Indigenizing the Teaching of North American History: A Panel Discussion

In late-October, Active History editor Thomas Peace met with Marie BattisteAlan Corbiere, and Sarah Nickel to discuss decolonization and Indigenization in the teaching of North American history. Over the course of an hour, the conversation explored the meaning of decolonization, Indigenizing the academy, Indigenous resurgence in the Indigenizing of history, assessed specific anticolonial strategies for affecting change in the discipline, and provided advice for history teachers and professors about how to change pedagogies and curriculum.

To extend the conversation, we asked the panelists to provide a list of useful resources history teachers and professors can use to learn more about the subjects addressed during the session. Here is their reading list:

History Slam Episode 170: Being Fat

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By Sean Graham

In 1984, Participaction ran a television commercial telling viewers that “fat is not where it’s at.” Produced long before the “keep fit and have fun’ messages of Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod, the ad has been cited as an example of fat shaming in Canadian culture. Instead of ideas of ‘movement as medicine’, these types campaigns placed categorized people based on the ‘proper’ body type. In doing so, they created a strong sense of unbelonging in those who do not fit within this socially constructed ideal.

The story of those who pushed back against this and engaged in fat activism is the subject of Jenny Ellison’s new book Being Fat: Women, Weight, and Feminist Activism in Canada. Making extensive use of interviews with activists, Ellison explores how these women organized and created things like ‘fat only fitness classes’ and businesses that catered to this underserved market. In doing so, the book analyzes the reach of second wave feminism and its influence on the daily lives of Canadians.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Jenny Ellison about the book. We talk about the origins of fat activism, the strategies used by activists, and the tensions with second wave feminism. We also talk about fitness and healthy eating campaigns, the role of fashion, and the entrepreneurship of some activists.

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Monumental Questions: Practical Experiences of the Politics of Commemoration

As cities and communities across Canada confront the legacies of colonialism and racism, monuments and memorials have become a hot topic of public debate. On November 14th, London, Ontario’s Words Festival, brought together Lisa Helps, Mayor of Victoria, Monica MacDonald, co-chair of Halifax’s Cornwallis Taskforce, and University of Toronto History Professor Melanie Newton, for a discussion on the deliberative processes that communities have undertaken to tackle the difficult subject of historical monuments and commemorations, especially when the figures or events they honour confront us with Canada’s legacies of systematic racism and slavery. Join Active History editor Thomas Peace in exploring with the panelists how cities have confronted their monumental legacies, the civic production of history and heritage, and strategies you can draw upon to better understand the politics of historic monuments and place names.

Learn More:

Cindy Blackstock, Spirit Bear: Echoes of the Past (First Nations Child & Family Caring Society)

City of Toronto Briefing Note Responding to the Petition to Rename Dundas Street

City of Victoria – Reconciliation Programs

Monica MacDonald, Recasting History: How CBC Television has Shaped Canada’s Past (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019)

Melanie Newton, “Henry Dundas: Naming Empire and Genocide,” History Workshop (Nov 2020) 

Emma Renaerts, “The Right Way to Topple a Statue,” We Are Not Divided (Oct 2020)

Report of the Task Force on the Commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and the Recognition and Commemoration of Indigenous History

Remember/Resist/Redraw #26: 1995 Calgary Workers Laundry Strike

Earlier this month, the Graphic History Collective released RRR #26 to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1995 Calgary Laundry Workers Strike.

The poster by Mary Joyce and Alvin Finkel outlines the importance of rank-and-file militancy, much of it by immigrant women of colour, in the fight against austerity and privatization in places like Alberta. This poster is particularly pertinent because the Provincial Government of Alberta is today, 25 years later, launching new attacks on health care workers in the midst of a global pandemic.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for social change. 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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History Slam Episode 169: Jeannie’s Demise

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By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Ian Radforth about his new book Jeannie’s Demise: Abortion on Trial in Victorian Toronto, which examines the murder trial following the 1875 death of Jeannie Gilmour, a young woman who had gone to Arthur and Alice Davis to have an abortion. We chat about crafting a narrative from the story, how the case was sensationalized by the press, and the Victorian idea of ‘Toronto the Good.’ We also talk about Arthur and Alice and how they advertised, Jeannie’s path to them, and how Jeannie’s story fits within the wider history of abortion in Canada.

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Rev. William Scott and the Oka Question

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Donald B. Smith


Without any doubt, Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, was Canada’s best-known Indian Affairs civil servant. His views of Indigenous peoples were often intolerant and harsh, and he believed “the happiest future for the Indian is absorption into the general population.”[1] Though much has been written about Duncan’s career and writings, we know little about his childhood and how his upbringing shaped his views and career ambitions.

Historical digging has revealed an interesting link between Duncan’s hard line on Indigenous issues and his father, Rev. William Scott (1812?-1891). In 1883, Rev. Scott wrote an in-depth report on the Mohawk land struggle at Kanehsatake/Oka that reveals his inability to see the power and strength of Indigenous peoples and the land. The document reveals the Methodist minister’s fluency as a writer, his ability to master and organize a great deal of material, his knowledge of French, and his total and unconditional support of the newly-established Department of Indian Affairs, a department his son would go on to lead only twenty years later. Rev. Scott’s report is available online (William Scott, Report Relating to the Affairs of the Oka Indians. Made to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs (Ottawa: Printed by MacLean, Roger & Co., 1883) and it deserves greater historical attention, as does the life of its author.

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Conspiracy Theories and the Canadians who Love Them

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“Devil’s Head” 1954 series, with devil’s head highlighted. Original photo from Bank of Canada

Kevin Anderson

In April and May of 1956, Lethbridge, Alberta, Social Credit MP John Blackmore gave two speeches over the radio to his constituents where he claimed that on recent versions of Canadian dollar bills, there was clearly the likeness of a demon hiding in the Queen’s hair. Blackmore related how a correspondent, William Guy Carr, had drawn his attention to this fact. Each man agreed that this was a sign that the agents acting behind the scenes of the “Anglo-Saxon Celtic administrations, British and American” and who had facilitated recent victories against “Christianity and the Bible, against the United States and the British Commonwealth, and the whole free world” (e.g. Communism spreading in Asia) had become bolder. Blackmore reassured his audience that this was serious; he would not listen to Carr if he were an “extremist.”

A first reaction to such claims is perhaps to laugh (as I did when I first stumbled across it while researching the federal Social Credit Party), to enjoy it from an ironic distance, or to dismiss it as part of the lunatic fringe. In other words: Who cares? By examining such strange ideas, do scholars not risk bestowing status upon them?

While these reactions are initially justifiable, they become less defensible with context. Blackmore was first elected in 1935 and was re-elected five times. There he sat in the House of Commons, discussing funding of public buildings on one day and emphasizing the need to strike a committee to investigate the “Mongolian-Turkic-Red” conspiracy behind Communism on another.

Carr was a respected and well-known Canadian navy man and author whose books were positively reviewed in the pages of the Globe and Mail in the 1940s. His retirement in 1945 elicited a glowing two column article by that venerable paper.[1] Folklorist Bill Ellis, however, characterizes him as the key revivor of Illuminati-based conspiracy theory in postwar North America upon publication of his anti-Semitic screed Pawns in the Game in 1955. The Illuminati remains one of the foundational elements of conspiracy theory.

Blackmore and Carr are part of Canada’s conspiratorial heritage, a very real heritage that was/is constantly interacting with transnational currents attempting to explain the modern world. Continue reading

Introducing Historia Nostra: Episode 1

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How is history taught at heritage sites and museums in North America? What can the history of museums and heritage sites tell us about how they operate today? And how do other resources, like historically-based films, allow us to access history at home? These are all questions explored on Historia Nostra, a new YouTube channel about North American history.

Historia Nostra (which means “Our History”)  critically explores how North American history is taught at museums and heritage sites, on film, and in other less conventional ways. Museums and historic sites provide, for many North Americans, our first exposure to history and offer tangible connections to the past. Historically based films and other such media also have significant sway in how history is popularly understood. These formative experiences have important, lasting impacts on how we as a society interact with history, but on an individual level museums and other historically based ephemera are often marketed as fun first rather than educational. Presenting history as entertainment can support good histories, but it can also compromise educational value. Historia Nostra investigates how these experiences with history operate in practice through three sub-series: “Experiencing History,” “Doing History,” and “The Frontier on Film.”

Join host, Erin Isaac, as she visits heritage sites across North America—including well known historic sites like Jamestown, VA and lesser known examples like Kejimkujik, NS—in our “Experiencing History” series. Continue reading

Human Rights, Justice and the 1920 Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World

Marcus Garvey, 1924. Source: Library of Congress, cph 3a03567 //

Laura Madokoro

In this tumultuous year, a number of important historical concepts have been at the forefront of debates and discussions about public health, social justice and racial equality. The language of rights has been critical to discussions of individual and collective responsibility in the context of the pandemic (as evidenced in the positions adopted by anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers). The question of rights has also been part of how Black Lives Matter activists and supporters have framed their concerns around violence and white supremacy though, arguably, the language of justice has been more prevalent, captured in chants of “justice for George Floyd” and “justice for Breanna Taylor”, among others. In her victory speech, Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris talked about liberty, justice and equality. Specific references to “rights” were notably absent.

As numerous of scholars and observers have noted, calls for justice for Black people and the reform of oppressive institutions and practices are not new. Related conversations about the teaching of Black history have also been taking place for decades. However, as this post will explore, historians have generally failed to consider Black history in historical discussions more broadly, such as in the case of the history of human rights (beyond a focus on legal and civil rights challenges), to the detriment of our historical knowledge and the well-being of Black communities.[1]

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Listening to the Voices from the Past: An invitation for a private, nuanced, remote Remembrance Day

By Samantha Cutrara

What do we mark for remembrance and how do we understand service to this country? These questions may seem straightforward on a day like Remembrance Day, but this day can also invite us to critically examine the concepts of commemoration and service, and provide nuance to the stories of military glory and heroics often featured on this day.

Histories of war are difficult. Taking time to remember those who have died in service and those who survived but came home forever altered, is a deep and thoughtful endeavor that forces us to confront the intertwined relationship of nationality and sacrifice. Or, that can force us to confront this relationship, although it often does not. To invite criticality to national Remembrance harks of treasonous anti-patriotism and lack of support for the troops. But to support the troops and to wish for the demilitarization of how we understand the past and the present are two different things, and perhaps we develop more ways to explore this. Continue reading