Our lives are a series of adventures and stories. We are our stories.
How we tell them is our perspective, our worldview, our truth.
I share with you mine, in hope you can understand me
--instead of making assumptions about me. ~XFree
My Pathway Out of Education and Back Again...
a mini biography of Xaanja Free.
I named myself: Xaanja Ganja Free.
To establish my own identity.
To establish my identity changing my full name seemed to be the best decision to completely start a new beginning. Not just for me, but for a new history for my family–The Free Family. My story may seem unique, but it is not one that is unfamiliar to those of us who were taken into ‘care’. The story I speak of is one of separation, longing for a sense of belonging that never comes; these are the stories that are quietly spoken throughout Canadian history. So mine, isn’t so special, nor unfamiliar–-only unique to my journey and the ears my story reaches.
I was a former foster child who discovered freedom through knowledge.
After three years of adolescent research from the age of twelve to fifteen, I found freedom from ‘the system’ through researching provincial acts. I freed myself from foster care at the age of sixteen by sharing the knowledge I had gained with the ‘right’ authorities. Since then, I have pursued education as a means to provide myself with the necessary skills to ‘make it’ on my own. Education became my mother and father and my heart became my guide.
I have always been a curious person, with a passion to discover my purpose and sense of value.
I write poetry and create art as: therapy, as presentation of my voice, and, for understanding my place in a world where I have become ‘no one’s child’. I named myself Xaanja and gave this word a meaning, therefore, Xaanja means ‘a New Beginning’.
I am looking forward— not looking back— I am FREE from ‘the system’ that took me and the family name that left me behind.
Foster Care. Intergenerational Fear, an Indigenous Emotional Inheritance
Indigenous families are under target to society's learned stereotypes and policy control. As costs continually increase, selfish behaviors become commonplace–“it’s not personal, just business.” I have seen the destruction of families through worldly corruption, through lies, meanness and cruelty. I was able to see the demise of my family, my parents relationship, happen slowly over time. Then the defeating power of intergenerational fear can sadly, remove a parent from a child forever. When I was taken away, they were accepting of the fact that I was gone due to intergenerational fear. It was like they expected it and now that I was gone, they were going to adjust to it indefinitely. I ran away from foster care to go home and was sent back, it was like my heart became torn out and I've been trying to refill it with goodness ever since. My family (cousins, aunts/uncles) seemed distant and not willing to know me anymore. I became an outsider, a burden to my own family. I think that that disconnect of taking me away, removed their need to care for me in all ways, including future consideration for care for my life from that point on. For how can one take back what time has already taken? This is why I named myself, to start a new beginning to completely heal and start anew.
Art Became A Part of My Life– it became My Voice.
Everyone lives in their own little bubble of understanding reality. Art allows us a glimpse into each others worldview; lives, different, over time and times. Worldly influences alter how we perceive what is before us--as well as how we navigate our own lives, our own path amid a world of other perspectives.
Hope provides sustenance when all else is gone.
Art has provided me hope through the opportunity to express myself. In my opinion, an Artists expression is soul-food because art can provide an Artist with voice when everything inside says, “hide”. Art can be used as a means of communication, an escape, and an understanding for one to contemplate for themselves, about themselves. This is how I discovered art, by discovering myself through creating art. I used art to express myself when my heart was wanting to say words that I could not articulate, nor fully understand.
By beginning a process to articulate feeling through artistic expression, opens an internal conversation one needs in order to begin the healing process. I learned that by doing art, the act of creation builds something new from where there was none. My heart began to heal because there was always something more to 'draw from', to express, and get out--that helped me to feel better. One needs to find peace inside ones self, before continuing a journey that you know is going to be difficult. Creating art has provided me with that peace and continued hope for a better future.
Art and Poetry as Therapy & Expression
To come to terms with these constant ‘new beginnings’ I found myself in, I discovered poetry and art as a therapeutic use of artistic expression...and since then, I have never stopped creating art or wanting to discover new artwork or artists.
Learning became a tool for me to find my way through the world of paperwork (which has always told me where I had to be and how much money I was worth), so I could set myself free. Art became my voice.
How is Knowledge Freedom?
Ironically, I discovered I had to withdraw from learning (high school) to become freed from the constant wayward lifestyle of foster family “living” that government policy (foster care) dictated for me. My adolescent research taught me that ‘taking responsibility’ for my education~quitting, had granted me control over all my life choices. I was able to leave ‘care’ after all forms were signed on dotted lines, by my social worker, my school principal and me. It was described to me like an ‘oath’ of understanding, that they have no monetary nor legal responsibility for me.
I remember that day, it was a feeling like being freed from, and tied to– uncertainty, all at once. It was a wonderful feeling~my tears were those of relief, excitement and fear all at the same time~and it was great! This wasn’t the fear that makes you shudder, its the one that makes you jump and say that this, was meant to be– I don’t understand it–but I know it to be true! To have anxiety removed in one paperwork signing session, replaced with a driven hope is what sustained me all these years. That moment altered my sense of personal value because for the first time I asserted to not just myself, but to the ‘world’ that I am worth more than being luggage, or a burden.
I have purpose and the ability to follow through with it, something I could not find when I was treated as though I had ‘no place’.
I realized~my place is my purpose. Though I was young and unsure as to how I was going to do it, I knew it was up to me; I also knew I could count on me. I trusted my decisions and could make sound judgements.
Life Long Learning Begins
I was free to find my way at the age of sixteen years old. My parents had separated during my time in care and they both had new children of their own so I didn't have my family anymore because it no longer existed. My life-long learning journey began with homelessness and constantly working more than one job at a time to keep busy earning and having a place to be during most of the hours I am awake. Finding a place to sleep for a few days/week at a time by paying for the couch/bed per night was my only option for a home, or sleeping at my friends home during the day when I am not working and they are. There were some nights I couldn't find a place to stay and ended up walking all night and sitting in stairwells of apartment buildings to warm up and nap because there was no where to go. I would shower at friends homes, and at the public swimming pool. It was hard work and it was scary doing everything alone. It sucked 'couch surfing' all the time because I couldn’t rent my own place, and it was tough working three jobs for that year...but, I was free–so that made it worth it! Six months later, I found my Superman (my boyfriend who became my husband), we have been together for thirty years this year (2021), married for 23 years this December 2021.
My learning journey began by using education as my guide began at the age of seventeen when I enrolled myself into college as a ‘mature student‘ having technically been out of ‘high school’ for one calendar year. I studied Secretarial Arts. The following fall, I began work as a bank teller at CIBC as a bank teller at the age of 18. I will never forget pulling huge bags of cash in a line with all my colleagues and how heavy it was thumping down the stairs, or filling up ATM machines & learning how to balance them. When ATM machines were new to customers, I taught them how to use their bank cards! That year I saw that my school aged friends were graduating from high school, I saw photos of them all in the local newspaper and felt sad that I missed out on being a teenager kid in high school...I missed my friends. Quitting school had consequences of misunderstanding that I could never fix, friends became strangers when one is no longer a part of everyday life... Losing family is the beginning of understanding independence, but when one also loses their childhood friendships, one realizes all they have is oneself. Then the struggle becomes how can one feel happy again, and at home? By finding true love, that's how!
The fact is I got a head start at being an adult, a tough head start that was my decision to escape the sadness of fostercare. I moved to Victoria for my husband to attend school and left CIBC for a part time teller position with a local Trust Company that was sold a year after I started working there. I began working as an Executive Secretary for the Government in 1995. By 1999, I left my career and decided to return to school, I felt I needed to do more. I studied Theology for a year (1999-2000), took maternity leave for two years (2001-2003) then studied Teacher Education (2003-2004). After achieving a certificate in Teacher Education with distinction in math, I studied Theater over the summer with the Centre for Indigenous Theater Summer School (August 2004). I was accepted into the University of Victoria to study Writing in the fall of 2004.
During my time at UVic I switched majors from Writing to Art History, and took four years for maternity leave during my studies.
Art History became an inspiring study for me, to discuss the beauty of art, its aesthetic, and consider how works can alter our perception creating moments of consideration. The power of art is making that connection, where one can get a sense of the intention behind its creation. I studied Art History because I wanted to understand the histories behind the Art. I needed to know the historic foundation of what was left behind. I loved to learn about other cultures, traditions and ways of life. I loved to be taught about artifacts and how they were researched to find elements of meaning behind designs, and language behind half seen images. Art became a glimpse into peoples stories that I had not ever considered before studying art history. I began studying education because I need to know how to share and develop knowledge within a classroom, and facilitate group work– so I can fulfill my sense of purpose.… I’m still seeking employment to fulfill that sense of purpose. (Do we ever find it?) I graduated November 2016 with a Degree in Art History and Visual Studies with a Minor in Education from the University of Victoria.
An Ideological Pursuit
After achieving a Degree in Art History with a Minor in Education, I pursued ‘idealistic dreams’ in an effort to get issues heard that the people needed said. Yes, I ran in the 2017 BC Provincial Election.
My campaign was different, because I am not a politician.
I have taken a lot of criticism from doing so—but don’t care. It seriously wasn’t about winning. It was about getting on the ballot to get curious folks (hopefully current powerful leaders) to wonder what issues they are up against. My intention was:
One must find ways to get those in power
--those in higher levels--
to hear them...
Perhaps, by using their own tool as an amplifier
--their tool being politics and the platform of an election--
might be away for them to take consideration of the issues I represent,
and hopefully steal them!
Yes, a backwards attempt to get issues heard that are seemingly ignored. Issues that no other candidate seems to want to tackle--housing affordability & changes to the RTB, poverty, homelessness, and supporting a family's choice for childcare ("stay care or day care, BC families should decide which childcare to provide"--(a slogan I created).---Hence, an ideological pursuit.
I’m sure that I have been misunderstood…perhaps because of my name, or my look.
I’m not sure what else I can do other than be, me. So here I am sharing me…
I am person who believes in doing the right thing, I follow rules and try to learn what the best way to do things are. I am a serious person who enjoys a good critical discussion about research. But, I am also a mom, so I'm a little silly and love to write silly songs and poetry to entertain and teach my children. I love to read, and enjoy doing research...It is just the way I am as a person, curious and eager to hear what you have to teach me and excited to learn how to do things for myself. I look to find ways to support learning to encourage understanding for positive change, so I tend to share what I know through story or research.
When I first wrote this BIO in 2018, I was studying at UVic, and wrote:
"I’m interested to learn more about what Canadian authors are saying in order to dig down into the roots of Canadian writings and knowledge we have shared for centuries. I’m currently working toward three areas of study:
Canadian Literature and Film.
I’m working toward a second Degree, Majoring in English (Canadian Literature) with a Minor in Film.
I would like to develop an understanding of how the presentation of information can become either obstacles or successes for those who consume it. Basically, I want to see if there are patterns to learning about the ‘other’ that can be changed by altering the already established ideas and break them to benefit society as a whole.
Can we create ‘good propaganda’ to illustrate differences as normative versus something one should fear?
How do we understand each other (through film, in literature, in media, on social media, from family?) and how can that ‘cultural’ understanding become redefined to open conversation and educate?
Is it just mass transmission, or are there generations of cultural understanding that is embedded within our understanding?
Can one generation make a difference to centuries of understanding negative conversations?
...or has this been something done before?"
Quote from UVIC, Soul-Food Art by Xaanja Free
(Soul-food website has been archived because I am no longer a UVic student)
After a year of soul-searching, considering what to do with my Degree, it was suggested to me from a prof. at UVic that perhaps I might be interested in becoming a librarian, "Xaanja you should apply to UBC and take MLIS--you certainly have the grades for it! You'd be such a good librarian, you have the people skills and know how to research information on your own."
UBC Graduate Studies--MLIS with First Nations Curriculum Concentration (Sept 2019 - to Graduate fall 2022)
My instructors have been my mentors, my trusted word of advice, my friends. So I seriously took their advice and researched what to do to apply while I was studying for a second degree from UVic to study English with a Minor in Film Studies. I completed the minor in Film Studies during my year of study and recognized that being a part of a second degree program allowed me access to the Co-op program that can support work experience in a library before my application submission. So I sought out a co-op work placement (by asking for it), at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre's, Bruce Parisian Library for two terms in 2018-2019. Afterward, I worked at the UVIC McPherson Library into the summer of 2019. During January, I had applied to UBC's ischool for the MLIS program and found out I was accepted early Spring and began the program Sept 2019.
I am now a graduate student in: MLIS--Masters In Library & Information Studies, with First Nations Curriculum Concentration (FNCC) at UBC. My Research Focus is Canadian Children's Literature and the construction of Indigenous Identity. I am focusing my research to consider how libraries can make actions toward reconciliation by providing access to Indigenous voices when books that represent an Indigenous person or experience lack the lived experience. For example, my recent work, a research video titled, Rethinking the Canon: A Contemporary Response to the 'Savage' Indian in the Cupboard, is a suggestion of an actionable response librarians can take toward reconciliation by adding a companion text to shelve with Lynne Reid Banks book the Indian in the Cupboard. The companion text I reccomend is Malian's Song by Marge Bruchac. My research video is available on the University of British Columbia's Library website under the UBC's Critical Indigenous Literacy--Indigenous Children's Literature located here: https://guides.library.ubc.ca/c.php?g=703332&p=5141103
Employment at UBC's ischool
Opportunities to Discuss Actions Toward Reconciliation
I began working for the FNCC program as a graduate assistant position titled, Peer Liaison & Strategic Support from January 2021 until the end of May. In this position, I worked with another MLIS student colleague and together we hosted weekly teas for FNCC students, I encouraged the development of a website "Meet the FNCC students website" (https://ischool.ubc.ca/programs/specializations/fncc/meet-the-fncc-students/) and produced a 1 minute video
titled, 'a sneak peek to Meet the FNCC Students Website.' (https://vimeo.com/539800005)
In early May, I was invited as a panelist in the BC Library Association Conference on May 4, 2021 along side my Supervisor--Amy Perreault, with educators from SFU, the University of the Fraser Valley, and Langara College. It was a rewarding experience to be a part of discussion about how we can consider decolonizing library education. I suggested that we can look for gaps and fill them when it comes to supporting Indigenous students seeking funding for education, or training opportunities. Gaps in funding programs tend to focus on excluding generations of Indigenous peoples, who are our today's mature students--former sixties, seventies and eighties scoop survivors--peoples whose education was disrupted by forcible removal. Understanding reconciliation means recognizing that these gaps to education are barriers to employment. By choosing to support education for students over 30 years old (mature students who are not covered by government grants for hourly wage subsidies for students) libraries can support reconciliation by ensuring that particular gap is filled with supports that are necessary for successful completion of studies to become a qualified, educated employed person.
In June 2021, I began a new research position with the ischool titled, Re-envisioning the FNCC, I will be working with the same team with a new focus to participate in documenting and compiling data from the focus group sessions our supervisors are conducting. This work term ended last spring in May 2022.
I plan on completing my final courses January 2023 and will require a professional experience over the summer May-August as the final portion of my MLIS degree completion. I will be looking forward to sharing more of my work on this site, perhaps as a blog, as I work through my final year of my Masters Degree in hope that I may find permanent employment with a library at the end of my studies. Please contact me if you are interested in having me work for you--I'd love to hear from you!
I am interested in finding my forever home and work,
here is a poem I wrote and shared on social media (Twitter) last year:
I long for you
never move again
just move to get to my forever.
Where are you
#library who needs a #librarian
I seek my Love
MY 1st real
& library #career
Xaanja Free. A Message of Unity--One. 2014. Message in a Bottle, double-sided watercolour drawing.
Size: 8.5 inches tall by 11 inches wide.
Xaanja Free. Functional Ceramic Art Sculptures.
Left: God Said. 2015. Chip bowl with Crescent Moon Dip Tray Inlay.
Right: Hand of Fatima--Hamsa. 2015. Cream & Sugar Serving Set.
Xaanja Free. Death To Money--The Perfect Sacrifice for Mankind. 2015. Sawdust fired Ceramic Sculpture.
Size: 13 inches tall by 8 inches wide.
Recognition of Lands as Visitor
I respectfully acknowledge my residence as visitor in the lands of the Musqueam People as a UBC graduate student, living, working and learning at the UBC Vancouver campus. I am deeply appreciative to have been a long-time visitor in the lands of the Coast Salish People, whose territory I called home for seventeen years--for within its lands, my family has flourished from four to six.
We are family of six students.
We spend our days online attending school and our nights discussing what we have learned.
We are a curious and noisy, happy family! My curious growing children challenge me to keep learning for I need ‘real answers’ for the hundreds of questions posed. As they are getting older, their questions are getting more difficult to answer! They keep me dancing between questions and their guesses of ridiculous answers that both surprise & make you laugh out loud!
Life is a lesson of learning because it is always changing.
The key to happiness is keeping focused on the things that are most important–Family.