Reel Injun is being aired on CBC right now. Cree filmmaker, Neil Diamond, takes a journey through film to discover his “Hollywood Roots”. He explores the Aboriginal identity that has been presented throughout the film era, from the silent films until now. He explores the legends and stereotypes that abound and how they have effected how many Aboriginal people see themselves or perceive that others see them. These are the stereotypes we’ve all grown up with, and as educators when we use films in our classes we need to be sensitive to these stereotypes. Certainly, some films can be informative if they are historically accurate but Hollywood, especially in the 1930’2 and forties found that there was more of a market for presenting Aboriginal people as savages. Frequently the First Nations parts were played by white people and actual Aboriginal actors were paid with cigarettes and alcohol. Some of the violence depicted in the films is shocking. This is an insightful documentary.
In this podcast, Shelagh Rogers interviews a number of Saskatchewan writers that offer varying perspectives on prairie life and the prairie landscape. Her last interview is with Jo-Ann Episkenew, regarding her award winning book, Taking Back our Spirits. Episkenew is both an author and a Professor at First Nations University of Canada in Regina and a member of the Regina Riel Metis Council. She talks about her own education experience and about her realization that much of what is taught in school stems from a mistaken belief that all knowledge stems from classical Greece, denying or ignoring the fact that active and vital cultures have thrived all over the planet for thousands of years, with and without Western “knowledge”. In sharing the literature and her studies and her love of reading, she attempts to shed light on the actual history and literature of Aboriginal people with an eye to promoting healing. Ultimately she is hopeful. The indigenous stories are being told and many Canadians are keen to understand the past and present realities of First Nations in Canada. What continues to strike me is how recent all of trauma from colonial policies and residential schools is. Policies continue to smack of discrimination. On another CBC radio show today, it was noted that although Inuit Dancers were invited to perform for the Royal Tour, no Treaty Nations were invited. As Episkenew states, when Prime Minister Harper says that Canada has no Colonial history, he denies the fact that Canadian policies, in effect, continue the colonization process.
Cheryl Jackson continues her video series with Aboriginal Education, Solutions for the future. The video is focused on the experience of communities around Thunder Bay. She visits a school that is fundamentally structured around First Nations Culture and students are seeing some success. She discusses successes and options for the future with Bentley Cheechoo, Director with Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Lynnita Jo Guillet, Aborigianl Resource Teacher in Thunder Bay, and Ron Kanutski and social worker and Cultural Co-ordinator in Thunder Bay. All of them feel that a great amount of progress has been made since the last residential school was closed in the 1990’s. One example that they use is the cultural teaching of the Seven Grandfathers. Resources, especially funding, continue to be a challenge. To counteract arguments against special programs for Aboriginal students, Lynnita Jo Guillet uses the example of Italians that would be able to return to Italy and learn more about their culture. First Nations students must learn about their culture in the place that they are and in the schools that they attend. They also talk about how First Nations parents and communities must play a strong, active role and while it’s happening they have a long way to go to make all of the schools and the curriculum truly responsive and culturally relevant. Bentley Cheechoo stresses that it is essential for Aboriginal parents and communities to take full ownership of the education of their children
Considering my research into what’s helpful in the elementary classroom, ensuring that students feel fully valued and that families and communities feel welcome may make the difference for Aboriginal students. The discussion stresses again that feelings of racism and suspicion, resulting from western focused policies and residential schools, still exist and it will take time and effort to fundamentally structure classrooms that are truly inclusive and empowering.
In Aboriginal Education- Past and Present, a TVO production, facilitated by Cheryl Jackson, in the Fort William Community Center in Thunder Bay, Dolores Wawia, a Professor at Lakehead Univeristy, Goyce Kakegamic, educator and former chief, and Michelle Derosier, social worker and filmmaker offer their perspectives of the past and future of Aboriginal Education. They discuss the experiences that they’ve had with residential schools, that include racism, oppression and abuse and how even though today’s students may have not gone to residential schools they still deal with the trauma that the experience has had on their families and their communities. They discuss ways of gaining more control over curriculum and teaching to ensure the Aboriginal students can more successful. Educators need to be more culturally sensitive and having First Nations teachers in positions to teach Aboriginal students and aboriginal studies, will promote that. Educators need to provide opportunities for Aboriginal students to see themselves as capable students. That requires a system that responds to and respects their needs and their culture. For example, Ms. Wawia talks about the importance of extended families and a culture of non-interference, that may not be understood by non-aboriginal educators. When considering what is the might be useful for young children in my school district, these cultural differences and the essential role that is played by families and community is critical. It’s also essential to realize that the residential school legacy is still with us and will be for a long time to come.
In Through these Eyes, ( National Film Board, 2004) Charles Laird revisits the development of Bruner’s Man a Course of Study, social studies curriculum. In the early seventies educators attempted to transform cultural teaching for primarily American, elementary school students in an effort to develop cultural awareness, critical thinking and a more developed sense of what it means to be human. They did this by exploring Netsilik Inuit culture as was presented in films and comparing them with American values. Many of these films and discusssions took place in my own school,(I remember the seal) in Ontario although I was unaware of the controversey. The film discusses the Christian backlash to the notion of man as animal and cultural relativeness, and the overwhelming desire of many to protect traditional American values. Bruner’s contructivist model and attempts to make “kids more humane” did not succeed when the MACOS program lost funding and was pulled from the schools. The film brings up questions and concerns. What are traditional American/Canadian values? Who decides that? Have we changed much? Our current government is engaged in nudging Canadians back to the right (what is right?). Although we espouse the notion of constructivism and critical thinking, our provincial assesssment has no components that measure that. There is a great deal to learn from further study of this experiment.
When Michael Marker described the MACOS curriculum in the discussion thread “Critical of the Media”, I couldn’t help but look it up. In fact, although I don’t know if the teachers were actually following this curriculum or not, this represents my Social Studies education from about 1969 to 1975, in Southern Ontario. We explored the cultures of others from a perspective of equal value and I don’t recall any teacher preaching about who might be superior or primitive. In fact, as we tried to construct our own totem poles, teepees, cook succotash or carry the canoes around the playground, no-one felt superior. Of course, I see now how much of it was presenting a pan-aboriginal perspective but at the same time it did not present a Western/European superior perspective. Discussion revolved around what was known, what do we know and what can we learn about our place on the earth with each other. Following the links from the site mentioned above, leads to a great many insightful lessons with great potential for today’s learners. I hope to be able to apply at least some of it to my plans for my grade 2/3 class this year.
In Chapter 4 of Indigenous Cultures in an interconnected World, Zimmerman, Zimmerman and Bruguier, list a number of websites and productions that are authentically indigenous. I visited the site of Igloolik Isuma and was thrilled to find some excellent quality film and videos easily accessed on line. I was fortunate to see Atanarjuat when it first came out and it’s available on the site. I watched, Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, which is in Inuktitut language with English subtitles. With it’s high quality filming of the of the Arctic environment, the use of authentic music as background and the sharing of the wisdom of elders and others, who knew of the past traditions and the changes that are currently taking place was in stark contrast to the film, Nanook of the North. This is the sort of fim that would augment First Nations Studies for Canadian students and give them a greater, more authentic understanding of Innu way of life, traditionally and presently.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MiNO2qpESE[/youtube] [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jskD2oz4Nko&feature=related[/youtube] The role of media awareness and the potential for critical comparison of culture was highlighted as I searched through First Nations Animations of traditional stories. I started by watching the Big Rock Story, an animated legend produced by the Campbell River Museum, which has an excellent First Nations Program and also a great many artifacts from the past centuries. The Big Rock still stands at the entry to Campbell River, but I was reminded of Ripple Rock and the Ripple Rock explosion. The stark contrast of the two stories seemed to underline the conflict between the aboriginal relationship to the natural world and the western capitalist technological imperative.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCu3HtydHsk&feature=related[/youtube] This compilation of music and art presents the story of First Nations peoples as presented through the singing of Jana Mashonee. This seems like a good example to present to young students. The blend of current First Nations art and traditional story gives a sense of balance. However, when I googled Jana Mashonee, the first thing that came up was a poster-like representation that definitely had a Pochahontas-feel to it. It certainly has a very commercial feel but the music also seems to present positive messages for First Nations students and she seems to present the image of being a good role-model. This reminds me of the discussion regarding the non-neutrality of the internet. There are always messages delivered on many levels and that understanding them requires sharp critical skills.
Dancing around the Table
The National Film Board has done a great job of documenting Canadian culture. In Dancing around the Table, Maurice Bulbulian in his 1987 film, documents the 1983 struggle of Aboriginal people to be recognized within the Canadian Constitution. They argue in international courts to have their rights to self-government and land use and consultation entrenched within the law. It was helpful for me to be able to review that. I recall watching it at the time, but now, with more background and more maturity, I’m able to see nuances that I likely missed at the time. That is one of the strengths of technology, that ability to review and to analyze from a more informed perspective. I found Nanook was the same for me: good to have the chance to revisit. Although documents can inform, they do not have the power and nuance of film.