Canada: A History of Resistance?

Photo from

With recent events in Canada related to the Idle No More campaign and an often nasty national dialogue related to First Nations struggles in this country, I have started to wonder if resistance and rebellion, depending on your loyalties, are a part of our narrative and who we are. The 19th century, with two Métis resistances, one war against an oppressive empire to the south, two major rebellions in the Canadas, nationalist revolutionary movements in Quebec in the 20th century, and now an indigenous resistance based on a general angst, speaks to an uneasiness we have with oppressive and unresponsive governments. In nearly all cases, governments have taken for granted the legitimate concerns of minority and vulnerable groups of people who are about to be displaced our lose their culture. Right or wrong, these movements are a consistent feature on our historical landscape (this is my opinion, not a truth).

Recently we have explored the history of Red River since 1738. We understand the relationship between First Nations and Europeans, the treaty signed between Selkirk and Peguis, and how people tried to share space. We also learned what happened when Canada did not talk to the Métis when looking to engulf the Northwest into Confederation. We are able to answer the question: Why is Louis Riel the father of Manitoba?

But things were also happening in other parts of British North America. The United States at some point tried to march through Upper and Lower Canada – see the PBS film below:

Watch 1812 Long Tease on PBS. See more from The War of 1812.

By the 1830s, there were rumblings of rebellions and these hit a feverish point in 1837 and ’38. Here is a great resource on the Rebellions of 1837/38. We know that there were rebellions in the maritime colonies, the Parliament building was burned down in 1849,there were two Metis rebellions in the Northwest, a massacre in Montreal, an FLQ crisis in Quebec, several First Nations protests and now the Idle No More movement (I will supply articles on these in class, but do not want to post them as they are copyrighted. I don’t want my friends at Canada’s History to beat me up). Are we a nation of resistance and/or rebellions? What does this mean in terms of the development of Peace, Order, and Good Government? Has this rebellious nature created our democracy? Please respond initially via this blog and then we will do some formal writing next week.

Idle No More Texbook

Photo from APTN

Here are a couple of assignments I have given my Grade 9 Social Studies class and my Grade 11/12 Law class. I would love for your students to take part!

Canada in the Contemporary World Assignment

Law Assignment

Here is my attempt at creating an interactive and evolving Idle No More textbook for educators and students across the country. A major goal is to engage all in higher-order thinking and writing about this historic movement. As per my previous post, I find this a critical time to examine our collective history and see what we need to do to move on. With any issue, there are many perspectives and many which are ill informed. In order to think critically about any issue and to seek out what is significant, we need to have a basic understanding of the forces at work. Over the last few days, I have put together a few resources to help us understand, at a basic level, what Idle No More is, what Bill C-45 is, what Canadians are saying, and what First Nations leaders are saying.

I hope that we can build this resource over the next few weeks. Please feel free to comment below and suggest links that would be useful. I also welcome the thoughts on Idle No More from students and teachers around that world that are constructive and are meant to construct knowledge.

What is Idle No More?
9 Questions about Idle No More
A People’s Movement
What is Idle No More?

Personal Perspectives
I sent leaders and community observers within the Idle No More movement some questions to answer. More responses are on the way. I would like to thank the respondents for their time and candour.

Waub Rice from CBC Ottawa (Community Observer) Sheila North Wilson from Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (Leader) Niigaan Sinclair, Professor at the University of Manitoba on CBC Radio (Leader) (The whole interview can be found here: What are Canadians Saying?
Cross Country Checkup
MacLeans Magazine

Critics and Critiques of Idle No More
Christy Blatchford, National Post
Ezra Levant
Toronto Star on the Audit
Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail
Andrew Coyne (former SJR student) on Idle No More

Critics of Liberalism
Globe and Mail

International Media Coverage
Democracy Now
Al Jazeera
The Guardian
Similar events around the world

Legislation (National & International)
Indian Act
Canadian Human Rights Commission
United Nations
Bill C-45
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

Pre Friday Meeting Resources
Meeting on the Verge of Collapse
Lack of Transparency Harming Chief’s Cause
Fickle Spence CBC on the Meeting – GREAT RESOURCE!! 
GG to meet with FN – Sort of
Harper and Chiefs to meet
5 Things to Know about Today’s Meeting

Post Meeting News
Chief Spence to Meet with GG
AFN 8 Points of Consenus
Harper and Atleo Agree
Jonathan Kay Comment

Editorials on the Saturday Following PM Meeting
Evan Solomon’s Essay
Globe and Mail Editorial
Andrew Coyne
Winnipeg Sun

Solar Powered Learning

Photo from Rona

My friends and I had one of those ideas; the kind that starts at lunch or coffee and leads to something strange. Heather Ragot and Craig Campbell, two teachers at SJR who I see as master teachers, and myself are trying to create an experience for our Grade 9 students.

Let me step back. A few months ago I acquired a grant to place solar panels on top of my classroom. It was one of those ideas inspired by a ski, a late night snack, or a restroom break: What if? At the time, I didn’t really know anything about solar energy and the viability of it in a place like Manitoba where energy is so cheap because of the abundance of hydro electricity. The first thing I did was consult my good friend Mike Phelan, who is the owner of a business called Rogue Machines – it’s an engineering and design firm. I have known Mike since I was 15 and trust his judgement in this area. My good friend Dave Hill, my former water polo coach who now lives off the grid in Ontario, also chimed in. Here’s the conversation on Facebook:

 So this was of great help and I am grateful for having friends like Mike and Dave – a testament to the close community that is Winnipeg. In any event, I passed on the project to one of my Grade 12 students who was interested in doing some research for his Praxis Project in Global Issues. But my wheels continued to spin. I started to think of the big questions related to alternative energy and our addiction to energy itself. I heard this great broadcast on the CBC from Cape Breton Island about a couple living off the gird, and it inspired me. What if we could teach off the grid?

I knew I couldn’t do this alone, so I started to bug Craig and Heather – the two master teachers at SJR who I respect dearly. Craig teaches Science, mostly Physics, and Heather teaches English Language Arts. They are two of the most committed teachers I have ever met. Heather and I had already been collaborating since September as we both teach the same group of kids for English and Social Studies. When I approached her about doing a holistic study of energy, we immediately knew that Craig had to be involved, given his energy and the fact that he teaches the same group of kids.

From there, the ideas began to flow. In January, Craig will start teaching the kids about the Science behind solar energy and electricity itself. These students will help my Grade 12 student actually install the panels and batteries and navigate the logistics.

Heather is going to start reading Lord of the Flies with the students and have them start to investigate our relationship with the biosphere and all systems on earth. She will then take the students through the process of writing a research paper in order for the students to start looking at alternative energy, energy policy, and current debates. The students will gain research skills, an understanding of APA formatting, and a thorough knowledge of issues related to energy production and consumption.

From my end, I will start investigating democracy in Canada with the students. The end goal will be a mock parliament whereby students from different political parties attempt to create a national energy policy. I am super excited about this.

Craig Campbell 

Our hope from this project is that students will gain an ecological literacy through a systems thinking and multidisciplinary approach. My hypothesis is that the students will develop a deeper understanding of the science, an appreciation of the political realities when developing policy, an understanding of the need for civil disobedience (Idle No More), and gain some tremendous skills. From my end, I get to learn, plan, assess, and hang out with some pretty cool colleagues.

Please let us know, via the comment thread, about things you have done that might help us or similar projects that you have done. We would love to learn (rip you off) from you and hear your stories.

To be continued…

Teaching Idle No More

The Idle No More movement speaks volumes as to our understanding of our history and our relationship with each other. John Ralston Saul suggested that we are a small “M” métis nation; one shaped by our indigenous roots –  but this history was rewritten in the 19th and 20th centuries. If this is the case, perhaps the Idle No More campaign is a wake-up call to this relationship and to the reality that Canada needs to fess up to some ugly truths. Our story is complex and involves a lot of players; the solutions may be equally perplexing and painful.

As an educator and someone who likes to read history, Idle No More is of great interest and personal investment. Many of my friends are of First Nation descent, and I am grateful for being included in their stories. I am sure they are equally overjoyed to be part of my European-mutt-Roma story.

Over the winter holidays, I have struggled as to how to investigate such a movement in my classroom and within my own consciousness. Where do I start?

The first step I have taken is to solicit the input of leaders in Canada within the movement. I have sent the following questionnaire to Sheila North Wilson of CBC Manitoba, Waub Rice of CBC Ottawa, Michael Champagne of CKUW’s Inner City Voices, and Niigaan Sinclair from the University of Manitoba. My hope is that the podcasts created by these participants will shape a would-be textbook and provide us with an inside look at the motivation and inspiration of the movement.

Now for the pedagogy…

There are two main issues when dealing with such a movement in the classroom: the social and the cognitive. They are interrelated, but both need to be addressed in order to provide an educative experience that is both positive and transformative. By social I refer to the attitudes, expriences, and baggage we bring into a learning community – both as teachers and students. Can we get past the point of “the other” in order to reconcile our stories? I think that as teachers, this comes down to developing the imagination within each student in order to create an empathetic learning environment. Simply stated, how do we move beyond fundamentally racist attitudes, whether established at home or through other experiences, and create opportunities for critical thought and reconciliation? There is a clear gap in this development, given the material which showed up at the #idlenomore rally in Winnipeg on December 31st (photo tweeted be Sheila North Wilson). The example below is extreme, but there are far more subtle examples of historical resentment present in all facets of our society. As teachers, can we constructively deal with attitudes from students and teachers which ignore the fact that we are a métis nation? Can we help students get beyond the idea that “Indians get all this free stuff?”

By the cognitive, I refer to the critical thinking and rigour involved in furthering our understanding of our collective stories. Idle No More represents a huge idea and sub concepts which could dilute any message. As January 7th approaches (the first day back following the holidays), I need to create an environment whereby we can attack the BIG questions and answer them with rigour. By rigour I refer to William Doll’s explanation: “purposely looking for different alternatives, relations, connections” (Doll, 1993). I find often that inquiry and project-based learning can  attack huge ideas whereby they are watered down and simply become an exercise in free-for-all-ism. What I want to do, particularly with my Grade 12 Global Issues class, is to pose 3 or 4 major questions that get to the essence of this movement. I suspect the rigour will take care of itself once these questions are established and the learning is directed by the community.

In all, I want this investigation to inspire empathy, critical thinking, and an understanding of “the other” and of each other’s stories. I want to teach my students how to look at certain movements with logic, compassion, and not to immediately polarize debates. Part of this success will be based on my openness to have my assumptions challenged. Perhaps, as Idle No More has, this educative experience will bring more Canadians together and will help perpetuate a constructive dialogue between colonized, colonizer, and everyone else.

To be continued….