Tag Archives: reconciliation

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.

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).