Category Archives: Indigenous

Unsettling the Future – Imagining!

I went to a really interesting conference this fall hosted by the University of Alberta. The presenters were Indigenous scholars working in “research-creation” – or to put it another way, the products of their academic work is not just publications, it could be art, films, video games, anything they could imagine as a good way to share a message. I felt this was an important conference to attend, because a lot of art, and working with artifacts, is about imagining and finding new ways to share messages.

All the folks at the conference had one thing in common, they were trying to unsettle settler-colonial presence. It was the first time I had been confronted with real, intentional, active work to diminish my privilege in favor of a new paradigm for this land. I imagined that I might feel ashamed or uncomfortable in this gathering, as a white settler person myself, but actually it was really inspiring.

Sometimes I feel like intentions of Reconciliation are often sort of unspoken. We’ve more or less agreed that as a nation, we’ll try to recognize the horror that colonization caused to Indigenous people… but the discussion of this harm being ongoing, or reparations, or of the changes that this recognition could encourage is sort of absent. There is a growing chorus in the Indigenous community of discontent with reconciliation – could this be because none of us are sure of its goals or intent?

This conference made clear to me some of the goals Indigenous folks have for this land and their space (and mine) on it. The most encouraging thing I came away with – is that their intent feels like it would make this place better for us all. Far from imagining a world where settler people are relegated to some contemporary-reserve-like-retributive-space, the future these folks aspired to was one in which our relationships to each other and the world around us  are central to the ways we interact together: thus all our decisions are made based on our needs to support and sustain each other. If this sounds a bit utopic, fair… so I’ll include some highlights from their work that are bounded in reality. Hope you enjoy!

Jason Edward Lewis… co-wrote this really interesting essay, and also does really fascinating work with game design and arts based technology.

Mandee McDonald… is engaging in research that she envisioned that would allow her do spend as much time as possible doing her favorite thing in the world – tanning hides with her friends. Her work explores how embodied experience is rewarding and meaningful, and worth pursuing.

Elaine D. Alexie… makes beautiful jewelry, and has an inspiring life story. She presented on museum research and material culture.

Does the fire draw us?

 

In 2012 I attended the Cree8 Success conference in Edmonton; it was a symposium of arts based learning for working with Indigenous communities, and it was a pretty amazing experience.

One of the most memorable presentations was given by the late Richard Wagamese. You might know that name because one of his novels (which was a Canada reads selection in 2013)  was recently adapted into a film.  When we walked into his room, an otherwise normal hotel conference space, we found it transformed by one small object. Normally at a conference, we walk in and sort of act nonchalant while trying to figure out a good spot in the middle ground between engaged but aloof enough not to look like a keener… just me? Maybe. But in this room, there was a small round light with a fan inside, made to look like a fire. The lights were dim, and we all just walked right up to the circle, and leaned in.

It turns out, the gathering power of fire is a topic that Wagamese has explored before. I recently read Dream Wheels, and there were thoughts about fire and the power it has over us in that story as well.

At Museum School we feel that sometimes we get the chance to try things out with teachers; tools, techniques, supplies, styles… things that may be different or new for teachers, that they can take back if they work well, or leave as a memory if they don’t. Sometimes we have teachers say that something we’ve introduced to them won’t work so hot for their current class, but would have been amazing for their class two years ago… sometimes its the other way around. We like to be a place for experimentation – a place to try new ideas, take risks, and explore.

So… here we go on our next experiment. We want to find out how our own little simulated fire might work in our classroom. We’ll be watching to see if students watch it like a real fire. Does it function like a visual fidget device? Or is it a distraction? We’ll let you know what we observe, and we’d love to hear from you after your week too… does the fire draw us?

fite picture

 

 

Some Starting Points for Considering Cultural Appropriation

At our September Pedagogy night, some of you (very bravely) pointed out that sometimes the work we engage with in museums facilitates cultural appropriation. This is a profoundly important issue for museums, and not just because it’s come up in popular culture recently.

For decades, and especially since 1988 in Canada, museums have struggled with voice, and respecting cultures from which collections originate. But the very reason we have some of these collections is because that respect was missing for a significant portion of our history. Only recently have we begun the work of respecting voice, traditional law, and insider views of culture. So, right now we’re all in a bit of a mess together, and it will take some time and some work to figure it all out.

Luckily, the pop culture awareness of this issue has led to some great writing. Here’s a few articles that have some especially helpful thoughts on appropriation. Apologies for the language – understandably, some people are quite upset. I’ve tried to find articles that present a balanced view, but there are some NSFW words (and images) in some of these.

Kim Tran’s  article in Everyday Feminism  

Nadra Kareem Nittle’s article in ThoughtCo

I also want to share Jenni Avins article, which is a bit tone deaf, but I think speaks to some of the confusing ways we navigate our daily lives in a globalized world working through appropriation concerns.

And a follow up to some of Avins’ questions from Julia Brucculieri. I want to point out that these last two authors are representatives of the dominant culture, but Brucculieri cites people most affected by appropriation in her writing. I’m sharing this as an illustration of how Avins article is off base, but is part of a dialogue that we are really still in the thick of.

Lastly I just want to take a minute to say thanks to those of you that are willing to engage with this material. Its frightening in some ways, and it would certainly be easier to just avoid altogether, but we know Museum School teachers see the value of learning about other cultures for your students and we’re grateful for that.

8 Websites to Start Your Year…

Hello!

I thought I would share some links that could help you get your year situated for big picture learning. These are resources that Marnie and I use often, and that we hope are useful – but as always, we’re open to feedback.

The connection between all these sites it that we hope you’ll check them out at the beginning of the year, and if they’re useful, maybe you’ll integrate them into your practice and preparation for the museum.

 Thinking Routines

The purpose of these is just to make it easy for your students to enter into a dialogue with an idea, piece of writing, object, or concept. There’s two enormous sites that have all kinds of thinking routines we like, the Artful Thinking Project from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and an extension of that, the Project Zero webpage.

Museum Culture

Museum News from the Global Museum has all the most interesting world museum news listed regularly.

This website keeps tabs on museums across the globe. It’s new, so there’s still some bugs, but it’s a rabbit hole waiting to happen for sure.

Canada

World renowned for its impact on Indigenous people, and it’s origin story (the network started because peoples of the north took a stand and asked for  programming that reflected their culture and communities), Aboriginal Peoples Television Network has a great website. Contrasting their news section with other stations is always especially interesting. Like everything else in the world.. this channel is not universally liked.

The Virtual Museum of Canada is a great way to understand an exhibit without ever having to leave the classroom. If your students arrive with the understanding that an exhibit is like an overarching idea or story, and the pieces all fit together in some way, and by looking at them together you can learn so much more about each individual artifact… well you won’t even need us.

Glenbow

There are a few Glenbow sites that you might find useful over in the section for teachers. We also really encourage you to have a look at our main website to see our exhibit schedule and stay up to date on the interesting things happening here. If you regularly communicate with parents, you might remind them about our Free First Thursday program if their young folks are itching for another visit after their week.

You may also want to explore our collections. We’ve got a lot of interesting belongings and art here that can certainly supplement your work all year long.

Working to know truth

Some of you folks requested support connecting with resources to teach some of the harder parts of Canadian history in grade appropriate ways. There is just a ton of stuff online at the moment, so please consider this a jumping off point, but I’ve gone hunting of some really stellar resources to get you started..

1. First Nations Child and Family Caring Society’s Spirit Bear

This national organization based on the Squamish First Nation worked towards the betterment of families through research and best practice sharing. They recently developed the Spirit Bear Campaign (a book and a bear with teaching materials), and also have some classroom curriculum guides on their website (I feel they’re a bit dense, and sometimes seem off grade level, but there is so much in each one, and many ideas can be adapted).

2. This Beautiful Map of Indigenous territories worldwide 

This map is still in development, but it’s a great tool to just pull up whenever you’re talking about a place. It helps add history to conversations about place, and reminds us of the layers on the land that stretch back in time.

3. The provincially developed lessons plans 

These have been through several iterations, and much consultation. Some Glenbow folks have helped with this process too. We’d love to know if any of you are using these, or what you think of them.

4. This Book List from CBC

There are a lot of Reading to Reconciliation lists, but many of them don’t have age listings with each book. This list does, bu it’s otherwise a bit sparse. Please add a comment if you know if a better one.

5. Canadian Museum of Human Rights Toolkit

This page has a whole directory of lesson plans that can be searched by grade, subject, province, and language. It’s an excellent resource for all kinds of difficult topics, not just Indigenous subjects.

P.S. – If you’re looking for sources of adult education… Marine recently took a MOOC and I am a near constant reader – we’d be be happy to make recommendations or exchange resources etc.

Book to share

I want to share a book with you…

In the museum school we are very lucky to have a beautiful collection of books. Some have been gifted to us by teachers who have been through the program, others we’ve purchased, some seem to appear out of nowhere… and some seem to be artifacts themselves (hello…cases of books published by Glenbow in the 1970s).

Marine and I are always on the look out for books that fit well with the concepts and ideas that our programs and collections highlight. Each class that comes to visit the museum brings a “big idea” and many of these focus on legacy, local history, and concepts of heritage; so we try to have books that support thinking about these ideas.

We also try to be particular about the types of books we have – recently you may have heard about the conflict surrounding author Joseph Boyden, but controversy over the rights to tell specific stories is not new. One of our Blackfoot Educators Sable Sweetgrass once told me that she attended an actual class on how non-native authors could find and take Native stories to turn them into children’s books for their own personal gain. (Don’t worry, in addition to being an excellent museum educator, Sable is a fierce author and storyteller, I am fairly confident after a discussion with her, none of the people connected with that class would consider making such a mistake EVER AGAIN).  We try to make sure the stories we have here are ones that are told in a good way, by people who have the rights to tell them (this is an important part of the Reconciliation process, and as many scholars and Indigenous people point out – this process will be long, complicated, and messy. There will be missteps and we’re all going to need to try our very best – here and here are some good examples of reconciling work in children’s books).

Sorry – I digress… the story I wanted to share with you is a more commonly known one, it’s a story about Winnie the Pooh.

Let me set the scene for you here… It was a Friday, one of those rare Friday’s where there were no students in the museum school. I dutifully carried myself into work anyways, because there were emails to send and files to work on. But halfway through the morning I was finding it hard to concentrate. When this happens I do one of two things, I take 15 minutes and either go for a walk around the collections and sketch, or I head up to the classroom and read.

I decided to try out one of our Cando seats (note point 4 in the description) which proved to be an awful choice, I have no idea how students can stand those things. The book I picked was an odd one for me. I’ve never really liked the Winnie the Pooh stories (Sorry! I know, to some that’s sacrilege), but I love bears. No I love bears. Ask the authors of local books on bears who mostly all have restraining orders against me (just kidding. But my partner does say that my correspondence with them comes off as a tad bit overzealous).  And the bear on the cover of this Winnie book was just too cute.

 finding winnie

Harry Colebourn’s (the soldier who first befriended the bear) great-grand-daughter writes the book, so the look and feel of the story is a fairly big departure from Disney’s franchise about this bear.

I’m sure most Canadians know the story, and for those that don’t I won’t spoil it here (you can just google that)… but there’s one part in particular that I love. After Winnie is left at the London Zoo, there’s this page…

image1

 “Is that the end?”

“That’s the end of Harry and Winnie’s story,” I said.

“But I don’t want it to be over,” said Cole.

“Sometimes,” I said, “you have to let one story end so the next one can begin.”

“How do you know when that will happen?”

“You don’t,” I said. “Which is why you should always carry on.”

Now – I am a bit of a crybaby (once a day whether I need it or not), but that really had me sobbing. I’m crying again now actually.

It’s just such a beautiful thing to put into a children’s book. It’s real.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of other parts of the book that a less “real” … picture books can be a fairly unrealistic medium – and that’s great! I love the little pictures of the bear curled up under the army cot, and riding on the bow of the ship al la this titanic moment. There’s some other perhaps more problematic un-realness though; the story of Winnie has become a myth in Canadian culture, and seeing the real pictures at the end of the book of a small bear in big chains doesn’t exactly fit the story we like to tell ourselves about the lives of animals in the past (speaking of which… here’s a tragic one for you - I sort of rabbit holed into that one & thought I’d share).

The topics of historic animal human relationships, zoo ethics, myth making, and the flattening of history are important. They are stories that need to be told. Maybe books like this help us lay the foundations to explain these things to our children as they get older and have the framework to better understand them. But for students this age… I think this one simple truth is a valuable one.

It is important to carry on, because you never know what adventures might await.

 

 

 

As long as you’re human. The bear doesn’t fare well in this story – so that certainly says something about privilege and priority… there’s some class metaphor in there as well probably… again… important lessons for the teenage years.

Anyways! It’s a good page, in a complex story, and possibly offers a moment in which both I as the instructor, and your kiddos as students, can learn and reflect together, ultimately as humans.

(not bears).