upon a time, a young girl dreamed that one day she would
walk from the flatland she called home to the distant
land of the forest people. But, being a young girl, there
was lots of growing up to do before any dreams were taken
seriously. So, the girl joined her friends in the day
to day life of the flatlanders.
the spring, as the seeds were tucked into their rows,
the flatland children played softball in the dirt fields.
In the winter, as the snow fell into its cold carpet,
the flatland children made snow men and slid on the ice.
Everyone told stories about the valley. She had been
to the valley many times, for her flatland edged the
valley. Her favourite was stories about cowboys and First People,
about floods and tornadoes, about rodeos and dances.
But, when she went to the valley, she saw a broken bridge,
wire fences, and a roofless stone pump house with big
empty windows. The river wasn’t even a river all
year, because it dried up by early summer. The valley
was full of ghosts.
the flatland children began to grow up, some fell in
love with the flatland and they drifted like dust onto
the prairie. But, more of the children talked and talked
about the big cities. One by one they left, returning
for weddings or funerals, and sometimes, not even then.
little girl, who was also growing up, began to feel anxious.
She wanted to learn and grow and maybe even become a
teacher for the next group of flatland children, but
where would she go to learn? Again and again she went
to the valley in these anxious years. Maybe the ghosts
had the answers, and she imagined and dreamed again,
for it had been many years since she dreamed, but the
ghosts were silent, if they were really there at all.
she sat with one eye on the valley and the other on the
flatland, she asked her questions: What did the first
people see? What
was this valley before the rodeos and dances? What was
this flatland before the plough and seed? And she never
questioned the wisdom of her questions for they came
from deep within her heart. To know these answers was
to know the valley and the flatland.
it was clear that the young girl would need to go to
the big city if she wanted to become educated so she
could teach the flatland children. And she took her questions
with her. It was in the big city that she fell in love
with an Ocean boy, who had fallen in love with the flatland
as the crops swayed as endless waves. Soon, other dreams
and other questions flooded through the valleys of her
heart and for a time the young girl,
who was now a young woman, forgot her old dreams and
it seems that dreams are never really forgotten. One
day, the young woman woke to realise that she had journeyed
to the land of the forest people – she, a flatlander,
and her man from the ocean. And, in what seemed like
one long and complicated dream, she lived with the forest
people, who, she learned, were first people. And she
remembered her childhood questions, and although these
first people were forest first people and not valley
or flatland first people, they still answered many of
her questions. And the young woman began to love the
forest and its
people and her life became busy with learning and teaching
and the growing of her own children.
it seems that dreams are never really forgotten. One
day, the woman woke to realise that she had journeyed
back to the flatland – she, her man from the ocean,
and her children who were half flatland and half ocean,
her children whose hearts had been raised by the forest
people. She was angry to have left the forest people.
How would her children continue to grow in the ways of
the forest people? She
realised that all her questions had not been answered,
but she did not want to find any new first people to
ask her questions of because it was a long and difficult
thing to ask the first people questions. They were cautious
of what they called the second people because the second
people had already taken much from them. When the second
people asked questions, they often had the answer already
in their minds, so the first people were tired of speaking
to questions that already had answers.
it seems that dreams are never really forgotten and the
woman began to remember her dream of teaching the flatland
children. For, after all, these were her people. But,
now she had new questions. What would she teach them?
How would she teach them?
decided that she needed to teach the flatland children
that they were not the only people deserving respect,
for she assumed that they thought this. And when she
began her lessons, the children were angry because they
already knew this. Still, the woman could not really
believe the flatland children understood that there were
others because of the way they talked about others: telling
hurtful jokes and sharing harsh stories.
the summer of 2000 I moved from Northern Saskatchewan
to Southern Saskatchewan. I moved from teaching five
years on a Dené reserve to teaching in a rural
community. I moved from culture shock (being white and “other” in
a Dené community) to reverse culture shock (being “other” in
my own culture – rural Saskatchewan). Shepard (1998,
22) says, “When expatriates return to their passport country, they are
generally not prepared for the very different culture
that confronts them”.
missed the north and I talked about it a lot. On more
than one occasion a bewildered listener would say, “Why
did you come back then?” I went into an automatic
speech, “My grandparents are in their late 80’s
and we wanted to be close to them,” or “My
husband was the principal and he was getting burned out.”
cannot say I entered my new school with a great attitude.
I tried to bond with my new students, but the kids seemed
spoiled. I was presumptuous enough to assume that the
homogeneously white rural students had racist tendencies.
My judgements were not entirely dreamt up. Some students
would make snide remarks about Natives or chant “Hey-how-are-ya,
Hey-how-are-ya”. During the school year, when I
was moody or distant, I tried to laugh off my frustrations.
I said I was going through “reverse culture shock”. When I didn’t have the heart to
laugh something off I talked about “Where I lived
for five years”, but I didn’t feel understood
or heard. Shepard addresses this confusion:
Neither the expatriate employee nor his or her family
know what to expect socially when they return home. Typically, they expect to be viewed as something special, as “returning
they usually are, for the first few weeks. After
the stories have been told and the newness wears off,
however, their returning hero begins to look more like
some kind of exotic jungle specimen than just another
employee or neighbour (1998, 25).
an unsuccessful attempt to champion anti-racism through
showcasing a variety of First Nations' literature in
my English classes, I stopped trying at all. I wore my
Dené beaded moccasins, but I stopped talking about
then one day, our Director of Education asked me to help plan a “Youth
Day”, formerly, “Treaty Awareness Day”.
Responsible for planning a pre-teaching and reflection
unit on the topic, “The Healing and Hurting Uses
of Humour,” I utilized First Nation and Non-First
didn’t think it could go wrong.
loves humour, right?
some students thought we were trying to “force-feed
a bunch of touchy-feely anti-racism stuff.” Some
were openly hostile in anticipation of the “Youth
in the end the kids had a good time, especially enjoying
the personality and message of Don Burnstick, a First
Nations Comedian from Alberta.
class reflection on the “Youth Day,” I had
one amazing double period with the class who had been
the most openly defiant. We talked feelings. We talked
experiences. Just last year, the reserve students had
moved to their newly opened band run school; it finally
sunk in that these students had a lot of experience interacting
with First Nations kids; they had gone to school with
them for most of their lives.
realised how narrow minded and assuming I had been coming
into the school.
early spring, after I relaxed into my school year, looking
forward to June rather than “saving” my students
from my notions of their “racism”, something
interesting happened in my grade ten class. One of the
girls noticed the flyer for The Trial of Louis Riel production and asked if
we could go and see it. After
the event I wrote in my journal:
cried as soon as Riel began to pray. My students wrote
questions (unsolicited) on their programmes. We looked
for Riel’s statue at the legislative buildings
with no luck. We looked for a plaque in honour of Riel
in Victoria Park with no luck. We went to the Main Library
and, with luck, found an art exhibit and the statue,
all about Riel. It was called “Rielism”!
My students wrote a list of questions (unsolicited)
to fax to the Riel director. My students discussed the
play on the way home. I was driving and could only hear
bits and pieces. They read favourite speeches from a
text they brought along. Amazing! Where did these kids
come from? How can I bottle and sell it? How can students
taste discovery? Taste anti-racist pedagogy? Taste living
curriculum? How can it be real? Meaningful? Fun? As I
drove home with my vanload of kids, I felt transformed.
I felt the high of an epiphany that wouldn’t go
now, here I sit at the computer while my rural Southern
Saskatchewan students write their Media Studies final.
What have I accomplished this year in the name of anti-racist
pedagogy? As we watched the play, “Riel” entered
the courtroom wearing a suit and beaded moccasins. One
of my students turned to me and said, “those are
like your moccasins,” and I nodded, full of pride.
Is it enough that I wore my moccasins almost daily, explaining
to my students how the stiffly beaded high top keeps
my ankles warm so my bad ankle doesn’t hurt? First
Nation Technology! One of the questions on the exam says, “Discuss
Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Message’.” Likewise,
is the teacher the message? Do
I want that responsibility, knowing my limitations?
I think about what to write next I am really struggling. Here is the point in the paper where
I should say, “Yeah, but I still have to prescribe
my answers for educating a lived curriculum for anti-racist
pedagogy.” I should supply a reading list and a
series of do’s and don’ts. Here is where
I should abandon my “love of ambiguity” (Jardine,
1998) because I must be clear and concise and have it
where is the authenticity in this? I
do not have the answer!
And as I am struggling, I sit in
a Vietnamese Café, on Broad Street in Regina
writing on the back page of an earlier draft. I pour
green tea into the small cup; I hold it in both hands
and brush the hot ceramic against my lips feeling everything
green tea means to me: culture, friendship, diversity. And
I realise that the purpose of my being here is not
to tell the white people, with whom I share the dining
room, how to enjoy Vietnamese food, just because I
am a white person and I appreciate Vietnamese food
so well. As I’m smelling the green tea,
and now tasting it, I ask the waitress to bring the
menu again. I look up the things I have ordered, but
I can’t find green tea. I call the waitress over
again, and I’m sure she thinks I’m a tourist.
I ask, “Is green tea listed
on the menu?” She says, “No.” Isn’t
it fun to order green tea without the menu (and it
wasn’t there anyway)?
teacher lived-curriculum is a journey; it is transformative.
It cannot be purely book knowledge. The journey is visceral
on some level. I have happily stumbled
on a way of being, for educating a lived-curriculum.
is okay just to be (Heidegger, 1968).
is okay to embrace ambiguity Hurren (2000) and Jardine
is okay to be where I am and not have all the answers.
But, how do I proceed?
are tricky. Tennyson’s speaker in “In Memoriam:
Canto V”, says, “I sometimes hold it half
a sin / To put in words the grief I feel; / For words,
like Nature, half reveal / And half conceal the Soul
will seek metaphor so that I allow these ideas room
bloom and stretch and grow deeper and wider (Hurren,
I will listen for many voices (Jardine, 1998)
I will write a story and see what
the story can say that I cannot.
was in the summer, after her first year with the flatland
children, that she began to dream again. She dreamed
of the fun of her own childhood. She dreamed of the
forest people. She dreamed of her valley ancestors. She
of really teaching the flatland children.
when she asked the ghosts, “How will I teach the
flatland children?” Again, they were silent, if
they were there at all. But in the silence, the woman
began to listen, for there was a murmur from the earth
as though it were alive. And then the rustle of grass
and song of bird and crick of cricket filled the air.
she reached down and touched the ground, she looked into
the sky. And the beginnings of answers formed for her
questions, “What will I teach the flat land children?
How will I teach them?” And she thought:
I will teach what I learn by being who
I will learn what to teach by being what
I will be who I am by learning what I
And learning is never finished.
And teaching is never final.
And being is never absolute.
And the teacher is the learner.
And the learner is the teacher.
And the teacher and learner must be.
So, I will walk and listen for the voices
And I will stop and listen again.
And only after listening will I add my
to the flatland
to the forest
to the valley
to the oceans
And only in the chorus are dreams fulfilled
and questions answered.
upon a time, there was a flatlander who dreamed of the
forest people –
forest boy who dreamed of the sand people –
sand girl who dreamed of the ocean people –
ocean woman who dreamed of the swamp people –
swamp man who dreamed of a desert people –
desert elder who dreamed of the hill people…
as we bring our dreams together
as we speak of our fears together
as we fall in love
as we teach
as we grow
as we learn
Heidegger, M. (1968). What is called thinking? New York: Harper and Row.
Hurren, W. (2000). Line dancing: An atlas of geography curriculum
and poetic possibilities. New York: Peter
Jardine, D. (1998).
To dwell with a boundless heart: Essays in curriculum
theory, hermeneutics, and the ecological imagination. New
York: Peter Lang Publishing.
S. (1998). Managing cross-cultural transition. Bayside, NY: Aletheia.
Koops was raised on a farm near Macoun, Saskatchewan. As a child she was passionate
about horses and table tennis. She
rode bareback through the Souris Valley,
before it was flooded, and she played on the Saskatchewan
Junior and Senior Table
addition to teaching in Regina and Wolseley, Sheena taught five years at Father Porte Memorial Dene School
in Black Lake, Saskatchewan. Now
passionate about writing, she has published four children's
stories with Black Lake Education: The Orange Baby, When I Grow Up, I am Special, and My Girl. She is currently working on a fourth draft of a young adult
novel and a second draft of a creative non-fiction book. She also writes and sings her own songs.
Sheena is currently pursuing her Masters in Education
(Curriculum and Instruction) from the University of Regina.
Married to a fellow educator, they share three daughters,
Victoria, Moira and Arwen Dawn.