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….

Does it Matter Who Shapes Us? (Can His)

John Ralston Saul asserts in A Fair Country that “we are a metis civilization.” Firstly, do you agree with his historical interpretation? Secondly, why does he bother to write such a book? What is the point of writing about the past? What is history? What happens to our society if we become A-historical? Why are we bothering to teach this stuff to you guys?