OER and Exploring Pressbooks

Cover of the Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.
Cover of the draft Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.

I recently starting working with Pressbooks as a way to develop an Open Educational Resource (OER) about residential schools and the history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

For folks not familiar will Pressbooks, it is a publishing platform that you easily create ebook and print-ready files for printing physical books.  In Ontario, eCampus Ontario has a dedicated Pressbooks instance for folks at universities in the province who are looking to develop OER and open textbooks.   The platform is extremely user friendly, and if you’ve used WordPress you’ll find the navigation and content entry system very similar.  I love the idea of using digital tools to create accessible, open access material for students to use in the classroom.  I also think there is a ton of potential for archives to work with historians to provide primary source material for this type of project.

We’re still very much in the content development phase of this project; but it has been really interesting to think about ways to illustrate the unique history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School site in connection to the larger residential school system.  This is a history that the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre have been collecting and discussing for decades. It’s also a history that has become past of my daily work for the past eight years, either through archival practice or educational outreach programming. The development of OER content has the potential to deliver this history in new ways and to expand the reach of this important work.

I’m also really seeing the benefit of using a platform which supports collaboration.  I’ve been able to bring in a number of conspirators  co-authors to this project and we have been able to jointly develop content and design. I also like the flexibility a digital platform provides – hyperlinks, embedded audio-visual, and photographs are some of the obvious advantages.  In the case of our project we’re also embedding primary source material held by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  It is allowing us to directly connect learns will archival records, archival photographs, and documents which are central to telling the history of the Shingwauk site.

I would love to hear what other public history and Canadian history folks are doing with Pressbooks, OER software, and open textbook development. What are you working on? What resources do you wish existed to support your students? 

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall

Reclaiming shingwauk Hall poster

A permanent exhibition project I have been working on since 2012 is finally coming into fruition.  The first part of the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibition will open on August 3, 2018 and is dedicated to the generations of Survivors who attended Indian Residential Schools across the country.

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall was developed and led by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  It has been a Survivor-driven reclamation of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School and is a Healing and Reconciliation through Education initiative.   It will be housed on the third floor of Shingwauk Hall, a former residential school building that is now houses Algoma University. 

This opening of August 3rd will include three distinct gallery spaces:

We are all Children of Shingwauk Gallery: This space witnesses the comings and goings of hundreds of Indigenous children from communities near and far.  It features photos and stories of some of the earliest students of the Shingwauk school in its industrial phases, contemporary portraits and testimonies of Survivors, and ‘selfies’ of current Algoma and Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig students. Here, visitors will see how entire families were connected to the Shingwauk site and learn about the remarkable ongoing healing work that has taken place.

Life at the Shingwauk Home: an Indian Residential School Gallery: This gallery illustrates how a scattering of modest buildings on 90.5 acres of land acquired in 1874 for ‘Indian Education’ became an ever-expanding industrial school complex and home to hundreds of Indigenous children. It charts the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Schools’ transition from industrial to residential school through photographs, offering a glimpse of the day-to-day existence of children over the years of the schools’ operation.

From Teaching Wigwam to Residential School Gallery: This final gallery recounts the story of Chief Shingwauk and his vision to create ‘Teaching Wigwams’ as a means of sustaining Anishinaabe self-determination. This historical gallery, which begins in the late 1700s, traces the history of the first iterations of the teaching wigwam through the absorption of the Shingwauk Home into the Canada-wide Indian Residential School System.

I am tremendously happy to see this project come together and humbled to be a part of such inspiring and important work.

Annual Reports of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Homes

Our Indian Homes Annual Report cover page

I’ve recently been working with a batch of annual reports from the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Homes from 1877-1915.  The first part of these reports have been digitized, OCR’d and are now available to download as PDFs.   We’re still working with the reports from 1899-1915, but hope to have those available to the public by the end of the month.

Working with these reports has once again highlighted the challenges of working with colonial records, especially those which relate to historical trauma.  The annual reports in question were written by the school principals and they also contain statements written by the Bishop of the Diocese of Algoma.  They represent a very particular view of the residential school system, that of an Anglican missionary and organizations who were deeply invested in the assimilation of Indigenous communities.

The reports also offer photographs as snapshots of residential school life.  There are a number of images that repeatedly appear in the annual reports, often showing students working or in school uniforms to highlight the ‘success’ of the residential school system.  The annual reports included these photographs as evidence but also as a means of soliciting support for the residential schools.  The photographs, as well as items made by student at Shingwauk/Wawanosh, were listed as for sale in every annual report.

The use of student labour to sustain residential schools is well documented. The nuanced way in which schools packaged the images of the students for profit is something that is still being explored in the archival and historical profession.  In the case of the Shingwauk/Wawanosh Homes the student photographs were often paired with letters ‘written’ by students.  I put written in quotes because it is clear that these letters were form letters, that the students were instructed (or forced) to write. The letters talk about how good life at Shingwauk is, the great things the students were learning, and how much they liked school.  They are all similar in structure and tone, making the rote nature of the letters clear.

These letters were hard to work through as an archivist. They are a very vivid reminder of how little choice residential school students had. When combined with posed photographs these letters serve as a window into the assimilation and harm inflicted by residential school.

These records made me physically uncomfortable. But I was also reminded of their importance. The student lists included in the annual reports are some of the records we have of students at Shingwauk from 1900-1910. This scant evidence also speaks to challenges of the colonial record keeping system, the lack of material created from student perspectives, and the need to develop narratives using a range of historical sources.

As archivists and historians we need to talk about the emotional toll of working with records relating to historical trauma. We need to acknowledge the emotional and intellectual space it takes to process this material. We also need to think about how we are presenting this material to communities and the general public.  The need for health support within archives can be very real and something that needs to be fought for in the age of ever shrinking budgets.

Archival photographs in perspective: Indian residential school images of health

My latest article, “Archival photographs in perspective: Indian residential school images of health” is now out in the British Journal of Canadian Studies (volume 30, issue 2).  This article is part of a special issue edited by Evan J. Habkirk and Janice Forsyth focusing on health and the body at Canadian residential schools. Many thanks to Evan and Janice for all their work on this issue and for all of their assistance getting this article published. 

My article examines the use of archival photographs to supplement the historical narrative with an emphasis on using photographs of sport and recreation as a lens for examining student life, health and power dynamics within the residential school system.  This article draws on the idea of archival silence and critically evaluates present day usage of residential school images.  The article is based on my work with the Rev. Father William Maurice fonds held at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  Within this fonds I examined photographs from the Spanish Indian Residential School series which is comprised of photographs of the residential schools located in Spanish, Ontario.  This series is a mixture of photographs taken by staff/administrators and photographs taken by students at the School.  The contrast of student and staff generated photographs provides an insight in the power dynamics present in archival photographs and the context behind residential schools images.

If you would like to read a copy of the article but are hitting a paywall please contact me.

Shingwauk Historical Site Tours

Since 2010 part of my job has included providing historical site tours focusing on the history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools that were located on the site which now houses Algoma University.

In the past few years I have been giving between 80-100 tours to a range of audiences, including : K-12, post-secondary students, community groups, professional development groups, government employees, and others. These tours are often paired with an education presentation , a talk from a residential school survivor, or a hands-on educational activity. The tours aren’t meant to provide a complete historical narrative but rather serve as a starting point for discussing the history of residential schools in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Canada more broadly.

A glimpse of what the average tour includes can be seen in the “Where You Live: Shingwauk Historical Tour” video recently created by Shaw TV Sault Ste. Marie.

Sharing, Healing and Learning: Survivor Driven History

Shingwauk rEsidential School
Shingwauk Residential School, circa 1960. Source: Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

My latest piece “Sharing, Healing and Learning: Survivor Driven History at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre” was recently published in Education Forum the magazine of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF).

The article discusses the history of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC), the importance of shifting the historical narrative to the Survivor point of view, and the idea of the SRSC as a living archive focused on engagement.  This engagement piece is something that is very dear to my heart and is at the core of my public history and archival practice.

Writing with Education Forum was a great experience.  Many thanks to editor Michael Young for the opportunity and his support throughout the process.

Archives As Activism: The Case of Residential Schools

Photo From: Talking Radical Radio: Archives As Activism

I’m on a podcast! Given my obsession with listening to podcasts it might not be surprising that I’m very excited to have been part of a podcast recording.

Recently Scott Neigh of Talking Radical Radio interviewed Skylee-Storm Hogan and I about the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, activism and archives, and more broadly about documenting social movements.  Our conversation was partially inspired by my recent Active History post on “Archives As Activism” which discusses some of the current trends around archiving and documenting social movements in Canada.

You can listen to the full episode online via the Rabble Podcast Network.

Kinda related: I would love to be part of an archives or Canadian history podcast — anyone want to team up to create some awesomeness? 

Residential Schools and Present Day White Privilege

Chairs in a Classroom
Image used under CC0 Public Domain License.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to listen to residential school survivor Mike Cachagee speak to a group of 90 grade eight students.  Over the past couple of years I’ve worked with Mike on a regular basis through the educational programming undertaken at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  Mike often comes in to speak to students about residential schools, his experience as a survivor, reconciliation and colonialism. His talks are always a little different and each time I leave feeling grateful for his wiliness to share his experience and perspective in the classroom setting.

During Mike’s most recent talk when discussing colonialism and the corrosion of Indigenous communities through residential schools he made a direct connection between white privilege and the colonial system.  I was struck by how this is the conversation we need to be having in the classroom.  The Indian Act, the reserve system, residential schools, the 60s scoop and so many other instances of historical colonial policy have had a direct impact that is still being felt by Indigenous communities.  We know this.  But there is still a huge tendency to treaty these historical policies as things of the past despite the fact that they still have very real implications for Indigenous communities and Canadians at large. Colonial policies are closely related to so much of the white privilege that exists today – the land we live on, the current funding structure of education, the health care we receive and so much more is connected to historical policies.

During his discussion with the grade eight students Mike also highlighted the fact that he wasn’t trying to blame current white settlers for things that their ancestors did.  However, he was clear that the burden of building new relationships, changing policies going forward, and learning about the basics of colonialism and privilege lies firmly on the shoulders of white-settlers not marginalized communities.  The discussion of reconciliation is one that requires all sides to participate and settlers need to be doing the background work themselves.

I spoke with a handful of the teachers present during Mike’s talk and many indicated that the talk inspired them to take a look at how they are approaching residential schools in the classroom space.  One teacher indicated that they would be having a class discussion about how residential schools impact society today when they returned to the classroom. Personally, I know one way that we have often encouraged teachers to teach residential schools is to follow up with a conversation about present day impacts of residential school, a discussion of ongoing educational inequalities, and connect to social justice issues (such as Idle No More, MMIWG2S, or Shannon’s Dream).

How do you connect residential school history to present day realities in classroom?

Tours of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Residential Schools Site

The third peice I wrote last year for Canada’s History is now up on their re-designed website.  My piece on “Tours of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Residential Schools Site” talks briefly about the history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools, the range of historic site tours provided by the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, and the emotional impact which can be associated with these tours.

As the busy tour season approaches at Shingwauk I’ve been thinking a lot about the delivery of this programming and that role it plays in educating people about residential schools, colonialism, and Indigenous communities.

Indigenous Collections Symposium Webinar

The Indigenous Collections Symposium: Promising Practices, Challenging Issues and Changing the System is an initiative through the Ontario Museum Association, Woodland Cultural Centre, and the Indigenous Knowledge Centre at the Six Nations Polytechnic.  The Symposium is going to be held March 23-24, 2017 in Brantford, Ontario.

In-person registration for the event is sold out however it is possible to attend online.  Online registration includes three webinars, streaming of day one of the symposium, and video archives of all presentations.  The Symposium aims to create discussion about the care and interpretation of Indigenous collections and to begin conversations about collaboration and best practices.

Leading up to the conference there will be three webinars:

Museum Perspectives on the Task Force on Museums & First Peoples and the Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Date: Thursday, February 16, 2017
Time: 12:00pm-1:00pm
Speakers: Trudy Nicks, Senior Curator (Retired), Royal Ontario Museum and Paula Whitlow, Museum Curator, Woodland Cultural Centre

An Introduction to Residential Schools in Ontario: Histories and Interpretation
Date: Friday, February 24, 2017
Time: 12:00pm-1:00pm
Speakers: Amos Key Jr., Director of First Nations Language Program, Woodland Cultural Centre, and Krista McCracken, Archives Supervisor, Arthur A. Wishart Library and Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, Algoma University

Historic and Contemporary Indigenous Groups in Ontario
Date: March 2017
Speakers: TBC

I’m looking forward to presenting with Amos Key Jr in the “Introduction to Residential Schools in Ontario: Histories and Interpreation” webinar.  Our webinar will cover the history of residential schools in Ontario and also discuss the challenges of displaying and teaching about this history in a heritage setting.  Both Amos and I work at sites which were once residential schools and we’ll be drawing on our respective experiences working with the histories of the Mohawk Institute and the Shingwauk Indian Residential School.