Sunday, July 10, 2016

Four Winding Paths Up the Mountain: Historical Reading of Downtown Winnipeg

I am in Winnipeg with Team Saskatchewan at the 2016 Table Tennis Nationals. On Sunday I will leave the competition early, drive back to Saskatchewan and catch a plane to Vancouver for the Historical Thinking Institute. In preparation for this week long conference, one of the readings is “Teaching History from an Indigenous Perspective: Four Winding Paths up the Mountain” by Michael Marker. I am also taking pictures in and around The Bay and the Legislative Building.

"Pro Pelle Cutem"
"A Skin for a Skin"

346 years old on May 2nd,  2016
200 years before Manitoba joined confederation in 1870
201 years before the signing of Treaty 1 in 1871
177 years after the 1493 Doctrine of Discovery
93 years before the Royal Proclamation
Michael Marker points out that history is most likely the most difficult class for Aboriginal students in Canada because history often has been told selectively by the dominant society and “the deeper perspectives of Aboriginal peoples in regard to their understandings of the processes of time and the principles of their knowledge systems are usually missing.” And, there are deep consequences when a story is not told correctly.
For example, what are The Bay's window dressings saying about Canada and the history of this land?

cloth with green, red, yellow and blue
white manikin
red tie
shiny reflection on foreground surface
florescent lights
from outside looking into window
rolled into log-like bundles
tied with ribbons
reds, yellows, greens, blues

white canoe and pillows
white, yellow, red, gree, black, blue
street scene reflection
man in red shirt
I heart Canada
green, red, yellow, blue
white horns
displays on shelves
man on a bench reflected

white stag
faceless, white manikin
logs, skirt, yellow shirt
evergreens and borders

white husky
faceless, white manikins
carrying bag in blue, yellow, red and green
pom poms on white shirt
shorts and shirts of yellow under blue
boots, logs and evergreens 

axe and lots of chopped wood
blanket with blue, yellow stripes
cute little guy under a white hat
faceless manikin in jeanwear
framed white bird and
blue, yellow, red and green wear
with mountains in the background
Pho Hoang Vietnamese Restaurant bench in the foreground

white dog with blue, yellow, red, white bundle in her mouth
two deer look on from the wall
faceless manikin sees nothing at all
in her white coat, white legs strapped in high heels
carrying bags of red, green, yellow, blue

Michael Marker says there are four ways that Indigenous knowledge does not fit... into Western knowledge:

1.    Time as a circle,

2.    Relationship with the land and non-humans,

3.    The local landscape is the first way in to history making (not the global stage), and

4.    Indigenous naming of colonization and talking back to this attack.

The metaphor of Michael Marker's paper, the four paths up the mountain, always includes both a physical walk, and a more-than-physical journey. So the question is, how does a non-indigenous educator leave his or her Western mindset and travel these “intellectual trails up an indigenous mountain”?

Indigenous students will hear their elders share Creation stories, but then be corrected by well-meaning teachers, and taught the Bering Strait Theory, ironically implying that Indigenous people are also immigrants, which de-privileges their deep connections, self-constructed identities, based on the land, while also undermining sovereignty. When students are corrected by the mainstream, this has the potential of further colonizing First Nations peoples. As Marie Battiste, a Mi’kmaq scholar says, “cognitive prisons” become a form of “cognitive imperialism”.
United College which is also a High School one of our Table Tennis friends attended when he first arrived in Winnipeg at 17 from Hong Kong
Acknowledging (even privileging) a circular nature of time, rather than a linear visualization of time is the first path up the mountain. Events can spiral and reoccur. Stories can circle between or around the past, the present, the future. Perhaps the circle incorporates all times at the same time. This Indiginization de-priviliges a notion of progress so important to European worldview, in which modern society is viewed as progressive.
My student and table tennis athlete, Nigel Dubois and I toured the Manitoba Legislature.
Nigel named this the "clapping room" because echoes pop around in a circle.

Relationship and therefore knowledge with/of the land and non-humans could be where the origins of history originate in an Indigenous world. There is a “sacred ecology” and even modern understanding of Treaty and today’s landclaims would benefit if people understood how indigenous people relate and are part of the land. Often Western notions of progress are directly connected to the “sentient landscape” as Julie Cruikshank teaches us or as Marker tells us the old people say, “the land knows you’re there.” There is also the idea that “historical truth and moral and cultural truth” intertwine, and often the land, plants, animals and all non-human are involved. The place “things” happen are also integral to indigenous history. And this is becoming more and more recognized by legal systems, including the Supreme Court of Canada who recognized oral tradition as “having equivalent power with documentary evidence to demonstrate historic truth.”
Nigel at the park across from the Manitoba Legislative Building
"the land knows you're there"
“For indigenous communities, the past is located in the local and traditional territory” because these are the most important stories to tell for people to honour their identities and responsibility to the land. How can indigenous people communicate this truth without betraying local ways? One example is the need for Indigenous Studies or Native Studies in high schools. Without this, the dominate narrative will continue, “subordinated and shaped by the need to narrate a selective story that silences dissenting indigenous voices”. In fact, the indigenous narrative should not just be a sideline or afterthought, as Wendy Wickwire reminds us, it should be “central core of history”. This is important to identity building to fight racism, denial, stereotyping, and many more scenarios indigenous people walk with and through every day.
What do the words on this building tell us about worldview and relationship to the land?
Colonization has a long list of  pain and brings complexity to modern indigenous living. Settler descendants, learning about colonization (through the lens of colliding worldviews) have the opportunity to make a difference if willing to be part of de-colonizing because colonization is not just a thing of the past. Our society is actively practicing colonization. In fact, “For indigenous peoples, a history of Canada as a nation-state is a colonizing way of thinking about people, relationships, and the land.”
The metaphor of the paths up the mountain suggests that the one walking will need to make sacrifices. There will be sacrifices of world-view, content, time, conventions, and other discomforts or as Reagan calls it, "Unsettling"; however, the trade-off for these changes “could inspire students to imagine alternative ways to structure the societies of the future as a result of learning about indigenous ways of experiencing time and space.” Could indigenizing our history help our world become sustainable for the future?  
One of large pictures outside United College which we walked past every day on our way to the gym. on Doctrine of Discovery

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