Hi, I’m Tom Kertes. (My friends call me Curtis.)

I live in Queen Charlotte (the territory of the Haida Nation). I was born in Ellensburg, Washington (the traditional territory of the Kittitas, now part of the Yakama Nation). I’ve lived in Cheney, Bremerton, Olympia, Seattle, Baltimore, Toronto, and Vancouver (the territories of the Spokane, Suquamish, Duwamish, Nisqually, Squaxin, Piscataway, Anishnabe, and Musqueam).

I care a lot about literacy and empowerment through education. And I love exploring the power of the written and spoken word.

Oscar Wilde is my favourite playwright. Mary Oliver and W.H. Auden are among my favourite poets. (I’m also partial to e.e. cummings, Lee Maracle, Langston Hughes, and many more.) Literary romance, historical fiction, and serious science fiction are my favourite genres and I’m a fan of Ursula Le Guin, Ken Follett, Zora Neale Hurston, Eden Robinson, Tim Federle, Gore Vidal, Nella Larsen, etc.

I also love non-fiction writing, such as the writing of Hannah Arendt, MLK, David Harvey, Joan Didion, Thomas King, and John Ralston Saul. Science and philosophy are my favourite non-fiction subjects. I read about teaching, learning, thinking, writing, and schooling – drawing a lot from Paulo Freire and Lev Vygotsky. I used to own a children’s book store. I still love children’s books and I wish I had the time (and money) to open another small shop someday.

I am a husband, son, brother, nephew, cousin, uncle, grandson, friend, and neighbour. I am a dual citizen of Canada and the United States. I am a teacher. I am a union member. I am gay. I am a Catholic who attends the Anglican Church. I believe in social justice. I do my best to stand up for all others.

I moved to Canada in 2007 because the United States openly tortured people under the second George Bush administration. I also moved so that I could marry my partner Ron, at a time when the United States did not recognize marriage for lesbian and gay couples. I now live in Haida Gwaii and I am a teacher at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary. Next fall I will move to nearby Prince Rupert and will teach for the public schools there. I am a member of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.

Teaching Specialty

My teaching specialty is literacy. I’ve worked from preschool to post-secondary to help learners of all ages express themselves powerfully through the written and spoken word.

  • Early childhood educator: Children’s Garden, UBC Child Care
  • Public school teacher: Haida Gwaii School District (grades K/1, 4/5, 8-12)
  • Self-regulatory policy advisor: College of Early Childhood Educators
  • Post secondary instructor: Reader’s Way Consulting, Seneca College
  • Community organizer: United Workers, Campaign for Child Care Equity at UBC, Liberation Learning Project
Other Experience

Narrative-based political campaigns for social justice were my specialty before becoming a teacher. I helped coordinate two campaigns and was a consultant for other social justice campaigns and civil society organizations.

One campaign was for living wages for day labour workers at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. Workers secured their demands, marking the first successful living wage campaign for day labourers in the United States. The campaign culminated with a union drive and the workers are now unionized, are directly employed, and are paid living wages.

Another campaign secured gender pay equity for early childhood professionals at the University of British Columbia (UBC). At a time of government mandates to not raise public sector workers across the board (“all zeros”), child care professionals at UBC demanded a 20% “pay correction” – based on the principle of gender equity. Working within the existing collective bargaining process (workers were unionized through the BCGEU), and as part of a broad community coalition in support of the campaign, the 20% pay correction demand was ultimately met.

I also worked as a storytelling, communication, and branding consultant in educational television production (Biz Kids), animal rights campaigns (Adopt a Pet), online news (The Real News), and professional self-regulatory policy development (College of Early Childhood Educators). I strongly support the right of conscience and war resistance and I volunteered in support of the War Resisters Support Campaign. I was a consultant for the Iraq Veterans Against the War. I wrote a weekly column for the Haida Gwaii Observer and was an occasional contributor to TheTyee.ca. I was also an AIDS and LGBTQ rights activist in the 1990s, working with ACT UP and Queer Nation. Just after graduating high school, I was a busser and I worked in fast food. too. For one legislative session, I worked as a committee clerk for the Washington State Senate.

Ancestry

I was born in Ellensburg, Washington, within the traditional territory of the Kittitas. In 1855 this land was reluctantly ceded by treaty to the United States – at the conclusion of the Yakima War between the United States and several First Nations. Prior to this, the land had been claimed by the Spanish Empire, Great Britain (as part of British North America), and the United States. Just fifty years earlier, Lewis and Clark first made overland contact with the Sahaptian-speaking people of this region.

I am descendant to several waves of European immigrants to the United States, including great grandparents from Hungary and Ireland. My last name was originally Kertész – a Hungarian surname meaning gardener. I am also related to immigrants who originally lived in Germany, England, and other parts of Europe. This part of my family settled first in the Midwest and moved West by way of Kansas – finally settling in Wenatchee, Washington. My other family surnames are English and German in origin.

I am told that I am descendant to several lines of rustlers, gamblers, and bootleggers. The Second World War helped put an end to all this. My grandmothers were both nurses. My grandfathers were a government accountant and a radar operator (in the war) and factory foreman (after). I am the first generation, of three, to not serve in the United States military during a war.

I still practice much of the Irish Catholicism passed down from my paternal grandmother Mary, although I now attend the Anglican Church. This is because the position of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on women in the priesthood, gender equality, and sexual orientation is incompatible with my belief in a just God. This belief was central to my work as a community organizer with the poor people’s movement to end poverty, the labour movement, and in support of war resistance. My faith remains grounded in the Gospel, Catholic social teaching, and liberation theology.

My step-father Dean Smith died in 2012 from exposure to Agent Orange herbicide when he was a helicopter pilot for the United States during the Vietnam War. He suffered for many years from complications due to this exposure. Many Vietnamese suffered from the war as well, including from Agent Orange exposure and from the United States policy of forced urbanization (by destroying forest and farm lands to move people into the cities). My uncle John Wyatt also died from injuries sustained during the Vietnam War, suffering for many years from exposure to Agent Orange and other combat injuries.