offer they are unable to accept the offer because their First Nation is providing only a single ballot question.  Members must accept both the settlement offer and the trust agreement that sets out how the compensation will be distributed, invested and spent.   The ballot could have been set up to permit members to accept separately the settlement and the terms of the trust agreement, but Chief and Council decided not to.

The strong-handed position from Chief and Council is reflected in the voting packages that were mailed out last week, in which the majority of the settlement funds will remain in the hands of Chief and Council.  Members feel their Council never really seriously considered their input and they predetermined what would be in the trust created to accept the settlement.  Indeed, members are furious and upset. That said, at the end of the day, it would be the members who will decide whether to reject or accept the offer by a vote later in June.
A ratification process is underway and it is therefore too late to stop this process.  Those members I have talked to said that when they vote no, a negative vote will not represent a rejection of Canada’s offer but a rejection of Chief and Councils’ forcefully putting forth what they want, regardless of what the members want.

This also begs the questions, why would a Chief and Council who are presumably in power to act on their members’ behalf, refuse to consider their views?  The answer is simple.  The Chief and Council believe that their members are incapable of managing a large sum, even in 2017.     They also believe they know better the needs of their members and how to take care of them.  Sound familiar?

Stay tuned...

  •         Will there be enough “No” votes to reject the settlement?
  •      If so, will Canada allow another ratification vote, knowing that this is not a vote against the offer?
  •       Will the Council work through the internal matters to resolve the terms of the trust to the satisfaction of its members?
UPDATE: Although many members were dissatisfied with the offer from Chief and Council. ACFN MEMBERS VOTED to accept the offer. The truth is many didn't understand or read the package!  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Freeing the EGO

Letting go of control does not have to be difficult. I will occasionally, when I am faced with a decision, stop what I am doing, quiet my mind and concentrate on my breath. I want to make decisions based on a clear mind. The question becomes do I continue control or let it go?

Not all the time, but sometimes I will make an assessment of the situation. What can I do about it? What is the worst thing that would happen if I do nothing? Too often it is our emotions that prevent us from seeing clearly what could be the right action to take. I guess some would call it egotistical, and if I were honest with myself, they would be correct in describing me as such. Most of the time the thought I have is if not me, then who? That is exactly EGO.  My critics will complain that I love control and maybe that is true.  But I also accept a helping hand and like to share in the responsibility. I will work with anyone. I enjoy collaborations.

From the outside looking in, I may appear bossy or always in control. That is a perception some people have of me, and that may or not be true of me.  Okay, I admit I have a healthy ego. I make an effort to control things around me, I like to be in action rather than be passive and let life happens around me. I like affecting change and often don't wait for anyone.  The change I am looking for is always positive change, something to better people's life.  I have the type of personality that when I see that something needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone doing it, I will do take it on.   I want to help.  My advocacy is always to do good on others behalf. If I can make a positive difference, I will do something.   Doing nothing is never an option for me. 

That is my personality failing, which is why I meditate. I want to be less controlling, less judgemental, and more compassionate and loving. I enjoy volunteering, not for any recognition or validate but to get things done.  I am not afraid of putting time into something I feel is important and could perhaps make a difference. 

Like for example, I have undertaken a quest to research and maintain my family tree. This is a good example of taking control of a project. It is a work of passion and on-going, which I began in 2008. If I didn’t do it would it have ever been done, I wonder. I had ten brothers and have five sisters.  That is just the immediate family. I was able to document 152 families and 373 people thus far. I was able to put into the database almost 1,000 family pictures. This has been tremendous amount of work and initially took up many hours of my free time.  However, it has been so satisfying as well. To add to that, I also created a facebook family page, to support the genealogy research I was doing.  I posted the birthdays, births, weddings, graduations, and deaths. This is to ensure my database is correct.  If I made a mistake, someone will tell me, and will I correct the database. Almost everyone in my family knows I am doing this, but no one has offered to help me. That said, to the degree that it is done, I feel a great sense of accomplishment.  

On the other hand, the down side of having created the family facebook group, which allows me to post and manage the page, has opened me to accusations of being too controlling. Recently a family member so “eloquently” said in an emailed to me… I love how u control what it posted and not posted in this group too.... power and control...”    So I decided to add four other family members to the facebook group as administrators.  Doing this gave me a huge relief; I don’t know why it didn't occur to me sooner.  Thank you for pushing me to do that.

We always have a choice of letting go of things. Not taking things too personally. Letting go of always being in control or being right. Because when I think about it , the worst that could have happened if I have never started the family tree and family facebook group, would be nothing.  Yes, nothing, it would not have made any difference to anyone. Maybe another family member would have done it, or maybe not. Either way, it does not matter. Letting go.  Knowing when to let go is liberating.  Knowing I don’t always have to be in control is a freeing. At the end of the day, was it all about my ego?  

I am taking the next step, I have let go completely and remove myself as administrator on the facebook family group page.  Who knows it might just go beyond anything I could have achieved on my own. I look forward to seeing it evolve and thrive by the people I added as admin before I removed myself.  It feels great!    

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dene Poem

Drum Dance
Roger Deranger - Denesuline Artist

Hidden within the Dene forest home
spirits dream enthusiastically to roam
they dwell honorably during mystic time
when the heaven and earth vastly rhyme

upon a painted sunset, a silence broke
it was an ancient flame that spoke
and the drums mysteriously, exhilarate
altering each soul into a radiant state

chants and pulse, conjured, impulsively
blessing everyone into a circular flee
round and around they sacredly dance
drowning themselves into a joyous trance

poured with euphoria, the beings paced
leaving each step then majestically traced
within its midst, the fire proudly sing
drawing the ritual into a universal ring

the stars above also harmonized along
ensuring the divine hoop is kept strong
for every life is absorbed into solidarity
a movement of strength and reassuringly

the dance, song and heartbeat, all is real
giving the entire cycle a seed to heal
from dusk to dark, the spirits fly
until our dance has reached the sky

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Tough Conversation

This is a difficult but necessary conversation.  If a conversation is difficult, then it should be engaged in with as many people as possible. And you know what, it seems like it is never the perfect time the for a difficult conversation.
I am talking about alcoholism, which is not a sexy subject and no one wants to talk about it.
Harold R. Johnson wrote this about it in his book, Firewater - How Alchohol is killing My People (and Yours)
I must speak because so few are speaking.  Our political leaders, our chiefs and councillors, the AFN, the Indian federations, the tribal council – all seem so silent.  
Its impact on lives, particularly in First Nation communities, is well known. I am convinced that there is no other place in Canada that feels the influence of addictions more fully than in a First Nation community.  These communities are tight. Their hearts beat as one.  The saying “all my relations” is not lost here because one quickly realizes how closely related everyone is.  When misfortune befalls one person in the community, everyone feels the pain.   More importantly, they will show up to support one another.  That is one advantage I will always treasure being from one of these communities, my home community.  There really is a true sense of belonging, to being one of the tribe.  Inclusion.
Sadly though, there is no escape from the cruel reality of addictions, it is everywhere.  It breds hopelessness. It permeates the social fabric and, it is unfortunately, intergenerational.
To be sure, it is not for a lack of knowledge that abusive drinking happens. There is already so much information about alcoholism in our communities. For example, that alcohol has both a seductive and destructive nature. It is sneaky like that. The belief is that drinking is started to forget pain and trauma, which works for a short period, but then it quickly becomes the problem. And then health will begin to decline and relationships break down.  Knowing this, why would anyone want to get started?
Instead it is viewed as fun, as “partying.” It enables people to “let off steam” and to “take the edge off.” It is seen as the activitity that brings people together. People even brag about it and post their alcohol-fuelled escapades on social media. Even knowing the harmful nature of alcohol, some think nothing of inviting others to join in this tragic cycle of self-abuse.  The hard truth is that others are taken down too. Like the saying goes “misery loves company.” Especially if they have the means to supply more alcohol, all the while knowing it is wrong but powerless against the allure of booze.
When tragedy strikes due to excess drinking, which it unfortunately and eventually will, its impact reverberates throughout a community like shockwaves.  Mixed emotions stir under the dark blanket of grief.  The shock leaves everyone unable to comprehend the incident.  On some level there is a nagging sense that whatever tragedy happened was preventable. That fact makes any tragedy that much more incomprehensible.  Understandably, the moment right after a tragedy never seems to be time to have a conversation on it, because that would dishonour the victims and bring an inappropriate sense of being judgmental.  Emotions are raw as minds wrestle to comprehend a senseless tragedy. Hearts are broken, dreams  shattered, never to come to pass. 
Because of the overwhelming grief that envelops everyone, there will always be some people who will then turn to drinking to dull the pain, because that is how they deal with pain.  They may even raise a glass or bottle to the victim, not seeing how ironic and empty the gesture is. The vicious cycle continues as people turn to drink to mask their feelings. 
Still, wouldn’t this be an ideal time, the perfect time, to have that very conversation? If only because the incident illustrates so intensely the destructive choices made under the influence of alcohol while it is fresh and before it is swept out of sight, because responding to tragedy must always be sobering, at least at the initial moment of reaction.  Moreover, in small communities, when a tragedy has been caused by alcohol, people know what happened and they know why it happened. To be sure, everyone is thinking about it and talking about it behind closed doors in whispers, in hushed voices barely holding back assigning blame.  Asking the question to themselves and those closest to them, why people are not talking about this together as a community? If there was ever a time to get together as a community, to perhaps reveal some hard truths, could this be the time?
That said, the reasons for all alcohol-related tragedies must be discussed openly and honestly in our communities, not with a sense of judgment or blame, but to ask the simple question: why?  Why does it keep happening, even when we all know the dangers and the illusions that we create for ourselves, like the illusion that drinking to excess is partying, like the illusion that alcohol can help us with pain, like the illusion that the inevitable tragedy will happen to someone else. 
Our people need to talk about these things. To do this is to honour those who lost their battle with addiction, not to blame them; to take something positive and good from their loss, not to condemn them.  It sends a message to everyone in our communities that this issue is serious and it is a problem we all share. 
So, what is stopping our communities from having an honest community dialogue on addictions? Education and awareness can lead to community solutions and healing.  But this alone won’t stop it. What else needs to be done? Who in your community will see this as a call to action?  Who is willing to show up for those who can’t?  Don’t wait for someone else to do it because if not you, who then?  If not now, when?


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