Grappling with Settler Self-Education in the Classroom: Rereading the History of Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed

By Rebekah Ludolph

“If the past 30 years have taught us anything, it is that there is a powerful, loud bunch of privileged white settlers who do not want to learn about us or from us…they are unaware and do not have to bother doing their research.” – Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm (Anishinaabe)

Akiwenzie-Damm calls for settlers to self-educate. To do their research and acknowledge the information that is available to them because of the hard work of Indigenous writers and scholars.

As a settler graduate student attending lectures and leading tutorials I have worked primarily in thematic courses featuring one or two Indigenous literary works framed as texts to promote settler-student education about settler-colonialism in Canada. From this experience, I notice that class discussions often verge on what Eve Tuck (Unangax) calls “damage-centered research.” Our curriculum “intends to document people’s pain and brokenness in order to hold those in power accountable for their oppression” but, in the process, often “reinforces and reinscribes a one-dimensional notion of [Indigenous] people as depleted, ruined, and hopeless” (409).

This often happens inadvertently when classes overlook the important work Indigenous texts perform outside of settler education or when class is conducted under the assumption that it is only composed of settler students (whether Indigenous students choose to publicly identify themselves or not). While there are already many resources teachers can use to address this situation, the politics of settlers using Indigenous literatures for self-education warrants deeper investigation.

The publishing and reception history of Métis writer and community worker Maria Campbell’s 1973 autobiography, Halfbreed, for example, points to the long-standing practice of positioning Indigenous texts as first-and-foremost tools for settler education. Maintaining this interpretive position, to the exclusion of other perspectives, continues to produce damage-centered readings of Indigenous texts.

In this post, I want to try to explore different ways in which Settlers can approach this literature, its literary history, and the broader concerns raised with regard to education by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I will use Campbell’s Halfbreed, a key work in Canadian and Indigenous literary history and thus a key point of interaction between settlers and Original Peoples, as a case study. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 124: Live at the Cellar

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By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Marian Jago about her new book Live at the Cellar: Vancouver’s Iconic Jazz Scene in the 1950s and ’60sWe talk about Canada’s jazz scene, the co-operative structure of the Cellar, and the type of performers who played at the club. We also chat about clubs in other cities, the counterculture movement of the mid-20th century, and Marian’s use of oral history.

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Tanya Talaga, Thunder Bay, and all of our relations

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Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the NIshnawbe Aski Nation, tweeted this the night of the Thunder Bay lecture. “Thunder Bay, you are beautiful. Chi Miigwetch for coming out to hear @TanyaTalaga deliver the first of her #MasseyLectures. What an incredible evening. #FullHouse”.

Karen Dubinsky

On October 16th I witnessed (and there is no better word for it) close to 1500 people come together in the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium to hear the first of Tanya Talaga’s CBC Massey Lecture series, “All Our Relations.” Based on the recently published book of the same name, a product of her year long Atkinson Foundation Fellowship “All Our Relations” explores the rising suicide rates of Indigenous youth in Canada, Brazil, Australia and Norway.

Why Tanya Talaga, why Thunder Bay, and why was I there?

Talaga introduced her lecture joking about the pantheon of Massey Lecturers she was joining – a formidable list indeed. “These illustrious people” she said, “have three degrees, they are people of letters; they probably don’t share their bathroom with their teenage kids. They probably have ensuites.”  Despite her modesty, and despite the fact that the list of Massey Lecture luminaries – since 1961- includes only one other Indigenous person (Thomas King), there’s no question this is a club in which Talaga belongs. Her work has had such a powerful impact, and nowhere more so than Thunder Bay.

Talaga is a Toronto Star journalist who was sent to Thunder Bay in 2011, in the midst of a Federal election, to do a story on Indigenous voting behaviour. She switched gears to the story of Indigenous student deaths at the insistence of the Indigenous leaders she was interviewing for the voting story. A good journalist follows where the story leads them, and Talaga is a good journalist. Talaga’s first book Seven Fallen Feathers, Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City rose to meteoric heights when it was published last year. It tells the stories of seven Indigenous youth who died while attending high school in Thunder Bay, far from their homes in various Northern communities, between 2000 and 2011. She puts the lives and deaths of Jordan Wabasse, Kyle Morrison, Curran Strang, Robyn Harper, Paul Panacheese, Reggie Bushie and Jethro Anderson into clear historical context, covering the specifics of colonization and the education system especially in Northwestern Ontario.

It’s obvious that she was quicker than many to realize what was happening in Thunder Bay in 2011 because of her relationship to the place. Continue reading

Early Globalization: Exploring British Imports 1856-1906

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By Jim Clifford

[The visualizations in this post do not render very well on a small screen.]

The British were at the centre of the globalizing economy in the second half of the nineteenth century. British cities and their industrial economies were growing fast and the country increasingly relied on trade to supply food and raw materials.

During the past few years I have worked with a group of students to develop a database that includes all of Britain’s imports. The main goal of the database is to allow me to write journal articles and a book on the links between industrialization in Greater London and global commodities, but I thought interactive visualizations of the data created using Tableau might be interesting for ActiveHistory.ca readers. The full database is also available for download.

Visualizations for this project help us understand this early period of globalization during decades of intensifying imperialism and a rush to bring much of the world’s arable land into cultivation and other natural resources into the global market place. A London family in the 1890s might have started their day by washing with soap produced with Egyptian cottonseeds and Australian tallow, dressing in wool and cotton clothing sourced from Australia, India, South Africa and the United States, drinking sweet tea from Ceylon and Jamaica, and eating marmalade toast made with wheat from the United States and oranges from Spain. Their home would have been built with local bricks and timber from Quebec, Norway, Sweden or Russia. Most of these global connections, aside perhaps from tea marketed by its place of origin, would have been hidden by the process of commodification and the industrial transformation of the global raw materials into British consumer goods. Continue reading

From Learning to Cite To Learning To Write: Using Zotero in the Classroom

This post by Andrea Davis originally appeared on The American Historical Association’s Perspectives On History.  

Learning Management Systems (LMSs) have become ubiquitous in higher education. In online and traditional courses, instructors regularly use LMSs to post syllabi, house readings, facilitate student engagement, and provide feedback and grades. As these practices have become routine, digital pedagogues Sean Michael Morris and George Veletsianos remind us to interrogate the values and objectives of the university LMS. Rather than have us adopt its logic without question, they urge us to make critical decisions about our course platforms. I did exactly that in my undergraduate methods course, Practice of History, by repurposing Zotero as a course platform to help students achieve specific learning outcomes.

Practice of History is a required course for history majors at Arkansas State University, designed to prepare students for upper-level courses. As it stands in the curriculum, the course’s main objectives are to teach students how to find, evaluate, and cite sources, and how to use primary and secondary source evidence to construct interpretations that engage with historiographical conversations. These learning goals—combined with my commitment to preparing students for our predominantlypost-print world—led me to Zotero, a free and open-source research and bibliographic management system developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

Although marketed as “easy-to-use,” Zotero can be challenging for students. Without an understanding of how the different system applications and plugins work together, it can be difficult to figure out how and where to complete discrete tasks. Navigating Zotero is not the only challenge. Conceptually, it can be difficult to get students to buy in to the program if they have not yet developed a thorough understanding of the research process.

I alleviated these challenges by repurposing Zotero as a course platform. The course was divided into three modules: “Approaches to Historical Writing,” where students had low-stakes opportunities to familiarize themselves with Zotero’s online application while reviewing foundational historical skills; “Developing a Research Paper,” where students learned additional facets of the program while completing individual research papers; and “Communicating Research to a Public Audience,” where students built upon the digital skills that they had developed throughout the course to create interactive Medium postsbased on their research.

A screenshot of the “Course Resources” folder for the course Practice of History, fall 2018.

Image 1: A screenshot of the “Course Resources” folder for the course Practice of History, fall 2018.

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“Seeing Refugees”: Using Old Photographs to Gain New Perspectives on Refugees, Past and Present

Serbia, 1919 (image described in detail below),

Sonya de Laat

In the summer of 2018 an unprecedented number of people claiming to be refugees crossed into Canada at unofficial border points. Many Canadians learned of these events through photographs and other visual media circulating through the popular commercial press. Responding to such images, public reaction in Canada has been mixed. While some people support actions aimed at helping these families and individuals, others have sensationalized the situation by labelling it a “crisis” and calling border crossers as “illegals” or “cue jumpers.”

It is not the photographs on their own that have contributed to this ambivalence, since “photographs are mute”.[1] Photographs take their meaning from the words around them: captions, news anchor statements, accompanying articles, or even the “narrative templates in our own minds.”[2] Responses such as those that surfaced this summer are not new. Indeed, they are reflective of a historical pattern of response towards refugees over the past century. Looking at one set of photographs from that era can give us another perspective on current debates and remind us of the powerful role photography plays in mediating social relations.

There’s a little-known collection of photographs made by Lewis Hine for the American Red Cross (ARC) at the tail end and immediately following the Great War, 1918-1919. Continue reading

Provincializing Europe in Canadian History; Or, How to Talk about Relations between Indigenous Peoples and Europeans

Theodor de Bry from America, 1634 (image discussed later in this post).

Paige Raibmon

(Editor’s note : This piece was updated with footnotes, including one making explicit its reference to the work of postcolonial theorist Dipesh Chakrabarty. A shortened version of this piece first appeared in TheTyee.ca.)

When I received the manuscript, I was excited to dive in. The subject was close to my heart. This was to be a new grade four text book focused on early relations between Indigenous peoples and Europeans, a topic I have taught at the university for close to 20 years. I had been asked to join the editorial team to help with the work in progress.

I am a settler, the mother of two daughters. We live, go to school, and work on land. That is to say: the have never ceded or surrendered their rightful title to these lands that they have inhabited for millennia. Put another way, the settler state has never acquired rightful title to these lands that it has occupied for the past century and a half.

In 2015, the Province of British Columbia began to overhaul—in its words “modernize”—what and how, children are taught in kindergarten through grade twelve. The new curriculum is reoriented around critical thinking and key competencies (skills) that are integrated across the subjects. It uses this approach to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to educate students about the histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples.

These changes are big improvements. But, I wondered, what would they actually look like? And so, as I say, when a publisher invited my assistance, I eagerly accepted. The timing was right. My older daughter had just begun grade four. Perhaps my younger daughter would use this book in a couple of years.

The manuscript proved instructive in unanticipated ways. It provided a guide to the ways that harmful, outdated assumptions lurk within common words and phrases that we take for granted. This means that we can perpetuate these assumptions unwittingly. And, it means we can begin to challenge them by bringing attention to the language we use.

There was plenty to admire about the manuscript. Its content was rich. It tackled topics many texts and teachers have long avoided, including the intentional spread of smallpox-infected blankets by the British. It went beyond token insertion of a few Indigenous names. It drew from illuminating oral and written accounts to highlight the active role of Indigenous actors.

I realized that although there was a lot about the past in it, the draft was not yet adequately historical. I mean by this that the book presented as universal concepts and ideas that are specific to particular times and places. Another way to put this is that the draft text did not yet adequately provincialize the actors and concepts at play. To “provincialize” is to strip away the mask of universality that covers the true nature of the European-derived concepts, ideas, and practices.¹

This matters because hierarchies of value are embedded within the terms and categories we use. Continue reading

Chanie Wenjack and the Histories of Residential Schooling We Remember

Today, 23 October, is the 52nd anniversary of Chanie Wenjack’s death. Chanie (misnamed Charlie by his teachers) was a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who, along with two other classmates, ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario in October 1966. Fleeing the school’s abusive environment, Wenjack tried to make it home to Ogoki Post in northern Ontario, a 600-kilometer journey on foot. He did not make it. Instead, he died of exposure. A CN engineer discovered Wenjack’s body on the side of the railway track.

Chanie Wenjack

The anniversary of Wenjack’s death offers an opportunity to reflect on what historian Adele Perry calls the “histories we remember” about colonialism generally and residential schooling and Wenjack in particular.[1] As the new CBC documentary, Finding the Secret Path, demonstrates, for many Canadians Wenjack’s story will forever be linked to Gord Downie, the lead singer of the Tragically Hip. After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer that would eventually claim his life, Downie committed his final years to producing Secret Path, a multimedia project (album, graphic novel, and animated film) to popularize Wenjack’s story. Finding the Secret Path advances the narrative that it was a dying Downie who used his star power to blow the lid off Wenjack’s story to force Canadians to grapple with reconciliation.

Though Secret Path has increased popular knowledge of Wenjack’s story and residential schools, it is important to remember that it is neither the first nor the only project to attempt to do so. Fifty years before, journalists and musicians tried to bring attention to Wenjack’s story and the horrors of residential schooling. Yet these projects have more or less been forgotten; they are not part of the history we remember. A closer look at earlier attempts to shine a spotlight on Wenjack complicates the ways we remember residential school history and poses an unsettling question: why, when some people in the 1960s and 1970s knew about Wenjack and the devastating effects of residential schooling, did the system remain in operation for another thirty years?

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Pragmatic Precarity: Some Qualitative Reflections

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By Andrea Terry

Strikes at post-secondary institutions across Canada have drawn considerable attention to issues affecting Contract Academic Staff (CAS).[1] Seemingly, in line with these developments, scholarly associations have commissioned research studies to explore the effects of institutions’ ever-growing reliance on this particular demographic.

Kasia Piech, Untitled, ceramics, 2013. Reproduced with permission.

On September 4, 2018, the Canadian Association of University Teachers/Association Canadienne des professeures et professeurs d’université (CAUT) released the results and the final research report – written by Dr. Karen Foster of Dalhousie University and Dr. Louise Birdsell Bauer, CAUT’s Research Officer – of its national survey of over 2,600 CAS workers at universities across Canada. In an interview with the CAUT Bulletin issued the same month as the report, Foster states,

[W]hen you start seeing contract jobs that are packages of courses – more courses than a tenure-track or permanent faculty member would want to teach – and they go on for longer than a year, they are not stepping-stone jobs, they are not temporary gap fillers, but are ways to extract more labour out of one person for less money, usually under conditions that are unsustainable for the person doing the work….The effects of job insecurity are far greater than most people appreciate until they’re in that situation….Not being able to plan into the future has a debilitating effect [on Contract Academic Staff]: they feel isolated, that it’s their fault, and that they’re failing loved ones by not being able to provide for them.

In this post, at the beginning of CAUT’s Fair Employment Week, I’d like to share my own CAS narrative, to personalize the facts, a practical strategy recommended by Erin Wunker so that CAS workers might support their peers. Continue reading

Juno to Victory: A Call for Blog Posts

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June 6th, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Canada’s role on Juno Beach, and the beginning of the victory campaign in northwest Europe. The Canadian Army lost 359 men on D-Day alone. What followed was a deadly, attritional struggle known as the Battle of Normandy. Even after over 100,000 casualties and with their armies in full retreat to the French border, Nazi Germany remained a stubborn foe. It was not until 11 months after D-Day, in May 1945, that Adolf Hitler lay dead in his bunker and the Germans agreed to an unconditional surrender.

In partnership with ActiveHistory.ca, the Juno Beach Centre Association is seeking blog posts on the history, memory, and legacy of Juno Beach and the victory campaign in Europe. Posts on the social and cultural impacts of the war; on battlefield tourism now and in the past; on the role of women, francophones, non-British or Indigenous peoples; on the war and popular culture in Canada; on teaching or applying historical thinking concepts; or on active public history initiatives will be of particular interest to the editorial team.

Perhaps you will want to discuss the relationship of the Canadian Army or its soldiers with the civilian populations in France, Belgium, Holland, and/or Germany. Maybe authors will reflect on a recent pilgrimage to a site of memory that has personal meaning. Others may choose to examine how Canadian soldiers, sailors, and airmen reacted to the news of the end of the war in Europe. Operational or diplomatic histories will also be considered.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us about a blog post idea! Contributions should be submitted as Word documents or in any other easily convertible format. They should be between 800 and 1200 words in length and include citations where necessary. For examples, see Canada’s First World War: A Centennial Series on ActiveHistory.ca. Submissions are welcome through to May 8th, 2020, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. Accepted contributions will be posted on a regular basis. Those accepted may also be invited to be guests on Juno Beach and Beyond: Canada’s Second World War Podcast. Submit your posts to alex@junobeach.org. The editorial team will review all submissions for clarity and appropriateness of subject matter.