Module 2: Complexities

Smudging in Schools: The complexity of promoting and protecting cultural rights

In this article, smudging in schools is brought to light. The article illustrates the complexity that unfolds when smudging takes place in the public school system. The article highlights a number of perspectives on the issue: some see it as a “religious” act and against the School Act; others are cautious because it could cause respiratory concerns for students; while certain schools are all for smudging and encouraging the cultural practice. Winnipeg school trustee Greg McFarlane worries that “banning smudging may lead to banning Indigenous songs, dance and storytelling in schools”. The multiple perspectives highlighted in this article demonstrate just how complex the relationship is between the public school system – a western, colonial system – and indigenous culture and ways of knowing.



This post is a thematic continuation of my first post. As illustrated in the CBC article in my first post, smudging in schools is complex. This article illustrates its complexity specifically for aboriginal youth. Stephen Bunn, a 17 year old Dakota teen is told not to smudge before school as the smell on his clothing is similar to that of Marijuana. Although staff and administration develop the understanding that he is smudging and not smoking,  Bunn is still asked to avoid doing so before coming to school and excused from school if he smells of sage. Embedded in this article is the youTube video that Bunn creates explaining his frustration and embarrassment when asked to stop smudging. In addition the youth addresses some of the other issues he feels are touching indigenous youth in a western public school system. This further illustrates the complexity of practicing smudging, a cultural right as well as some of the issues at play when indigenous youth and culture interact with the western colonial school construct. Bunn uses technology to inform his audience about some of the challenges faced by aboriginal youth and the lasting effects of colonization.  

Place Names: The complexity of promoting and protecting cultural rights

This module calls to our attention the importance of place names as we read about the multiple perspectives on renaming Vancouver’s Stanley Park. The issue of renaming Toronto’s Ryerson University, as highlighted in these articles entitled “Renaming Ryerson University is not about sanitizing our history” and “Students union, Indigenous group want to see Ryerson University change its name”  is complex for its historical significance and future implications. Egerton Ryerson’s educational theories helped shaped residential schools where indigenous students were beaten and raped. Some think changing the university’s name will sanitize the historical significance of the name. For instance, CBC journalist Angela Wright, thinks it will “eliminate an opportunity to talk about the “ugly” aspects of Canada’s history”, while others, like the Ryerson Student Union, demand the school be renamed “out of respect for residential school survivors”. The fact that renamed is not black and white goes to show us just how complex the effects of colonization are and the journey of decolonization is.

Addressing Stereotypes Media – does media interrupt or enable indigenous self-representation? Sonny Assu and KC Adams

Sonny Assu uses his art and his self-proclaimed nerdiness to ignite conversations about decolonization. This article illustrates how his exhibit entitled “We Come to Witness” does just this. In this series of images, Assu superimposes graffiti-style graphics on Emily Carr’s paintings of indigenous peoples and places. He calls these “digital interventions”. Emily Carr’s work has been frequently studied. Assu has, “come to understand that she wasn’t the figurehead of colonialism through art. I think she was really conscious of the colonial onslaught and she was just documenting that life that she saw and the ramifications of that.” He hopes that his work will bring light to colonialism as well as modern complications First Nations people face when it comes to land. Here is the link to his collection.

Like Sonny Assu, KC Adams uses her art to address aboriginal stereotypes. Basing her work in Donna Harroway’s Cyborg Manifesto, she photographs indigenous artists as cyborgs, “free of traditional western stereotypes towards race and gender”. In addition, her subjects are posed in “stoic” poses “mocking photographs of Aboriginal people from the 19th and early 20th century”. Her photos incite further conversation as she uses aboriginal stereotypes to label her subjects such as “Indian Princess”, “Igloo Builder”, and ‘Drunken Indian”. Her work exemplifies the complexity of decolonization and how media and technology can enable self-representation.

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