Beyond Whiteness: Rethinking Aryan Nationalisms in Multicultural Canada

By Sanober Umar

Since his recent election, Federal New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh has been asked in mainstream platforms to voice his opinion about the Air India Bombings of 1985. Even though he had nothing to do with the event that occurred more than thirty years ago, these questions are being asked simply because of his Sikh identity. We do not demand such accountability from white politicians.

Jagmeet Singh at Toronto Labour Day Parade 2014. Photo by OFL Communication Department

Little has been written about those who seek to demean Singh. It may astonish many that some of Singh’s fiercest critics are other South Asian figures. Bearing this in mind, it is important to emphasize the growing alliance between the Hindu Nationalist diaspora in North America and their alignment with controversial White Nationalists (including with the President of the United States, Donald Trump) under masquerading discourses of secularism and model minority aspirations.

This is especially pertinent for historians working on topics of race, citizenship, and the politics of belonging. Continue reading

East, West, North: Lessons for collaborative Canadian History curriculum

By Samantha Cutrara

Should Canadian students be taught with the same history curriculum across the country?

I often hear this question posed – sometimes in jest, sometimes in seriousness – at the end of a conference or symposium or in the comments section of an article. It is not currently a very active debate, but this question always seems to teeter on the edge of history education conversations in Canada. History teaches complexity – would greater collaboration across the country lead to more complexity in Canada or less? Continue reading

Bill C-66: Historians Speak Out

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Nov. 28/2017

Patrizia Gentile, Tom Hooper, Gary Kinsman, Steven Maynard

When, on November 28th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered the federal government’s apology to Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ communities, a key component included legislation that would provide a process to clear historical convictions for certain same-sex offences. Bill C-66, known as the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act, was introduced in the House of Commons on the same day the Prime Minister delivered the apology. No consultation with LGBTQ2S+ community advocates with expertise in areas covered by the bill preceded its preparation, and now, having passed second reading, the standing committee charged with studying the bill has stated there will be no opportunity for experts to submit written briefs or appear before the committee, for the government wants the bill back in the House for third and final reading as early as this week.

As researchers who have done considerable investigation into the criminalization of same-sex sexual practices in Canadian history, we believe Bill C-66 has serious flaws and raises many questions that must be addressed. We are very concerned that the customary process of soliciting public input and amending a bill to address its deficiencies is being overridden to rush Bill C-66 through Parliament so that the government’s apologetic words can be seen to be backed up by action. However, if this bill is to work as a meaningful part of the apology process, particularly for those for whom expungement is desired and needed, it requires much more careful consideration and amendment. Continue reading

Settler Records, Indigenous Histories: Challenges in Indigenous Genealogical Research

Census listing

1881 Census for Moose Factory

Stacey Devlin and Emily Cuggy

Genealogy is having a moment; from genealogy websites and DNA test kits to television series like Who Do You Think You Are and Genealogy Roadshow, it’s undeniable that genealogical research and the underlying desire to discover one’s personal and familial identity are more popular than ever before. There are countless resources available to both the professional and amateur genealogist making it seem easy to trace your family tree back to its roots; and in particular, many marketing campaigns for genealogy and DNA services put particular emphasis on Indigenous ancestry. But is identifying Indigenous ancestors really this simple? [1]

When done well, genealogy involves using primary documents to connect each generation in a family tree. Ideally, these documents will provide information such as full name, age, names of immediate relatives, location, religion, and occupation—details that together help prove an individual’s identity and their place within the tree.

However, genealogists and family historians can run into numerous obstacles when trying to obtain the necessary primary documents. These obstacles arise from two main sources: gaps in the historical record, and legal restrictions preventing access to documents that are more recent. These issues are amplified for researchers of Indigenous family history, further complicating what can already be a difficult process, and perpetuating colonial systems of administration and its definitions of ethnicity. Continue reading

Remember / Resist / Redraw #12: Sacred Rivers Within and Idle No More

In January, the Graphic History Collective (GHC) launched Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project as a year-long artistic intervention in the Canada 150 conversation.

Last week we released Poster #12 by Fanny Aishaa, which – to mark the 5th anniversary of Idle No More – looks at INM co-organizer and water defender Melissa Mollen Dupuis.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for radical change in 2017 and beyond. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Africa’s War: Anti-colonial Movements and Repression in First World War French West Africa

Thomas Vennes

Early on the morning of the 4th of May 1916, a military column in French West Africa set out to quell a rebellion. Their mission was one small part of World War I in Africa, about which little is said in Canada. This post helps illuminate the under-appreciated global and colonial ramifications of the First World War.

The column, led by cercle commandant Henri Maubert, was composed of 759 men, mainly African mercenaries, a few tirailleurs sénégalais and handful of European officers. Marching out of Bobo-Dioulasso, situated to the south west of actual Burkina-Faso, it was heading for the rebellious village of Boho, 42 kilometres away. The column’s objective was clear: attack and destroy the fortified village and its defenders. Arriving on the 6th of May, Maubert started bombarding the strong hold which he describes in his carnet de route: “Le travail de destruction devient formidable, sans toutefois causer la moindre émotion parmi les rebelles dont le courage est véritablement superbe, ils occupent toutes les ouvertures pratiquées dans les murs, et notre feu fait des trouées terribles dans leurs masses profondes ”[1]. A first assault on the walls failed and the column, running out of ammunition and water, had to abort its second assault and retreated to the nearest French outpost of Kofila a few kilometres away. The next morning, Mauberts sent out a scouting party to Boho which they found abandoned. On hearing the news, Maubert promptly dispatched a 600 strong demolition team to raze the fortifications and the village to the ground. Towards 5:30 pm, a messenger arrived at Kofila and described what had been found in the village : “les rebelles ont laissé dans le Boho, plus d’un millier de cadavres, trois caveaux funéraires archi-combles, dans plusieurs salles mesurant à peine 3 mètres de côté, on peut compter jusqu’à 40 corps etc. Et encore, la partie centrale de la soukala laissé debout, n’a-t-elle pas été visitée”[2]. Among the dead were many women and children. Mahir Saul and Patrick Royer, authors of the sole monograph on this conflict[3], state that the death toll could have been as high as 3 000. On the French side, 70 men were injured and 10 were killed.

The Belgian Force Publique pictured in East Africa in 1918. Image from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_theatre_of_World_War_I#/media/File:Congo_belge_campagne_1918.jpg

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Thinking Historically about Canadian Commemoration Controversies

By Lindsay Gibson

Over the past year, Canada’s history has been centre stage. Controversy about commemoration of the past has fuelled public discussion and debate. In addition to #Canada150, the sesquicentennial anniversary of Canadian Confederation, there were impassioned arguments over the legacy of historical figures such as Hector Langevin, Egerton Ryerson, Joseph Trutch, Nicholas Flood Davin, Mathew Baillie Begbie, Edward Cornwallis, and Sir John A. Macdonald.

Statue of Edward Cornwallis in downtown Halifax, Photo by Ben MacLeod, Wikimedia Commons.

Rather than weigh in on these specific controversies, in this essay I offer a history educator’s perspective on how we might think historically about commemoration controversies. Building upon Yale University’s Witt Committee’s “Principles of Renaming, this essay draws from Peter Seixas’ historical thinking framework to propose a series of questions designed to support teachers, students, and members of the public in making reasoned judgments about how best to respond to these controversies. Continue reading

#150Acts: A Poster Series to Bring Us into the Next 150

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Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky

On August 4, 2017, there were 150 days left in Canada’s 150th year and Active History published “150 Acts for Reconciliation for the Last 150 Days of Canada’s 150.” Since then, the post has gone viral with more than 30,000 views.

As we wrote #150Acts in the late days of July, we pinged ideas back and forth, tossed some, kept many more, and had profound conversations about Indigenous-settler relations in Canada. We viewed this as an important exercise of reconciliation between a Gwich’in woman and a settler Canadian with Ukrainian heritage and hoped that others would similarly engage. In our post, we offered 150 different ways for Canadians to practice reconciliation, individually, with families and friends, or at work.

The ripple effect of our list has been both overwhelming and humbling. We have witnessed change happen on the ground as a result of Canadians further committing to reconciliation: Indigenous flags have been erected at municipal facilities, learning circles have been organized for people to take the University of Alberta’s MOOC, “Indigenous Canada,” and people continue to add to our initial list of ideas.

To further share our ideas and our #150Acts, we created a set of posters that are now available for purchase. We are pleased to share design and art by Yukon artist Lianne Marie Leda Charlie who is Tagé Cho Hudän | Big River People (Northern Tutchone). Please visit our website for more information and to purchase the posters. We invite you to keep making acts of reconciliation and share project this with others.

Hài’ choo,

Crystal and Sara


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Reflections on Learning: Conversations in the Car, the Bus, the Boardwalk

By Clara MacCallum Fraser with Kelly King & Nicole Latulippe

This essay is part of an ongoing series reflecting on this summer’s Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI).

Is it possible to convey the depth of embodied learning through the written word?

In the past, when I was in a similar learning environment (such as the Anishinaabe Law Camp at Neyaashiinigmiing First Nation), I was asked to put away the pen, the paper, the computer, and just listen. But really listen – listen actively, with my whole body.

It’s a scary thing. I often feel I have the memory of a goldfish, and worry that I’ll forget everything I hear or read if I don’t take copious notes.

I was told then “you’ll remember what you need to for now, the other things will emerge in time, when you need them, or when their time comes.”

This was a challenging lesson to learn, but one that I sought to work towards during the MISHI trip.

On this trip, I was reminded yet again that every time I step into this sort of immersive learning environment, whether for a moment or for an extended length of time, to learn about Indigenous ways of knowing, some piece of learning or memory from the last time appears and finds solid form. The wisps of learning from the past take shape, as new wisps appear and wait for a future when they too will find form.

Although quiet reflection and pondering is indeed necessary in order for us to work through our own thoughts and ideas, I’m beginning to learn that it is really lived experience following initial teachings, and in relationship with others, where the seeds shoot roots and begin to grow; the light turns from a hard brightness to a glowing warmth.

During this week with MISHI, I found I wasn’t alone in my worries, nor in my aspirations to listen more wholly.

A piece from Michael Belmore’s installation “Smoulder”. Carved stone, gilded copper.

Kelly, Nicole, and I have met before. Kelly and I were classmates in a course on Indigenous research methodologies taught by Dr. Deb McGregor. Nicole was a guest speaker at one of those classes. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 109: Lace Up: A History of Skates in Canada

By Sean Graham

For the past three-and-a-half years I have had the pleasure of working with Jean-Marie Leduc and Julie Léger on a book looking at the history of skates. Mr. Leduc is a renowned expert on skates with one of the biggest private collections in the world that has been displayed at museums and exhibitions across the country, including during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. When the opportunity came up a few years ago to work on a book, it seemed to me an interesting idea that would make for a good read.

On November 10, Lace Up: A History of Skates in Canada was released. The book traces the development of skates from bone skates used by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years to the skates used by today’s world champions. Through Mr. Leduc’s collection, the book explores how skates and their technological innovations shaped how people got around on ice. At the same time, as skates continued to evolve, new winter sports were invented based on the improved technology. For instance, the development of stop picks on figure skates allowed for the speed, agility, and aerial components required in today’s competitions.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Jean-Marie Leduc about Lace Up. We talk about the origins of his extensive skate collection, how he built the collection, and some of his favourite pairs. We also talk about the book, how we put it together, and what readers can expect. If you are in the Ottawa area, you are welcome to join us for the book launch on Tuesday December 5 between 5 and 7 at Alex Trebek Alumni Hall at the University of Ottawa.

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