Join The Drawing Board community in congratulating owner and editor-in-chief, Nakita Valerio, on being the recipient of a Government of Alberta Graduate Student Scholarship. The Graduate Student Scholarship recognizes and rewards outstanding students in their second year of a full-time masters program in Alberta. Award recipients are selected based on all marks obtained in the first year of the student’s masters program. The award comes with significant funding which will be used to continue her studies after her defence is complete. Join us in celebrating this monumental honour.

The tentative title of Nakita’s thesis is: Remembering the Departure of Moroccan Jews. 


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Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

 

Last week, I spoke about Reconciliation to a room full of white people. I was invited by a local holistic health clinic to come speak before their keynote lecturer because a friend of mine that works there had let them know I am raising money in support of the Young Indigenous Women’s Circle of Leadership Cree cultural camp at the University of Alberta. I have done many talks for a variety of different audiences before, but this was the first time, in a very long time, that I was only one of four people in the room who belong to a visible minority. And I was certainly the only apparent Muslim in the room.

You can imagine my trepidation at suddenly realizing what I was about to do: I was about to stand in front of these people from a dominant socio-economic and racial strata of society, and I was going to talk to them about being on Treaty 6 territory, about our responsibility as settlers and refugees on Indigenous and First Nations land, about why adopting the language of reconciliation is important but why putting that language into action is even more critical to moving forward. About why this was their responsibility. About why someone like me –an ally – should not be ignored. This is difficult enough for anyone to do, never mind me as a Muslim.

I think the latter point is where my nerves kicked in: would this group of people see me – a veiled, Muslim woman – as an ally of the process of reconciliation and Indigenous peoples? Would I be harming the cause by appearing in front of such a group when so many view me and my Islam as a social adversary already?

Of course, I am not speaking to anxieties about this group of people in particular, but systemic uncertainties that made me think twice before talking to them – anxieties I hadn’t really had in over a year as a public speaker. The actual people in the room were friendly and inviting, and when I started speaking, I could see heads nodding as I acknowledged Treaty 6 and touched on points about our duties as people sharing this space with regards to how we could support the creation of safe spaces for young Cree women “to just be free to be Cree.”

After I spoke, the keynote was introduced and the main lecture began. I had to take off but I left an envelope on the side that people could put donations in, reminding myself not to be too disappointed if it came back empty. Yes, heads had been nodding, but no one clapped when I was done talking. And maybe my veil was just too much of a barrier for people to get past, even if they agreed with the words coming out of my mouth.

In the end, people did donate – enough, in fact, to cover all of the costs of food and crafting supplies for one young girl attending the camp for its two-week duration. But even if they hadn’t, I came to realize how powerful the whole experience was socially, if not monetarily. Rather than being anxious about talking to white people about reconciliation as a Muslim woman, I should have viewed it as an incredible opportunity to challenge what it means to stand in solidarity with one another.

I stood there as a Muslim woman calling for sisterhood, regardless of where our sisters come from, how they look and the culture they practice – a sisterhood that celebrates those origins and appearances and cultural elements. I stood there as a Muslim woman, enjoining people to what is just and compassionate behaviour – to contemplate their social position and what responsibilities it entails to others around them. I stood there as a Muslim woman imploring people to learn about one another and help create spaces for Indigenous people to learn about themselves. I didn’t do this in spite of my Islam, as I belatedly realized: I did this because of my Islam. Because respect, protecting the freedom to worship, enjoining what is just and kind, and seeking knowledge are all cornerstones of my way of life. In standing before a group of white people, talking to them about reconciliation, I was unintentionally dispelling misconceptions about my own people. And any chance we have to share with one another and explore intersections of knowledge to come to greater mutual understanding should never be taken lightly.

For some, what happened last week may have only been a ten minute fundraising speech to garner funds for social change. To me, it was the change itself that we are all looking for.

In solidarity,

Nakita

To donate to my campaign in support of the YIWCL’s Cree Women’s Cultural Camp, please visit: www.gofundme.com/creewomenscamp. Our next group run is on December 4th – pledge a runner today.

Image Credit: “Over Time We Come Together 2015″ by Cassie Leatham”


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

 

The Drawing Board has done something incredible and we want all of you to celebrate with us: we have surpassed the number of visitors to our blog for the entirety of 2015 and we did it in just 5 months!

If the numbers are any indication, we are set to beat last year’s numbers (over 6000 visitors) by more than double by the time December 31st rolls around and that kind of traffic is not something to ignore. In fact, this exemplifies perfectly the reasons why we recommend content writing – content turns to traffic which turns into legitimacy, branding and business.

Through our blog, we have been able to publish professionally, garner more like-minded clients we get to support with our services and reach thousands of people all over the world – inspiring dialogue and putting our writers on the map as public intellectuals and important thinkers.

We have some exciting projects coming up for the future of The Drawing Board so please stay tuned for all things lovely in the world of publishing! In the meantime, let’s celebrate!

You may have noticed by now, but the women of The Drawing Board have accumulated considerable professional and academic successes in the form of accomplishments and awards. And we shamelessly celebrate these events every time they arise. While there is a lot to be said about online issues of contributing to another’s depression or low self-esteem when we celebrate our own successes, it is important to realize that publicizing these facts goes beyond mere celebration: they are acts of political defiance and feminist resistance.

Every time I have been inclined to share a success, I have been hesitant for a variety of reasons. In Islam, we are encouraged to thank God first (which I do, alhamdulilah) and to avoid showing off in front of others. Additionally, Muslims are taught about the dangers of the evil eye – or jealousy that comes from unexpected sources. The other reason I hesitate is my personality. For anyone who knows me personally, they know that self-confidence has only come with a lot of work in the realm of self-development and, even then, only recently. When you don’t think highly of yourself, and don’t want to think highly of yourself (as an ascetic practice) it is difficult to see the benefit of announcing your accolades publicly.

But there are a few reasons to do it.

Firstly, as Rachael has reminded me, people who are successful are often entangled in numerous projects and initiatives – so much so that they can forget to take the time to recognize what they have done. For people who are particularly focused on the betterment of their community and other altruistic work, it can be tragic to fail to realize how far you have come and the difference you have made.

For activists and academics in particular, this is especially important. Our communities (along with artists) tend to suffer from mental illnesses disproportionately. Additionally, activists can be focused on how much more work we have to do, and will push to make change tirelessly, not taking a breath in the meantime. The constant focus on the negative (on what is left to be done) can cast shadows over the light-filled ventures that activist projects can be for the communities they serve. And it can take away from the actual change initiated, making our work feel more like a performance than anything else. A moment of celebration or recognition can be the antidote to negativity before we put our nose to the grindstone again.

For academics, the focus on “what is left to do” is also ever-present, perhaps more so. In academia, you are constantly reminded of the greats who came before you, and how what you do will “never be enough.” Yesterday’s doctoral degree is today’s post-doc. A colleague of mine recently passed his candidacy and is now ABD (All But Dissertation) for his PhD program and when he made this monumental announcement via social media, he received some comments like “Don’t get too comfortable” or “Now the real work begins” when I personally think the only thing in order was a solid congratulations (which also came in droves). I can’t say how he felt nor what the others meant by those comments (he doesn’t even know I am writing this or thought about it), but I couldn’t help but feel like the reminders that others have “been there and done that” diminished the countless, likely sleepless, hours he had spent to get to that point. But that’s just me.

The second reason that it’s important to celebrate accomplishments comes to me from Liz. When I was really worried about posting that I had received the SSHRC for the coming academic year and to support my thesis research, Liz reminded me that, especially for women, the celebration of our recognition is its own form of social activism and feminist resistance. For me, celebration gives time and space to countless hours of work and tireless efforts. It means that long nights and juggled commitments have not been in vain. That slogging towards a better future can not only be recognized in the here and now, but ought to be. It is injecting a “good news” story into the prevailing narratives of oppressive patriarchy and can inspire others to pursue their dreams, whatever their inhibitions about them.

Nakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Director of Public Policy with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

 

 

 

The Drawing Board is pleased to announce that our very own, Nakita Valerio, has been selected as a recipient for the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship (SSHRC) and Walter H. Johns Graduate Fellowship. These awards are highly competitive, and are issued by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council based on excellent academic standing, research potential and contributions to society. The award comes with significant funding which will be used to fund her studies in Edmonton and research abroad. Join us in celebrating this monumental honour.

nakita036The tentative title of her thesis is: Remembering Al-Yehud Through the Shoah: Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching the Holocaust and Jewishness Among Contemporary Moroccan Muslims

Nakita’s research topic can be read about below:

Prior to the Second World War, Morocco’s Jewish community numbered 240,000 and was one of the largest and oldest populations of Jews in the Arab world. Today, less than 3,000 Moroccan Jews remain and the memory of them is rapidly fading among the younger generations of Muslims. Historians focused on Moroccan Jewish-Muslim relations have been preoccupied with the internal politics of nationalism and Zionism. (Boum,2011; Baida,2011; Maddy-Weitzman & Ben-Layashi,2010) The historiographical silence on the role of the Holocaust in raising fear among Moroccan Jews, possibly stimulating their unprecedented exodus, is the result of current Holocaust “amnesia” among Muslims today – on whom these authors tend to rely for their ethnographic research.

Given my experience teaching in Morocco for three years, I found that Holocaust denial in private schools was a recurring phenomenon across the country – something corroborated by the Anne Frank House working towards tolerance and Holocaust education in Morocco. (Polak,2010) The current, widespread denial among Moroccan Muslim youth is at odds with growing Jewish-Muslim communication in online forums (Boum,2014), growing cultural representations of Jews (Kosansky, Boum,2012) and especially, the stance of the Moroccan State, which is vocal about distinguishing between the Holocaust and “the tragedy of the Middle East” – meaning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as stated by Jewish advisor to the King, Andre Azoulay (Daily Herald,2009).

The State is focused on reintegrating Jewishness into the national narrative, establishing festivals of Jewish-Muslim interaction and issuing a call for the Jewish diaspora to return home. (Boum,2010; Bruneau,2015) However, until private education programs which allow for Holocaust denial are assessed and addressed, the project of reviving Moroccan Jewishness will be unlikely to have the effect desired by the monarchy. For youth, the reasons to deny the Holocaust are influenced by their lack of direct experience with Jews: it is perceived as part of a Jewish world conspiracy, which they find in widely circulated translations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I found that my own students had acquired copies of this text from their private-school history teachers who had also taught the children that The Diary of Anne Frank was fabricated. One of Boum’s interviewees, Said, affirms that the number of Holocaust deaths and the event as a whole were openly questioned by his private school teachers. (Boum, 2013)

The Holocaust, for Moroccan youth, can be imagined as a false commodity employed by Jewish conspirers to gain geopolitical favours for Israel from Western powers. The degree to which denial-legitimizing narratives are coming out of Moroccan schools (especially private ones, which are growing in number, and where programs are unregulated) remains to be explored. Thus, I ask: How is the Holocaust remembered by Moroccan Muslims today? How is this memory affected by private education and politics? How does this memory affect the overall remembering of Jews and ongoing relations between the two groups?

This research will contribute to ongoing debates on the memory of the Holocaust in general, the memory of Jews among Muslims, the role of education in shaping social memory, and the continuous rewriting of Muslim-Jewish relations in Morocco. Additionally, I anticipate that this will spark more scholarly debate regarding the representation of the Holocaust in the Islamic world and its use as a political-social tool in the era of conflict.