Transitions: 25 Years of Film Making & Journalism in Indigenous Communities

By James Cullingham

It is clearly a difficult moment in Indigenous-settler relations in Canada. Cases in criminal courts lead to perplexing outcomes. First Nations, various governments and major natural resource companies are pitted against one another over pipeline construction. As I write, an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women continues its work. In the cultural sphere, we are experiencing sometimes difficult, but very useful discussions about how stories get told and by whom.

In this essay, I proffer a particular experiential perspective on Indigenous–settler cultural relations as it pertains to documentary filmmaking and journalism. I want to highlight some of the collaborative works that have been produced since the 1960s and offer a reminder that while much remains to be done, some highly credible work is out there to elucidate us all.

I will argue for free expression, equality of opportunity and the need for artists and storytellers of all kinds to think outside the confines of their particular ethnicity – to venture where their imagination and curiosity leads them. The challenge to the settler imagination is to do so with sensitivity, humility and open mindedness.

My analysis and perspective are based on career experiences over the past three decades.

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Historicizing Black Metal

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Graffiti in the basement of black metal club Helvete, Oslo, 1980s. Wikimedia Commons

Alban Bargain-Villéger

Sometime in the autumn of 2005, I decided to give black metal a chance. Until that point, I had had reservations about that type of music, which is often associated with neo-paganism, the far right, and base displays of primal machoism. A long-time classical music aficionado, it soon occurred to me that what had appeared at first as musical chaos actually involved complex, layered compositions full of breaks, tempo changes, intricate melodies, and that few of these artists are hyperviolent psychopaths. Not surprisingly, this was a lonely experience, as most of my friends failed to understand what I saw in layers of cacophonous noise topped with the ramblings of a growling animal of sorts. Indeed, like Vegemite, black metal is an acquired taste. This post does not purport to convert anyone to this type of music, which is certainly not for everyone. The rationale for writing on this particular topic stemmed from the realization that, since everything in this universe – from cat trees to reality TV – will undoubtedly (or has already) become the subject of serious historical investigation, why not attempt to lay out the basis for a political history of black metal?

Unlike protest songs, which I wrote about in a previous post, black metal (and extreme metal in general) has elicited few serious historical studies. While some anthropologists and journalists have published articles, monographs, and filmed documentaries on black metal – which often emphasize the hackneyed commonplaces of the cliquey, immature, and simultaneously (and paradoxically) good-natured and reactionary artist –, historians of music have maintained a safe distance from that topic. First of all, this type of music is not exactly of the “top 40” variety, which limits its marketability. Secondly, extreme metal bands smell of sulfur. While it is all good and well for historians to explore seventeenth-century witchcraft or Victorian esotericism, the contemporaneity of intimidating, mostly male, head-bangers has probably deterred many from focusing on that particular topic. Nonetheless, more studies of this musical genre would open up many avenues for all kinds of historical investigations, whether one is interested in the history of ideas, generational conflict, gender, religion, or politics.

Black metal first attracted massive media attention, not so much due to its musical or aesthetic characteristics, but to a series of church burnings (most infamously the 1992 arson of Bergen’s Fantoft church); the 1991 suicide of Mayhem’s singer Dead (Per Yngve Ohlin); the gruesome murder of Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth), then leader of the now legendary band Mayhem, by Count Grishnackh (Varg Vikernes) in 1993; soon followed by the arrest of Emperor’s drummer Faust (Bård Guldvik Eithun) for killing Magne Andreassen, who had solicited him for sex one year earlier. Rumors of Satanism became systematically (and unfairly) associated with the Norwegian youths who chose to grow their hair long, wear face paint and (post-)goth clothing. The tragedies that riddled that period have undoubtedly overshadowed the artistic dimension of black metal, whose fans had to deal with the stigma of ridicule, at best and, at worst, that of amorality. While all that violence is undoubtedly part of the history of the genre, the music was, until recently, often dismissed as cacophonous nonsense. Continue reading

Who is History Education for? Thinking about Canadian history curriculum

This month, I wanted to take a break from reviewing the provinces’ History and Social Studies curricula to return to a question I posed in a 2011 blog post following the data collection for my doctoral dissertation. The question is: Who is History education for? Seven years on, I feel no closer to an answer and feel like, in many ways, exploring an answer is more important than ever. We still spend time talking about what History education is for, but the who remains a question that can be brought further into dialogue. A dialogue, I think, that can lead to greater understanding of who we are, and can be, as a nation.

I look forward to your comments and would love to discuss your possible contribution to reviewing the curriculum of the remaining provinces in this series: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec.


Original Post: We often talk about what history education is for – building national narratives, civic responsibility, or even critical thinking skills – but rarely do we talk about WHO history education is for. WHO ultimately benefits, grows, and is strengthened by the narratives we hear, the skills we teach, and the voices we emphasize? Is it the bureaucrats and politicians who have the ultimate say on what the curriculum will look like? Is it the teachers who need to interpret and assess the curriculum efficiently and perhaps even interestingly? Is it the Canadian nation writ large and those who have the power and privilege to maintain their power and privilege? Is it a general Canadian student who is expected to grow up to be a critically questioning, yet respectful, citizen in a changing, but generally unproblematized nation?

An undated class photo found in a Victoria, BC thrift shop.

I have been thinking about this question of WHO history education is for while I have been gathering data for my dissertation research. I keep thinking about what student-centric history teaching would look like and why it would seem so radical, even in classrooms focused on student success. I am very much interested in narratives and the knowledge that gets produced through narratives, so I keep going back to thinking that we as a nation are so tied to certain narratives that we are worried about exploring stories that challenge the narratives that seem familiar and safe. I’m not even talking about curriculum since, from what I know from the Ontario curriculum for example, there is room for interpretation about how the objectives will be met and with what content. So coming back to narratives may seem like a fairly reductive statement for such a large question, but I can’t help thinking that the students I have met – students who are bright and articulate, although perhaps not academically successful – are almost desperately interested in stories that connect to their lives and they just aren’t hearing them.

The strategies the students use to express their dissatisfaction are often resistant in nature and rarely read as being productive to the classroom environment. This is not uncommon to any history educator who has heard history be equated to the MOST BORING SUBJECT EVER, but I rarely come across students who have said that history should completely not be taught. Anna Clarke, who did research in both Australia and Canada, found that students said it was the methods used to teach history that made it seem boring. While methods are a very large part of this question, I don’t think it is the whole answer. I don’t have an answer, I don’t even think I have a real question, but I do have a feeling that that the WHO for history education are not the kids that I have been working with and that this is a shame. These students, students who are racially and economically marginalized, need a past to build on and stories to grow from and they are just not getting them in one of the only places where they would learn history.

So I return to my original question: Who is history education for? And if it is not for the students and their unique needs for the future, then why not?

NOTE: Further exploration of the data from my doctoral dissertation will be published this year in a manuscript for UBCPress titled Imagining a New “We”: Canadian history education for the 21st century.

Dr. Samantha Cutrara is a History Education Strategist. She currently teaches Exhibit Design at Centennial College and is managing a large Digital Humanities and Social Studies curriculum project for York University that will result in four online archives and exhibits featuring narratives of migration, displacement, and settlement. Find more information about her consulting and academic work on her website

The author would like to acknowledge that this work was created on land that is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Métis, and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. This territory is also covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Today, the meeting place of Toronto (from the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto) is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and the author is grateful to have the opportunity to write, study, teach, and learn in the community, on this territory.

“Rooting for Everybody Black” and the Subversive Politics of Black History Month in Canada

Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s “Insecure,” at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, September 2017. Variety.

Funke Aladejebi 

At the 69th Annual Emmy awards held on September 17, 2017, Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s widely popular television show “Insecure,” responded to a red-carpet question by proclaiming she was “rooting for everybody Black!”  Rae’s comments, which went viral, articulated a sense of collective excitement about the growing recognition and achievements of African American Emmy nominees at the award show. Her comments also alluded to broader reflections about Black identity across the diaspora, the varied places that African descended peoples call home, and a collective spirit of resilience despite the considerable challenges facing Black communities. At the same time, Issa Rae’s declaration can also be understood within the broader context of increasing discussions around anti-Black racism and the heightened policing and incarceration of African descended peoples globally.

For scholars of Black Canadian history, similar concerns surrounding the collective mobilization and activism against anti-Black racism continue to mark our discussions about identity and belonging to the nation. During the month of February in particular, scholars of Black History in Canada are invited to rethink the frameworks of what it means to “root for everybody Black” as they work to fight against the historical erasures and silencing of their communities. While there still seems to be much debate around whether or not Black History month is still relevant, or if it serves as a superficial acknowledgement of Black achievement in North America, I argue that there is much subversion in the collective response of “rooting for everybody Black”. This concept can be used as an entry point to discuss what it means to be Black in a society where racial equality stands as the marker of Canadian identity despite systemic and institutional barriers facing diverse racialized populations. For me, “rooting for everybody Black” can be understood as a political act given the trajectory and experiences of African descended peoples in Canada. That in fact, “rooting for everybody Black” can become a political necessity when considering the national silencing of Canada’s long history of racial indifference and separation.[1]

To understand the complexity of Black Canadian history and why rooting for everybody Black becomes an important statement of identity and political affirmation, we must begin by examining the myth of Canadian racial equality and how it structures Blackness within broader national narratives. Within this mythology stands the idea that it was only south of the border where Blacks were subjected to violence, denied their citizenship rights, and forced into residential and educational ghettoes.[2] The popular saying, ‘at least we’re not as bad as the United States’ is a consistent and important talking point when comparing the histories of African descended peoples in Canada and the United States. And yet, scholars of Black Canadian history highlight the contradictions of this mythology and argue that Blackness in Canada has and continues to reflect parallel experiences of enslavement and racial separation.[3] What this has translated into is a historical silencing of the long-standing contributions and presence of Blacks in Canada.

As a result, much of our understanding of Black historical figures in Canadian society still seems to be deeply rooted in conceptions of the North Star and the Underground Railroad. Continue reading

Spartans on the Canadian Prairie

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Sparta Leonidas Monument

A modern memorial for king Leonidas in Sparta, inscribed with “molon labe.” Photo by author.

Matthew A. Sears

It is not uncommon to see the Ancient Greek phrase “molon labeemblazoned on shirts, posters, and placards in today’s North America. Meaning roughly “come and get them,” the phrase was a Spartan king’s response to the Persians’ request for the Greeks to lay down their arms at Thermopylae in 480 BCE. Now the phrase is used, unsurprisingly, by those arguing for expanded access to firearms, but also by those trumpeting a hardy, self-reliant lifestyle more generally.

The ancient Spartans have an enduring allure today. Where the more famous Athenians are held up as an example of democracy, free expression, and cultural sophistication, the Spartans provide a model of republican restraint, of discipline and moderation, and of simple and noble courage. Yet, just as the Athenian legacy is tarnished by slavery, misogyny, and imperialism, the ideal image of Sparta whitewashes the sobering fact that the Spartans’ entire way of life was only possible because of the ruthless stealing of lands and the brutal and ongoing suppression of those lands’ native inhabitants. The not-guilty verdict for white farmer Gerald Stanley in his trial for the killing of Colten Boushie, a young Cree man, in Battleford, Saskatchewan, makes me wonder whether this Spartan tradition is still alive and well in Canada. Continue reading

Neil Richards, 1949-2018: activist and historian

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By V.J. Korinek

Photo credit: David Bindle

Saskatchewan lost an important community historian when William Neil Richards passed away on January 12, 2018. Neil Richards was born in Ontario and raised there, but in 1972 he came west to Saskatoon, and the University of Saskatchewan, where he accepted a position in the University’s Murray Library. He formally retired from the University’s Archives and Special Collections in 2002, but he never really left. Any regular visitor would have seen him working away at his computer, holding court with students and scholars, or planning his latest acquisition and exhibits literally right up until a few days before he passed away. While Neil’s sudden death, from heart disease, has been a deep shock to his family and friends, I have no doubt that for Neil this was the way he would have wanted to go—engaged in his passions, boots on, right until the end.

Neil Richards, University of Saskatchewan, 1975. Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (PAS) Photo S-B13399

Neil Richards never set out to be famous, rather he was in his own words a “furious collector” of papers, journals, magazines, posters and art. His passion for collecting an archive of material many might have dismissed as ephemeral has now become a legacy holding at the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (PAS) and the University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special Collections. Rather unassumingly, he set out to collect documents from organizations with which he was a member, and gay activist. Mr. Richards played an important role in Saskatoon gay activism, spearheading various initiatives, involved in protest marches and pickets, and he was an inveterate letter writer with many letters published in the local paper critiquing homophobic treatment of provincial gays and lesbians. Such activism was never easy, put it was doubly challenging in the 1970s, an era where speaking out on behalf of gays and lesbians could risk one’s employment, housing and family. Continue reading

Transcending Boundaries: All the Parts are in Conversation with Each Other

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

By Phil Henderson

On the shores of Lake Mindemoya, Alan Corbiere talked about how Nanabush escaped from the Haudenosaunee by running up the length of the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula and paddling across Lake Huron to Manitoulin Island. In the local coffee shop that graciously played host to so many of our group’s participants for our week-long stay, Bill Fox provided the archaeological evidence of the extent and intention behind Anishinaabek mobility throughout the vast Great Lakes Basin. In that same space, Anong Beam explained the process of pottery crafting, highlighting the uniqueness and place-based qualities of clays with which she and her family have worked – revitalizing a tradition of Anishinaabek ceramic-work, the very existence of which many have sought to deny. At a campsite near the shores of Providence Bay, laughter and stories moulded new friendships together. And, in the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF), Michael Belmore told us about the conversations occurring between the elements in which he works to produce art that embodies spirit as a way of being.

Alan Corbiere teaching MISHI participants at Lake Mindemoya.

For myself, I will remember the Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute as a space – or, better, spaces – teeming with relationships, connectivity, and care. First and foremost as modeled by the Anishinaabek peoples who hosted us in their territories, on the island of the manitous; and, in particular, of the generosity that was shown to us by M’Chigeeng First Nation in opening the OCF to us.

Most of all, I appreciate being given the chance to look at the world and at my scholarship in a different light. My own discipline, political science, has a particular penchant for working with – indeed, depending upon – various models of containment. Inside/outside models of sovereignty, discriminative notions of citizenship, and atomistic ideas about identity formation – to name just a few – typify the normative models of thought in contemporary political science. So much so, that they tend to reassert themselves even in works that claim to criticize these models. Continue reading

Decolonizing Cottage Country

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Bbadgett/Wikimedia Commons

Peter A. Stevens

In Canadian popular culture, few symbols are as iconic as the family cottage. The summer home appears regularly in Canadian novels and films, and it has long been used by governments and private corporations to signify what the good life looks like in this country. Cottaging thus represents escape from the cares of the world, and immersion in a natural landscape that is dedicated to pleasure, relaxation, and tranquility.[1]

Ojibway playwright Drew Hayden Taylor disrupts this idealized image of cottage life in Cottagers and Indians, a new play running until March 25th at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre. The play uses the interactions between its two characters to show that cottage country is a contested place, home to misunderstandings and conflict between competing interest groups.

On one side is Arthur Copper, an Anishnaabe man who seeks to renew his community’s relationship with the land by reviving the traditional practice of harvesting manoomin, or wild rice, from northern Ontario’s lakes. Opposite him is Maureen Poole, an uppity Torontonian who fears that Copper’s rice-planting activities will ruin swimming, boating, property values, and the manicured version of nature that is favoured by cottagers. Through warring over wild rice, the characters reveal the many factors that divide them—wealth, education, urban-vs.-rural perspectives, and most importantly, race and ethnicity.

Though Cottagers and Indians largely plays these differences for laughs, it raises a serious question: what does decolonization mean for cottage country? In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on residential schools, even some native leaders have argued that Canada has reached a turning point in its relationship with First Nations people. The Idle No More movement has kept Indigenous demands in the public spotlight, and the current federal government at least pays lip service to decolonization. But what implications do such developments have for Canada’s resort and tourist regions?

In the history of outdoor recreation in Canada, Indigenous people play a complicated and contradictory role. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 111: From Left to Right

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By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Brian Thorn about his book From Left to Right: Maternalism and Women’s Political Activism in Postwar Canada. We talk about the book’s origins, the nature of women’s activism on both the left and right of the political spectrum, and the issues supported by those on both sides. We also talk about women’s participation in the political process and the book’s connection to the current events.

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“He Will Again Be Able to Make Himself Self-Sustaining”[1]: Canadian Ex-Officers’ Return to Civilian Life

Brittany Dunn 

With the end of the First World War in November 1918 and demobilization following soon after, hundreds of thousands of servicemen returned to Canada and civilian life. Veterans approached their relationships with the government as they applied for state assistance in various ways, but ex-officers typically wanted to avoid dependence on the state, feeling it compromised their status as self-sufficient providers.

Ex-officers were often in a better position than other veterans because of their pre-war social status and class backgrounds. Many officers were drawn from the middle and upper classes and thus usually returned home to more financially stable lives after the war.[2] Yet many of these men still applied for, and some received, pensions from the Canadian government. In their applications to the Board of Pension Commissioners – renamed the Canadian Pension Commission (CPC) in 1933 – they often presented themselves as breadwinners who reluctantly turned to the state for aid.

The image of the independent provider was an important ideal to many men, both before and after the war, and so they sought to prove that they could care for themselves without state aid.[3] This construction of the hard-working, self-reliant man was also endorsed by the government in its policies for veteran re-establishment (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment distributed posters such as this one between 1917 and 1919. They were likely created to assure the public of the state’s benevolence towards its veterans. This poster in particular emphasizes regaining independence through retraining and eventual employment. Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment. Victory Over Wounds, The Soldier’s Return. Library and Archives Canada. 1914-1918. MIKAN 3667233.

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