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Forums » Smalltalk » AMA: I am Teacher in a Northern Indigenous Reserve

Hello there,
I am a white teacher working in a Reserve for a school that goes nursery to 10, with students in grade 11 and 12 going to other communities for a full time experience.

I can't speak to the indigenous perspective, but I can answer some questions through observations and conversations and what I've been taught that I am able to pass on. I am not a traditional knowledge keeper, so please if you are able to go to someone who would know these things go to them. The people I work with are Inninew, or Cree.

There is only one store here that contains a post office and they can act as a bank. There is also a school and an arena that is closed, as well as the band office. There are two churches, but there was three until recently.

I have worked in city schools so I can answer some things about the differences, though I did not teach the same age while I was in the city.

I can talk about snow, snow days, traditional activities, what is different between the city and reserve, I can talk rez dogs, we can talk about class sizes, what it's like without a fully qualified teaching team, where students are left behind, language, how I'm treated as a white person here, what effects from residential schools I see, how to incorporate more indigenous knowledge into classroom settings, being a teacher in general, being an openly queer teacher, the prices at the store etc.
Kim Site Admin

Why the emphasis on prices in the store? Is there a lot of price gouging?
Talk about the internet situation. (Like I don't know.) Has the produce situation gotten any better? Also, do you have pictures of the doggos? How about a picture of the snowfall from the other week?
Cacophony Topic Starter

Kim wrote:
Why the emphasis on prices in the store? Is there a lot of price gouging?

The emphasis was because it was the first thing that made me cry. We moved to a better community so we have better access, but we still pay a lot more. We can, however, visit a city year round if we drive 4 hours, with another small community a hour away. Compared to our previous community which we could take a ferry and drive for 4 hours in the summer months only.

In order for an example, Current community; Old community; City. All prices are in CAD

a frozen pizza is: $12.99; $15.00; $6.99
2lt Soda: $9.99; 16.99; $1.99
Large bag of chips: $6.99; $8.99; $2.99

Those are things I've checked the price for. I've gotten to the point where I don't look because I'll see something for $20+ that I know would be around $5 or $6 in the city.
There is only one store here that contains a post office and they can act as a bank. There is also a school and an arena that is closed, as well as the band office. There are two churches, but there was three until recently.

replace churches with gas stations and that's the town i grew up in, potawatomi reserve in michigan (which is like canada's more lawless louisiana, if that helps orient statians)

is it a "state" school? like who writes the paycheck, the canadian gov or the community itself? we had a state school in the commercial town (post office, single grocery warehouse, gas station) that COULD accept enrollment but most families chose homeschooling with federal testing mile markers (so like, GED and SAT test scores instead of institutional GPAs).

second: homeschool kids would develop vastly different emotional skillsets from the publicly schooled (different, not better nor worse), and the opinion was usually because the family unit and reachable community was a type of infrastructure that workingclass american kids otherwise don't experience to such a degree (like smalltown mentality vs big city hubbub).

so like, is it easier teaching in a tribal school, or more difficult for you, compared to any experience in a more metropolitan / busier / crowded school system? or is it just micro macro as above so below no change at all but the volume? (a kid is a kid is a kid, turtles all the way down lol)
Cacophony Topic Starter

winplaceshow wrote:
Talk about the internet situation. (Like I don't know.) Has the produce situation gotten any better? Also, do you have pictures of the doggos? How about a picture of the snowfall from the other week?

Internet
For almost two years I did not have internet access. In our current community we waited 4 months to get a phone and once we got a phone we began to call. First someone told us they do not service our community, which was a lie, as our neighbour had it. We still had a dish attached to our house for it. Eventually told us that we could be put on a wait list if someone else lost their internet. The second company we called straight told us that they were waiting to pull out. No new accounts and they were putting pressure for people to close their accounts so they could just pull out completely.

We had internet access at the school, however, it was very limited. If too many teachers were entering attendance at the same time it might slow down so much no one would be able to load the pages.

We finally got access in April of May of this year. We spent every lock down with no internet. Some of our lock downs were two months. We spent more than half off 2020 in lock down.

Produce
There was a pineapple, a watermelon, AND a coconut last week, but only one of each. We've been getting berries, usually blueberries and strawberries. Otherwise we just have small yellow onions, russet potatoes, tomatoes, and sometime cucumbers. Oh, I've seen button mushrooms occasionally.

I do not have pictures of the doggos, but I will start taking pictures. Most of them are skittish, but there are some sweet ones. I found a couple to share.

w7enmby.jpg
This monster briefly lived with me until he decided it was his mission to destroy me and my other dog decided it was her mission to destroy him. He found a nice home being a rez dog in my old community. I am told he is fat and lazy and happy.

uZQpnU4.jpg
A good driver. 10/10

nijaOoi.jpg
A cute puppy. I'm not sure where they are now.

DQ1WmoD.jpg
This is Radar. He almost came to live with me, but now he's living down the street.

I9vB7SN.jpg
This is my dog. She is a pampered princess who will not eat her dinner unless she knows we will not fill her up on human food and she cries to be let on the couch. She was once abandoned at a camp site not far from where I currently live, so she might have been a rez dog before. We think she might be an American Dingo because her look and temperament.

g4nSVAx.jpg
Bonus bad dog. This bad dog was harassing the garbage can at McDonalds.

Snow????

OU79cFp.jpg
Later the same night, this had doubled in size. I'd take a picture now, but it's -30c (-22 f) and I am not opening the door for anything if I don't need to.
Cacophony Topic Starter

oven wrote:

is it a "state" school? like who writes the paycheck, the canadian gov or the community itself?


so like, is it easier teaching in a tribal school, or more difficult for you, compared to any experience in a more metropolitan / busier / crowded school system? or is it just micro macro as above so below no change at all but the volume? (a kid is a kid is a kid, turtles all the way down lol)

(Cut down a bit so I could see the questions easier!)
So, it's a bit different here how funding works. It's municipal, federal, and provincial for a variety of different parts. I am a part of a school district, however. Our school district has several "areas" and actually covers much of the province. There are very few completely band run schools, most have joined in one school district or another so they can get some more of the benefits. On average, here in Canada indigenous kids get 30% less funding than non-indigenous kids, and many families don't have enough money to afford the offset.

My class sizes are smaller here. In my class I have less than 20 students and on average probably 10-12 come a day. Some students I will see five or six times all year. Others I will see for a couple of months and then they'll drop off the face of the earth.

I have more kids who have learning disabilities, but I think that has more to do with the fact there isn't a "better" school to send them. In the city I used to live in had several schools with much better resources for those with learning disabilities. Families could enroll them where they could get much better help and still be intigrated. Here, we have no where else for them to go. You get all of the kids in grade whatever and you just have to do what you can to give everyone the best education.

The behaviour problems are more noticeable and reading levels are very low (I have 9 kids who are in the kindergarten or lower range for reading in grade 5). Parental involvement is different and it really can be seen in the classroom. However, there isn't an entitlement with a lot of the kids here, whereas when I worked in the city, it was clear that some of the kids thought they were better than you.
Ooooh

i don't know if these are thornier questions, because i feel this from a place of optimism (and really enjoy solutionsss hahaha), so

are there programs that people can donate to, that DON'T rely on merit-based things like grades or attendance? by that i mean, instead of scholarships which ignore / erase persons with disabilities, is the reservation / nation running anything in the way of an infrastructure fund that the greater public can support? (i can find them if you're not comfortable offering links or if the access to them isn't necessarily online, this is just for curiosity's sake)

"Others I will see for a couple of months and then they'll drop off the face of the earth." probably for seasonal travel or harvest labor, i'm guessing? xD just checking in with their local bookmancer to see if you need anything?
In that system, where do the standards come from? Where I live, the state has a document saying what kids need to know or do in each grade level (like, identify the branches of government, analyze an informational text, write a personal narrative, change fractions into decimals, yada yada yada). Who decides those kinds of things in an indigenous school? Is it the school district that chooses the standards, or the teacher themselves, or the tribe, or the province? *curious*


Oh, and what are some interesting cultural differences between living on a reservation and living in a city that people who live in a city wouldn't ever know about?

What foods do indigenous people mostly eat and are they healthier than your typical people in a Westernized society big city?
Cacophony Topic Starter

oven wrote:
Ooooh

i don't know if these are thornier questions, because i feel this from a place of optimism (and really enjoy solutionsss hahaha), so

are there programs that people can donate to, that DON'T rely on merit-based things like grades or attendance? by that i mean, instead of scholarships which ignore / erase persons with disabilities, is the reservation / nation running anything in the way of an infrastructure fund that the greater public can support? (i can find them if you're not comfortable offering links or if the access to them isn't necessarily online, this is just for curiosity's sake)

"Others I will see for a couple of months and then they'll drop off the face of the earth." probably for seasonal travel or harvest labor, i'm guessing? xD just checking in with their local bookmancer to see if you need anything?

For the first question, I'm not sure of anything like that. We have attendance awards on occasion, but with COVID those kinda dried up as out attendance dipped further than normal. ~60-75% is on the higher end of attendance for a month.

There are occassionally trips for kids, and I'm setting one up for 2 years from now (we need time to fundraise) and the rules are that they need to be working their best in class (not grades based, effort based) and attend more than 50% of the time. I tend to grade kids for effort rather than exact knowledge. If little Alistair is reading at a grade 1 level, but tries to read out loud and does silent reading each day for at least half the time, I will give them a higher mark than Juliette who reads at a grade 5 level but refuses to do any reading out loud and just stares at the same page for all of silent reading. This is not the greatest example because I don't mark them on silent reading.

As for kids not coming sometimes it's that they're out on the land. Sometimes the adults worry. One of the parents of a former student of mine was in residential school and she worried so much about her daughter being in school she struggled to let her daughter go to school. Sometimes parents don't care, or don't know how to care because they were taught to fear school or they were taught not to care. Parents not caring has a direct line from residential schools and how indigenous people have been treated by the school system, which is not an excuse, but something to be aware of before judging them.
Cacophony Topic Starter

Abigail_Austin wrote:
In that system, where do the standards come from? Where I live, the state has a document saying what kids need to know or do in each grade level (like, identify the branches of government, analyze an informational text, write a personal narrative, change fractions into decimals, yada yada yada). Who decides those kinds of things in an indigenous school? Is it the school district that chooses the standards, or the teacher themselves, or the tribe, or the province? *curious*


Oh, and what are some interesting cultural differences between living on a reservation and living in a city that people who live in a city wouldn't ever know about?

What foods do indigenous people mostly eat and are they healthier than your typical people in a Westernized society big city?

We use provincial standards. There is even a curriculum document for our local language, Cree. However, it is at teacher discretion. For example there are 5 parts for science each year. There is rarely time for all 5 to be finished, so we need to decide if we do all of some, or some of all. I personally do some of all, with some time to go back if we have a chance. We do have a special program we do with math that has been put together to make the most important math get taught each year, but again, we do what we can to teach them the skills they need and if we need to go back to grade 1 to teach a skill they missed then so be it. We try to meet them where they are.

There are classes that are built from teachers, but there currently aren't at my school. I don't think I would have the energy to write a curriculum for anything.

Teachers are generally better respected on the rez. People know we're important and as long as we aren't assholes, we are pretty well respected. There are some helicoptor parents, but for the most part when I call home I'm not getting "Oh, Alistair would never do that!"

Kids also go through more traumas so they grow up faster. My grade 5's are about where I would put my grade 9s from the city. It takes longer to get them to trust you, but it takes nothing less than full abandonment to get them to stop loving you.

The kids rarely call you by your name. You get used to being called "teacher" very quickly. I have a few kids who call me by my name, but most still just call me teacher.

Because of the store, most of what is eaten here is crap. There are high rates of diabetes* and other food related health issues. Some people hunt and fish, but most just get their meals from the store and we don't have vegetables or good food in general. Some people have gardens but they offer so little and the growing season is about a month and a half.

*ETA: I don't know much about diabetes, I do know the food that is offered here is not the best for take care of one's body.
Ben Moderator

Wow I'm so grateful to you for creating this thread. I loved seeing the good (and bad) doggos :D

What are some of the biggest things you have learned from your indigenous students?

Have you developed new coping mechanisms for life in that area? How long did it take you to settle into a routine that felt good?
quote
Cacophony wrote:
Abigail_Austin wrote:
In that system, where do the standards come from? Where I live, the state has a document saying what kids need to know or do in each grade level (like, identify the branches of government, analyze an informational text, write a personal narrative, change fractions into decimals, yada yada yada). Who decides those kinds of things in an indigenous school? Is it the school district that chooses the standards, or the teacher themselves, or the tribe, or the province? *curious*


Oh, and what are some interesting cultural differences between living on a reservation and living in a city that people who live in a city wouldn't ever know about?

What foods do indigenous people mostly eat and are they healthier than your typical people in a Westernized society big city?

We use provincial standards. There is even a curriculum document for our local language, Cree. However, it is at teacher discretion. For example there are 5 parts for science each year. There is rarely time for all 5 to be finished, so we need to decide if we do all of some, or some of all. I personally do some of all, with some time to go back if we have a chance. We do have a special program we do with math that has been put together to make the most important math get taught each year, but again, we do what we can to teach them the skills they need and if we need to go back to grade 1 to teach a skill they missed then so be it. We try to meet them where they are.

There are classes that are built from teachers, but there currently aren't at my school. I don't think I would have the energy to write a curriculum for anything.

Teachers are generally better respected on the rez. People know we're important and as long as we aren't assholes, we are pretty well respected. There are some helicoptor parents, but for the most part when I call home I'm not getting "Oh, Alistair would never do that!"

Kids also go through more traumas so they grow up faster. My grade 5's are about where I would put my grade 9s from the city. It takes longer to get them to trust you, but it takes nothing less than full abandonment to get them to stop loving you.

The kids rarely call you by your name. You get used to being called "teacher" very quickly. I have a few kids who call me by my name, but most still just call me teacher.

Because of the store, most of what is eaten here is crap. There are high rates of diabetes* and other food related health issues. Some people hunt and fish, but most just get their meals from the store and we don't have vegetables or good food in general. Some people have gardens but they offer so little and the growing season is about a month and a half.

*ETA: I don't know much about diabetes, I do know the food that is offered here is not the best for take care of one's body.



Thank you for the answers. Interesting to read.
Cacophony Topic Starter

Ben wrote:
Wow I'm so grateful to you for creating this thread. I loved seeing the good (and bad) doggos :D

What are some of the biggest things you have learned from your indigenous students?

Have you developed new coping mechanisms for life in that area? How long did it take you to settle into a routine that felt good?

Patience. Many of them haven’t had teacher who care so they can be stand offish and sometimes mean, but a lot of it comes down to the fact that teachers come and go and the relationships they build are sometimes broken before they can really start. This is my third year with my current school, and I finally have kids calling me by my name. When I say “next year, maybe” they don’t just shut down. Teaching in the north is hard, but I really wouldn’t trade it, unless I have to for my health.

So, I have to admit that I have agoraphobia. I have my safe spaces and one is the school. One is my house. I’m trying to get out more, it northern life agrees with me because I don’t need to go out shopping. I don’t need to go to the movies with friends, I can stay home and no one thinks I’m being a jerk because I’d rather be at home in my robe eating cake alone.

Otherwise I have my partner with me, we have been together for a long time and we don’t need to talk to communicate. We also have our dog which helps. My main advice is that if you do, prepare to be adopted by a million families, and take someone you care about with you. Or get a pet.
Ben Moderator

Cacophony wrote:
Ben wrote:
Wow I'm so grateful to you for creating this thread. I loved seeing the good (and bad) doggos :D

What are some of the biggest things you have learned from your indigenous students?

Have you developed new coping mechanisms for life in that area? How long did it take you to settle into a routine that felt good?

Patience. Many of them haven’t had teacher who care so they can be stand offish and sometimes mean, but a lot of it comes down to the fact that teachers come and go and the relationships they build are sometimes broken before they can really start. This is my third year with my current school, and I finally have kids calling me by my name. When I say “next year, maybe” they don’t just shut down. Teaching in the north is hard, but I really wouldn’t trade it, unless I have to for my health.

So, I have to admit that I have agoraphobia. I have my safe spaces and one is the school. One is my house. I’m trying to get out more, it northern life agrees with me because I don’t need to go out shopping. I don’t need to go to the movies with friends, I can stay home and no one thinks I’m being a jerk because I’d rather be at home in my robe eating cake alone.

Otherwise I have my partner with me, we have been together for a long time and we don’t need to talk to communicate. We also have our dog which helps. My main advice is that if you do, prepare to be adopted by a million families, and take someone you care about with you. Or get a pet.

You have a wonderful perspective ❤
Can you talk about what healthcare is like in that area? I know that the options are a little bit different for Indigenous people.
Cacophony Topic Starter

winplaceshow wrote:
Can you talk about what healthcare is like in that area? I know that the options are a little bit different for Indigenous people.

So we have a nursing station here. There are supposed to be 4 nurses here to help with things, with a doctor, dentist, mental health worker, and optometrist who come in on schedules. If more care is needed, treaty members can get free flights, hotel, and food while they visit whichever doctor you need to see. All of this is covered due to treaties, however it doesn’t pay for everything and there are restrictions. I don’t know what all the restrictions are, but I will look into it when I have a moment.

I am supposed to be able to see the nurse, but so far this has not happened. My partner and I drive into the city to get whatever care I need or I take telehealth. Sometimes I need referrals from a “local authority” but I am unable to get them to call me back in a timely fashion. I have missed windows for blood work because I have been bumped from the list.

Trans health care is nothing here. There is a place called Klinic that takes care of much of the stuff, but they are open three days a week between 9:30 and 4:00 during which time I am at the school working. It has been endless phone tag for my top surgery. Hopefully soon.

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