Braiding Histories

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.

shanawdithit

“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.

treaty 4 flag

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)

11520162645_4f88c97e3c_z

“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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