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.


“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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