I don’t know why I haven’t read this book until now, meaning I should have read it earlier. I am grateful for a friend for suggesting it; I think I just needed a personal endorsement. I can say that reading The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America has been a fascinating, heartbreaking, and informative (of course, with a lot of humour!).
I have been learning a lot and listening a lot lately about Aboriginal ways of knowing and traditions through professional development at work. The Government of Alberta is now adding in information about First Nations, Inuit, and Metis ways of knowing into the Teacher Quality Standards, something that gives hope and forces a lot of change within each school. In the draft, it states:
A teacher develops and applies foundational knowledge about First Nations, Métis and Inuit for the benefit of all students, and supports the process of reconciliation, by: (a) understanding the historical, social, economic and political implications of: • treaties and agreements with First Nations; • agreements with Métis; • the legacy of residential schools; and • the impacts of intergenerational trauma on learner development; (b) using the programs of study to provide opportunities for all students to develop a knowledge and understanding of, and respect for, the First Nations, Métis and Inuit; and (c) supporting the learning experiences of all students by using resources that accurately reflect and demonstrate the strength and diversity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
Although in the draft phase, the government will be releasing the official update any day now, and I know this new qualification has a few teachers feeling apprehensive because they have not taken the time to think about First Nations, Inuit, Metis knowledge as being as meaningful as Eurocentric knowledge.
In his book, King talks about how First Nations people have become invisible: society sees a stereotype, which is not helped any by the media. King challenges readers who believe in the idea that what happened is in the past, and we should all move on. Yet I teach Social Studies (History) and I can say that textbooks and materials like to breeze over anything that has to do with Canada’s relationship with First Nations people. Throughout the book, King writes about a different narrative, a different story. He is asking his readers to see the past and how it plays a role in the present.
Dwayne Donald writes a lot about Indigenous Metissage: he believes that the histories of First Nations and of Settlers should not be separate stories that don’t intertwine. He argues that both stories belong together in relationship, just as it was when the treaties were signed. Yet non-Indigenous North Americans have tried for years to erase and ignore anything First Nations. Donaldson is calling educators to weave together both systems of knowledge and histories (Canada’s ‘Indian problem’). It’s time for separation and marginalization to end, and as a Blackfoot Elder said during a conversation, education is the new buffalo. In an article by Vivian Lee about Donaldson, she writes: “When considering Aboriginal perspectives, the tendency is to only take the surface “artifacts” of culture (the beads, the dances, the food, etc.) and to comprehend them under a Euro-Western lens. The foundational indigenous philosophies which provide those “artifacts” with meaning are not considered and so the story is incomplete. In this way, misunderstandings and misrecognitions are perpetuated.”
This is the fear many educators have about taking up the work of including Indigenous knowledge as valid in the classroom: it will become a surface exercise, a nod to a dead tradition from pre-contact North America. Yet, the work has begun. There are teachers who are trying, and that is the point. Indigenous knowledge can no longer be ignored, derided, or left in a romanticized past; it has taught people how to live on this land for thousands of years, successfully, and has the possibility of continuing to do the same for us now.
So I’m with Donaldson and King: time for change. King talks about Native actors: they either play a Native person or no person at all, which again continues the stereotype and provides an excuse to ignore what is actually happening around us. These portrayals are not helping us see a real and vibrant culture: it allows us to keep our romanticized or racist ideas and feel that we have support in our systemic racism because mainstream culture has deemed it ok.
This week in Calgary is Aboriginal Awareness Week. I am grateful that I live in a city where the mayor sees the importance of this work. Food, dancing, family, laughter, and fun: who wouldn’t want to get involved during Aboriginal Awareness Week? Any chance to learn from each other and braid together a positive story is time worth spending.
“The fact of Native existence is that we live modern lives informed by traditional values and contemporary realities and that we wish to live those lives in our terms.” (Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian)
“So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)