Archive for May, 2016

Braiding Histories Chapter 4

Posted on May 30, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Braiding Histories, Ed890, First Nations, Masters, reflection |

Background: Braiding Histories is a phenomenal book about how an Aboriginal teacher/daughter/mother/citizen went on a journey of taking up what it means to re-tell Aboriginal stories from the past and present.  Her goal was to see her Braiding History stories used as a resource for teachers in the classroom. This book is about her journey creating and using the Braiding History stories.

braiding histories

Chapter 4:

In this chapter, Susan Dion introduces us to the 3 teachers that participated in her project: Diane Carr, Jenna Marsh, and Chloe Bell. She shares some questions that she considered while analyzing the interactions between the teachers and the Braiding Histories texts.

“How do teachers respond to the alternate positioning of Aboriginal people offered in the Braiding Histories Stories?

In what ways do teachers draw on the stories to reinforce the humanity of Aboriginal people?

In their efforts to make sense of the stories, what discursive practices do teachers rely on?

How do they assist students in renegotiating their concept of Aboriginal people, or is it the students who help the teachers?

What are the constraints teachers operate within, and how do they resist those constraints?

What do the teachers emphasize in the stories, and what do they overlook” (Dion, 2009, p. 79)?

Dion looks at the relationships of power within the Braiding Histories Stories context. She evaluates where power was working in the context of the History and English classes. She found connections between knowledge and power in the systems of reasoning within schools. Dion found that the teachers were most concerned with their “responsibilities” as teachers rather than really digging into what the stories could have to offer. “In significant ways, the Braiding Histories Stories challenge teachers understanding of what is expected of them as history teachers” (Dion, 2009, p. 83). She noticed the the teachers didn’t always take up the stories in the ways that Dion had created them to be taken up.

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“Ivory Tower” Photo Credit: Billie Grace Ward via Flickr

I really liked Dion’s critical questioning.  I think it probably drove her analysis of the project. If she didn’t have these specific questions, she might just judge the teachers on their lessons and wonder what went wrong, or why this teacher did a over b.  With her specific questions, she is able to pinpoint what exactly she is looking for. I could feel Dion’s tension as she was having conversations with the teachers.  You could tell her expectations for the project did not match the outcomes she was seeing in the classroom.  This would be a hard, frustrating journey as the project designer/developer. Especially when you have an exact idea of what you want.  Dion did a great job at reflecting on her tensions and thinking critically about the pedagogy that was supporting the teacher’s experience throughout this.

In light of my own project, Dion has given me a lot to think about.  First of all, she has shown me that critical questioning is vital to the evaluation of a project. If I don’t go into my project with clear goals and ways of evaluating its success, I may be lost when it comes time to look at how this project is working/not working.  I think that her questions are a great jumping off point for my own project since my project is also going to be looking at re-telling Aboriginal stories.

Her critical reflection on the teacher’s responsibilities within the classroom opened my eyes to see how easy it is for teachers to fall into the “one size fits all” model.  Any time a new resource is created and shared, it is tempting for teachers to think that this resource is the sole answer to their problems, and as soon as they “cover it” they can move on.  This is a very Eurocentric and linear way to look at learning.  Dion tried to develop the Braiding Histories Stories with a holistic, cyclical learning model in mind.  The Braiding Histories Stories didn’t have a specific place to start and end; it was a lot more open ended than that. It makes me wonder how my questions within the Treaty 4 project can encourage holistic thinking. I shouldn’t be thinking about getting people from a to b.  I want them to enter the Treaty 4 story/experience in the midst of their own treaty ed journey and take away what they can while giving themselves wholly to the experience.  While I meet with the elders, advocates, and allies of this project, I will be asking their advice on how to tell the Treaty 4 story in this way.  I want to honour the Indigenous ways of knowing in all aspects of this project.

ways of knowing circle

Indigenous artwork by Lucy Simpson, Gaawaa Miyay Designs

In my next post, I look at chapter 5 which talks about the teaching and learning involved within Shanawdithit’s Story.

 

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Braiding Histories Chapter 3

Posted on May 29, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Braiding Histories, Ed890, First Nations, Masters, Privilege, Race, reflection |

braiding histories

Background: Braiding Histories is a phenomenal book about how an Aboriginal teacher/daughter/mother/citizen went on a journey of taking up what it means to re-tell Aboriginal stories from the past and present.  Her goal was to see her Braiding History stories used as a resource for teachers in the classroom. This book is about her journey creating and using the Braiding History stories.

Chapter 3:

In chapter 3 Susan Dion discusses the challenges and difficulties the Braiding History stories are up against.  Canada is known as a “multicultural nation,” so by default, it seems that people are not ready to accept that Canada has an extremely racist past AND PRESENT.

“Canadians refuse to know that the racism that fuelled colonization sprang from a system that benefits all non-Aboriginal people, not just the European settlers of long ago. The refusal to know is comforting: it supports an understanding of racism as an act of individuals, not of a system” (Dion, 2009, p.57).

Dion explains that Canadians find it difficult to hear First Nations stories. “When I shared initial drafts of the Braiding Histories Stories in classrooms, teachers and students would tell me that the stories were too hard to listen to. In response I wanted to tell them, ‘Hard to listen to? Try surviving them'” (Dion, 2009, p. 57).

In chapter 3, Dion begins to investigate the dynamics of people’s opposition to First Nations stories. She looks into pseudo rationality  as a theory behind people’s denial.  It is rooted in the idea of people’s self-preservation.

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“Life preserver” Photo credit Kilgub via Flickr

I think this image is an excellent metaphor for  what people are doing by living in denial of Canada’s oppressive stories.  They are trying to self preserve and “save themselves” from the truth, but at the same time they are actually living in, and covered by the dirt and grime of history.

After I read this news story today, I felt especially connected to Dion’s quote (above) about ALL NON Aboriginal people benefitting from colonization.  I was reminded of the very battle Dion is talking about in chapter 3.  Basically the news story is that corporations/companies like Urban Outfitters are appropriating First Nations culture and making a killing off of it.

navajo underwear

“Navajo underwear” Photo credit Rachel Lubitz via Style.Mic

When the Navajo Nation tried to take Urban Outfitters to court over it, they lost the first two claims.  Why? Because the system is set up to benefit the system. If I am remembering what I learned in my last semester’s post colonial class correctly, this is called neoliberalism. The judge determined that because “Navajo” is not a registered brand like “Disney,” they are not “famous enough to be widely recognized by the general consuming American public” (Lubitz, 2016, Style.Mic).

Well why do we think the Navajo are not widely recognized? Maybe it’s because the system of colonization (that is benefitting from the appropriation) allowed for a mass amount of First Nations people to be killed off, sent the remaining survivors to reserves, and now doesn’t educate the rest of America on the racist history and repercussions of its actions!

his hunting ground

“His Hunting Ground of Yesterday” Photo Credit Boston Public Library via Flickr

I was again reminded of how desperately we need people like Susan Dion who are trying to educate and reverse this racism wherever possible. She inspires me as I go about preparing for my own Treaty 4 project.

First of all, I need to recognize the limitations of any project.  Dion talks about how some social studies curriculums have been well meaning, but end up promoting the wrong things. They try to “indigenize” the curriculum without a thorough look at what has brought us to this point. They either only discuss the “artifactual” pieces of First Nations culture, or they talk about First Nations history in a very tragic, pitiful way. “A discourse of sympathy is developed, evoking in the non-Aboriginal students feelings of pity for people of the First Nations… In order for students to become involved in an investigation of the impact of colonization on First Nations communities in Canada and its implications for today, they require the opportunity to hear stories of conquest and resistance, of invasion, violence and destruction” (Dion, 2009, pp. 73-74).

native tribe lesson

“Create a Tribe” lesson from Teachers Notebook.

I’m sorry, but this picture/link was not used with permission. This is exactly the type of Social Studies curriculum unit Susan is talking about.  Some well meaning teacher has her students learn about Native American villages, food, clothes and trading and then make their own First Nations tribe.  She is SELLING it on a Teachers Pay Teachers type website for $4.00.  I have many issues with the TPT type websites and what type of learning they are supporting, and this is just one more example.

When planning for my project’s script that will walk students, teachers, tourists and locals through the re-telling of Treaty 4, I need to be careful that I am not helping to create a “discourse of sympathy.” I don’t want people to leave the GPS Aris experience feeling sorry for “those poor Aboriginal people.” I want to use careful questioning to challenge and disrupt people’s thoughts on colonialism.  I want to challenge non Aboriginal people to see where they fit in this history, and how they benefit from the colonization of Canada’s First Nations people.  I want Aboriginal people to learn more about the strength and determination of their forefathers, and to be proud of their ancestors, their language, and their heritage.

As I dig deeper into the pedagogy that is driving this Treaty 4 Reconciliation project, I am realizing how difficult this project is becoming.  There are so many things that I need to beware of and look out for.  Thankfully Dion experienced many of these obstacles through her Braiding Histories re-tellings, and I will continue doing my best to learn from her experience!

In my next post, I will be looking at Chapter 4. In this chapter, Dion considers questions around power, knowledge and teaching.

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Braiding Histories Chapter 2

Posted on May 28, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Braiding Histories, cultural, Ed890, First Nations, Masters, Privilege, Race, reflection |

Background: Braiding Histories is a phenomenal book about how an Aboriginal teacher/daughter/mother/citizen went on a journey of taking up what it means to re-tell Aboriginal stories from the past and present.  Her goal was to see her Braiding History stories used as a resource for teachers in the classroom. This book is about her journey creating and using the Braiding History stories.

Chapter 2: 

Susan Dion explains her journey in wanting to write the Braiding Histories stories.  She talks about how her brother and her went to the “First Nations Hall of Fame” exhibit at the Woodland Cultural Centre near Branford, Ontario.

first nations hall of fame

Gallery via Woodland Cultural Centre

“Inspired by the exhibit, Michael and I began compiling a list of individuals we wanted to write about” (Dion, 2009, p. 15). Throughout chapter 2, Dion describes the value of storytelling and the relationship between storyteller/listener. She learned that to truly honour the First Nations ways of storytelling, Michael and her must include themselves in the stories.  “The stories were our representations, our truth, and our honesty – so how could they reflect our understanding that we were writing what we knew” (Dion, 2009, p.20)?

Dion then goes on to share with her readers all three of the Braiding Histories stories and her reflections on them.  Michael and her chose three individuals: Audrey (their own mother), Shanawdithit (the last known survivor of Newfoundland’s Beothuk tribe), and Mistahimaskwa /Big Bear (a Plains Cree leader). They tell the individual’s narratives from a first person point of view; infusing their own expressions and emotions into the stories.

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“Shanawdithit” Photo credit via Library and Archives Canada


Big Bear

“Mistahimaskwa/Big Bear” Photo Credit via Public Archives of Canada

 

I have a confession to make; it wasn’t until Dion referred to Audrey as her and Michael’s mother that it occurred to me that the author, Susan Dion was Aboriginal herself. In my Eurocentric, colonial, White centred view, I had just assumed the author of this novel was white!  I am embarrased by my racist assumptions, but I also know they are rooted in a white privilege that I have been learning to disrupt over the past year.

I was moved by Dion’s Braiding History re-tellings, and I think she did an excellent job at finding a balance between showing the strength and resilience of the individuals and openly sharing the hard truths of oppression and systematic racism.

What I can take out of chapter 2 into my own Treaty 4 Reconciliation project is the value of story telling.  One of the main reasons I chose to re-tell the Treaty 4 story through a GPS/multimedia enabled app was because I found that the printed accounts of Treaty 4 I have read are long, drawn out, and full of too much information and text. The power of story is that it is engaging and still passes on information, but through a emotive connection to the story itself. I will be taking many clues from Dion in how she went about re-telling these Aboriginal stories, while trying to acknowledge my entrance into these stories as a White settler. It is not about knowledge accumulation for me, but rather a humble learning opportunity from First Nations people who have been telling this story long before I became interested.

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Treaty 4 Flag via Treaty 4.ca

“As a form of remembrance storytelling, our (re)telling practice draws on a discursive tradition in which history is something more than a chronology of events. In our approach, the study of history is concerned with understanding who we are, our relationships with others, and the kind of world we want to create. I describe our stories as (re)tellings to signal that I am telling again – but telling differently – stories that have been narrated before… I want to convey to others, to elicit in others, the desire to listen and (re)member, to listen and acknowledge that which has happened” (Dion, 2009, 46-47).

braiding histories

In my next post, I will engage with Chapter 3’s pedagogical considerations around the difficulties when re-telling these types of stories/narratives.

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Braiding Histories Chapter 1

Posted on May 23, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Braiding Histories, cultural, Ed890, educational, First Nations, Masters, reflection |

Background: Braiding Histories is a phenomenal book about how an Aboriginal teacher/daughter/mother/citizen went on a journey of taking up what it means to re-tell Aboriginal stories from the past and present.  Her goal was to see her Braiding History stories used as a resource for teachers in the classroom. This book is about her journey creating and using the Braiding History stories.

Chapter 1:

Susan Dion gives her readers a little background on herself and what brought her to the Braiding Histories project. She takes us through her different engagements with Aboriginal stories and why they are important to her. She re-tells the events that happened at Kanesatake, Quebec in 1990 and the violence that ensued. She tells stories from her own classroom and how there was a disconnect between the students understanding of First Nations people and the curriculum.  Dion introduces us to her brother, Michael and explains how they both decided to produce their own stories featuring Aboriginal people.

Dion Susan

Susan Dion Photo credit: University of Toronto

One of the main things I connected with in chapter 1 was the tension Dion feels around how Aboriginal people are explored or written about in elementary school texts.  Don’t get me wrong, I have not been feeling this tension as personally or as long as Susan has, but since my eyes have been opened to the oppression and racism prevalent in our Canadian colonial system,  I can no longer ignore it.  Susan went on a journey to try and create an anti-oppressive resource committed to the accurate re-telling of Aboriginal people’s stories; “We recognized the romanticized, mythical Indian figure that we had encountered in the pages of our own elementary school textbooks… Michael and I made a commitment to write a series of stories that would provide alternate representations of Aboriginal people.” (Dion, 2009, p. 12)

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“Native American Barbie” Photo Credit: Pinke via Flickr

Dion’s journey connects with me as I begin my own journey in creating a resource dedicated to the accurate re-telling of Aboriginal stories. Specifically I am looking at re-telling the story of Treaty 4 from an Aboriginal perspective. The treaty ed resources I have come across during my 6 years of teaching sometimes lack critical engagement with Aboriginal and colonial history.  The ones I have found for primary grades tend to be artefact based, and they re-inforce the ‘romanticized, mythical Indian figure’ Dion was talking about earlier.  I have a friend who teaches grade three in the same division as me who likes to tell the story about her “awesome treaty unit.”  She gathered many of the resources from the Treaty kits and Office of the Treaty Commissioner .  She did a month long in depth study on the First Peoples and treaties.  On the last day of her unit, she did an exit slip where the students were supposed to write 6 things they learned about First Nations people and culture.  She was so proud as she went through the papers reading about what each student had learned.  She got to one of her brightest students and smiled as she read the first 5 points.  She stopped smiling when she read his 6th point:

“First Nation’s people are extinct.”

“Noooo!” She thought! She had put all that work into an awesome treaty ed unit where the students learned about the culture and history of First Nations people and sure enough, they ended up leaving that unit thinking First Nations people are extinct.  This is exactly what Susan Dion is talking about in Braiding Histories, and what she was wanting to avoid with her and Michael’s stories.  It is also something I am becoming conscious of in my own endeavour of re-telling history through my Treaty 4 Reconciliation Project.

In my next post, I will outline Chapter 2 as it goes deeper into the actual Braiding History stories and Susan and Michael’s reflections on the re-tellings.

 

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