Each year, I get the opportunity to plan a TEDxYouth event with learners from the Maples Met School. This year, due to COVID, we had to do some fancy foot work, but we were able to produce what we think is powerful evidence of youth thinking critically and in an anti-colonial way. Enjoy!
The Seven Oaks School Division Post Baccalaureate Cohort in Inquiry is currently engaged in a course entitled Project-based Learning Theory. In the fall, the group completed Topics in Experiential Education, and as such, have a firm foundational understanding of experience and design. In PBL theory, we have been exploring PBL as a container for deeper learning. You can check out the podcast below to see how our thinking is taking shape. (We will be adding podcasts every few days.)
As we turn our gaze on the last few years of the 20th century and analyze how expectations of educators of Indigenous learners have changed and/or remained the same, two critical voices keep tugging at my neuronal networks.
The first is from Anishinaabe scholar and activist Leanne Simpson. In her article Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation, Simpson argues that for education to become decolonized, Indigenous education needs to occur outside of the imperial context: “Nishnaabeg must stop looking for legitimacy within the colonizer’s education system and return to valuing our individual and collective intelligence on its own merits and on our own terms” (p. 22).
While not pushing western education aside completely for Anishinaabe children, Simpson surfaces the reality that Indigenous children “are spending 40 hours a week in state run education systems,” and that “Next to none of that takes place in a Nishnaabeg context….” (p. 23). Despite Canada’s best efforts to reconcile its relationship with Indigenous children, there exists an omnipresent desire to assimilate and legitimize success through conformity.
And this very real vector of assimilation and integration through the praise of the adoption of western practices and ideologies in the form of low expectations is seen through the history of education in Manitoba. Through the Manitoba Teacher, we have seen throughout the 20th century that success is determined by the degree to which an Indigenous child can emulate European values. We are curiously pleased when Indigenous children can moderately participate in our society.
The second voice that enters my mind throughout this process is that of Marie Battitste, University of Saskatchewan scholar. In her work Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit, Battiste brings to the forefront the notion of cognitive imperialism, arguing that:
Cognitive imperialism is not just symbolic cultural assimilation, but wholesale cognitive whitewashing, working through the loss of Aboriginal languages that themselves inform the perspectives and values and world views of the peoples. As a result, success has been closely associated with Aboriginal students’ losing their languages and cultural connections; many often do not see the merit of holding to Aboriginal language systems, cultures, or world views, nor understand the wealth of knowledge within their own systems. This self-doubt, coupled with racism, continues to sabotage their expectations for their own future. (p. 162).
Success in the minds of the colonizer has not and is not about what Simpson describes as an education system designed to “create self-motivated, self-directed, community-minded, inter-dependent, brilliant, loving citizens…” (p. 23). Rather, success is defined by one’s ability to engage in a neoliberal system designed to assimilate Indigenous peoples into a foreign political, social, economic and historic paradigm. This certainly was present in our investigation of the Manitoba Teacher between the 1919 and the 1970s, despite a few voices from the north.
The conflict between Indigenous resurgence and colonial forces came to a critical point in the late 1980s and early 1990s and this is evidenced in editions of Manitoba Teachers’ Society journal in the early 1990s. Several key events, movements, and people helped to bring Indigenous issues and voices to the forefront of Canadian mainstream society. The first was the conviction of five white men in 1987 for the heinous murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas, Manitiba in 1971. Coupled with the murder of J.J. Harper by an RCMP officer, in 1998, the cases led to intense relations between Indigenous peoples, the RCMP, the Manitoba government, and the settler state in general. In response to this tension, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, led partly by Senator Murray Sinclair, was created in 1988 and rendered its final report in three parts in the fall of 1991.
At the same time, national events were also influencing the tensions between Indigenous and settlers in Canada. The first is what many refer to as the “Oka Crisis.” In the summer of 1990, as Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk activists who is and was a leader at Oka thirty years ago, reccounts, “the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation were denied their fundamental human rights without any just recourse. 30 years later, the Rotinonhseshá:ka are still fighting the same issues, while Canada, Québec and Oka collude to continue their land fraud under the auspices of development based on institutionalized racism.” (Gabriel, 2020). Local, provincial, and federal forces besieged the Mohawk community as it was attempting to resist the development and expansion of a golf course with condominiums. The “Oka Crisis” was less a crisis and more of Indigenous peoples, supported around the world, defending unceded territory.
The second involved Elijah Harper, an NDP MLA who, supported by the Assembly of First Nations, who filibustered the provincial legislature in order to stall the Meech Lake Accord — constitutional amendments that would acknowledge Quebec as a distinct society.
Harper and the AFN had major objections to being excluded from discussions related to nationhood. Harper’s famous eagle feather response would ignite a chain reaction and eventually shut down the constitutional process.
But it was the murders of Helen Betty Osborne and J.J. Harper that seemed to compel the Manitoba Teachers’ Society into finally giving some oxygen and space to the Indigenous voices of resurgence, at least on paper. In the March 1990 edition of The Manitoba Teacher, where the cover and the central focus is on the theme of “peer-coaching”, three articles speak to three different perspectives when it comes to cognitive imperialism and colonial forces in the form of public education. The first is an article by Marshall Murdock, who at the time was the Native Education Advisor of the Winnipeg School Division at the Elmwood Educational Resource Centre entitled “We can beat racism, if we work together.” (Murdock, 1990, p. 9). In a response to the establishment of both a Winnipeg School Division task force on race relations and an MTS committee devoted to anti-racism, Murdock unveils that racism is alive and well: “Racism is a reality. It needs to be addressed by the school system and community.” He goes on further to argue that “Individuals in the mainstream of society often talk about minorities and native people needing to be integrated.” But he challenges this by arguing that Indigenous learners do not have the same opportunities for education and employment and learners in the rest of society.
As alternatives, Murdock speaks to the development of “Aboroginal Survival Schools” and Indigenous teacher education programmes. Children of the Earth School, an all Indigenous secondary school had been in the works since 1988 through energy from North End community groups and the Winnipeg School Division would later open it in 1991. He also points to post-secondary opportunities that had been developed through the University of Winnipeg’s ACCESS programme, BUNTEP (Brandon University Native Teacher Education Program) and the University of Maniutoba’s Winnipeg education Center. As Murdock explains, “These programs are designed primarily for Indian and Métis students who have been deprived of educational opportunities for social, economic and cultural reasons.” A handful of programs designed to train Indiegnous teachers in their communities, including BUNTEP, PENT (Project for the Education of Native Teachers), and IMPACTE (Indian – Métis Project for Careers through Teacher Education) sprouts dup in the early to mid 1970s as a reaction to what Sealey in the previous blog post saw as a dearth in Indigenous teachers in the north and rural areas of the province.
The essence of Murdock’s message in 1990 is that alternatives must be found for Indigenous education. That integration does not work and that, “We must continue to explore new approaches to native education. The pursuit of alternatives and new concepts must become top priority — without jeopardizing the equality of programs and program delivery necessary to meet the needs of native students” (p. 11).
And this is the danger, of lessening the quality of education to which Murdock refers. Off-campus programs, death-by-worksheets, and special education have all been tools by the education system to create an apartheid system. The system has made assumptions about the abilites, interests, and potential of Indiegnous learners and has attempted to integrate through apartheid.
In the same March 1990 edition, propelled by the recent high-profile acts of violence on Indigenous people in Manitoba, an article entitled “Some day we’ll graduate” appears. Three Indigenous learners describe their experience at Rising Sun High School, an off-campus program developed through R.B. Russell Vocational High School and Rossbrook House. The programme still exists, although the partnering school is now Gordon Bell. In the article, the learners talk about their experience growing up in the inner city. They speak of the difficulties dealing with the omnipresent forces of poverty and racism and ask the fundamental question: “Why do so many of us have a hard time finishing school?” (p. 14).
Rising Sun School is described as a school situated in a house. Classes are small, but the learners follow the same curriculum that all other learners do in Manitoba. They enjoy their experience as the are able to engage in the culture: “The last few years we have been given an opportunity to learn Ojibway from a teacher in the neighbourhood. Another teacher comes to the school to teach us native crafts. Also, we have participated in pow-wows and workshops on native spirituality.” (p. 15). There is a sense of pride in their words, despite the challenges that they are presented with living in Winnipeg.
Through their words, they are happy. They conclude with the following: “We like going to school at Rising Sun where we can feel at home and where we can learn at our own pace. It will make it possible for us some day to graduate.”
And the last article of note in the March 1990 issue is written by Caroline McCaig, a teacher at Stony Mountain Elementary School and a member of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society’s task force on racism. McCaig outlines for the first time in The Manitoba Teacher an urban settler perspective on racism in the education system. While her critique is bathed wholeheartedly in problematic notions of multiculturalism, she does identify the reality of low expectations for racialized learners:
Fundamental prejudices are universal. A study in Great Britain and the United States has shown that teachers expect less from non-whote children. Low expectations tend to result in low achievement. Studies have also shown that the majority of students in vocational and lower-level academic programs comes from visible minorities. Educators need to develop realistic expectations of all students to make sure that prejudice does not interfere with the academic achievements of students. (p. 13).
This attack on the colonial system from an urban context is relatively novel and an important moment. The March 1990 issue of The Manitoba Teacher is significant in its entirety as it features voices from Indigenous teachers, Indigenous learners, and settler teachers. Each offer a perspective that is unique and each fundamentally asks for a different or alternative form of education.
The June 1990 edition features an article on BUNTEP. Agnes Grant, one of the faculty members, describes the Indigenous education programme 20 years in the making. While she notes much success, she does offer some caution: “Historically, and to some extent even today, they have been criticized for being watered down.” (Grant, 1990, p. 4). Despite this perception, Grant asserts that all the off-campus teacher education programmes are successfully running, ensuring that Indigenous learners in rural areas have Indigenous teachers.
A year later, Indigenous education comes back into focus in The Manitoba Teacher with the June 1991 edition entitled In Search of Harmony and Understanding. Caught up in the early days of multiculturalism mania, the edition features several stories on cultural programmes, including Ukrainian bilingual schools, teacher connections in Africa and Thailand, and editorials on inclusion.
The first article that refers specifically to Indigenous learners is a profile on Gary Robson, Native awareness consultant with the Native education branch, Manitoba Education and training in Winnipeg. In the profile, Robson’s views on education are quite clear:
Mr. Robson says he believes that academic success goes hand in hand with self esteem and that Native students will “become proud and self-confident” if they are encouraged to seek the facts about their heritage and learn “basic skills and knowledge within a context that acknowledges and builds on their culture. (van Raalte, 1991, p. 14).
When training and connecting with teachers, Robson offered a two-pronged approach; the first whereby Indigenous learners are connected with elders in their communities but are also supported by teachers at school. The second emphasis for Robson is on teachers. Robson argues that it is important for teachers in today’s schools to acquire some knowledge of and insight into the ways of Native people for centuries have raised and educated their children and young people.” (p. 15.) Robson places the onus on the educator to engage with the learner — with the experience of the learner and acknowledging that these experiences are valid.
The other article in the June 1991 edition of The Manitoba Teacher is one entitled Multi-purpose Project Helps Native Students. The article focuses on a unique programme at Hugh John Mcdonald School that is predicated on “counseling and beading”. Through the programme, “Native students who have trouble coping with their lives in and out of school” connect with an Indigenous artist, supported by a school guidance counselor. Through beading and teachings, the aim is to raise the self-esteem of learners through various “activities that allow students to experience a measure of success and (b) discussions that enable them to share their concerns and gain new knowledge.” (van Raalt, 1991, p. 2). By assigning “culturally relevant tasks,” the artist “makes sure that the tasks she assigns can be handled by the students to whom she assigns them so that the student will experience ‘a sense of accomplishment.’”
The period at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s marks a significant transition in Canadian society and also the discussions related to Indigenous learners. Through the analysis of The Maniotba Teacher during this period, we see that strong voices from northern and rural parts still exist, but a new voice is beginning to develop within Winnipeg. Through the development of the Winnipeg School Division and MTS task forces on race relations, there is a shift in focus from assimilatory policies to the creation of separate educational experiences for Indigenous learners. Through off-campus programs, school programs, and survival schools like Children of the Earth, there appears for the first time a realized desire on the part Indigenous peoples to resist colonial forms of education.
Through Oka and Meech Lake, Indigenous resistance and reclamation, while always present, briefly become visible through The Manitoba Teacher. It is clear that educators in Winnipeg and throughout the province were engaged at some level in conversations about race, Indigenous education, and expectations. There are parallel forces which raise questions about teacher expectations at this time. The first is the need to seperate Indigenous learners from mainstream education programmes and the second is to change perspectives on success.
At the time, led by community activities and organizations, this separation may have been propelled by a need to rebuke and reject generations of genocidal policies. As Simpson (2014) argues, “Nishnaabewin did not and does not prepare children for a successful career path in a hyper capitalistc system.” (p. 23). While much ground was made during this period by Indigenous educators, learners, and leaders, did it actually shift the expectations of settler teachers in Winnipeg? Have the perceptions and attitudes of white educators changed in 2020? Have off-campus programmes worked? Have they been co-opted? Do we often label learners as “at-risk” “off track” or “unreachable.” Are we streaming Indigenous learners into certain programs? Who is suspended most? Who are the learners who are on IEPs? Have the conditions for our learners changed since 1919?
These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves if we are to move forward in Winnipeg.
Battiste, M. (201). Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Purich.
Carleton, S. (2018). The legacy of Oka and the future of Indigenous resistance. Canadian Dimension.
Gabriel, E. (2020). Ellen Gabriel on the 30th anniversary of the 1990 ‘Oka” crisis. Canadian Dimension.
Grant, A. (1990). University reaches out: Programs bring education to communities. The Manitoba Teacher, Vol. 68(4), pp. 2-4.
McCaig, C. (1990). In the fight against racism, teachers can help turn the tide. The Manitoba Teacher, Vol. 68(3), pp. 12-13.
Murdock, M. (1990). We can beat racism, if we work together. The Manitoba Teacher, Vol. 68(3).
Simpson, L. (2014). Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society, Vol. 3(3), pp. 1-25.
Van Raalt, M. (1991). Multi-purpose project helps Native students. The Manitoba Teacher, Vol. 69(4), pp. 12-13.
Van Raalt, M. (1991). Native education consultant raises teachers’ awareness. The Manitoba Teacher, Vol.69(4), pp 14-15.
A group of passionate educators came together to create this book. We hope that your PLN or team can make use of our stories. You can grab copies from the fine folks at Portage & Main Press
In the previous post of this three-part series, we discussed the lack of research which exists related to teacher expectations of Indigenous learners in Winnipeg. While much research has been conducted throughout the world and in other parts of Canada, I argued that it seems salient that we uncover, both historically and presently, how Indigenous learners are perceived. This is especially significant given that Winnipeg has the largest urban Indigenous population in Canada and that Indigenous learners statistically underperform on key matrices such as graduation rates and Grade 12 provincial exam results (Manitoba Education).
To use the Manitoba Teacher as a point of reference is to use artifacts of specific times, movements, reactions, and experience. Desmond Morton once taught with me that history is the shared human experience. In this sense, the point is to examine the shared experience of educators in Winnipeg — or at least the experience documented in various issues of the publication. (And to examine whether or not an experience is shared.) And in order to analyze the shared experience of educators in Winnipeg and Manitoba, it is critical to take into account what has remained the same, what has changed, and to what extent this change has occurred.
For this post, we will look specifically at The Manitoba Teacher from 1919 to the 1970s.
But prior to beginning, it’s important that I clarify a few errors from my last post. Thankfully, I have an amazing colleague who generally sets me straight about how I develop arguments and think about myself in relation to “reconciliation,” Indigenous reclamation, and resurgence. As an Anishinaabe educator, I rely on her to change my world view, poke holes in my perspective, and challenge me to use my imagination so that I can see beyond my own context and history.
In my last posting, I surfaced the notion of “soft racism.” I used Michael Rose’s (2012) idea of Cotton Wool to suggest that there exists a kinder and gentler level of racism which persists in the classroom in the form of low expectations. I have the privilege of tossing a term like soft racism out, given my positionality. To my friend, however, this has not been and is not a privilege she lives with. As she pointed out, “As an Indigenous person who has been racialized both overtly and covertly my whole life, it’s simple for me: racism is racism.” She further argued, “In my opinion, the term creates a spectrum of racism that is not only a western way of viewing (and explaining it) but also a dangerous one.”
Given this, the conceptualization Cotton Wool, or low expectations, should be examined under the heading of racism. That if educators are to have different expectations for Indigenous learners then this should be considered simply a racist act.
Secondly, upon reflection, there is also a danger for people like me to assume. To make assumptions about what learners need. I have done this throughout my career and I would qualify this as what Anishinabe scholar Leanne Simpson refers to as cognitive imperialism (2011, p. 13). As an educator and principal, I have often assumed what is right for a learner and/or family, and I have pushed ideas like rigour, scholarship, cognitive engagement, and university as means for flourishment. Simpson asks a critical question for all educators to contemplate as we investigate what reconciliation, reclamation, and resurgence look like from the perspective of education: “Are we participating in a process that allows the state to co-opt the individual and collective pain and suffering of our people, while also criminalizing the intergenerational impacts of residential schools and ignoring the larger neo-assimilation project to which our children are now subject?” (p. 22).
As most educators in Winnipeg are non-Indigenous, how do we work towards curbing liberal tendencies to envision progress as a pathway to capital, land, and consumptive prowess? How do we begin to not measure human flourishing by way of degrees on the wall, Dodge Rams, Mexician vacations, and season tickets? Simpson sets me straight by exclaiming with vigour: “Canada must engage in a decolonization project and a re-education project that would enable its government and its citizens to engage with Indigenous Peoples in a just and honourable way in the future.” (p. 23) What roles have schools played in the colonization project, who have been the outliers, and how have teachers perceived learners? To answer these questions, it is critical to examine how we as educators have developed certain expectations of racialized learners so that we can better understand how to work alongside learners, families, and communities to move towards the good life for all.
The Manitoba Teachers Society was born in the early days of the labour movement in Canada. Created in 1919 by teachers marking provincial exams, the first issue on May 24th outlined the intent of the Society: “For some time it had been felt that a more definite, energetic and united effort among teachers was needed in order to improve the status of the profession.” (p.1) Born at the height of the Winnipeg General Strike, there was a need to develop an influential bloc to not only carve out the profession, but to create a substantive position related to the purpose of education in Manitoba. The fall out from the First World War was still fresh in 1919, and according to the president of the Society, H.W. Huntly, “The motives of those entering are of the very highest. They feel that in the past teachers have gone on with their work quietly, sacrificing without complaint with a high sense of duty. Now, the war is over and the time for reconstruction is here….”
And set in the midst of two major European wars and the Great Depression, the Manitoba Tecaher’s Society was born in what historian Geoge Buri (2016) refers to as the “great catastrophe.” To Buri, and more specifically related to the second European conflict, “the issue of reconstruction concerned not only the immediate reintegration of veterans and the transition to a peacetime economy but a rearrangement of relationships between capital and labour, between men and women, between government and citizens, and between Canada and the wider world.” (p. 4) Thus MTS was launched into a tumultuous time that not only recognized a need for greater organization, but a need to reconstruct society through education.
But very little is mentioned of Indigenous learners in these early days. As the Indian Residential School system had been firmly entrenched throughout Canada as a means to remove Indigneous Peoples from the land and assimilate children in Canadian Society, MTS would have little connection with these schools. Winnipeg’s urban Indigenous population would have been significantly smaller, despite small pockets of Métis settlements scattered throughout the outskirts of the newly minted society. It is important to remember that the Red River Resistance (1870), Treaty 1 (1871), the incorporation Winnipeg (1873), and the design and implementation of the Indian Act (1876) had all occurred only a few decades prior to the establishment of the Society.
In the February 1925 issue of The Manitoba Teacher, however, there is a small piece entitled A Visit to Birtle Indian School. The author, simply known as H.M., takes account of their visit to the south wetsern Manitoba residential school which was established in 1894 by the Presbyterian church and funded by the Government of Canada. Upon arrival, the educator is pleased by what they see: “the teachers were introduced to and welcomed individually by thirty-three little Indian boys and girls, who were all dressed like and behaved very similarly to thirty-three little white boys and girls.” (MB Teacher, 1925). The members of MTS are pleasantly surprised that Indigenous children are not wild, rude, or dressed in uncivilized ways. Their expectations, it would appear, prior to arrival could be interpreted to suggest that they expected chaos and disorder. But these fears and expectations were put to rest once they realized that the Indigenous children’s way of being conformed to British and Canadian norms. Success in school was measured against how white children perform.
In the same article, the teachers, through the eyes of H.M., were also inspired by the fact that the children not only went to school and studied the same curriculum that other Manitoba children did, but also that they the children at the Indian Residential School performed back-breaking labour. According to the author, “There they follow the same course of studies as a white child and, in addition, the girls are trained in housework and the boys in farming.” The expectations of assimilation most certainly had taken root by 1925 in the vocabulary of Manitoba teachers, where this type of education was accepted as a means of assimilation and integration. The teachers in 1925 were pleased that the children at Birtle Indian Residential School had exceeded their expectations. Expectations that were saddled in notions of western liberal conceptualizations of progress, servitude, conformity, and submissiveness. When leaving Birtle Indian Residential School for the last time, H.M recounts: “After a cosy cup of tea, as the teachers descended the long hill to Birtle, they decided that the Indian child is as responsive to educatio n as any other and therefore entitled to equal advantages.”
For the next several decades, there is no mention of Indigenous learners in The Manitoba Teacher. The hint from 1925 suggests that Residential Schools and the Indian Act put Indigenous learners out of mind, out of sight. Following major adjustments to the Indian Act in 1951, however, more and more Indigenous learners began to participate more fully in the public education system as more and more families began to enter urban centres and as Indian Affairs began to see provincial systems as a more efficient way to educate learners at the secondary level.
By the 1960s, one might think that given the political climate in the United States and the Civil Rights movement that some conversation might have begun amongst urban teachers in Winnipeg. While there is a report of a Civil Rights lecture offered by Clarence Mitchell, Washington Bureau of the NAACP in the Spring 1965 issue, there is no mention of Indigenous learners.
The December 1968 edition of The Manitoba Teacher reveals this time of transition in not only participation in the public school system of Indigenous learners, but also the clear presentation of teacher expectations and a burgeoning voice of resistance and resurgence. This voice of resistance, as well will see, is most often generated from rural and northern communities and school divisions. The preeminent article in the winter of 1968 edition features the voice of D. Bruce Sealey (Kramer, 2019) , a veteran principal in Winnipeg who also was a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation, the Indian-Eskimo Association, had extensive experience working for Indian Affairs before entering teaching college at the University of Manitoba. (Manitoba Historical Society). His master’s thesis, entitled the Effects of Oral English Language on School Achievement of Indian and Metis High School Students demonstrates a clear passion for working with and for Indiegnous learners and communities.
In his article in 1968 entitled Lo! The Poor Indian!, Sealey explains the evolution of the Frontier School Division, an act of provincial legislation in 1965 where one appointed trustee reported to the Department of Education. In the article, Sealey advocates for better educational opportunities for learners in the north, highlighting that since 1951, there has been some improvement: “In a narrow educational sense, the lot of the Indian and Metis has to a certain extent improved over the past two decades.” Sealey explains how the Frontier School Division’s partnership with Indian Affairs has allowed more children to attend school, retain more teachers in northern communities, and provide better facilities. But according to Sealey, there were still substantive issues related to this relationship:
The problem lies in the basic attitude of society towards non-whites. The individual of native ancestry is somehow imagined to be a quaint combination of museum piece and an adult with the intellect of a child. This persistent stereotype has brought about an attitude of paternalism which, coupled with administrative bureaucracy, has been the curse of the Indian Affairs Branch since its inception. Only recently has the Branch made a conscious effort to do things with rather than for the Indian. The return of control over his own destiny has already helped the Indian break down the lethargy and apathy which characterized so many Indian communities. (p. 5)
Sealey’s damning comments reveal a number of developments in perceptions and expectations since 1925. First, that there are voices who advocate for some degree of Indigenous self-determination. Keep in mind that this is one year prior to the release of Trudeau’s White Paper and an urgent need for the Liberals to rid themselves of the Indian problem. It is also just prior to the publication of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood’s Wahbung: Our Tomorrows, in 1971. Second, Sealey reveals a general sense of where Manitobans stand in terms of Indigenous education. That most whites have a disparaging perspective on Indigenous Peoples and that, in his own worlds, “Perhaps, despite verbal proteststations to the contrary, people do not really believe that the Indians and Metis are capable of running their own affairs.”
Sealey’s condemnation of Manitoba society does not allow teachers to escape. In the same article, he lashes out against his colleagues, as he argues: “It seems reasonable to assume that the teacher of Manitoba, through their professional society, would be eager to see these wrongs righted.” He adds, “I have waited in vain to hear a voice raised in protest or even a resolution discussed during the annual general meeting.” (p. 6) Sealey surfaces that general societal expectations for Inidiegnous learners were low in 1968 with the assumption that Indigenous Peoples did not have the capacity to learn to the degree of whites. He also brings to the forefront that teachers in Manitoba had no interest in these struggles. The voice of the MTS was non-existent at this point.
In the same issue, there are a series of other articles which seem to counter Sealey’s progressive perspective on Indigenous self-determination. In an article by Ted Revel, principal of Teulon Collegiate since 1959, a programme is described and lauded which saw 50 learners from Norway House, Island Lake, Fisher River, and Berens River attend school in the southern Manitoba town. According to Revel, “All are happy and have apparently adjusted well to a situation with a certain uniqueness.” (p. 7) The article proceeds to applaud the inroads the integration programme had created, including involvement of learners on student committees, in town life, and even dating life. With a glaring lack of student voice, Mr. Ravel proudly exclaims that”Integration has become part of life,” and that “The collegiate staff would heartily endorse the establishment of then to 12 such systems throughout Manitoba….”
In terms of expectations and how Indigenous learners are perceived, we can observe with the Teulon experience that Indigenous learners are valued when they conform to western standards of success. In the photos, learners are dressed in suits, have short hair, and participate in Sadie Hawkins dances. Funded by the United Church, the programme saw learners leave their homes and engage in activities that were sought be of greater significance. In the Teulon experience, the notion of Cotton Wool arises when the sense of disbelief of how well these children can conform to western Chrsitian life.
To this day, learners from northern communities leave their homes each year to attend High School in Winnipeg away from their families, housed often with strangers, and left to their own to survive.
By the 1970s, there is still very commentary form teachers and urban teachers specifically about Indigenous learners at all. In the Spring 1970 issue of the The Manitoba Teacher, Gloria Purves, a teacher at Camperville Elementary School in Manitoba, writes a charged letter outlining her sheer disappointment in the system. In her article entitled …because we are Metis, Purves explains how her children were denied an opportunity to participate in an exchange program, simply because they were too poor. Angry for the way her learners are viewed Purves writes: “My purpose for the year is defeated. Our one opportunity to show these children there is something better in life — that they need not stay here drained of pride and dignity. Shattered.” (p. 7).
In 1971, Frontier School Division was still leading the way pushing progressive notions of Indigenous education within the province, In the Spring 1971, The Manitoba Teacher reports on a highly successful pilot program at Pelican lake that teachers learners in their Cree language in nursery school so that they are better prepared for integration into English Kindergarten. As the author explains, “Students are gradually moved into an English-speaking world.” (1971.) The end goal, despite the progressive sheen, is to assimilate Indigenous learners into Canadian society. By learning the English language, learners show their worth.
A few years go by and there is still very little comment about Indigenous learners are Indigenous education in Manitoba or Winnipeg. In 1975, however, a short article appeared in the February issue, written by Art Rempel entitled What native Students Need Most: Well-prepared Teachers. Working at that time for the native education branch of Manitoba Education and a former teacher in Frontier School Division, Rempel demands that teachers in the north need to be open to working with the community, that they need to acknowledge and honour the experience of learners, and that teachers need to speak the language of the learners. According to Rempel, “We, educators, can do much to eliminate the notion that Native people should assimilate and promote an education system, reflecting our cultural mosaic.” He goes on further to argue that, “It is in our classrooms where our Native children and others with background different from the typical middle-class whote Canadian can be given the special help they need.” While Rempel advocates for a certain level of self-determination and experience acknowledgement, there still creeps to the surface a notion of helplessness.
Rempel’s progressive albeit deficit-minded advocacy could be driven by the recent publication of Wahbung and also Dr. Verna Kirkness’ The Shocking Truth of Indians in Textbooks. Both publications were reflections of the Indigenous resurgence movements that were erupting in both rural and urban areas of the province. The Shocking Truth according to Sean Careloton (2017), “powerfully illustrates that ignorance, racism, and prejudice are not natural; they are learned, and in settler colonial countries such as Canada, they are often taught in school.” This movement in the 1970s would further reveal itself in Manitoba society writ large in later decades, but urban educators seemed to be absent form any discussion related to Ingenous learners.
What is striking from this brief glimpse is that teachers in Manitoba certainly held expectations of learners. Despite a few voices from the north, the attitude from Birtle Residential School that Indian children can be saved from the wilds persisted throughout much of the 20th century. Despite Sealey’s revelation that most Canadians perceive Indineous people as less than capable, a general silence persists. As urban and mostly European educators, do we still hold onto these attitudes and this silence? That our role is to save the Poor Indian or simply not to speak of them at all? Or are we better equipped in 2020 to walk with our learners, colleagues, and communities to honour experiences and learn from and with each other?
In the third and last post, we will look at expectations and perceptions of educators in Manitoba and Winnipeg through the archives of The Manitoba Teacher from the 1980s until today. We will examine how learners are perceived and perceive themselves in the context of provincial and national events and what this tells us in 2020 about our role as educators.
Buri, G. (2016). Between education and catastrophe: The battle over public schooling in postwar Manitoba. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Carleton, S. (2017). Revisiting The Shocking Truth About Indians in Textbooks. Jeunesse, Young People, Texts, Cultures, 9(2), 162–165. https://doi.org/10.1353/jeu.2017.0029
Kramer, N. (2019, June 14). Memorable Manitobans: Donald Bruce Sealey (1929-2005). Retrieved August 12, 2020, from http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/sealey_db.shtml
Manitoba Education. (2020). High School Graduation Rates and Student Achievement Statistics. Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/grad_rates/gr12_a.html
Manitoba Indian Brotherhood. (1974). The Shocking Truth About Indians in Textbooks.
Manitoba Indian Brotherhood. (1971). Wahbung: Our tomorrows. Retrieved on August 1, 2020 from http://caid.ca/WahOurTom1971.pdf
Manitoba Teachers Society. (1919). Bulletin of the Manitoba Teachers Society, May 24, Retrieved on August 1, 2020 from http://www.mbteach.org/MTS100/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/The-Bulletin-Number-1-May-241919.pdf
Purves, G. (1970). ….because we are Metis. Manitoba Teacher, Spring 1970.
Rempel, A. (1975). What native students need most: Well-prepared teachers. The Manitoba Teacher, February.
Revel, T. (1968). Integration — A way of life here. Manitoba Teacher, November-December.
Rose, M. (2012). The Great silent apartheid. http://library.bsl.org.au/jspui/bitstream/1/6618/1/Mark_Rose_community_development_11Oct07.pdf
Sealey, D.B. (1968). Lo! The poor Indian! The Manitoba Teacher, November-December.
Simpson, L. (2011). Dancing on our turtle’s back : stories of Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence and a new emergence . Arbeiter Ring Pub.
The shocking truth about Indians in textbooks . (1977). Manitoba Indian Cultural Education Centre.