On being ... attention focusing

By Ingrid Sapona

The story that surfaced in late May of the finding of the remains of 215 children buried at a former Indian Residential School in B.C. made news around the world. About a month later, the Cowessess First Nation announced the preliminary finding of 751 unmarked graves at the former site of a Saskatchewan Indian Residential School. The unmarked graves were found using ground-penetrating radar. Experts expect many more graves will be found on the grounds of other Indian Residential Schools across the country.

The first Indian Residential School opened in 1828 and the last one closed in 1996. Stories about children who went to Indian Residential Schools but never returned have been told for years. We’ve had some idea of the scope of the issue ever since the 2015 release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada Report. One of the findings announced in the Report was that the TRC identified the names of, or information about, more than 4,100children who died of disease or accident while at Indian Residential Schools.

The leader of the Cowessess First Nation, Chief Cadmus Delorme, eloquently spoke about the significance of the finding of the unmarked graves and of this moment. He explained that the Cowessess community will now work to honour the buried by putting names to the people in the graves. He acknowledged that doing so will hurt, as it will trigger some of the pain that many Indigenous children endured at the school. He called on Canadians to stand beside Indigenous people as they heal and get stronger. He also asked Canadians to open their minds to the fact that the Country needs to have truth and reconciliation.

Somehow the finding of the unmarked graves has brought the issue of Indigenous relations to the fore in a way that release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report didn’t seem to. Maybe the idea of 4,100 dead children was just too big a number for folks to comprehend. Or maybe, because the Indian Residential School program ran for over 160 years, people somehow rationalize the figure (4,100) as translating to “only” about 25 children per year. But 215 is a number that people seem more able to comprehend – after all, that could be the number of kids in one grade at the local elementary school.

The immediate official reaction to the news was the lowering of flags to half staff. “Every Child Matters” became the catchphrase and orange quickly became the colour associated with the issue of the treatment of Indigenous children. (I must admit to ignorance here – perhaps orange has long been associated with Indigenous matters, as it’s the colour featured in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission logo and graphics.) Colour-coded ribbon campaigns have been around so long that I almost find them meaningless. But, I couldn’t help but stop when I saw this on a recent walk:

The photo shows a public elementary school in my neighborhood. The school’s on a fairly busy street and the playground is protected by both railings and a fence. The orange ribbons tied on the schoolyard fence and tree are a nice gesture, for sure. But, the fact they are tied on a sturdy fence that protects children at play at that school also drives home the difference in the level of care afforded kids there versus the care provided to Indigenous children at Residential Schools.

While symbols like ribbons and lowered flags are moving, they don’t necessarily stir emotions enough to prompt dialog, much less change. Perhaps as a result of this, others have taken to different ways of drawing attention to the issues. On another recent walk I came upon a series of spray-painted messages that provide a much more vivid sense of the stain the Indian Residential School system has left on Canadian society and our collective psyche. Here are a few pictures of the crude – but powerful – messages: 

I’ve always hated when people deface things with graffiti, but these scrawlings have moved me in ways I can barely express. The method of communication reflects the rawness of the feelings of so many. These messages are way more powerful than any anodyne sign proclaiming Every Child Matters.

We can’t erase past harms and injustices perpetrated against Indigenous peoples. But, we owe it to them to acknowledge how we have treated them and to do all we can to help them heal. Restorative justice is the purpose of reconciliation and we’ll never get there unless we stop denying the racism that underlies the notion of assimilation.

Indigenous leaders have used this moment to urge Canadians to read the Truth and Reconciliation Committee Report and to take concrete action toward implementing the Commission’s 94 Calls to Actions. That certainly seems the least we can do…

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona




On being ... homeschooled?

 By Ingrid Sapona 

Last year I bought a set of DVDs of a stretch/exercise program that my local Public Broadcast Station (PBS) runs. I don’t have a DVD player for my television any more, but I figured I could play them on my computer. Unfortunately, when I tried to play one of the DVDs, I found out my computer was set up only to play CDs, not videos. 

After a bit of Googling, I found there are programs (dozens, actually) you can install to play a DVD. I downloaded one (probably one with a free trial) and managed to watch the first workout. Each DVD has six 30-minute workouts, but I couldn’t figure out how to view the second, third, fourth, etc. Ugh… 

My original plan was to convert the DVDs into a format (M4V) so I could play them on my iPad. If I couldn’t figure out how to play the original DVDs on my computer, there seemed little hope for the next step. Dejected, the DVDs ended up on a shelf. 

Recently, I Googled how to convert DVDs to M4V. There was no shortage of information about it, but the more I looked, the more daunting it seemed. Then, a couple weeks ago I came across a 9-minute video by “KaptainTech” – who sounds about 16-years-old. The 2012 video made the process seem straightforward, if you don’t mind downloading two pieces of software. The video included links to the software, but I figured it likely that the software was either discontinued or that it had changed so much the video instructions were probably no longer accurate. 

Nonetheless, this week I decided to give it a try. One of the software links wasn’t quite right, but I managed to find the program and download it. The other link worked perfectly. Then I played KaptainTech’s video, pausing it every time I needed to carry out a task. I must say, he did an outstanding job showing every step. The program interfaces looked a bit different but, rather than worry (or wonder) about it, I just clicked on exactly what KaptainTech said to. To my amazement – it worked! 

When I was done, I left a comment on the video to say thanks and to let others know the 2012 video is still useful in 2021. (I got the idea to mention that from others who noted that it worked for them as recently as 2020. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one concerned that the process might have changed since 2012.) A number of commentators also mentioned they watched a lot of other videos but found KaptainTech’s the best. Again, it was nice to know that I wasn’t alone in having watched dozens of other videos about the process before taking the plunge. 

This was the third or fourth time I’ve found great videos on YouTube made by ordinary folks that show how to do something. Last year the door on my microwave wouldn’t stay closed. When I mentioned the problem to a friend, she said the same thing happened to theirs and they fixed it themselves after watching a few YouTube videos on how to fix it. She sent me a link to the one they found most useful and suggested I try it.  

Having nothing to lose, I did. The process involved taking apart the door. According to the video, if this one spring has fallen out of place, the door will not close. Unfortunately, in my case the spring wasn’t just out of place – it was broke. So, I couldn’t fix the door, but it was pretty empowering to try. (As an aside, you’d be surprised at how many things that seem sturdy are just snapped into place!) 

Similarly, a few years ago my computer was overheating because the fan stopped working. My friend suggested it might just need a new fan. To get at the fan, I’d have to open up the computer. I went searching on-line for an owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s specs that might show how to do that, but I couldn’t find anything. 

My friend suggested there might be a YouTube video showing how to disassemble it. Sure enough, some guy (with a heavy accent, a big gut, and – unfortunately – no shirt) did a video showing how to disassemble the exact HP model I had. I watched it a number of times, before giving it a try. Turns out the fan had kind of melted into place, so it was unfixable. But, it was an interesting exercise. 

It used to be that if you wanted to learn how to make something (or how to fix something) you’d take a course. For example, if you were contemplating trying to fix your microwave door, you might take a course on small appliance repair. You might learn some troubleshooting techniques, but you wouldn’t necessarily learn about your particular model. Now you can probably find a video showing how to fix your exact problem. 

Watching a video that walks you through the steps to accomplish a specific task is not the same experience as taking a course. Following KaptainTech’s instructions click-by-click was more like doing paint-by-number, than learning how to paint. But, given that I was just interested in successfully converting the video formats, it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t learn anything about the coding behind each step. 

There are a lot of folks out there with a lot of hands-on experience and, for whatever reason, many of them like making videos demonstrating how to do things. (I’ll bet that as kids they lived for show and tell!) And of course, not all such videos are created equal. But, I’ve come to see home-made how-to videos as a kind of homeschooling tool. They can give you courage to tackle a particular job or they can help you decide when it might be best to farm something out to an expert. 

What about you? Do you ever turned to YouTube videos for help? If not, you don’t know what you’re missing. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona