Today: Indigenous Storytellers WikiThon

An Indigenous Storytellers Edit-A-Thon is being held Tuesday April 4, 2017 3 – 7 PM PDT.  The event is being hosted by UBC and Concordia is dedicated to revising and creating entries on Wikipedia for Indigenous storytellers, with an emphasis on those working in film and theatre in Turtle Island. There are on-site options for participation at both schools and there is an option for folks to participate remotely.

The event invites community members to participate locally or remotely and is also involving students from classes at UBC and Concordia.  I love the idea of making an edit-a-thon part of a class assignment or an in-class activity.  I also love that this event is lifting up Indigenous artists and Indigenous community based organizations.  Interested in participating remotely? Add your name to the participant list on the event meetup page.

Teaching the Legacy of the Sixties Scoop and Addressing Ongoing Child Welfare Inequality in the Classroom

My latest post “Teaching the Legacy of the Sixties Scoop and Addressing Ongoing Child Welfare Inequality in the Classroom” can be found on Active History. This post look at the connection between colonialism, the residential school era and the sixties scoop.  It also discusses ways in which historians and educators can incorporate sixties scoop history into their classroom spaces.

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.

Friday Reading: #AHIndigenous Week

This week over at Active History guest editor Crystal Fraser put together an amazing line up of posts from Indigenous scholars in Canada.  For more information on the series as a whole check out Crystal’s “Politics and Personal Experience: An Editor’s Introduction to Indigenous Research in Canada.” Every post in this the series was worth reading and the week’s lineup included:

  • Monday, January 11 – Crystal Fraser, Editor’s Introduction; Leanne Simpson, “A Smudgier Dispossession is Still Dispossession”; Zoe Todd, “Conversations with my Father’s Paintings: Writing My Relations Back Into the Academy
  • Tuesday, January 12 – Claire Thomson, “Holding Our Lands and Places”; Daniel Sims, “Not That Kind of Indian”
  • Wednesday, January 13 – Adam Gaudry, “Paved with Good Intentions: Simply Requiring Indigenous Content is Not Enough”; Anna Huard, “A Wrench in the Medicine Wheel: The Price of Stolen Water on Indigenous Cultural Continuity”
  • Thursday, January 14 – Lianne Charlie, “Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow: The Next Generation of Yukon Indigenous Politics”; Norma Dunning, “Strengthening the Nunavut Educational System”
  • Friday, January 15 – Billy-Ray Belcourt, ” Political Depression in a Time of Reconciliation”; Mary Jane McCallum, Title Forthcoming

Devil in Deerskins: Anahareo and Indigenous Writing

I recently read Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl the autobiography of Anahareo (1906-1985).  Anahareo was a Mohawk environmentalist, writer, and activist.  She is perhaps most well known for her marriage to Grey Owl, also known as Archie Belaney, the internationally acclaimed author who claimed to be of Scottish and Apache descent, but who’s roots as an Englishman were revealed after his death.

The original version of Devil in Deerskins was published in 1972.  The University of Manitoba Press republished Anahareo’s autobiography in 2014 as part of it’s First Voices First Texts series.  This series aims to republish critical editions of books by important under-recognized Indigenous authors and place these texts within their cultural contexts.  The republished version of Devil in Deerskins was edited and includes an afterword by Sophie McCall.  The critical comments by McCall add value to the discussion of Anahareo as an important historical figure in her own right and the republishing aims to introduce a new generation to Anahareo and Grey Owl.

McCall’s afterward rightly points out how Anahareo has most often been defined by her relationship with Grey Owl and at times has been “overlooked as an Indigenous writer because of her family’s history of displacement and relocation.” McCall’s close examination of Devil in Deerskins highlights the depth of Anahareo’s Mohawk heritage and the influence it had on her way of life and writing.  This is brought out through a discussion of Anahareo’s relationship with her Grandmother, her beading, her use of traditional medicine, and the use of oral history to impart traditional knowledge.

Prior to reading this book I knew very little about Anahareo other than her relationship with Grey Owl.  Anahareo is far more than the supporting figure that history has whitewashed her into.  She received the Order of Nature from the International League of Animal Rights in 1979 and in 1983 received the Order of Canada.  Her contributions to environmental, social, and animal rights go far beyond her relationship with Grey Owl and she was one of the first Indigenous women to publish a full length memoir in Canada.  Her autobiography is well worth a read if you are interested in early environmentalism or indigenous literature.

Anahareo’s use of place in her life narrative and her ability to recreate landscapes inspired me to look up some of the locations she mentioned in her autobiography. The cabin which Anahareo describes in her memoir as the spot Grey Owl picked to settle and begin creating a beaver sanctuary in 1931 still exists in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. The main cabin known as Beaver Lodge was built on the shoreline of Ajawaan Lake with a beaver lodge integrated into the design.  A larger cabin for Anahareo, her daughter Shirley Dawn, and visitors was nearby in 1932.   The Parks Canada description of the Cabin focuses largely on Grey Owl with just one or two mentions of Anahareo.  I would be interested to know what interpretive materials are at the site itself and how they depict Anahareo.


Canadian History at the ROM

First Peoples Gallery.

As previously mentioned I recently spent a day at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).  One of the aspects that I struggled with during my visit was the sections of the museum devoted to Canada.  The first floor of the ROM contains the Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada and the Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples.

Both spaces address Canada’s history, material culture, and roots but they do so from very different vantage points.  The Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada focuses on Canadian heritage from European settlement to present with emphasis on the role of British and French culture within Canada.  The First Peoples gallery space focuses on the cultures and traditions of Indigenous people in Canada both historically and in present life.  This gallery does contain some examples of the impact of colonialism on Indigenous life but it isn’t a prominent feature of the space.

The disconnected narratives of these two spaces bothered me.  The galleries overlapped in terms of time period but they didn’t tell a cohesive narrative about Canada as a whole. Rather the European side of things was presented and the Indigenous perspective was separated out into it’s own space.  The lives of both groups have been interconnected since contact and both are integral to understanding the history of Canada.

In addition to the lack of cohesion in the narrative I didn’t see any mention of Métis culture or identity.  My cynical side thinks that perhaps Métis culture was left out because it didn’t fit neatly in either the European or First Peoples narrative.  The other half of me hopes that I just missed a display that highlights Métis heritage.

The ROM did involve six Indigenous advisers in design decisions for the First Peoples Gallery. I’d be curious to know how actively involved the advisers were in exhibit design, label creation, and object selection.   The Gallery combines historic and modern artifacts with artwork from Indigenous people. However the flow between material culture objects that are labelled in a Western style and Indigenous artwork isn’t clear.  They are mixed together throughout the exhibit and without reading labels closely it is at times difficult to tell what era items are from.

Despite all of my reservations about the layout and premise behind the separate Canadian galleries there were a number of great items on display and the quality of the individual displays was well done.

AAO 2014: Treaty 9 Travels to Northern Ontario

This is the final post summarizing my experience at the AAO 2014 conference. The first post, “AAO 2014: Context and Commemoration” can be seen here

 Closing Plenary
The closing plenary of AAO 2014 was titled “Archives Roadshow: The Journey of the James Bay Treaty to Northern Ontario” and featured talks by Paul Mcllroy, Shannon Coles, and Lani Wilson all of the Archives of Ontario.

Their combined presentations focused on the history of the James Bay Treaty (also known as Treaty 9), the impact of the treaty of past and current events, and the challenges associated with preparing the treaty to be loaned to the Moose Factory community.  Almost 108 years after the Treaty was signed in the Moose Factory area the historical document was exhibited returned to the Mushkegowuk territory for display.  The treaty was on display as part of the Treaty 9 Conference hosted by Mushkegowuk Tribal Council from July 31st to August 1st 2013.

Mcllroy opened the plenary by discussing the unique nature of Treaty 9 and the signing tour that was undertaken to gather community signatures on the document.  Treaty 9 is the only numbered treaty that has a province as a signatory and the Ontario government has been closely tied to the administration of the treaty. A detailed history of Treaty 9 compiled by the Archives of Ontario can be found here.

Cole’s portion of the presentation provided an in-depth look at the conservation efforts required to prepare Treaty 9 for travel from Toronto to Moose Factory.  She did an excellent job of breaking down the conversation concerns around the document and explaining why particular conservation treatments were used. It was interesting to see what specific challenges the parchment document presented and how specially designed cases were built for the project.

The presentation concluded with Lani Wilson discussing her experience coordinating the trip to Moose Factory and traveling with the document to the remote community.  She explained the challenges in arranging air travel to a remote community and adapting crates to weight restrictions on the small planes.  Wilson also described the desire of the host communities to have as many people as possible see the treaty while it was in Moose Factory and the emotional impact it had on the community.  Some of the descendents of the original signatories to the treaty were in attendance and participated in the event.

This was a great concluding plenary that focused on an important historical document and work being done to make it accessible to the communities it has historically and presently impacts. 

Decolonial Public History and Shared Authority

The winter issue of The Public Historian  contained an article by Katrine Barber titled “Shared Authority in the Context of Tribal Sovereignty: Building Capacity for Partnerships with Indigenous Nations.”  Barber’s article addresses the challenges of Indigenous and non-Indigenous public history projects, historical colonial practices, and the idea of shared authority and decolonial public history practices.

Decolonial spaces have been written about and practiced in a number of different fields (namely art, sociology, and oral history) but this was the first time I’ve seen a decolonial practice merged with public history instruction and practice.  Barber describes decolonial public history as a a methodology that “abandons faith in the superiority of the dominant culture, acknowledges Indigenous communities and their histories, engages Indigenous experts identified by their communities, respects tribal protocol and governance, and develops narratives that debunk and oppose those that naturalize the colonial past.”

Using this definition of decolonial public history as a starting point Barber goes on to discuss the challenges of redeveloping historical narratives, the need to acknowledge the current atmosphere of colonialism, and hurdles in developing Indigenous/non-Indigenous partnerships.

The examples employed by Barber in her discussion of historical contact narratives and the shifting of perspectives in these narratives is particularly telling.  She compares the standard entry for the Lewis and Clark expedition — “Lewis and Clark arrive in Chinook terrritory on the north side of the Columbia.” with a revised text that shifts the narrative perspective.  The revised text moves readers away from the typical exploration narrative and focuses on the experience of those people already living in the area: “Four Chinook Indians paddled a canoe filled with wapato root to meet the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, who had entered Chinook territory on the north side of the Columbia River for the first time.  Expedition leader William Clark alerted the men that they did not have anything with which they could trade at that time.”

This example brought home the potential impact of shared authority on historical writing and the benefits of approaching public history from a decolonial perspective.  The article left me examining my own public history practice, particularly given the work I do with Residential School Survivors and reconciliation.  What preconceived notions and practices am I bringing with me when I approach a community project? And how can public historians generally learn more about fostering decolonial spaces. Barber’s work is well worth a read for those interested in Indigenous history, community collaboration, and decolonial spaces.

Inuit Art at the Dennos Museum Center

The Enchanted Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak

One of the reasons I was so keen to visit the Dennos Museum Center was the Inuit Gallery and expansive collection of Inuit art that is housed at the Dennos.The Inuit art collection at the Dennos includes over 1,000 items including “prints, sculptures, drawings, tools, textiles, and animal specimens” primarily from the 1950s onwards.  I was intrigued by how Inuit art and culture would be displayed outside of Canada.

Despite my initial intrigue, the Inuit Gallery was probably my least  favourite gallery space at the Dennos.  During my visit the majority of the works shown were prints made from stone cuts and small stone carvings.  The works themselves were interesting and I did learn a bit about the stone cut print making from the exhibit.

However, I found this gallery space lacked vibrancy and context.  Many of the text panels looked at Inuit culture through a lens of anthropology and scholarship.  The entrance to the Inuit Gallery is flanked by two taxidermy animals, contributing to the space’s overall reinforcement of stereotypes about Canada’s North and Inuit people.

The space did not incorporate panels which were representative of the Inuit people themselves and highlighted their own views.  It also would have been nice to see some context about Inuit people in Canada more generally about Nunavut itself.  The gallery space did include one framed map that showed Canada’s North, but there was no context accompanying the map. Overall, I felt as though Canada’s North and Inuit culture was painted with a broad brush in this gallery without much attention to current political, social, and cultural movements.

To be fair, the Dennos is far from the only cultural institution that has displayed Indigenous history or material culture without context or from a Euro-centric perspective.  Jon Weier’s recent Active History post, “Strangely ahistoric sensibilities at the American Museum of Natural History.” did an excellent job of looking at the outdated exhibition practices of American Museum of Natural History.  Cultural institutions of all sizes need to look closely at their display practices of Indigenous culture and consider the implications of outdated, one sided presentations of history.

Interactive Canadian History: Sewing Responses to the Past

This week the archive I work at hosted a sewing action as part of the (official denial) trade value in progress project.   This project engages people in discussion and reflection relating to reconciliation, truth telling, and Canada’s history of colonialism and Residential Schools.  This interactive art project stimulates discussion about Canada’s history while allowing participants to engage in a tactile activity.

The work initiated by Leah Dector and curated by Jamie Isaac, features a 12×14 feet composite of Hudson Bay blankets sewn together, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2009 statement that “we also have no history of Colonialism” sewn at the center of the blankets.

At exhibitions and public showings of the work, the general public is invited to write down their responses to the piece in an accompanying book.  These responses are then taken to sewing actions, where participants can choose any response and hand-sew it onto the blanket.

The interactive component of this project means that the visual appearance of the Hudson Bay blankets are constantly evolving based on what participants decide to sew into the blanket. The project reflects the thoughts and decisions of the sewing participants and the visitors who wrote down their responses to the work.  The interactive component of this project resonated with me in  terms of educational programming and public history. 

The individuals who participated in the sewing action this week talked a lot about history based topics while sewing their chosen words into the blanket.  Much of the discussion revolved around Residential Schools, land rights, the history of the Hudson Bay Company, the continued marginalization of Indigenous people, and a variety of other historically informed topics.

The sewing action actively engaged participants in an interactive art project, Canadian history and engaging discussions about Indigenous rights in Canada.  Learning in a less structured environment combined with a tactile activity has the potential to be much more memorable than a traditional lecture about Canadian history or presentation about the Hudson Bay Company.  It’s great to see creative projects engaging people with the past.