Braiding Histories

A Spiritual Journey to Reconciliation

Posted on January 23, 2017. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Braiding Histories, cultural, Ed890, First Nations, Masters, Privilege, Race, reflection, Unsettling the Settler |

Before you begin reading, know that this is not a blog post. It is a final paper that has been cut and pasted into a blog post. It is my attempt at answering all of the questions I previously asked in past blog posts from my Ed890 class. It is written for a professor, and I posted it so that I have record of the final steps in my journey through that class.

A quick update as well would be that since having my daughter, I decided to postpone my project until I have officially finished my masters of education through course route. I still plan on completing the project, but I will be taking as much time as I need, not rushing to complete it so I can finish my degree. Here you go!

As I move forward with my Treaty 4 Reconciliation Project, I know there will be some hard decisions to make, and difficult questions to answer, especially as I start getting into the practical production of the project. I have already asked many of these questions on my blog, but I came at them hypothetically. I wasn’t really looking to answer them. Now it’s time to engage with them on a bit more of a practical level. As I enter into the creation of my project, I will begin to answer how I am going to come at some of these difficult decisions/questions. Below I will engage with each question separately and begin to answer how I plan on taking some of these bigger epistemological questions and engage with them pragmatically.

How can I help settlers unlearn Canada’s typical national story? 

Before participants enter into the Treaty 4 story, they need to be reminded of the dominant Western expansion story and its pitfalls. I would suggest that before participants take part in my project, they watch clips from “Canada, a People’s History” videos. There are some clips on YouTube, and the whole series can be borrowed from the library. Students should be asked to think critically about who is represented in the story, and who is not. By watching just a few clips, can they recognize who “Canada’s people” are? Who is the story about? What/who is missing?

Once students have looked into the dominant narrative of Canada’s history, the Treaty 4 story can be entered into thoughtfully. The Treaty 4 story needs to be re-told through the eyes of First Nations people. “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). Voice needs to be given to the experiences and history of the First Nations people that were involved in the signing. That said, it cannot shift to become “just Treaty Ed.” The re-telling needs to look more like what Claire Kreuger calls “Settler Ed.” During the ARIS experience, students need to be questioned to be mindful of how this re-telling differs from the dominant narrative, and where they and their ancestors fit into the story… Aboriginal or not.

“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). How can I, like Dion, emphasize the power, strength, and wisdom of the First Nation’s people within the Treaty 4 story?

I think the videos I create need to show how resilient and strong the First Nations people are at the signing of Treaty 4. Each character that is introduced in the story needs to have a bit of a backstory and introduction. They shouldn’t just be a random character. I will have to be careful how many characters I introduce into the story so that participants can connect with each on a personal level. I think 4-5 characters is probably a good number for participants to follow along with. Using the backpack feature of the app, participants will pick up Cree words that emphasize these character’s strength qualities. Participants can pick up a word of strength and resilience before they meet each character in the story. I will do my best to tie in the correct word to the right character.

How can I foster an environment where the acts of colonial settlers can be investigated, and questions of responsibility can be taken up?

“If the current quest for reconciliation is no different from settler practices of the past – a new colonial tool of oppression – it has now become imperative to challenge Canada’s peacekeeper myth. Peeling back the layers of myth reveals that we must confront our own repressed and unscrutinized past as part of our own truth telling” (Regan, 2010, p. 67). I struggle to know how to push someone to investigate acts that have become so commonplace. I often think why didn’t anyone question what was happening to the First Nations people when thousands of Settlers were coming to Canada and First Nations people were being displaced right and left? We know that obviously there were some people who questioned what was happening, and certain people who challenged the policies that led to residential schools and reserves. That said, they were not loud enough, and we know that these systemic oppressions continued for too long, and still continue. I think the best way to have participants investigate these acts is to allow the participants to “interview” a Settler within the Augmented Reality Treaty 4 story. The app gives options for the participants to ask characters within the app questions and receive answers. I think one of the characters will have to be a Settler, and as the participants ask them questions, their racist worldview will have to be exposed, as will the benefits they received because of the Treaties. With some proper questioning afterwards, participants will have the opportunity to reflect on Settler actions and policies.

When is it our turn as colonizers/settlers to take responsibility for our own history, and work towards reconciliation from our end? Where do these understandings fit into the way I take up my Treaty 4 Reconciliation Project?

I believe the time is now. As Vanessa Watts from University of McMaster and Hayden King from University of Toronto point out in their article, “TRC Report a Good Start, but now it’s Time for Action,” there have been many Canadian reports done in the past that report on the violence and atrocious conditions First Nations people have had to deal with.

“The formulaic response to these moments of clarity and accompanying opportunity has been tacit acceptance, followed closely by delay and obfuscation, then apathy, and finally the status quo. It is a tradition in this country to ignore progressive solutions to the Canadian problem. This aversion is rooted in a resistance to sacrificing privilege and sharing power” (Watts & King, 2015).

Watts and King believe that it is no longer good enough to ignore yet another report about the racism and oppression facing our First Nation people. After reading the Truth and Reconciliation report’s Calls to Action, anyone can see how clearly something needs to be done.  That said, these Calls to Action in some ways are much bigger than me, and in other ways, they are exactly for me.

“The dynamics of symbolic violence are evident in the visceral exchanges between residential school survivors, government officials, and church representatives in public forums and less visibly in the everyday bureaucratic processes and practices that serve to reinforce colonial power relations. This subtle violence is all the more elegant because it is embedded in a language of healing and reconciliation that is seductive to both the colonizer and the colonized, albeit for different reasons” (Regan, 2010, p. 116).

I do not want to be a part of more subtle violence towards First Nations people. First Nations survivors have been putting in the time, the effort, and the back-breaking work of fighting policy, stigma, and oppression for years. It is time we as colonizers/Settlers stand behind them as allies and support the important work they have been doing all along. Reconciliation does not require me to re-tell the Treaty 4 story. Reconciliation does not require me to create a new lesson/unit for my own students. Reconciliation requires me to take responsibility for my own Settler history, learn about the ways I take part in racism and oppression, and work towards making that right in my own life. For me specifically, that has come as a call to make this Treaty 4 Augmented Reality app. I have realized that as I begin to take responsibility for my portion of history, I can work towards helping others understand where they might fit as well.

Who/What audience should my project be intended for?

After reading through the course texts, I have decided that this project should be mainly intended for Settlers. Sure, others can take part in the experience, and learn alongside us, but the First Nations people of Saskatchewan have been historically re-victimized by being asked to continually share about the oppression their people faced, teach others about this oppression, and then fight the governmental policies and systems that continue to oppress their people. It is time that Settlers learn about our own oppressive history and challenge our own ways of knowing.

“Decolonization is about changing lives and, in connection with research, conducting studies in different ways that directly benefit Indigenous peoples, instead of once again subjecting them to a research process that has ‘extracted and claimed ownership’ of Indigenous ways of knowing only to reject the people responsible for those ways of knowing” (Strong-Wilson, 2007, p. 117). I feel like I am struggling to find a balance between my desire to re-tell the history of Treaty 4 from a First Nations point of view and my desire to help White Settlers disrupt their own historical understanding of Saskatchewan’s history. Can I do both well?

When I first asked this question, I was bound by the fear that I had to do both well. In the weeks following, I have realized that the freedom lies in an open hand mentality. Though I have previously stated that I don’t want to be the White Knight, my thoughts and even actions proved otherwise. I felt like this project was my one shot to get it right. How on earth was I going to help Settlers disrupt their racist thought patterns and honour Saskatchewan’s Indigenous people through the re-telling of Treaty 4? I have now come to a place of open hands. It is not my responsibility to do anything in anyone else’s hearts or minds. God, the Creator, has set me on a reconciliation journey. I have realized that my role is to walk in obedience to what I feel called to, and trust that He is big enough and strong enough to guide the rest. This project’s success is not measured by how many people it reaches.  If this project reaches 100 people, or just 1 person, (myself), it has been useful. This project has been a spiritual journey for me, and as I have begun to de-colonize my own life, I have come to realize that success cannot be measured by Western standards. In fact, if I try to do that, I am losing sight of the spirit of intent that began this whole project in the first place.

Where do I fit as I blend my own spiritual understandings of creation and promise with those of our First Nation’s ancestors?

This process has also caused some inner turmoil for me over the past few months. I consider myself a Christian, a believer, and a Jesus follower. With these names have come years of Bible training, church attendance, and Euro-centric understandings of the world. I don’t think all of these experiences have been bad ones, and I don’t think all of them have been good either. What I do know is that my basic understanding of God has been framed through a Western church lens. That said, I have had many moments of deep spiritual connection with the Creator of the World, and for these times, I am forever grateful. I believe God has set my path for me, and called me into a relationship with Him. In the times when I have experienced God in the deepest ways, it is not surprising that they were free from the constructs of church policy, church business, and church frameworks.

I wish I could say that I have figured it all out and can now give you a solid vision statement of what I believe and how First Nation’s understandings of the world fit into my Christian beliefs. I can’t.  What I do know is this:

  1. I have a lot to learn when it comes to First Nation’s spiritual practices and ceremonies. I don’t have much experience with them, and my understanding in this area is limited to historical accounts of these practices or other’s experiences with them. I would like to grow my knowledge base of the spiritual side of ceremonies and traditions. Especially those surrounding the signing of Treaty 4.
  2. “Indigenous peoples are those who have creation stories, not colonization stories, about how they came to be in a particular place – indeed how they came to be a place” (Tuck and Yang, 2012). Right now, I feel like God is calling me to go deeper with Him in my understandings of Him as Creator. I have been convicted that I don’t have much of an appreciation or relationship to the land or creation.  I have been conscious of this, and have began taking time to appreciate the outdoors in ways that I haven’t before. It has started small by giving gratitude while on a run near my local creek, thanking Him for the cat tails and birds flying by. While driving through the prairies, I have looked out the window and tried to imagine what the natural Saskatchewan landscape would have been like before the farmer’s fields. I thank God for the beautiful never-ending sky and clouds that seem to represent His vastness. I also feel like I want to take a bigger step and devote a day or a weekend to being outdoors; learning and appreciating all that the Creator has given to us. This would be deeper than just a camping trip. The intent and spirit behind the day/weekend would be connecting with God as Creator and honouring all that comes with being on the land. I am trying to wait on the Lord in this respect, and trust that I will know when this trip should happen, where it should happen, and with who.
  3. This is a journey. I don’t have to have all the answers, and I don’t have to be at a certain point to feel like I can move forward with reconciliation. I want to meet with, and dialogue with First Nations people who are on this journey as well. I want to learn from Elders and listen to teachings that challenge my mind and heart. I want to trust that the work God is doing in my life is a good one, and that it will continue. I believe this journey is bigger than myself and as I move forward, I know I must remain humble and contrite in spirit.

To conclude, I have realized that this journey is a messy one. It’s not always clear what road I will go down next, and I’m not always sure where I fit or how. I know I have grown tremendously over this last year as I have learned about these topics, yet on the same hand, I feel just as helpless and just as inexperienced as before in many ways! I look forward to starting the practical part of my project with open hands, and I am willing to see this project change, shift, and grow as it continues.

References

Dion, S. (2009). Braiding histories: Learning from Aboriginal peoples’ experiences and

perspectives. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Regan, P. (2010). Unsettling the settler within: Indian residential schools, truth telling, and reconciliation in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press

Strong-Wilson, T. (2007). Moving Horizons: Exploring the Role of Stories in Decolonizing the Literacy Education of White Teachers. International Education. 37, 114-132.

Tuck, E. & Yang, K.W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. 1, 1-40.

Watts, V. & King, H. (2015, June 5). TRC report a good start, but now it’s time for action. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/trc- report-a-good-start-but-now-its-time-for-action/article24824924/

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Braiding Histories Chapter 7

Posted on June 4, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Braiding Histories, cultural, Ed890, educational, First Nations, Masters, Race |

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 7:

Chapter 7 is Susan Dion’s reflection on her whole Braiding Histories project. Though her goal was to equip teachers to investigate and learn from the lived experiences of Aboriginal people, she found that the project drew “attention to the structures of teaching and how those structures work on and through teachers, enabling an approach that, rather than disrupting, supports the reproduction of dominant ways of knowing” (Dion, 2009, p. 177). It was clear that the project did not go exactly the way she had hoped.  She found that the teachers who were using the stories still found ways to reproduce a Eurocentric outlook on Aboriginal stories. As she reflects on these outcomes, Dion suggests that before teachers use these stories in the future, it may be necessary for them to engage in “a more specific investigation of their relationship with Aboriginal people” (Dion, 2009, p. 179). She really encourages teachers to know their own history, understand where they are coming from, and what cultural traditions/mindsets they inherited.

What I really liked about Dion’s reflection is that she didn’t just look at what went wrong with the experience and give up.  She critically looks at the pedagogy surrounding and supporting what happened and she challenges how she and the teachers could have done better. Since her project, she has realized that her “intention is to construct a teaching practice that enables students to ‘call into question existing truths and imposed limits on what they know, while simultaneously envisioning new possibilities for both themselves’ and their ways of teaching… This practice calls on the students not to live in the past but in relation with the past, acknowledging the claim that the past has on the present” (Dion, 2009, p. 180). I love that Dion is not concerned with students learning about historical or cultural events. She really wants to cultivate a recognition of difference and what implications those differences might have. If we are not digging deeper, we end up with mere multicultural education, which is what I spoke about in my last post.

Chapter 7 is the final chapter of Braiding Histories and I am so glad I read this novel before entering into the practical next steps of my Treaty 4 Reconciliation Project.  There are many things that I learned from the two teachers, Diane and Jenna, and I am so glad that Dion was able to unpack the negatives and positives of what COULD happen with a project like this.  I feel like my Treaty 4 project is very similar to Dion’s Braiding Histories project in that we are both are using re-telling as our main teaching method. To summarize, these are the things I have learned from Dion about what TO DO, and NOT TO DO with my own project.

  1. Storytelling is so important. The power of story transcends time in its ability to re-tell history from a first person point of view. It allows listeners to dive into the reality of the characters. I don’t want this project to be cheesy, so I want to use real storytellers, elders, and even actors to help re-tell the story of Treaty 4.
  2. I don’t want to develop a “discourse of sympathy.” I want to find a balance between sharing the harsh realities Aboriginal people faced around the signing of Treaty 4, but also the resilience, power and strength of these men and women throughout this time.
  3. Questioning is so important! Not only do I want to question participants throughout the project to help them disrupt their own colonial ways of understanding, but I need to begin with questions of what I am looking for with this project. How will I evaluate its success?
  4. I want this project to be more than a multicultural resource for teachers and students. If it is just another way to re-tell a “colonial success story,” I might as well stop now. I am striving to have this project be more than an artifactual Treaty Ed lesson.

I look forward to moving on to some other readings that can help me grow my knowledge base around these matters. I still feel very incompetent when it comes to knowing how to proceed appropriately. Thanks for following my experience thus far. Stay tuned for more ramblings of a teacher on this journey of anti-oppressive education! 🙂

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“Journey” Photo credit Kasia via Flickr.com

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Braiding Histories Chapter 6

Posted on June 3, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, Braiding Histories, cultural, Ed890, educational, First Nations, Masters, 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 6:

Dion gets personal in chapter 6 when she takes up her own mother, Audrey’s story.  It was clear she had dual commitments when re-telling this story as she wanted to honour her mother, explore her own position as an Aboriginal person, and unpack what forced assimilation looks like in Canada.  It became extra personal for the authors, Susan and Michael because the retelling was “interwoven with a lifetime of experiences” (Dion, 2009, p. 138).

As the teachers began to take up Audrey’s story in the classroom, Dion noticed that the teachers relied “on a version of the golden rule, they attended to Audrey’s suffering.  Knowing that students would not like to be treated as Audrey was, they used her narrative to show students how to be ‘good’ and ‘moral’ citizens” (Dion, 2009, p.139). Just like with Shanawdithit’s story, the teachers tried to personalize the story for the students by having them connect with their own personalized versions of suffering. They believed that for the students to truly connect with Audrey’s story, they needed to “generate sympathy for Audrey” (Dion, 2009, p. 143).

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“The Golden Rule” Photo Credit: Burkazoid via Flickr.com

I read this chapter and felt so many connections with the teachers Diane and Jenna.  I too want my students to connect personally with every lesson I teach.  I believe that a personal connection can be what moves a mediocre lesson from good to great.  I also try to instil moral values and help my students become better people.  The problem I am learning, is not with these ideals; the problem becomes when I am using these ideals as a cultural mirage to mask the real racial systemic problems that are in our face daily.   If I am too afraid to take up tensions and have conversations around tough topics, I am actually doing my students a disservice.

This tension is fresh as I just had a short conversation with a friend this morning around Regina’s Mosaic Multicultural celebration.  In the last year, I have read many critiques around the use of multiculturalism as a teaching tool.  Before starting my Masters work, I would have completely agreed with celebrations like this, and I even brought mini versions of this into my own classroom.  The problem is that when we idolize multiculturalism, we create a sense of pride in our “Canadian mosaic.”  We start thinking that we are doing ok with the whole race thing, and we aren’t racist after all.  Like Dion suggests, we don’t start to question our colonial responsibilities, but rather, we celebrate the diversity we see today.  This causes a removed sense of sympathy for First Nations people, either past or present, and we end up with well meaning teachers who take stories of strong, resilient Aboriginal people and turn them into pity parties.  I’m not saying that there isn’t value in Mosaic’s multicultural celebration, I just think we really need to question what outcomes we have for celebrations like this, and if they are moving us to action in fighting systematic oppression.

mosaic

Photo Credit via Tourism Regina

As I approach my Treaty 4 Reconciliation project, I want to make sure that I am not approaching it with a multicultural type attitude, but one of reconciliation and progress.  The whole idea for this project came out of the TRC’s Calls to Action for education. The 62nd and 63rd call to action says:

62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:

  1. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students. 
  1. We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:i. Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.

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“TRC” Photo Credit via The Media Project

This Treaty 4 project is happening because of both of these TRC statements. I want it to be a resource that teachers can use as part of the curriculum when teaching about Treaties. Dion suggests that “it was through the process of colonization and the assimilationist policies of the Canadian government that Aboriginal people were denied access to knowledge of their history, language, and culture. Students in Canada have been denied knowledge  of the history of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada” (Dion, 2009, p. 153). If our government took the TRC’s call to action seriously, it could mean that legislation and new policies are a way to mend the relationship between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people.  It also means that new policies would allow everyone access to knowledge of Aboriginal history, language and culture. I would love for this project to be a part of a curriculum that’s goal is to see reconciliation, not merely multiculturalism. I am trying to develop this GPS game/experience so that it can be used with students young and old. I am in no way the first one to get this ball rolling.  This ball has been rolling for a long time.  Fortunately, I am just now in a position to hear about it, and lend a hand in seeing it progress.  We can’t wait for the government to act first. Let’s keep developing and creating resources that can be used in a future curriculum that gives this knowledge the voice it needs.

My next and last post on Braiding Histories is on Chapter 7. It discusses Dion’s reflections on the experience as a whole and her current work with teachers on these subject matters.

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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).

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“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.

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“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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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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