Braiding Histories Chapter 5

Posted on June 3, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Braiding Histories, cultural, Ed890, educational, First Nations, Masters, Race, reflection, teaching and learning |

Background: Braiding Histories is a phenomenal novel 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 novel is about her journey creating and using the Braiding History stories.

Chapter 5:

Chapter 5 is about the teaching and learning that happens around Shanawdithit’s story. The classroom teachers, Diane and Jenna, who used the Braiding Histories stories in their classroom both structured Shanawdithit’s story as a story of loss.  They both tried very hard to have this story become relevant for their students.  They did this by trying to connect their students to a sense of loss themselves. As Dion writes about what she sees the teachers doing in chapter 5, you can tell she becomes increasingly more frustrated with how this story is being taken up:

“In our re-telling, Michael and I purposefully refrained from writing the story of Shanawdhithit’s last days in St. John’s. Wanting to tell the story of her response to the events that made her the last known survivor, we did not want Shanawdithit’s position as ‘the last’ to become the focus of her story.  Jenna, acting on her limited knowledge of Shanawdhithit’s story and her understanding of her responsibilities as history teacher, assigned students a research project grounded in the very terms we had wanted to avoid” (Dion, 2009, 112).


“Shanawdithit” Photo credit via Library and Archives Canada

The rest of Chapter 5 is dialogue between Dion and the two teachers in how they took up the story. Dion challenges a lot of the pedagogy of “teacher” surrounding the classroom interactions. She points out different ways that teacher responsibilities got in the way of going to those tension points that students were navigating through.

I was convicted by the challenges Dion poses to the teachers around how they discuss and take up Aboriginal stories. I too am guilty of trying to teach First Nations content with a “victim” mentality. This quote from Dion really resonated with me:

“Diane’s approach worked to foreclose engagement with the story as a testimony of loss, pain, and agency, and tended, therefore, to avoid questions of responsibility in the present or the past. Shanawdithit became fixed in the past as a victim. Her actions vanished, and the acts of white colonial settlers were not investigated” (Dion, 2009, p. 109).

I am thinking critically about my own teaching practice, and I feel like I haven’t done a good job at creating balance between teaching the oppression and suffering of the past, and taking up the past and current responsibility of colonial settlers. I’m afraid I have created a space where past settlers/government can be easily blamed, though past Aboriginal people are easily victimized.  I also think I may have created a space where current settlers/government are absolved and current Aboriginal people are ignored.


“Finding balance” Photo credit: woodlywonderworks via Flickr

The only way I can move forward in this understanding is by taking Dion’s advice around hope:

“The story offers more than a depressing litany of loss… Unable to hear beyond the pain and suffering, she could not hear the story of Shanwdithit’s power, strength, and wisdom… Although this is distressing work, it is not to be done in the absence of hope – hope for a new and better relationship between Aboriginal people and Canadians is exactly what motivates me” (Dion, 2009, p. 113).

It really is this hope and passion that has spurred me on to take up this Treaty 4 Reconciliation Project. I think a lot of understanding can come when education around our Canadian history can be taught appropriately.  As I prepare to move forward with my project’s script, I am continually thinking about ways that I can question the participants wisely.  As they see the story of Treaty 4 unpacked before their eyes, how can I, like Dion, emphasize the power, strength, and wisdom of the First Nation’s people within that story? How can I foster an environment where the acts of colonial settlers can be investigated and questions of responsibility can be taken up?

After each chapter’s blog post, I feel like I end up with way more questions than I started with! That said, I am getting excited to start having more in person conversations around these topics. I am feeling like I need as much advice as possible! Got any? Send it my way!

My next post is on Chapter 6 of Braiding Histories which discusses the teachers taking up Dion’s mother’s story. I look at the faults with a “multicultural” perspective on race.

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