Thursday, July 24, 2014

The AFN...In a state of flux.

The emotional never can be reconciled with the logical. That in itself is a crucial juxtaposition that needs to be respected when discussing the modern relationship between Canadians and indigenous societies in the present context. Indigenous men and women are fervently engaged in the process of bringing to light the inherent rights of their respective nations, and what the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) new premise should be.
   Since the resignation of its first sitting Grand Chief Shawn Atleo five months ago; the AFN have been in a state of flux. The triggering of Atleo’s resignation re-introduced the Confederacy of Nations, put into question its legitimacy to speak on behalf of all indigenous societies in Canada, and more precisely-its lack of representative mandate to the grassroots.
   During the 35th AFN Annual General Assembly held in Nova Scotia in July 2014, the AFN ‘chiefs-in-assembly’ re-examined the executive relationship with its grassroots membership, and what course of action should be taken on several fronts by its council.

Leah Gazan

   Leah Gazan, who teaches in the Faculty of Education at the University of Winnipeg, believes that expecting unanimous consensus regarding the issues facing First Nations-not realistic.
 “Leadership shouldn't be concerned about not always agreeing. It’s okay to disagree. I think that we have to learn that it is okay to disagree…that it is okay that we are not on the same page all the time. That is where creative process occurs and I think it is how we reach as close to consensus as we can. I think we see that at the AFN right now.”

   Gazan is a Lakota from the Wood Mountain Lakota Nation in Saskatchewan. She advocates strongly for a more comprehensive approach with regard to indigenous self-governance, and a re-structuring of existing leadership processes stemming from the Indian Act. Gazan is a pragmatist. She is of the opinion, that if the AFN is to continue-re-structure is needed.
   Not everyone within the AFN’s ‘chiefs-in-assembly’ seemed of like-minded opinion five months ago. Some deemed Atleo’s sudden departure as a welcome step, and considered dissolving the AFN entirely.

Robert Falcon-Ouellette
 Robert Falcon-Ouellette is a mayoral candidate for the City of Winnipeg. Being a Métis (Cree) from the Red Pheasant reserve in Saskatchewan; Falcon-Ouellette has resided in Winnipeg for the past four years with his wife and five children. In terms of the AFN; he believes that the disproportionate lack of representation at the national level is acerbating an already tenuous relationship, “I believe that one of their issues is that they don’t have universal suffrage. Falcon-Ouellette went on to say,
  “If you talk to the actual activists and militants of Idle No More (INM); they’re not satisfied with the status quo that the Chiefs represent. And so these Chiefs are trying to respond to what they see on the ground and they’re not happy and they convey that to the National Chief.  When you look at the agreement between the AFN and the federal government… (INM) felt that the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (FNEA) gave too much power to the federal government and it wasn't enough about indigenous sovereignty.”
   In addition, Gazan reiterated the existing fiduciary relationship between the AFN and the federal government, “The current structure no longer holds relevancy with the changing political landscape in this country. We need a model that supports our nation to nation treaty relationships and we need to move away from the Indian Act.”
   Be that as it may, the AFN executive will need to address the issue of representation. Gazan explained that it might be very well be more of the same, “but it doesn't have to be.”
  Falcon-Ouellette graduated with a PhD. in Anthropological Education, including two Master Degrees (Education and Music) from the University of Laval. He appreciated Atleo’s efforts to pursue and advocate for greater funding from the federal government.
“When you look at Shawn Atleo I believe that he was successful. He managed to get 1.5 billion out of the federal government for education. That is an incredible accomplishment. Not even provincial premiers have been able to do that. When you look at it objectively the inter-play (within the AFN) the Chiefs…is do you negotiate education first? Or do you push for resource development?
Many are looking towards new leadership at the AFN level to answer these fundamental issues. None are questioning the validity of the AFN to advocate on behalf of indigenous peoples in Canada for greater autonomy or the implementation of its Supreme Court rulings via federal legislation, “We (the AFN) still need to interact with the federal government and Canadians,” added Falcon-Ouellette.
  For some, the very political structure being dictated by the federal government is causing a greater rift within First Nations communities. It is what Second Chief Joe Katt, from Temagami First Nation explained to Nigel Irwin (writer for
“In traditional government, the Chief and Council was not elected to make decisions for the people but on behalf of the people. That’s a heck of a big difference. The people have to be in agreement. I hear it in my council all the time: ‘We have to mandate!’ That’s one of the biggest faults with the democratic system. Anybody who is going to run can make all the promises in the world, and yet once they get their power, do whatever the heck they wish. You’ll find some Chiefs who pay themselves an outrageous salary meanwhile their people are suffering from lack of housing, poor education, so on and so forth. The people hold the power and not a group called Chief and Council.”
Gazan surmises that at the national level; Atleo failed to take this into consideration, “Unfortunately he fell into that, and his decisions failed to allow those nation to nation relationships to be honored.”
   She also added some introspection as to the methodology of the AFN, “I support the Treaty Alliance approach because I am getting less and less patient about the Pan-Aboriginal approach to my rights; as an indigenous person in this country without having voice. I have a right to have a say in decisions that will directly affect my life, my child’s life, and the life of my grandchildren in the future.”

Sadie Phoenix-Lavoie
  Sadie-Phoenix-Lavoie is a student (Faculty of Education) at the University of Winnipeg and is currently working as a grade 3-4 instructor for the summer months. She is an Objibway from the Sagkeeng First Nation, and a fierce advocate for indigenous rights. First to call attention to the issues arising within her reservation; Phoenix-Lavoie takes to task her own Chief and Council to bear the consequences of irresponsible leadership. Highly visible within her community, Phoenix-Lavoie advocates for those who cannot, or are too afraid to do so. Her Facebook posts proudly exemplifies what she believes in.
  “…Me speaking about how Sagkeeng defeated the Sagkeeng Hydro Accord & our corrupt C&C. Now is the time to figure out what is next for our community to work on for our future generations...such as renewable energy projects!”
   She is of the opinion that educational indigenous structures need to be individually tailored to the needs of First Nation communities. She identifies with the value of education; including challenging the status quo for something more tangible…uniquely indigenous based.
“I do not believe that it (the AFN) is democratic enough. It is an organization that continues to remain under the Indian Act, and is subject to federal funding, explained Phoenix-Lavoie.
 “The (AFN) governing system is foreign to us as it is to was never meant to speak for the people. It operates and behaves more like a bureaucracy; and that needs to change.”
   More indigenous youth led advocacy groups like Phoenix-Lavoie, are organizing in a way that is difficult for both First Nations leadership and Canadian politicians to ignore. They are setting the stage, demanding the kind of political change that will offer better economic and societal benefits for indigenous people.

  What will Canadians contribute towards a greater re-affirmation of indigenous inherent treaty rights? 

   When discussing the AFN, one cannot ignore the Canadian contingent. Falcon-Ouellette is part of that process. Choosing to run for the mayor-ship of Winnipeg as a Métis; it is his hope to alter the mindset of Canadians through leadership and by example.  What is occurring at the AFN level is a reflection of us all who live in this country.
   Gazan acknowledges the need to engage Canadians on a more intrinsic level; albeit she is not quite convinced that it need occur within the AFN, “I don’t know whether the goal is so much to appeal to Canadians or to find common issues that we can all agree on…I think that’s where we’ll see the most momentum.”
   There is also anger; Canadians can ill afford to ignore this fact. What has been done on behest of Canadian society since first contact needs to be affirmed. Apologies, and introspection is a beginning; but not a solution to the present realities that more needs to be done. The continuing Canadian relationship via its future federal government (s) will either choose to assimilate more indigenous traditionalist values within its political, economic, societal structures or maintain the status quo.

   Irwin writes,
 “Treaties were made long ago, back in the times when the colonialists first made contact, and that (Treaty 1-11) acted as agreements to keep the peace and share the resources. It was never understood that we, as Aboriginals, were expected to give up such a large amount of what the Creator gave us. In essence, we feel cheated and deeply disrespected. That respect is what Aboriginals are really fighting to regain.”
Whether through education, activism, or political engagement; the process of reinventing the AFN may rekindle the desire among non-indigenous and indigenous Canadians to become-united.
“I think that the disorganization in appearance at the AFN is a time of beautiful shift and change and something that has been needed as we break through our own colonial prison. And our own leadership is recognizing that, and they are changing even their own understanding of Indian Act leadership.”-Leah Gazan.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Children books with a Canadian twist...

Randa Handler, journalist, publisher and now author and illustrator of children’s books, is on a mission. Her emphasis on creating original works literature, stem from a primal understanding that universal good is pre-existent; and is purposeful in its re-affirmation, “I really feel that we are all born free of hate. So, my theory is simple, you educate early and open the mind of a child and he or she will grow up into a good human.” 

Randa Handler
As succinct, and ever forthright, she admits that the process of writing for a target audience-children-might not have occurred as readily as it did“I’m sure if they (publicist) were fronting thousands to print hardcovers of my books they might not have.  They might not have gone for an unknown author and unknown illustrator.”

Handler does not shy from the controversial, or what is being perceived as taboo. Her books are a testament to her core philosophy.  ‘The Boy Who Spoke to God’ is a candid discussion in matters of faith. A note to the wise, matters of faith are not exclusive, and as such Handler directs her message accordingly. What is distinctive about the structure of her books is the absence of chapters; boys and girls between the ages of four and nine are-developmentally unique, “I’m testing a new arena— they are between 2500 and 3000 words but still in picture book genre. They can be read to a younger audience but can also be used by parents and teachers to teach reading.”
As adults, and parents Handler believes that we tend to stop looking, analyzing and interpreting concepts through our own ‘child like’ kaleidoscope. She surmises her feelings as to what ‘appropriate reading material’ constitutes for children, “Introducing subject matter in story book form, is not detrimental to a child’s ability to process information. Really it is just that a story. My books are designed to re-engage age specific children, and trigger their interest and instill a love for reading.”
We all strive for diversity, and within children’s literature, Handler provides the necessary mechanisms to enable the ‘bridging’ so to speak, in subject matter that might be otherwise difficult to relate. Exceptional literature is akin to excellent food; it forms the necessary elements to transcend into other forms of communication.
 And in so doing, Handler’s novels are unique; they provide adults the means to communicate with their respective children and introduce societal norms.  ‘If I Were King’ is another novel penned by Handler which in 2013, won a Mom’s Choice Award for excellence.
Frau Hoppe is another children’s author and illustrator and adopts much of Handler’s perspective when creating works of fiction, “Of course I do. Books without aims don't exist. My aim is to convey my way of seeing the world, as an inter exchange. But I wouldn't say I try to teach children a precise relationship to the world through concrete didactic material, like "attitude to nature…"
Handler is of the opinion that children’s imaginations, “…take a much different path, and therefore a different outcome as opposed to adults.” It is the process by which children absorb differences. As adults and parents ourselves, or at least for the majority of us, the idea of introducing material that does not coincide with our own-extremely difficult. In this regard, Handler is quite effective in allaying parental concerns as to the subject matter within her books.  Judging by reviews posted on, many adults relate with what Handler is sharing via her children’s books.
“What a refreshing way to talk about something that people usually have such a problem talking about: religion. I remember as a kid being so stunned when a friend of mine didn't celebrate Christmas and didn't know about Santa. Randa Handler has given parents a great tool to open the conversation about different beliefs without preaching nor taking any sides! The story being told as a fairy tale helps to convey that message very well. I recommend this very highly to any parents or grandparents like me! Very cute and colorful illustrations also.”- Don Shelton
Teaching materials of this nature is garnering attention from educators, behavior and clinical therapists; including librarians around the world.  A brief Google search will expound on numerous reviews such as this one, “‘The Boy Who Spoke to God’ …is a book that for me has its major value in opening up the conversation about God and belief systems in general.”-Carol Smaldino, Psychotherapist and Parenting Columnist.
Handler recognizes the utility of identifying librarians as a prime directive; when speaking of distribution of children’s books. The competitive nature of the market is a reality for novelists and illustrators. There are often the perception that writing for children somehow, is more lucrative and easier. Both Handler and Hoppe dispel this myth.
“I don't know if it's true that children's books actually do sell better. In any case, writing doesn't have a commercial aspect for me. I've never earned substantial sums of money through it.”
Canadian novelists and illustrators also have added barriers when it comes to ‘getting published out there’… Canadian publishing companies are few and far between. It may not have been Handler’s first notion to establish Ravencrest Publishing; but doing so, has given her an added advantage to promote Canadian talent, “… I’m lucky that I found a couple of investors who happen to be in the education field to help with these costs. I find that creating added venues to showcase Canadian content and talent; not only when speaking of children’s books, but for all genres and age groups-adults included.”
Handler is a bright star as a Canadian novelist and illustrator, and can add one more career achievement milestone to an already illustrious career as a journalist.

Ravencrest Publishing Releases Handler’s Boy Who Spoke to God Offering Teachers 25% Discount!
Contact: Eleni Xenos (Ravencrest Publishing) 314-495 8796
Julie Ballou: (Pathway) 800-345 6665
ST Louis, MO (July 11, 2014): Ravencrest Publishing has just released in hardcover, Randa Handler’s much talked about children’s book, The Boy Who Spoke To God.  ISBN: 978-1-932824-18-6 (hc); (ebook-978-1-62467-237-8 $4.99 published by Open Road Media).  A young Greek boy, in this folk tale, helps feuding Greek, Chinese, Zulu, and Mayan tribes find peace and harmony through his dreams of a perfect God. This unique book introduces kids to different religions not that common in mainstream children’s books. Parents now have a simple way to teach about multi cultures and beliefs!
“There is an outcry for the need of children’s books with diverse characters. These books do exist but their authors are not getting the attention they deserve because they aren’t a household name. Recently, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tweet went viral! And, I know many authors who have similar missions!” shares Handler.
Handler’s agent, Italia Gandolfo said, “I love how Randa always includes international twists or incorporates multi-ethnic characters in her stories. It’s such a clever way to instill in kids an acceptance and love of diversity. If anyone can inspire youth, it’s Randa.”

Ravencrest Publishing is offering a 25% discount to elementary school teachers when they order direct from the distributor. Handler’s books have received rave reviews from parents, kids, and teachers. 

“This is a book that for me has its major value in opening up the conversation about God and belief systems in general.” ~Carol Smaldino, Psychotherapist and Parenting Columnist.

“This is a really good book because it teaches that despite differences in religions, beliefs, ceremonies, and traditions, God is the God of everyone.” ~Dr. Israel Drazin, Rabbi, & Author.

“If or when different religious beliefs are causing conflict, this is the book to give to either children or adults.” ~Jessica Warne, CA Teacher. 

“This well-told tale, beautifully illustrated, will appeal to all children and will at least introduce the concept of interrelatedness of all peoples. Highly recommended.” ~Grady Harp, Top 50 Amazon Reviewer.      
“A parent will be hard-pressed to find a fun book that can introduce differences in beliefs without being preachy! This clever non-partisan book achieves that!” ~Rights Advocate and Bestselling Author, Calvin Helin

Randa Handler is an international journalist, publicist and publisher. Her interview with actor Rock Hudson (his last) was published worldwide. Her expertise in public relations made many products and personalities household names. In 2003, her publishing efforts launched an educational series of children’s books that are still being used as ‘lesson plans’ by elementary school teachers. She has published four other books that relay real life concepts to instill in kids an appreciation of differences. Cubbie Blue and His Dog Dot (Cubbie Blue series; book 1; 978- 1-932824 -23- 0 (ebk), and What’s Up With Mike? (Cubbie Blue book 2; 978-1-932824-25-4 (ebk), a fantastical series populated with multi-ethnic and multi-cultural characters, were released fittingly on UN Day. Book one sets the stage for the series about the adventures of three boys and their special friend Cubbie Blue and his even tinier dog, Dot, while Book 2 follows the kids as they learn how to deal with a blind friend. The Thanksgiving Dinner Platter; (978- 932824 -50- 2 (ebk), a fun book that explains why Thanksgiving is more than Turkey Day and introduces a similar celebration in Japan; If I Were King, ISBN; 978-1-932824-20-9 (ebk), is a fun animal tale about a feisty zebra trying to find her turf.