Interactive History: Indigenous Perspectives and the Blanket Exercise

BlanketsAs part of Orientation Week at AlgomaU students, staff, faculty and community members were invited to participate in the KAIROS blanket exercise.  Originally developed in the 1990s as a response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples the blanket exercise is a participatory teaching too that invites participants to learn about Canadian history from an Indigenous perspective.  The exercise has been updated since the 1990s to include information on more recent events such as Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Shannon’s Dream.

The exercise teaches about the impacts of colonialism, the loss of Indigenous land, residential schools, the sixties scoop, and numerous other facets of Canadian history that are not often taught in a classroom setting.  The visual representation of Turtle Island through the use of blankets, the physical act of participants representing Indigenous people and watching the spacial and visceral damage that is caused by colonialism is a really moving and had a huge impact on participants.

This is a very unique teaching tool that can be scaled to different age groups and number of participants.  I particularly liked how the session I participated in combined the national historical perspective with local responses and local experiences.  A local First Nation Chief spoke about his community and the removal of resources from their land and a Shingwauk Residential School Survivor shared their experience at Shingwauk as part of the exercise’s narrative.

Given the potentially triggering nature of the content health and cultural support was available throughout the event and the scripted portion of the exercise was followed by a sharing circle which allowed participants an opportunity to reflect on the exercise and discuss the experience.  Overall I think this is a great teaching tool that should be brought into more classrooms, community centers, and university campuses as a way of talking about history, ongoing inequality, and reconciliation.

Reading: Unwritten Histories

oldbookA few months ago I stumbled across Andrea Eidinger’s Unwritten Histories blog.  If you haven’t already come across her site it’s well worth a visit.  I’ve particularly enjoyed her Historian’s Toolkit posts and her “What’s in My Bag?” series which uses material culture as a lens to examine the past.

Andrea has been wonderfully consistent in posting new content and typically maintains a schedule of a new blog post on Tuesday and a Canadian history roundup post on Sunday which highlights other Canadian history content online.

I commend anyone who is able to maintain that type of schedule for numerous months and still come out with interesting and insightful content.  I also love the name of her blog and the implications of exposing histories and parts of historical practice that are not commonly discussed.

Canadian Girls In Training: 100 Years With A Purpose

My most recent post, “Canadian Girls in Training: 100 Years With A Purpose” can be seen over at Active History.  I wrote this post after attending a local 100th anniversary celebration of CGIT and learning about the local impact of the organization.  The post also looks at the history of CGIT across Canada and the movement’s links to feminism and changing approaches to education.

Moral Goodness and Venereal Disease: Sexual Health Education in Ontario

My latest post, “Moral Goodness and Venereal Disease: Sexual Health Education in Ontario” can be see over on the Activehistory.ca site. The post looks at the introduction of sexual health education into Ontario schools in the early 1900s and traces the changing nature of the sexual health curriculum to present day.

Redress and Reconciliation: The Legacy of Residential Schools

Yesterday I attended a panel at Algoma University focused on residential school and reconciliation.  The panel, “Redress & Reconciliation in the face of Post-Apology Revelations”, was standing room only and featured four residential school survivors, two inter-generational survivors, and historian Ian Mosby.  

The panel participants were invited to speak about their thoughts on Harper’s apology to residential school survivors, reconciliation, and relations following the apology.  The first two survivors to speak, Mary Hill and Fran Fletcher Luther, both emphasized that they thought Harper didn’t truly believe the words of the apology, that the words he spoke didn’t come from the heart, and that he didn’t write the apology.  Mary Hill also said she felt disappointed that the apology didn’t acknowledge those survivors who have already passed on. 

The two inter-generational survivors spoke of the long term impacts of residential schools on communities and the need to acknowledge the on-going damage.  They pointed to the ongoing legislation that is marginalizing indigenous people and then need for a true apology to be followed up with actions.  Mitch Case highlighted the need for truth.  He argued that reconciliation cannot begin until the truth is out there and accepted. 

The inter-generational impacts of the residential school system have been devastating and is something that needs to be acknowledged and discussed more.  The inclusion of two inter-generational survivors on the panel helped highlight the need for more open discussions and brought attention to current legislation that is marginalizing indigenous communities.

One of the most moving parts of the panel was listening to Mike Cachagee speak about his experience at residential school, his work with the government leading up the residential school settlement agreement, and the residential schools survivor movement.  Mike spoke about starving at residential school and the physical and emotional pain caused by starvation. 

Mike also told an anecdote in which he was questioned about why he was publicly speaking against the residential school settlement agreement.  He asked government officials if they had children and if so what price could they put on their love for their child.  Predictably, the individuals said you couldn’t put a price on love.  Mike response was ‘But you have.  You paid me $3,000 a year for my attendance at residential school.  $3,000 a year for being deprived of my parents love, for being taken away from my family.’ 

I’ve heard Mike tell this experience to other groups.  But every time this example is gut wrenching.  The compensation of the residential school settlement agreement did not fix things and can in no way make up for what happened in residential schools.  Mike’s pointed words highlight an underlying dissatisfaction many have with the apology, the settlement agreement, and current discussions of reconciliation. 

The panel closed with the resilient words “They can’t take our spirit.  They couldn’t take our souls.”  I have worked closely with the survivors who were on this panel for the past five years.  I have heard them speak about their residential school experiences countless times.  But each time they speak I learn something new and I am reminded of the importance of truth telling and the need for us to listen to each other.  Reconciliation takes two sides.

Orange Shirt Day

September 30, 2014 is the second annual Orange Shirt Day.  The day grew out of a residential school commemoration event held in Williams, Lake BC in Spring 2013.  During this event Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a Survivor of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School described her experience of arriving at the residential school and having an orange shirt that was bought for her by her grandmother taken away from her.

Speaking about her experience Phyllis said that “the colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.  All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”  Phyllis complete story can be viewed here.

As a result of Phyllis’ experience and the 2013 commemoration event Orange Shirt Day was created as a way to inspire conversation around residential schools and reconciliation.  Similar to the anti-bullying pink shirt campaigns, the Orange Shirt Day/Every Child Matters campaign encourages people to wear orange and begin discussing the issues behind the cause.  Many school boards across Canada are using this as an opportunity to begin discussions of residential schools in their classrooms.  More information about Orange Shirt Day can be found on their website and facebook page.

Bringing the Legacy of Residential Schools into the Classroom

My latest post, “Bringing the Legacy of Residential Schools into the Classroom” can be seen over on Active History.  The post focuses on resources that can help teachers integrate residential schools into their lessons. I look a handful of education tools which can be accessed digitally and are good starting points for teaching the history of residential schools.

When You Work In A Museum: Museum Dance Off

The When You Work In A Museum site is in the midst of running a Museum Dance Off contest.  The contest features amusing videos put together by museum staff across the globe.  The contest started three weeks ago with entries from 22 museums in 8 countries from 4 continents.

The final round of the Dance Off  features a Canadian museum–the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology with their steam-punk video of “What Does the Pump Say?”  All the entries are worth taking a look at and voting for the final round of videos can be found here. Voting closes at 8am EDT on Tuesday June 17th, 2014.