January 23, 2003 Halifax Herald

Meuse: teaching children racial tolerance

THERESA MEUSE was born in Digby General Hospital in 1958 to Frank and Lois Meuse. She has four siblings, three brothers and a sister. They were raised on Bear River Indian Reserve. She attended Oakdene Elementary School in Bear River, then completed Grade 8 at Digby High School.

Although life was hard for her and her siblings, she has some positive memories of childhood. One is "working in the woods with the whole family cutting pulpwood. The kids' job was to peel it." Another is "helping dad make miniature snowshoes. The kids' job was sewing in the shoe. He still makes them, but, of course, without our help."

From 1974 to 1976, Theresa attended Middleton Vocational School, earning a certificate in dining room service and a licence as a cosmetologist.

This is the time when Theresa began to get serious about her future. From 1977 to 1980, she worked part-time as a waitress, then opened her own hair salon in 1980, obtained a master's licence, and taught students.

In 1986, now the single mother of two, she re-evaluated her life and decided she needed to upgrade her qualifications. To this end, she moved to Halifax and, in 1986, enrolled in Dalhousie University's mature student program, graduating in 1990 with a BA.

Then, also in 1990, she applied for the position of health transfer co-ordinator with the Confederacy of Mainland Micmacs, and was successful. She continued with the organization until 1997. I'll turn it over to Theresa at this point:

"When my son went to school, I decided to stay home, which allowed me time to become involved in activities at his school. This was the first time, outside of school, that I was not gainfully employed since the age of 15.

"I was 39 when I quit work. However, not wanting to be completely idle, in 1998 I began contracting health-related work with various bands, and hosting cultural awareness sessions with various government sectors. During the same year, I received an award from the YWCA, one of 12 women recognized by it for achievement.

"While working at the Confederacy, where my job enabled me to visit various schools and share things about our culture with young students, I was inspired to begin writing children's stories about First Nation culture because of two things I learned: 1) More info about Mi'kmaq sharing customs was needed in the school systems. 2) Where better to start sharing it than with young children, who hadn't yet had a chance to form negative opinions about First Nation peoples?

"At my son's school, I started doing show and tell with the children. This inspired me to come up with better ways to teach about the culture - i.e., I began writing stories on the computer and inserted cartoon-type pictures. The first story was about the eagle feather. When I read the story to the children, I showed them an eagle feather and would leave them a drawing of one to colour.

"In 1998, while visiting CMM, I showed the story to an employee friend, Mary Mason. She was intrigued and put the idea of making the stories into real books into my head. By this time, I had written seven stories: The Eagle Feather, The Dream Catcher, The Sacred Herbs, Medicine Pouch, Medicine Wheel, Talking Circle and The Drum.

"To this end, I met with Tim Bernard, the director of Eastern Woodland Publishing, artist Art Stevens and Mary Mason to discuss publishing them. Consequently, we put forth a proposal to various funding sources and were successful in acquiring funding to publish four of my seven books. Under the terms of the agreement, I was the distributor.

"Since then, I've read stories to children at libraries in October of each year, and travel to Matthew's and other schools for reading and other culturally related activities - i.e., craft-making displays for Mi'kmaq Heritage Month.

"In 2002, Eastern Woodland Publishing and I agreed to let Nimbus take over publishing and distributing. Thus, in the spring of 2003, it's hoped that the stories will be published as an anthology.

"Throughout my journey, many people ask me if I could sum up in one word a message to teach to others, what would it be? My response is always: Respect. Whether telling stories, sharing show and tell, facilitating cultural awareness workshops, or just visiting with others, respect for others is the message that I like to share."

The four published titles by Theresa are The Sacred Herbs, The Dream Catcher, The Eagle Feather and The Medicine Pouch. They feature very informative, eye-catching illustrations by Arthur Stevens, Millbrook. Although primarily designed for the young reader, older readers can also learn from them.

Today, Theresa and husband Kevin reside with their 10-year-old son Matthew in a cosy cottage in Lantz. She is also a grandmother.

Teaching Mi'kmaq and non-Mi'kmaq children about the precious values of the Mi'kmaq Nation is a challenging undertaking. May the Great Spirit assist Theresa and bless her with much future success!

Daniel N. Paul


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