A Tale of Two Countries

IMG_1824Canada is a perplexing concept; our country can often be conceptualized in shimmering positivity, and then, upon closer inspection can be dragged through the dusty and bloody streets of reality. This has often been the case when we teach history or have been taught history — we try to dichotomize issues, cultures, and versions of history as an experiment in critical thought or controversy. MacLennan’s Two Solitudes is an obvious example of cultural paradoxes within the “narrative” of Canada, as is the the story of the Winnipeg General Strike.

In Manitoba we experience this in the divide between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Many Winnipeggers are placing their hope in our new mayor to help bridge these colonial divides and painful scars — a most difficult task to say the least. A recent CBC poll suggest that the divide between indigenous and nonindigenous on prairies and in Red River is considerably and alarminging wide: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/people-on-the-prairies-less-tolerant-cbc-poll-says-1.2831876

In recent weeks, I have also been struck by an increasingly larger divide in Canada that is often left unarticulated – that is our image as a massive expanse of natural beauty contrasted with our 400 year history of resource exploitation. This really hit home when I attended the Hudson Bay Company Archives’ screening of Kevin Nikkel’s film Romance of the Far Fur Country . Nikkel has managed to splice together two hours of original HBC footage from 1919 and curate this silent footage in such a haunting way that the viewer really is able to situate themselves in the fur trade at the beginning of the 20th century.

As beautiful as the film is, however, there is a striking recognition that as the HBC enters into indigenous communities and encounters the immense landscape, that there is only one agenda: resource exploitation, both natural and human.

What follows in the film is a shocking barrage of the treatment of the first peoples of Canada and the land itself. Created by the HBC in 1919 as a celebratory film and ultimately an advertisement for its first department stores, the Company was simply not aware of its savage devastation of all systems on earth – at least this is what I hope.

 

As the film ended and everyone left the Archives of Manitoba, my friend (who I dragged out) and I silently sat in our seats trying to process what we had just witnessed.

A few days later, I came across this photo essay in the Globe and Mail encapsulating life in Fort McMurray. I was astounded at the level of consumerism, greed, and resource exploitation that is completely unabashed.

You will notice one photo of a gentleman in a cowboy hat drinking a Coors’ Light. At first glance I thought nothing of it, and then my uber critical thinker of a wife alerted me to the paradox: A cowboy hat is a symbol of freedom. It conjures up imagery of connection to the land, notions of freedom and autonomy, and a recognition of the interconnectedness of the natural systems that sustain the land. . The fellow in the coffee shop, however, who works for Suncor, is part of a  system of resource exploitation that destroys these vast and wild lands. He’s a slave to consumption and a dogged drive for wealth accumulation above all else. This is not the wild west. This is as well-engineered money generating machine with little room for cowboy antics.

But this does fit with our history. It sounds like the HBC in 1919.

And so, as Canada delves further into oil sands development, pipeline construction, and dependence on fossil fuels, so too continues the dichotomy of Canada. On one hand we have a country jam packed with scientifically-literate, empathetic citizens who cherish our land, water, and air. On the other, we are complicent in an economic and political system that is bent on exploiting natural and human resources. These are  the new two new solitudes of our time.

As Slavoj Zizek suggests, the ecological catastrophes of the present and future will not be solved by free markets and corporations. No, Canada’s sick duality can only be synthesized into a sustainable vision through social and political action. This begins in the homes in Fort McMurray, at the kitchen tables of local constituency associations, and ultimately at the polls in 2015.

Canada’s reputation in the global community has soured as of late; we no longer lead in peacekeeping (we are ranked 65th), we rank first in deforestation, and our record on treating our indigenous peoples speaks for itself. I would reckon that we have an opportunity to build a better Canada — one that is sustainable, innovative, compassionate, and inclusive. Our first step, however, is to take an honest look at what we we have become. Let’s take off our cowboy hats for now. We have to earn the right to wear symbols of freedom. First we need to take the collective action necessary to shed the dichotomies of the past and create one singular and positive vision based on respect for the land and each other.

 

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Many Roads: Three Day Road Redux

This project was created to support specific cross-curricular objectives between the Grade 11 English Language Arts and Canadian History courses. The learning activity had learners read Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road in ELA while looking at the colonial, imperial, and indigenous history that weaves throughout the story in their Canadian History class. Learners were immersed in an environment whereby they analyzed themes in Canadian literature while critically investigating Canada’s relationship, both historical and contemporary, with its First Nations people. The end product was a collection of alternate chapters of Three Day Road written from the perspective of other characters in the book. This collection is scheduled to be published nation-wide at the end of May as a means for the learners to share their knowledge with an authentic audience.

The objectives of the learning experience focussed on the understanding of specific structures of narrative through the reading and writing of fiction while commenting on their own experience in a colonial or post-colonial society. The experience sought to develop empathy in the learners while allowing them to experiment with writing and open their consciousness to a variety of stories within Canadian history.

From Library & Archives Canada

From Library & Archives Canada

The learning community began by taking the time to read Three Day Road in both course periods so as to provide meaningful time to digest that methodology and content of the book. During the reading of the book, there was a great deal of time discussing imagery, character development, symbolism, and conflict within the novel.  Also, time was spent deliberately spent making personal connections to the characters, broader historical movements, and Canada’s colonial past/present. For example, we asked students “How did Xavier and Elijah, two cree boys from the Hudson Bay, end up in the middle of a European War?” These types of questions forced our community to think at the highest levels, research primary documents (like the Indian Act), understand the cause consequence of global events, and empathize with the characters.

In the Canadian History course, students were asked to write a formal history on how colonialism, in the form of treaties, legislation, and attitudes, of the 19th century enabled the characters’ participation in the war. Learners needed to access primary documents, create an argument, and use evidence to support this argument. We heard from experts on the Indian Act, the Royal Proclamation, and the Numbered Treaties in order to understand the dynamic created at the end of the 19th century.

In the English course, learners were asked to reinvent specific chapters from the perspective of lesser characters. Learners chose German snipers, prostitutes, trappers, trench-mates, officers, and other characters to explore their understanding of the literary structures and also their understanding of the First World War.

Learners were assessed on both writing pieces and were able to rewrite and rewrite their work for publication. Following the revisions of the chapters of the book, the principal of the school was asked to make the final edits.

 

Colonialism: Then & Now

IMG_9210In Canadian History, we have begun to look at why Europeans came to North America and how they interacted with indigenous people. As part of this exploration, we have started to watch the classic film Black Robe.


IMG_9206

Based on your initial reaction to the film, in what way were Chomina’s people colonized? Also, how does colonialism manifest itself today in Canada? Does it exist? Stephen Harper in 2009 suggested that Canada has no history of colonialism. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

The photos you see are from a project we worked on in Canadian History a few years ago. Artist Leah Decter created this piece made up of old Hudson Bay blankets as a reaction to Stephen Harper’s denial of colonialism. Why would she use these blankets?

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: http://www.cbc.ca/inforadio/) 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
BBC
Similar events around the world

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

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