The project brief was to find a document and explore how it portrays indigenous and First Nations peoples – and while it might have been easy to pick something historical, where you would judge the historical figure outside of the time, I thought that I would take on something from my lifetime.
The document I chose: People of Native Ancestry, A Resource Guide for the Primary and Junior Divisions (students).
I chose this document for a few reasons. One key reason being that it is a document from my lifetime and I certainly would have experienced the suggestions of this document from 1975 in my early elementary schooling experience (I started kindergarten in 1978). I am curious to understand the thinking of how teachers would have been instructed to teach about indigenous peoples during the time, and how my experience and admittedly limited understanding of the local Six Nations people growing up might have been reflected in this document. I really do not recall any of the lessons, or even if they were delivered.
This document serves two purposes. One, to help teachers understand and teach people with Indigenous ancestry and two, to teach “[a]s all Ontario children grow in their knowledge of native peoples, both native and non-native people will benefit. Tolerance in a multi-cultural society is built upon active participation in the process of learning about cultures other than one’s own.” (p. 8).
In searching the document the following terms were used to describe indigenous people(s):
Specific Nation Mentions:
One strong theme that arose throughout the writing is the othering of indigenous peoples. They were to be recognized as distinct, but the text treats indigenous people as if there was little to no history between indigenous and white people (outside of the foreward by Chief Dan George of the Burrard Indian Reserve, and the Appendix A, which spans 2 and a half pages -with a paragraph of veritable whitewashing of residential schools, which likely some parents might have experienced). How can one attempt to integrate into a “multi-cultural” society without at least a deeper understanding of history, and the injustice of the history which had been happening for (at that time) hundreds of years, is in modern context, unthinkable.
One other theme, and it is probably a key thing to note, this being a government document, it has chosen to use Native rather than any other language. Indian came up as part of a historical quote, or in the context of naming an act of Parliament or group. In fact Native was the most common reference, and when other children were mentioned they were non-Native. The act of constantly comparing, as if non-Native children might not have their own complexities, histories, familial demands, and approaches to learning and authority. There was a subtle, but present, holding up of (ostensibly white male) children as ideal, and Native as other. In many ways, the othering that was done throughout the document, undermines the front-and-centering of indigenous children by acknowledging their indigenousness. It is definitely a subtle thing, but definitely present.