By Kathleen Villeneuve
Translated by Robert Twiss from an original publication in HistoireEngagée.ca
On November 25 to 26, 2021 the Université de Montréal hosted the workshop “Settler Colonialism in Quebec: a blind spot of academic research?” Organized by professors Catherine Larochelle and Ollivier Hubert, the aim of the workshop was to survey the state of research in settler colonial studies, a field which, while it is more developed outside the province, is still in its infancy in Quebec. The workshop was therefore conceived as a first step in the development of the study of Quebecois colonialism, in a context in which “colonial agnosia” still limits debate, in this province perhaps more than elsewhere. The presentations were grouped into thematic panels representing the physical and symbolic spaces through which settler colonialism carves a path.
Today we post the third installment in this five part series reporting on this event. In this post David Bernard and Aude Maltais-Landry make interventions about research and education. Any authentic thinking about colonialism done primarily by Settler-descendants must ask itself the question of its own conditions of possibility.
David Bernard addressed this subject by reflecting on his work with the research coordination committee at the Ndakina office, which represents the Grand Council of the Wabanaki Nation. Responding to increasingly numerous research partnerships with university researchers, in 2017 the office formed this committee to better support these projects by establishing policies to ensure that this research would respect the knowledge and needs of the nation.
The committee’s protocol is grounded in the First Nations principles of OCAP: ownership of, control of, access to, and possession of data. These principles make the nation the owners of the data produced by this research, which is stored on the server of the Grand Council, and give the committee the power to accept or reject proposed projects. But while the new policies better serve the interest of the Abenaki, the latter are facing excessive requests for their knowledge. The number of interviews to conduct, and projects to evaluate, is rising, and a balance must be found to ensure that the committee continues to be able to provide a useful service to the community.
It is also important to examine the way in which the historical narratives taught in Quebec schools present Indigenous perspectives.
Aude Maltais-Landry studies the curriculum of the mandatory high-school course History of Quebec and Canada (HQC) to see the effects of “the settler-colonialism blind spot.” She began by analyzing the curriculum’s terminology: the term “colonialism” is nowhere to be found, while the word “assimilation” is used with reference not to First Nations, but to French Canadians. According to Maltais-Landry, the link between the arrival of Europeans in America and territorial dispossession is tenuous to nonexistent.
As part of her work, she interviewed 21 teachers to find out how they summarized the central threads of Quebec history and what they think of the idea of adding the historical experiences of the First Peoples to the HQC course. These interviews revealed that teachers are open to including Indigenous experiences, but uncomfortable teaching a perspective other than their own; one of them suggested that it might be better to invite Indigenous people into the classroom. The historical narrative of Quebec that these teachers present is generally classical and very close to the curriculum of the HQC course; it is centred on the French/English duality and takes Indigenous people into account only until the arrival of Europeans. Several teachers also pointed out the practical challenge of changing the material they teach within the constraints on their time.
Kathleen Villeneuve is a masters student at the Université de Montreal.