Will Mandela Fall, Too?

By Rachel Hatcher

[This is the eight and final post in the Learning and unlearning history in South Africa’s public spaces series.]

Widespread student protests in 2015 and 2016 pushed the past into discussions about the South African present.

#RhodesMustFall asked why a rapacious and racist mining magnate was still honored in the so-called Rainbow Nation. Why did his statue still dominate at the University of Cape Town? Just how deeply this question resonated with students across the country can be seen roughly 900 kilometers to the east, in Grahamstown, at a university now referred to in more politically conscious circles as the university (or institution) currently known as Rhodes.

Though not the focus of the protests, #OutsourcingMustFall and #FeesMustFall also raised similar questions about which historical figures should be honored. In response, students took the initiative to re-name buildings on campuses throughout South Africa after Steve Biko, Solomon Mahlangu, and Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. These and other heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle replaced Afrikaner nationalists and the architects of apartheid.

Continue reading

Unlearning history to combat racism?

By Rachel Hatcher

[This is the seventh post in the Learning and unlearning history in South Africa’s public spaces series.]

South Africans must, declared South African Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Danny Titus, unlearn the names of the Dutch ships that landed in South Africa in the 17th century. He made this declaration during the Free State’s provincial launch of the Anti-Racism Network of South Africa (ARNSA) in Bloemfontein on 6 April 2016. Titus also stated that there, while there was much to unlearn, there was also much to learn.

The ships-that-must-not-be-named were led by Jan van Riebeeck, who was charged with setting up a way-station for ships on their way to and from the Dutch colonies in the “East Indies.” Landing in what is now Cape Town on 6 April 1652, the arrival of the ships marks the beginning of permanent European settlement in what is now South Africa.

Titus’ comment about unlearning is problematic in the context of a still highly racist South Africa and campaigns against racism for a couple of reasons. First, it suggests a kind of a Whiggish understanding of history, but not one where the past is read as inevitably progressing toward greater liberty and democracy. Rather, insisting that the names of the ships be unlearned points to an understanding of the past characterized by an inevitable regression in terms of liberty and democracy, a continuous closing of spaces until 1948 when the National Party was elected and set about institutionalizing apartheid, there limiting liberty and democracy even further. Continue reading

Doing The Work: The Historian’s Place in Indigenization and Decolonization

Skylee-Storm Hogan and Krista McCracken

Indigenization and decolonize are words that seem to be permeating institutional conversations in the heritage world and in the post-secondary field right now.  Despite the increasingly frequency of these words there are still many questions about what the terms mean how they can be moved into practice.

Earlier this month Dr. Shuaneen Pete spoke at Algoma University on “Indigenization in Canadian Universities and Colleges”.  Her talk spoke volumes about the long history of Indigenization and new approaches to this work in the post-secondary sector.  Pete worked closely with the University of Regina to develop their institutional definition of Indigenization which defines the term as:

The transformation of the existing academy by including Indigenous knowledges, voices, critiques, scholars, students and materials as well as the establishment of physical and epistemic spaces that facilitate the ethical stewardship of a plurality of Indigenous knowledges and practices so thoroughly as to constitute an essential element of the university. It is not limited to Indigenous people, but encompasses all students and faculty, for the benefit of our academic integrity and our social viability

Approaches to Indigenization can vary greatly between institutions but often involve the integration of Indigenous cultures, heritage, and knowledge.  In some cases this has involved required courses with Indigenous content or the incorporation of Indigenous content across all faculties.  However as Adam Gaudry pointed out in his Active History post, “Paved with Good Intentions: Simply Requiring Indigenous Content is Not Enough” mandatory Indigenous courses are not new, can be problematic if they are not facilitated correctly, and should be part of larger institutional changes.  Indigenous survey courses often fall into the traps of treating culture as a cure-all, looking at Indigenous communities without diversity, or framing Indigenous people as stuck in time.

In other instances Indigenization has been approached as an increasing focus on Indigenous student success or resulted in the building of dedicated Indigenous spaces on campuses. While this is a worthy cause, Indigenous students face unique barriers in post-secondary institutions which need to be addressed and dedicated Indigenous spaces often come at the expense of students becoming separated or othered along cultural, ideological, socioeconomic and colour lines. Indigenization cannot be attempted without first making space to decolonize what types of knowledge the academy sees as legitimate, otherwise projects have the potential to become tokens used to absolve settler guilt. Continue reading

The CIDA Photography Collections: A Visual Perspective on Canadian International Aid

Rights and Realities Exhibit ID Number:730-2258 Slide Number: 730-487-04 Date: 1995 A woman repairs shoes in a tiny kiosk on the sidewalk in downtown Lima, Peru. (c)Global Affairs Canada/Stephanie Colvey

Rights and Realities Exhibit
Slide Number: 730-487-04
A woman repairs shoes in a tiny kiosk on the sidewalk in downtown Lima, Peru, 1995
(c)Global Affairs Canada/Stephanie Colvey

Sonya de Laat & Dominique Marshall

The ways in which the former Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has visually represented its projects and people to the general public have greatly informed public perceptions of aid and international affairs. From the end of the 1960s, CIDA’s photographs have been used in the communications products of the Agency and of partners (NGOs, schools, publishers, etc.), or in travelling exhibitions, publications and teaching materials. They also represent a resource for scholars and practitioners interested in exploring and sharing CIDA’s multifaceted histories. For forty-five years, CIDA administered the nation’s official development assistance (ODA). From large-scale mining and electricity projects to smaller scale education and health programs, CIDA was Canada’s main response to a global surge in international development initiatives that started in the 1960s. Simultaneously, CIDA was a vehicle for extending Canadian economic and political interests as well as its social values abroad. It became a key entity in defining Canada’s caring and helpful identity domestically and internationally. Continue reading

Deconstructing Children’s History Books: Residential Schools

By Samantha Cutrara

cutrara1 Children’s historical books can serve many purposes. They can teach children about history, as well as develop emotion and empathy about figures from the past. In “Recreating the Past,” Evelyn Freeman and Linda Levstik argue that children’s historical fiction fosters ongoing process of historical interpretation in which the child is an active participant (pg. 331). From my own experience as a child reading historical fiction, fiction can also help the reader project into another world and develop a contextualized understanding about the past by thinking of one’s self as part of it. While we, as educators, historians, and theorists, recognize that historical fiction cannot be ingested uncritically, historical fiction still serves as an entry point into the past for many children in ways that are more colourful, creative, and emotional than traditional public history or curriculum.

But I question whether children’s history books cultivate an understanding of the past as distinct unconnected experiences, which then act as a barrier for understanding more contextualized history later in life. In particular, with books that present “other” or “difficult” parts of the Canadian past, are these books serving as narrative interventions or intersections into the traditional stories of the nation? Or, in our use and reading of children’s history books, do we unwittingly create and ratify the distinction between Canadian history and “other” histories in Canada?

In a series of three posts, I will explore a selection of children’s books on particular topics of “other” histories in Canada. My intention is not just to critique children’s books, but to deconstruct the semiotics of the historic spaces that get created through this medium. The series explores how these histories are positioned in the nation and how we can use this understanding to enhance our teaching of contextualized and problematized histories of the nation.

It was a CBC Indigenous post on children’s books about Residential Schools that first got me thinking about this topic, so I thought I would begin the series here. Continue reading

Canadian Historical Association: Open Letter to the Polish Prime Minister

Yesterday, Joan Sangster, the President of the Canadian Historical Association sent the following letter to Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo regarding recent legislation criminalizing historical interpretation. For broader context of this issue see Jim Clifford’s post The Polish Government, the Holocaust and Jan Grabowski and Thomas Peace’s Fake News, Global History Wars, and the Importance of Historical Thinking.

Ottawa, December 6, 2016

The Chancellery of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland
Prime Minister Beata Szydlo
00-583 Warsaw
Al. Ujazdowskie 1/3

Dear Prime Minister Szydlo,

In August 2016, the Polish cabinet approved legislation that introduces harsh legal punishment (up to three years’ imprisonment) for historians or members of the public referring to “Polish death camps” or “Polish concentration camps.” In attempting to regulate speech and thought, and by criminalizing historical interpretation it considers problematic, the Polish government is violating key principles of academic freedom which are fundamental civil liberties in democratic states. As historians, we are deeply concerned by the possibility that our Polish counterparts may face reprisal for their scholarship on Polish history during the period of Nazi occupation, the history of anti-Semitism in Poland, and the Jewish experience during the Holocaust in Poland.

The Polish government argues that it seeks through this legislation to set the historical record on concentration camps in Poland straight.  A law banning the use of terms such as “Polish concentration camps” aims to make it clear that these were a German Nazi policy, not instigated by the Polish government. Whatever the intent of the legislation, however, the proposed law is unlikely to result in improved historical awareness among Poles or internationally. Social understandings of a difficult and complex past cannot be legislated. Neither can history be written through the prism of state laws, or constituted through the suppression of counter-narratives or scholarly research that challenge the state’s current view of the past. Continue reading

Hyperbole, Hot Takes, and Hillary’s Qualifications

By Sean Graham

hyperboleBack in 2011, I wrote an article in the Ottawa Citizen arguing that hyperbole didn’t work in Canadian political life. In the midst of the Stop Harper movement, I felt that words like ‘dictator’ were counterproductive. If you want to challenge somebody’s politics, then do so in a rationale, reasonable way that focuses on the issues at hand. In the five years since, our social media dominated ‘hot take culture’ has continued to spread, with nuanced argument being replaced by name calling more akin to Dan Aykroyd on Weekend Update.

This year’s presidential election exacerbated the problem. Unsubstantiated declarative statements became the norm. Whenever something new came along or a policy was presented, it was either the best or the worst thing to have ever happened. Certainly, the President-Elect, given his Twitter persona, was a major factor in this. There has been a lot written about Donald Trump’s tenuous relationship with the truth and the damage these statements have done, but there were also statements on the left that were made without supporting evidence. Throughout the campaign there was one claim that I heard repeatedly from Hillary Clinton supporters, including the President, that I was really curious about: that she was the most qualified candidate to ever run for president.

There have been many people who have run for president of the United States – thousands if you count the Joe Exotic’s of the world. It’s possible that Clinton was the most qualified person to have ever run, but in the interest of cutting through the hyperbole, why not compare her credentials with some of the other highly qualified people who have campaigned for the presidency?

(Note that this is based on experience within government and sitting presidents running for re-election have not been included. Some of these individuals have run multiple times, but the year indicated is the one under examination here)

Hillary Clinton – 2016

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Stewarding a Canadian Culture of Comity

By Elizabeth Mancke

Reception of the American Loyalists by Great Britain in the Year 1783. Engraving by H. Moses after Benjamin West.

Reception of the American Loyalists by Great Britain in the Year 1783. Engraving by H. Moses after Benjamin West.

The election of Donald Trump as US president raises concerns about the impact on Canada: on trade, energy policy, currency exchanges, pipelines, climate change. Most anxiety inducing is the toxic turn of civic discourse, as the US political process tolerated expressions of racism and sexism, as well as outright lies and intimidation.

The contaminating effects, we fear, may spread north. Although Canadians now have a cultural confidence about their differences from Americans, and believe that they should be protected, the task is complicated by the difficulty of identifying these differences.

At a very mundane level, Canadian “niceness” might be undermined. That niceness, however, is not from Canadians spending more time in Sunday school (lower than in the US) or table time with parents over supper.   It reflects a culture of comity, of courtesy and consideration in civic discourse, dating back to the Loyalists of the 18th century. As refugees from a war they opposed, these Americans moved north armed with words not weapons as the primary tools to rebuild shattered communities and forge deliberative governments. Continue reading

Lillian Piché Shirt, John Lennon and a Cree Grandmother’s Inspiration for the Song “Imagine”

By Lillian Shirt, Corinne George and Sarah Carter

Lillian Piché Shirt speaking at the University of Alberta in Sept. 1969 for the Native Peoples Defense Fund. The Gateway 29 Sept., 1969: 1

Lillian Piché Shirt speaking at the University of Alberta in Sept. 1969 for the Native Peoples Defense Fund. The Gateway 29 Sept., 1969: 1

It was the summer of ’69. Lillian Piché Shirt, a twenty-six year old Cree woman from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, was living in a tipi with her four young children on Sir Winston Churchill Square outside Edmonton’s City Hall. She was protesting the lack of housing for Indigenous people in Edmonton. Lillian had been evicted from her apartment two months earlier when ownership changed hands, and had not found other accommodation since. Landlords refused to rent to her.

Interviewed in 2006 by Corinne George for her M.A. thesis on  Aboriginal women activists of Alberta in the 1950s – 1980s, Lillian explained: “I decided I was going to do something about it, it was in May, and I thought, well, how am I going to do this? I am not many in number, not too many people will risk anything, and I looked at it from all different directions… So I went and picked up my tipi at my grandma’s, cause I had decided what I was going to do. I was going to put up a tipi right smack dab in the middle of Churchill Square- right in front of city Hall, where the mayor could see me from his desk.” She declared “I won’t move until I’m forced out or I get a proper house to live in.”[1] Lillian said the protest was not just about housing, but about discrimination in education and welfare and a call to respect human rights. She was concerned that Indigenous children were not being taught their own history in school, that children were losing their identity, and she called for schools on reserves rather than young people having to go to the cities.[2] The tipi went up on May 30.

Edmonton’s police station, court house, and the public library also all looked out onto the square where Lillian was camped. City Hall would not give her a permit to live on the square.[3] But Mayor Ivor Dent was sympathetic, as was Joe Poss of the Edmonton Police who provided security. Lillian had friends and supporters who helped her raise the tipi, brought supplies and took the older children to and from school. By early July she was joined by others in three pup tents and one more tipi.[4] A Citizens Committee on Housing and Discrimination was formed. She intended to stay on the square until accommodation was found, and if the city forced her off she was going to move to the grounds of the legislative building.[5]

The protest received local, provincial and national attention, and Lillian’s protest was covered in newspapers, television and radio. On May 31 for example, an article was published in the Toronto Globe and Mail under the headline “Mother Confronts Edmonton Authority: Erects Teepee Outside City Hall.” That same day a photo of Lillian holding one of her children and one of her tipi appeared in the Toronto Daily Star with the headline “Crees Camp in Edmonton Square.”

Just at this time John Lennon and Yoko Ono were in Canada. Continue reading

Listening to History: Correcting the Toronto Metis Land Acknowledgement

By Jesse Thistle

Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet after 1673 showing ganatchakiagon and the rouge trail the eastern arm of the Toronto carrying place

Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet after 1673 showing ganatchakiagon and the rouge trail the eastern arm of the Toronto carrying place

One of my friends is a teacher for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). She recently asked me for help regarding their traditional land acknowledgement recognizing the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and the Metis. She told me that the board was facing considerable resistance from the community regarding the acknowledgment of the Metis. The blow back is understandable, and here’s why.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the Metis wars on Twitter raging amongst our scholarly friends. They rail on about who is and who is not Metis; where the historic Metis homeland is and where it is not. Well if you’re wondering, Toronto isn’t Metis, nor are its historic mixed-bloods. But beyond the contested lines drawn in the scholarly sandbox, here is some actual history to break down why Toronto sits outside of the western Metis homeland and thus should not be included in the TDSB Indigenous land acknowledgement. Continue reading