Tom Kertes

I am a teacher at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary in Haida Gwaii.



My Work

I teach English, digital literacy, and other subjects at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary in Queen Charlotte. Located off the coast of northern British Columbia – and within the traditional and unceded territory of the Haida – GidGalang Kuuyas Naay’s 140 students live in the communities of Sandspit, Queen Charlotte, Skidegate, Tlell, and Port Clements. Its staff includes three education assistants, one First Nations Resource Worker, two custodians, two clerical staff, thirteen teachers, and a principal. I am a member of the Haida Gwaii Teachers’ Association and serve on its Executive as Social Justice Chair.

More than half of the school’s students are Haida or are indigenous to other Coastal, Northern, or other First Nations, or are Métis. Our student population is diverse and also includes new Canadians, newcomers to Haida Gwaii from other parts of British Columbia and Canada, and children whose non-Indigenous families have lived in Haida Gwaii for several generations.

In addition to teaching English, digital literacy, and other subjects, I am an advisor of the Student Council, Drama Club, Outdoor Club, Journalism Club, and Boy’s Soccer Team. These clubs and team are possible because of family and community volunteers who help mentor students, coach players, and support extracurricular activities at the high school in other ways.

Before teaching, I worked as a community organizer. This included work with the poor people’s movement to end poverty, a network of grassroots organizations throughout the United States that worked to develop leadership capacity and build political power. I worked with the United Workers Association in Baltimore and the Child Care Equity Campaign at UBC in Vancouver. I also worked with early childhood educators to help empower young children through the Liberation Learning Project in Vancouver.

My Ancestry

I was born in Ellensburg, Washington – in the traditional territory of the Kittitas, now part of the Yakama Nation. 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 descendent 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 descendent 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.

My Home

I live in Queen Charlotte. I have also lived in Cheney, Bremerton, Olympia, Seattle, Baltimore, Toronto, and Vancouver (or in the traditional territories of the Spokane, Suquamish, Duwamish, Nisqually, Squaxin, Piscataway, Anishnabe, and Musqueam).

My husband Ron Braun and I moved to Canada in 2007 and I became a Canadian citizen in 2014. I left the United States largely in response to George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq and the subsequent torturing of Iraqis during the occupation that followed. We also moved because our marriage, at the time, would be legally recognized here – but not in the United States.

I am a dual Canadian-American citizen.