Exploration: Rediscovering Voices A Reader Response By Mackenzie Risk for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, and Language

Exploration:  Rediscovering Voices A Reader Response By Mackenzie Risk for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, and Language

A while back, I had my ESL students do some group work to learn about stating opinions appropriately.  When the students work in groups, the noise in my class always increases.  On this particular day, the room filled with excitement and passion because of the topics they were discussing.  They discussed everything from smoking bans to international law.  I explained to students that when the activity finished, I wanted them to tell me what the group thought about each issue.   This was a difficult task.  Coming from a variety of backgrounds, each student was convinced that his/her own knowledge was most accurate.  Often, in one group, there would be two students with almost exactly opposite thoughts.  So how could they possibly come to a conclusion of what to share at the end of the activity?  My students were about begin a journey that would allow each student to express himself, his experiences, and his story.  By contrast, this seemingly simple task has previously been unattainable in the expression of each Canadian’s experiences and story.  Many Canadian stories have been erased and forgotten.  Donald (2004) writes, “about reclaiming memories of (his family) and, by extension, Canadian public Memory” (p. 22).  His article demonstrates how Canadian history does not present a variety of voices and how some voices are eliminated all together.  We cannot create an accurate account of our history when we change stories or obliterate memories.

In what follows, I will do a critical examination of Donald’s (2004) Edmonton Pentimento:  Re-Reading History in the Case of the Papaschase Cree.  Donald (2004) argues that history is what we choose to remember. Consequently, I will discuss challenges we are facing in teaching history, along with how we can move forward.

Donald (2004) demonstrates a dichotomy between being Aboriginal and being Canadian.  The foundation of this dichotomy is in the telling of stories and in the development of our history.  Donald (2004) illustrates that our “tendency (is) to separate the stories of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people” (p. 23).  Contemporary examples of this include:  the differentiated courses, “Native Studies” and “Canadian history”; a separate and distinct section at the Canadian Museum of Civilization for Aboriginals; and “(writing) out (aboriginals in)…official history” (Donald, 2004, p.23).  It appears as though if we do not have a history given to us, or perhaps if we do not care for the accurate version of history, we fabricate one.  It is through such fabrications, that we have created different Aboriginal stereotypes.

Many Canadians seem to have a stereotypical checklist that determines for us whether or not an aboriginal is in fact an aboriginal:  Does he live on a reserve? Does he speak an Aboriginal language?  Does he play drums? Alternatively, it is the Aboriginal’s affiliation to a sovereign nation by treaty rights that identifies him as Aboriginal.  Donald (2004) presents a peculiar line of questioning wherein an Aboriginal wishes to obtain status.  The questions are repetitive and the answers seem almost obvious.  For example, after explaining that his parents are both Cree, the Aboriginal being questioned is asked whether or not his grandparents are Cree as well.  He is also asked about the language he and his (Cree) family speak.  The line of questioning differs greatly from the process I endured to prove my identity: simply being born in Canada.   “The over determination of Indian as legal, political, constitutional, cultural, and social entity,” Donald (2004) writes, “…has led to the ridiculous situation in which people must somehow legally prove their identity and culture” (p. 30).  While I can understand that this is indeed, “ridiculous,” I have difficulty imagining a practical alternative.

Aboriginals must prove their identity to receive their due rights from our treaties.  If Aboriginals did not have to prove their identity, it is possible that non-aboriginals would apply for the same rights undeservingly.  An old colleague of mine moved to Northern Alberta to teach.  When he returned, he told us that he would like to have aboriginal status for hunting and fishing purposes.  He told us that he was searching in his family history, without success, for an aboriginal ancestor.  If Aboriginals did not have to prove their identities, it is possible that he could obtain status with ease.  This appalling display of ignorance and disrespect suggests the potential for non-aboriginals to take advantage of treaty rights illegally.  By contrast, it is also a major problem if an Aboriginal cannot legally prove his identity and is deemed not entitled to his rights, such as in the case of the Papaschase Cree.  “Where (the) relationship (between the Cree people and the Canadian government) went wrong, and where the power relations got out of balance,” Donald (2004) writes, “is in the stories that were told.  The Cree narrative of the past relationships was ignored and displaced by a Euro-Canadian version of the past and present that also imposed a version of the future” (p.32).  While the ignorance of my colleague was undoubtedly despicable, I cannot help but question where he developed this attitude.  Perhaps if he had been educated about the stories of Aboriginals, of both the triumphs and the traumas, he would hold greater respect.  Without change in our education, this cycle of ignorance is likely to repeat itself.

How we interpret our history changes the aboriginal reality.  We can have influence over our future through the education system.  Kanu & Glor (2006) suggest that educators critically examine what they are teaching.  They write, “Teachers scramble to acquire strategies that can be applied to classroom situations that have already been preordained by others, without contemplating the effects upon the students as distinctive cultural and emotional beings” (p.110).  If teachers can teach a history that encompasses more Canadians, students will develop a more accurate sense of what it means to be Canadian.

Another strategy to developing a more accurate understanding of our collective history is through métissage.  “Métissage…is an approach to research,” Donald (2004) writes, “that often begins with autobiographical texts as a starting point for further interpretations” (p. 24).  Through métissage, Donald (2004) explains that we can develop a more complete and accurate history.  When we compile multiple accounts and memories together we can develop a comprehensive history.  Rather than marking historical events based on capital progress and regress, defining “European modernity and colonialism” (Donald, 2004, p. 47), we can use métissage to tell all Canadian history, regardless of whether or not we like what we hear.

As tensions in my ESL class rose, I wrote in big letters on the SMART Board, “MÉTISSAGE.”  I explained the concept to my students and when they shared their group responses, instead of telling me one singular response, they told me their thought processes and how each person contributed to developing a greater understanding of the topic at hand.


Donald, D.T. (2004). Edmonton Pentimento: Re-reading history in the case of the Papaschase Cree. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 2 (1), 21-54.

Kanu, Y. & Glor, M. (2006). ‘Currere’ to the rescue? Teachers as ‘amateur intellectuals’ in a knowledge society. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 4 (2), pp. 101-122.