Reflections: Aboriginals in Canada and Two Possible Meanings of “Discrimination”
“So there is certainly no lack of activity in our little boat, but is there any purpose? Is the tall figure who may or may not be the Spirit of Haida Gwaii leading us, for we are all in the same boat, to a sheltered beach beyond the rim of the world as he seems to be, or is he lost in a dream of his own dreamings? The boat moves on, forever anchored in the same place.” (my emphasis: words of Bill Reid on his own sculpture, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii)
“And there was always the wind ….. and sometimes …… sometimes ….. the wind brought good news, and sometimes …… sometimes ….. the wind brought evil.” (my emphasis: Taken from the first of Inuit Legends, CBC Aboriginal, “Inuit Journey”: link)
The verb “to discriminate” has come to have a primary negative definition. Basically, very roughly, it means “to unfairly treat a person or group of people differently from the rest.“ Of course, for the negative definition to succeed, the emphasis must be placed in the “unfairly” or “unjustly”. This is the reason why we speak of “anti-discrimination”; we wish to correct a wrong. But, for sure, there is no negative discrimination simply by the fact of there being mere difference: that Canadians see themselves as radically different from Americans does not imply discrimination in the negative sense. Thus, difference does not always lead to discrimination; but difference which is the result of a certain grave and prolonged injustice, surely does. Slavery in the USA is one blatant example, the treatment of Aboriginals in Canada a parallel one.
The history of Canada´s First Nations is surely the result of an unjust and forced differentiation. It is not just based on the now oft-repeated problematic phrase “we are all different”; it is more based on the idea that “we are so different, that you and yours must cease to be.” If lucky enough to be spared death, the “other” must still be so assimilated that this “other” becomes nothing but a crippled “us”. Such historical triumphs are truly essential defeats. In this regard, educating ourselves about the history, the nature and the consequences of the current discriminatory relationship we have with Aboriginals is but the first step in ameliorating the pervasive and noxious effects multiple non-Aboriginal policies have had over their destiny, their sense of self-worth, their linguistic identity, their territorial self-sufficiency and their potential for political empowerment (see latest interview by Judge John Reilly in CBC’s The Current: link, and very important previous interview as well). This includes, as we shall see, most poignantly the ESL setting. Why so? Because the language issue is perhaps at the core of the mode of forced assimilation, even annihilation which Aboriginals in Canada have had to face. Now, before proceeding and in order to be clear as to what we mean by Aboriginals, it is important to note that in 2011, 1,400,685 people in Canada identified themselves as Aboriginal: “4.3 percent of the total population of Canada: 851,560 were First Nations, 451,790 were Métis, 59,440 were Inuit. (p. 8 of the excellent First People’s Guide for Newcomers created by the City of Vancouver and which should be replicated in each Province and downloaded by all ESL teachers and students: link .)
Fortunately though, “to discriminate” does not possess this negative meaning alone. To discriminate CAN in fact be liberated from a sense of injustice, from the permanent presence of the pain –an absolutely understandable, yet unimaginable, pain– that accompanies prolonged suffering from wrong-doing. Why is this positive definition so important? For an identity built on an injury seems to us to remain unable to move; a healthy identity necessarily must somehow move beyond mere negation of itself and the injurer. An identity founded solely on the hatred of the occupier seems to us destined to fail. In this sense, it is of great importance to emphasize that “to discriminate” is also defined as the mark of someone who can “perceive the distinguishing or peculiar features of a given thing/topic”. A dictionary provides the following example: “the human eye can discriminate between very slight gradations of color”. Such a skill is truly unique, it may perhaps be among the highest. For it takes great sensitivity, imagination and most importantly, intelligence, to be able to see the whole of reality in all its color gradations. In photographic terms, few can see the shades of gray; few are like Ansel Adams.
Unfortunately, in the case of our relation to Aboriginals, this more positive sense of discrimination is for the most part lacking. We non-Aboriginals fail to see even what appears most evident. In the case of Canada’s First Nations, and Aboriginals generally, our eyes continue to be blind to a kind of devastating differentiation which we ourselves (the non-Aboriginals) have initiated and of which we continue to be part of. In these brief pages we seek to begin to shake ourselves free –so far as possible– from such damaging presuppositions, specially as they appear in the field of ESL.
Given this brief introductory remarks, our most fundamental question is: can we, Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, move from the negative definition of discrimination, let us call it the “injured definition”, to the more positive one, let us call it “the clairvoyant definition”? Can we move from the painful world of forced differentiation and almost annihilation, to a world in which the wounds have not only healed –for the most part– but more than that, have provided the appropriate spaces for the growth of a renewed identity among those whose original identity was almost extinguished? Can we move towards new forms of identity born out of flourishing and well-being, as Aristotle bids us do? How do we even begin to move in this direction, specially us, us non-Aboriginals, us outsiders? Will we outsiders have the courage to change our identity for the sake of a shared destiny? For, if we non-Aboriginals lack the self-worth to acknowledge in practice our own injustice and wrong-doings, then Aboriginals surely should take the necessary measures to proceed on their own, as best they can.
Going back a bit: what does this have to do with ESL teaching? It seems everything. As ESL teachers this is perhaps the most important ethical dilemma we face. Why? Because the nature of the discrimination to which the First Nations have been subjected is directly linked to the elimination of their linguistic heritage in favour of the English language, namely, the language we actually teach and help spread! Our carefully planned Lesson Plans surely may have unintended consequences which are part of broader plans which should, at the very least, make us stop to reflect. And more disturbingly, we seem completely unaware. As a Cree student and teacher puts it, we do not even find the time given our altogether non-Aboriginal conception of “ticking time”:
“And I just think that our teachers need to get a grip and understand that there’s a difference between Cree and English. You know, they all wonder why Native students do so poorly and yet when we have a Native Awareness workshop or in service, there’s usually more Native liaison workers there than there are teachers. So I told them I wasn’t going to humor anybody anymore by putting on an in service when there was more liaison workers there than there was people from the district.” (p. 36) (Wiltse, p. 67)
It seems unaware we proceed in our daily routines. But then, wouldn’t it be easy to see that we ESL teachers could simply be the “silent” and “passive” agents of discrimination, imposing the very language which has sought to destroy the multiplicity of Aboriginal languages? In case someone might believe we exaggerate, it serves us well to remember:
“Although “before colonization there were about 63 languages in Canada belonging to 11 different language families” (Bear Nicholas, 2009, p. 221), during the past 100 years or more, nearly 10 once flourishing languages have become extinct, and at least a dozen are on the brink of extinction. It is estimated that approximately 50 Indigenous languages are currently spoken in Canada; of these, Cree, Ojibwa, and Inuktitut have the largest numbers of speakers and are the only languages not considered endangered. (Sarkar & Metallic, 2009)” (Wiltse, p. 57)
Of the 63 languages, only 3 are not considered endangered: 10, once flourishing, have been completely lost. Can an English speaker, let alone a teacher of this language, even conceive of this reality in her mind? For at the very least, if English were gone, many would not have the jobs they do! Now, were I to be confronted with losing my Spanish, or my French, I would certainly take a stand. Hence political realities such as Bill 101 in the other context we all know; hence the question of survivance.
It also bears remembering what one sees in movies such as We Were Children –-and NFB production, easily available to many Canadians on Netflix (link)– which recounts the torrid shameful history of the Residential School System (Aboriginals refer to it as “The Rez”) which followed the implementation of the policies that expanded the Indian Act. The movie tells the story of two children who survived the Residential School System and who as adults recounted the silenced details of such a discriminatory reality. As a matter of fact, Glen, one of the children, tells the spectator that having told this story, “he can now die in peace” (which he did a few years later in 2011). Perhaps one could say that Glen died two times in his life; once at the hands of the non-Aboriginal citizenry to which he himself belonged!
Among other disturbing things, the movie shows two crucial things for our purposes. First, the cruel and violent nature of the teaching of the English language. Children who spoke their original languages would have to stick out their tongue and hold it with the fingers for prolonged periods of time so that they understood which language was the one worthwhile speaking. ESL teachers cannot avoid thinking about this. Secondly, as soon as the children arrived to the “school”, they were given a specific number which replaced their identity altogether. The girl in the movie, Lyna, from one day to the other became number 99. How come? Because her chair was number 99, and so were the spoon and the dish given her. She just as well could have been 88 or 33 or 14; in reality, she was, and learned to be, an empty 0 (zero). In Spanish we say she became “un cero a la izquierda”. ESL teachers should surely remember this when teaching their numbers to newcomers, most of whom have no Aboriginal background themselves! The implications are too obvious to spell out.
Or, as was put more succinctly by Duncan Campbell Scott, Head of Indian Affairs in 1920: “the goal of the Indian Residential School is ‘to kill the Indian in the child.’” And the killing began, the killing both of the spirit, and the killing of the bodies; for surely a metaphorical death may even be more painful and demeaning than a literal one. And for more than one hundred years “more than 150,000 Aboriginal children attended these schools. Many died in them, and many more experienced significant abuse.” (p. 56, link)
“But, I mean,” some non-Aboriginals might ask: “hasn´t the Canadian Government offered their heart-felt apologies already in 2008 through the Prime Minister himself? Haven’t we already changed the name of the Queen Charlotte Islands back to Haida Gwaii? Isn’t Nunavut autonomous now?” “Sure”, we answer; but we add, “yet so much more is needed. Apologizing is simply the beginning of reconciliation, it is not the reconciliation itself! True reconciliation is a matter of understanding.”
But what, more precisely, does that event, so far behind us in time some would say, have to do with us ESL teachers and students today? Everything. Why? Because the plan was terribly effective. The residential system was actually SO effective the very children who survived its darkness would, ironically not teach their Native language to their very own Aboriginal children! The lesson was learnt “by heart”. As a child of a survivor of the system puts it:
“Well, because of residential schooling, that’s the main reason for all of us not speaking Cree because when my Dad went to residential school, there were big signs all over the place that there was to be no Indian spoken. He told us, “We always wondered what kind of language that was because we spoke Cree; we didn’t know what Indian was.” But they were beaten for speaking their language and even as a really young man he vowed if he ever had kids that he’d never teach them how to speak Cree.” (p. 68) (my emphasis, Wiltse, p. 57)
Now, if what philosophers such as Wittgenstein, who wrote extensively on language, say is true, then the whole thing becomes daunting. For Wittgenstein is famous for a simple sentence “language is a way of life” (Philosophical Investigations). If so, then the surest way to kill a life, is to kill its words, its verbs, its nouns, its syntax and its semantics. ESL teachers have to face up to this. Can we even imagine this, we who seem entrusted with the teaching of the language that many newcomers actually wish to learn?
Let us return to the question of discrimination in a broad sense. For sure what is strange and different scares us. It probably scares us because it silently, by its very presence, questions us. And of course, given human nature, many a time a tendency erupts which seeks to destroy that which appears threatening. The most famous example is that of the death of Socrates. Leaving this very pertinent example aside –for it is Socrates who teaches us about our own ignorance and our belonging to a cave— I will provide one of my own as regards the “strangeness” of Canadian Aboriginals.
One such first encounter happened many years ago in one of those summer festivals in Toronto. A concert was about to start. It was by a woman called Tanya Tagaq (link). Expecting her to sing using “a melodious feminine voice (!)”, suddenly I was struck at the core by the strange, truly otherworldly guttural sounds which are the unmistakable mark of Inuit throat singing. Something primeval, something that harkened back to lost ages –ages long unknown to us modern scientific Westerners– came rushing carried by the Northern wind. Many who have heard throat singing before, can tell you the strange feelings it awakens within your deepest being. It somehow makes you naked as a human. But surely part of the path which might allow us to move from the negative definition of discrimination based on a sense of injury, to the more positive one based on the ability to see the complexity of things in a world that is not alone ours, includes us listening to some of Tagaq’s songs like Surge or Uvinik. And not merely listening to them (“suffering them”, so to speak), but much more importantly, learning to ENJOY them as part of our shared voyage as Canadians; those who embark in Bill Reid’s The Spirit of the Haida Gwaii which appears at the beginning of these lines.
Or think about how odd the adapted Cree syllabary looks:
All those “weird” triangles, all those curvy “foreign” lines. For who would wish, as a non-Aboriginal, to learn that language, right? I mean, could we make a career out of it? (Fortunately for us, there is now even an app which brings this difference closer to us: link) Or, think of the way the verb “to be” is reduced to the affix “–u-“ in Inuktitut; almost as if saying that words are in themselves connected to the very being of things! For who would wish, as a non-Aboriginal, to learn about that form of being, right? I mean, wouldn’t it destabilize our already self-assured identities? (Fortunately for us, there is now also an app for Inuktitut which includes lesson plans and grammar explanations such as the one for the affix “–u-“ mentioned above; link.)
Or even more dramatically still, there are those strange tales of the very origin of all things, stories which include the wind, and spirits and ravens and bears and whales. For who would wish, as a non-Aboriginal, to learn about that form of understanding the universe, right? I mean, wouldn’t it make our modern scientific worldview, based on the control of nature, collapse? (Fortunately for us, they are also accesible through the CBC recordings of all Aboriginal legends: link; see also the documentary Aluna which tells the story of other Aboriginals, the Kogi of Colombia, whom we have met and who call themselves the “Elder Brothers”.).
However, before becoming to righteous ourselves, a huge stumbling block appears ahead. We are not ourselves Aboriginals, or part of the First Nations. How can we even begin to remove this seemingly unsurmountable block? Perhaps it is best to have Aboriginals themselves speak, instead of us. For it would be the greatest arrogance to imagine we understand their plight better than they do! “The Rez”, that is simply a theoretical abstraction for us, even if we have seen other forms of negative discrimination indeed! This is why perhaps the movement from the negative sense of discrimination to the positive sense involves fundamentally learning, not so much to speak, but more importantly learning to listen; to listen even when no one speaks. For one thing is certain, policies were set in place to silence those who now are also asked to speak up because we don’t hear their faint voices! It seems we non-Aboriginals are terribly bad listeners; we listen, if at all, only when it is all too late to do so.
And what is absolutely striking in this regard is that when a young aboriginal student, Dara is her name, is asked the following question: ”how satisfied are you with the level of discussion around Aboriginal Issues in the classroom, or the ones you typically encounter at University?, she answers:
“I am totally dissatisfied. I find that any discussion that does happen in the classroom is not engaging whatsoever. It’s a very glossy discussion and I wouldn’t even say it’s a discussion I would say it’s professors introducing a topic and maybe identifying one issue within the topic and then leaving that for the classroom to think about and then that’s it, and then it’s a moving on onto another topic. So it’s just a topic it’s not a discussion.”
And we now as teachers what this means; an education that does not change anything, does not change anyone. An education reduced to being present in body, far away in spirit. A politically correct education which lacks the courage to find answers. But even more dramatically, later on in Dara’s interview she adds:
“….I don’t know, that’s definitely why I feel safe talking about Aboriginal issues with other Aboriginal people because there’s just a mutual understanding, and we all sort of have this same experience, so it’s a safe environment. But yeah, when there’s not other Aboriginal students I definitely have had, I would say almost every single course that Aboriginal issues come up I think that I choose not to say anything now. Yeah, it’s really not safe because there’s I think it is such a contentious topic and people are really afraid to talk about it.” (Dara: minute 16:45. Interview can be found at the amazing website, What I Learned in Class Today: Aboriginal Issues in the Classroom, link)
So, although the Residential System is long gone, its effects remain. Not only did silence reign within the system then, it actually pulls those wishing to voice their discomfort into the depths of silence even today! But, language teachers specially must protest: silence is precisely the engine of the horrors of discrimination and annihilation. Listening to Dara speaking a language she did not choose, the English language, we understand her courage.
But, then again, Dara’s timely words are not the whole story because her interview belongs to a set of interviews which have allowed her, and other Aboriginals, to voice their displeasure at the current educational system. And for the benefit of all of us, both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, this website was created as a frontal attack on the walls of silent acceptance. And within the multiple shocking and unbelievable stories which we hear there, we also find the beginnings of a certain move from the negative definition of discrimination, to a more positive one. An example is the fantastic interview of teacher William Lindsay (all ESL teachers and higher level students should listen to it attentively). In it, after mentioning too many difficult topics (e.g., the derogatory use of the word “squaw”; the high mortality rates among Aboriginal communities, which is seen suspiciously by non-Aboriginal teachers as an excuse to skip class by the Aboriginal students who have to attend more funerals than their non-Aboriginal classmates!), wise teacher Lindsay still has the courage to conclude on what could be tentatively seen as a more optimistic note:
“So Caucasian Canada is dealing with this, and I think in a good way, you know. So as time goes along, Canada is going to become more and more accepting of people who look different and have different skin colours, so that will help the university environment as well, kind of a filter of processing, you know, so I think that will help as well but that’s big picture. So, it’s kind of, there’s things you can do at the big level but there are things you can do at the micro level as well, and universities are at least starting to do something about that, so. And I’m glad the students are starting to speak out, doing those videos in the First Nations program is a wonderful thing. Those videos have been shown in different places and it’s made an impact on people that have watched them, I know. (minute 28:45” Session 11: William Lindsay, 2 April 2008 link (see also the very problematic interview by Jennifer Kramer, Session 13: Jennifer Kramer, 15 April 2008)
Wise teacher Lindsay calls us “Caucasian Canada”: yes, that is us, including all newcomers. We are not “them”, and we made it so.
Now, having heard what Aboriginals themselves have to say, we feel a tad more confident in terms of actually looking more closely at some specific consequences in and for the ESL environment. For, if we are ever to move beyond the negative definition of discrimination, as Aristotle would bid us do, surely the bearers of English language instruction will play a significant, even a primary, role.
So once more we ask: what does this all have to do with the ESL classroom? And we repeat, very much so. Lynee Wiltse in her article “But My Students All Speak English”: Ethical Research Issues of Aboriginal English (TESL Canada Journal, Volume 28, Special Issue 5, 2011) herself points out how discomforting –even now after decades of research!— the issues we have spoken of are for her as a non-Aboriginal:
“I have struggled with this dilemma in one way or another for 30 years as a schoolteacher, as a researcher, and as a teacher educator. When I wrote my master’s thesis, I identified strongly with Haig-Brown’s (1992) article “Choosing Border Work.” As a non-Native person, she agonized over the suitability of centering her research in First Nations education; so did I. Despite my dedication, so great was my discomfort that after completing my master’s degree, I turned my back on this area for what I felt were ethical reasons; I have returned to the topic for ethical reasons of another nature.¨ (Wiltse p. 68
Only if you have felt such discomfort (remember the discomfort at listening to Tanya Tagaq for the very first time?), can you grasp the struggle she faced. And part of that discomfort lay precisely in the lack of training in anti-discrimination understanding and analysis. “Until I began to teach in a cross-cultural context, I had no idea how ill prepared I was for the position I had accepted” (p. 56). Now, some would argue (see interviews mentioned above) that it is best for Aboriginals to tackle Aboriginal issues. We are not of that opinion; for however discomforting the situation may be, it is our common situation. As Bill Reid argues in the opening quote, “for we are all in the same boat”. We do not believe that islands of understanding cease to be islands simply because they enlarge the ocean between them! Put briefly, we do not believe in cultural relativism as a given that is altogether unsurmountable. Now, be that as it may, Wiltse has the courage as a non-Aboriginal to ask three core questions, namely: “ 1) How did my students come to be speakers of Aboriginal English in the first place?; (2) What are the educational implications of Aboriginal English in the classroom? (3) Why am I, a non-Aboriginal English-speaking researcher, working in the areas of Aboriginal education and language?”. We do not have space here to go into each, but any ESL teacher must keep these and others square in mind.
As we pointed out above, Canadian ESL teachers ought to understand the history of their own language: and by this we do not mean simply the movement from Old to Middle English! What ESL teachers ought to remember is, instead, how their language, the English language itself, almost came to become extinct after the invasion of William the Conqueror (see the excellent BBC production of the history of the English language, link). Perhaps when we English-speakers come to imagine that historical reality, we can actually began to speak to Aboriginals in the same language, the language of extinction and injury (not to mention being able to speak to Quebec!). This is why in asking, as Wiltse does “How did my students come to be speakers of Aboriginal English in the first place?”, a conscientious teacher will arrive to some of the predicaments pointed out above. However, Wiltse’s examples are much better than our own. Given that she had not received training in the nature of the linguistic dialects, which may exist around a given “standard” language, her assumption was from the start that Standard English was the canon by which all other English dialects –whatever their history— ought to be measured. The very first day this reasoning came back to bite her:
“Then I heard one of the children referring to me as “him” and to the principal’s wife in the same way. Surprised and confused, I wondered what was happening. They had been calling me Miss Wiltse; why were they referring to me as he? It is with shame that I recall thinking, “What is the matter with these kids? And what have I got myself in for here?” (Wiltse, p 54)
Only later did she realize that there was nothing the matter with them, but a lot the matter with her! To this we shall return. Yet, what is even more striking and troubling is that the very same ignorance was felt by the very children of the Cree themselves who saw their parents as somehow linguistically “dumb”. As one Cree student confided:
“When I went to school, I remember when my Dad was speaking English, he used to call the girls he, and I would always tell him, “You know Daddy, girls are she and guys are he.” And, so for a while he would call him he, but an hour later he would fall back to calling him she. And, I just thought, “What’s the matter with this old guy?” But, in Cree, there’s one word for the way we differentiate gender and things are just animate or inanimate, you’re one or the other and so it wasn’t he or she. And, I would have never corrected him, if I had known then what I understand now. (p. 35)” (Wiltse, p. 60)”
As in the case of Wiltse, only later did this daughter realize that there was nothing the matter with her father, but a lot the matter with her! The victims of the Residential School System, those thousands who lost their identity and their language, now victimized anew by the new “educators” and even their very own children! “The Rez” had been altogether “successful”.
But the whole thing does not end there. Today, the children of the victimized Aboriginals who attend schools and Universities many years after the facts, are seen to be so fully English-Canadian, that their teachers and classmates are struck by the fact that, as Canadians, they do not know how to speak Standard English! As the same Cree student tells Wiltse:
“I guess because we happen to be born in Canada, teachers seem to think that we should be able to speak perfect English. However, they don’t realize that for a lot of our students, English is their second language. There isn’t an English as a second language program for Cree speakers, but there should be. So, I think that maybe when we’re doing language arts that we should not only have ESL for immigrants but also for Native Canadians. (p. 38)” (Wiltse, p. 61.) (Note: the striking variability of the relation of Aboriginals to English includes a multiplicity of groups: (a) monolingual in an Indigenous language; (b) monolingual in standard English; (c) monolingual in a dialect of English; (d) bilingual in an Indigenous language and English; (e) speak an Indigenous language and some degree of English; or finally (f) speak a non-standard dialect of English and some degree of an Indigenous language.)
Surely such an ESL program should not only exist but be heavily funded not simply by those in power, but by Canadian society at large, by you and I. Be that as it may, Wiltse aids in the healing of such injuries through her very important essay. However, nowhere else does she do so more than in the subsection entitled “Assumptions and Misunderstandings”. Because there is a lack of research in this area, the already held views –those that are part of “The REZ” mentality—are out their and doing quite well among non-Aboriginals citizens and teachers. So much so that an English dialect spoken by an Aboriginal citizen is almost unconsciously, and thus more dangerously, connected to some type of language impairment! Not only was the intended result the killing of the Indian in the child, now the new generation is seen as somehow deficient, impaired and in need of our help to survive and flourish! The most dramatic aspect of discrimination rears its ugly head: the discriminated are to be saved by those who did/are doing the discrimination! In this respect Kelly, a Cree woman, comments on the humiliation that speaking English involves:
“Our older people, they feel so much more comfortable talking in Cree. If they have a really heavy accent of being a Cree speaker, they may be embarrassed about their accent. When people have a different kind of accent, like English (from England) or Scottish or Australian, people say that it sounds so nice, but when you have a Cree speaker with a really heavy accent people laugh. They have made fun of it for years and they still do. So, our Native people aren’t always that anxious to speak English.” (pp. 35-36) (Wiltse, 64)
Now there certainly is a huge difference between “laughing at” and “laughing with”. The move from discrimination in the negative sense of the word, where we “laugh at” Aboriginals, to the more positive sense of the word, where we can once again “laugh with” Aboriginals –-if they so allow us– is a long way off. Nevertheless, perhaps one day the justified sense of profound injustice and unfairness may be further healed by a recognition that some of us non-Aboriginals try to understand the wrongs of which we are part, specially as ESL teachers who actually speak the language of their oppression. Perhaps only then can we laugh together, and admire together, the amazing abilities of “the Raven”, the very “creator” of Haida Gwaii, the “discoverer of the First Humans (The Haida)”, “the Trickster” of whom this tale is told:
“When Raven saw the Sun, Moon and stars, and fresh water hanging on the sides of Eagle’s lodge, he knew what he should do. He watched for his chance to seize them when no one was looking. He stole all of them, and a brand of fire also, and flew out of the longhouse through the smoke hole. As soon as Raven got outside he hung the Sun up in the sky. It made so much light that he was able to fly far out to an island in the middle of the ocean. When the Sun set, he fastened the Moon up in the sky and hung the stars around in different places. By this new light he kept on flying, carrying with him the fresh water and the brand of fire he had stolen.” (link: see also the strikingly relevant Haida Tale: “Raven and the First Humans”, link; contrast the darkness and pessimism of Poe’s Raven, much closer to us non-Aboriginals!)
Let The Raven, who stole to create, also ”steal” these injustices so that a new beginning may appear, specially for the First Humans and their descendants —-and specially for Aboriginal women, many of whom seem to disappear without a trace into oblivion— but also for those of us who came much later, but are now here as well; here in the same boat and carrying what could be more adequately seen as the burden of speaking English. Perhaps then, and only then, can we move from the more negative definition of “discrimination” to its more positive, more essential, counterpart.
- a) Wiltse, Lynne, “But My Students All Speak English”, TESL Canada Journal , Volume 28, Special Issue 5, 2011, link.
(see also link.)
- b) Norris, Mary, “From Generation to Generation: Survival and Maintenance of Canada´s Aboriginal Languages, within Families, Communities and Cities.” TESL Canada Journal, Volume 21, Issue 2, Spring 2004. link
- c) The Excellent “First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers”, published by the City of Vancouver, link.
- a) The absolutely fantastic: What I Learned in Class Today: Aboriginal Issues in the Classroom, link.
a.1.) Instructor Interviews: Session 11: William Lindsay, 2 April 2008; Session 13: Jennifer Kramer, 15 April 2008
a.2.) The 20 minute Video. link
a.3) The website also includes an example of Role Playing Exercise for the anti-discrimination classroom:
3) CBC Radio
- a) LEGENDS PROJECT, Inuit Legends I: An Inuit Journey, October 19, 2008: link.
b) LEGENDS PROJECT, Legends of the Old Massett Haida, February 10, 2009.
- a) We Were Children: (link: available in Netflix.)
- b) Beautiful short production: Nunavut Animation Lab: I Am But a Little Woman: (link)
- c) Inuuvunga – I Am Inuk, I Am Alive
“In this feature-length documentary, 8 Inuit teens with cameras offer a vibrant and contemporary view of life in Canada’s North. They also use their newly acquired film skills to confront a broad range of issues, from the widening communication gap between youth and their elders to the loss of their peers to suicide. In Inuktitut with English subtitles.” (link)
- d) I Am Not the Indian You Had in Mind: link.
1) Tusaalanga app, (link)
2) Cree Dictionary app, (link)
7) Political/Philosophical Analysis
- a) Tully, James; Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity, Cambridge University Press; (1995). Specially Chapter One, the superb subsection “The Spirit of the Haida Gwaii as a symbol of the Age of cultural diversity”, which is a political interpretation of Bill Reid’s The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, which itself follows in this bibliography: (link)
(Note: Many questions arise out of a reconsideration of the previous remarks from the perspective of political philosophy, which is more properly our own. Unfortunately, we cannot address them here. Let us just ask whether the model for English Canada, “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms” is a model that does not actually continue to hold Aboriginals Peoples subject to a political language alien to their very own being. Such will be the challenges of newly elected Perry Bellegarde, the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations and his insistence on “treaty rights” and “inherent rights”. (link )
8) The Spirit Of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid, (1994; located at Vancouver International Airport – International Departures, Level 3.)
The Spirit of Haida Gwaii
by Bill Reid
“Here we are at last, a long way from Haida Gwaii, not too sure where we are or where we’re going, still squabbling and vying for position in the boat, but somehow managing to appear to be heading in some direction; at least the paddles are together, and the man in the middle seems to have some vision of what is to come.
As for the rest, they are superficially more or less what they always were, symbols of another time when the Haidas, all ten thousand of them, knew they were the greatest of all nations.
The Bear, as he sits in the bow of the boat, broad back deflecting any unfamiliar, novel or interesting sensation, eyes firmly and forever fixed on the past, tries to believe that things are still as they were. The Bear Mother, being human, is looking over his shoulder into the future, concerned more with her children than with her legend. After all, they wandered in from another myth, the one about Good Bear and Bad Bear and how they changed, so she has to keep a sharp eye on them.
Next, doughtily paddling away, hardworking if not very imaginative, the compulsory Canadian content, big teeth and scaly tail, perfectly designed for cutting down trees and damming rivers.
And here she is, still the ranking woman of noble birth, yielding no place to the pretty Bear Mother. In spite of her great cheeks like monstrous scars, her headdress reflecting the pointed shape of the dogfish head, and her grotesque labret – in spite of all these, the most desirable and fascinating woman from myth-time. More magical than the Mouse Woman, as mysterious as the deep ocean waters which support the sleek, sinuous fish from whom she derives her power, Dogfish Woman stands aloof from the rest, the enormous concentration of her thoughts smouldering smoke dreams behind her inward-looking eyes.
Tucked away in the stern of the boat, still ruled by the same obsession to stay concealed in the night shadows and lightless caves and other pockets of darkness, in which she spends her immortality, the Mouse Woman lost her place among the other characters of her own myth, an important part of the Bear Mother story, and barely squeezed in at the opposite end of the boat, under the tail of the Raven. No human, beast or monster has yet seen her in the flesh, so she may or may not look like this.
Not so the Raven. There is no doubt what he looks like in this myth-image: exactly the same as he does in his multiple existences as the familiar carrion bird of the northern latitude of the earth. Of course he is the steersman. So, although the boat appears to be heading in a purposeful direction, it can arrive anywhere the Raven’s whim dictates.
A culture will be remembered for its warriors, artists, heroes and heroines of all callings, but in order to survive it needs survivors. And here is our professional survivor, the Ancient Reluctant Conscript, present if seldom noticed in all the turbulent histories of men on earth. When our latter-day kings and captains have joined their forebears, he will still be carrying on, stoically obeying orders and performing the tasks allotted to him. But only up to a point. It is also he who finally says, “Enough!” And after the rulers have disappeared into the morass of their own excesses, it is he who builds on the rubble and once more gets the whole thing going.
The Wolf of the Haidas was a completely imaginary creature, perhaps existing over there on the mainland, but never seen on Haida Gwaii. Nevertheless, he was an important figure in the crest hierarchy. Troublesome, volatile, ferociously playful, he can usually be found with his sharp fangs embedded in someone’s anatomy. Here he is vigorously chewing on the Eagle’s wing while that proud, imperial, somewhat pompous bird retaliates by attacking the Bear’s paws.
That accounts for everybody except the Frog who sits partially in and partially out of the boat and above the gunwales: the ever-present intermediary between two of the worlds of the Haidas, the land the sea.
So there is certainly no lack of activity in our little boat, but is there any purpose? Is the tall figure who may or may not be the Spirit of Haida Gwaii leading us, for we are all in the same boat, to a sheltered beach beyond the rim of the world as he seems to be, or is he lost in a dream of his own dreamings? The boat moves on, forever anchored in the same place.” (link)