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Generosity and Grace: Reflections on the North

My lift to work_Andrew StringerDuring the past ten years, I have had the great privilege and challenge of working with Cree and Inuit children who live in Northern Quebec and Nunavik. I am very much indebted to the cathedral community, and the social action group, for this opportunity to share some reflections on this experience.As a literacy specialist and psych-educational consultant, my role in the north has been to assess children who have been puzzling their teachers – children who are struggling despite their apparently good ability, and for whom the usual interventions have not been working.

Both my daughter Stephanie (aka Taddy) and my husband Ron have been involved in this work as well, and sometimes we have had the opportunity to travel together. Taddy and Ron, both Métis, have an intuitive bond both with the people and with the land, as well as a wealth of professional expertise.

Ron, who is a professor in the school psychology programme at McGill, has taught me most of what I know about assessing children in difficulty. Taddy, who was forced by ill-health to leave graduate work in linguistics at Oxford, has taught me about translation – cultural as well and linguistic, and has shown me how the first languages of Inuit and Cree children are related to the specific difficulties they sometimes experience in learning written English. Some of the many other people to whom I am indebted to helping me with the transition are mentioned in the pages that follow although, in some cases, the names have been changed.

Presentations about the north tend to focus on the Bad News – the drugs, the alcohol, the poverty, the homelessness, the wounds caused by the residential schools and more generally by the whole process of colonisation. These things are real – but they only part of a bigger picture.

Justice Murray Sinclair, in his concluding remarks at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission closing in Ottawa, commented on the “generosity and grace” with which many residential school survivors acknowledged in their testimony those teachers who had treated them with kindness. I was struck by the phrase, which seemed to sum up the way I myself have been treated during my visits to the north.

The people of the north remind me of what my mentor in psychology, the Viennese psychiatrist and neural surgeon Viktor Frankl, used to call the defiant power of the human spirit. They also remind me of what my other mentor – ecologist and Catholic priest Thomas Berry – used to say about the intimate connection between the human imaginination and the land. Berry believed that the human mind and spirit have evolved to reflect the richness of the natural world in which we developed as a species and more recently as a panoply of diverse cultures.

We have, in effect, a Garden of Eden in our genes, and in our collective imagination. But every race has a somewhat different garden.

Read the rest of Brenda’s presentation:

Click to access Generosity-and-Grace_Brenda-Linn.pdf

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