Education (6-12): Current Problems

Indigenous History

May 27, 2023

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

‘We were anything but primitive’: How Indigenous-led archaeology is challenging colonial preconceptions

The field of archaeology changing. So are the ways some young Indigenous people see themselves

Seven young Indigenous people stand or sit in front of a table covered in ancient pieces of pottery.
Anishinabe Odjibikan participants from left to right: Kyle Sarazin, Bryton Beaudoin, Jennifer Tenasco, Lucas Barbeau, Emma Logan, Jenna Kohoko and Jade Rogers-Baptiste.  (Laura Beaulne-Stuebing/CBC)

CBC News: When she was about eight years old, Jennifer Tenasco moved from her home community of Kitigan Zibi, Que., to Ottawa. Changing schools meant she’d lost an important place to learn about her culture: her classroom on reserve.  “It was different because there wasn’t a lot of education [about] our people,” she said. “So I only learned my history through my family members.”

Years later, Tenasco is learning much more about her culture and her ancestors at a different kind of school — a federally-funded Indigenous archeological field school called Anishinabe Odjibikan.  The school brings together young members of the Algonquin communities of Kitigan Zibi in Quebec and Pikwakanagan in Ontario to dig up, clean and sort items used by their ancestors thousands of years ago. 

Tenasco and her fellow Anishinabe Odjibikan participants learn how to document layers of earth and rocks, identify materials and determine if they’re local to the area, use surveyor’s tools and clean and reassemble pottery pieces found at a dig site.

Meet the Algonquin youth taking part in the Indigenous Archaeological Field School’s first dig

WATCH: Indigenous Archaeological Field School’s first dig

I want to be part of the generation that brings [our culture] back,’ says participant Bryton Beaudoin about why he’s taking up archaeology

Click on the following link to view the video:

They’re also doing archaeology in their own way: before they start to dig, they hold a ceremony.  “We drum and sing, and we all smudge,” she said. “It’ll open the site in a good way and say thanks to Mother Earth before we dig into her.”

Anishinabe Odjibikan is part of a growing trend in archaeology of involving the Indigenous peoples whose lands are being excavated — with the work either being led by Indigenous people, done collaboratively or carried out with their consent. 

For Tenasco, it connects her with her ancestors and proves that they were not “primitive” peoples. “There’s a lot of stereotypes [about Indigenous people],” Tenasco said. “But when you see the actual artifacts, it just makes me proud to be who I am.”

Reclaiming history

According to Cree/Métis archaeologist Paulette Steeves, the last century of archaeology has invalidated the pre-contact history of the Americas — and the people who lived there for thousands of years.  “Students are not made aware of the really amazing, amazing accomplishments of humans in the Western Hemisphere. It’s just all ignored,” she said in an interview with Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild. 

Paulette Steeves stands in a classroom. She is wearing a green shirt and pointing at a piece of paper. Behind her, there are two large green plants and a map of the world.
‘We have to get to a place where there are a lot more people from diverse backgrounds in the field of anthropology and archaeology,’ says Paulette Steeves, a professor at Algoma University and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous History, Healing and Reconciliation. (CBC/Walking with Ancients)

For example, the oldest mummies in the world were found in South America and the largest pyramids are in Central America, Steeves explained. 

By ignoring the accomplishments and sophistication of humans in North and South America, the field of archaeology reinforced negative stereotypes, dehumanization and racism, Steeves continued. “I thought, ‘What can I do to help bring hope to Indigenous people?’ And it turns out that reclaiming history does that.”

Steeves, who spent most of her academic career in the United States and is now a professor at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is making a name for herself by countering deeply-entrenched beliefs about how long people have populated North and South America. With this work, she’s trying to unerase Indigenous peoples’ past histories to help them feel validated and hopeful today.

Steeves says more archaeologists are accepting her premise that people have lived in North and South America much longer than previously thought. She thinks it’s helping to counter stereotypes and racism against Indigenous peoples. That’s thanks, in part, to developments in technology, including light detection and ranging technology, DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating. But it’s also thanks to new minds and new perspectives. 

The field has seen a “sea change … and I think a part of that is a new generation of archaeologists,” Steeves said. “We’re coming into this eighth fire of healing,” she continued. “That fire has many flames … [it’s] all of the scholars, Indigenous scholars, and their like-minded peers that are working on pieces of reclaiming, reviving, rehumanizing worldviews of Indigenous people.” 

Skills of their ancestors

Kevin Brownlee’s view of archaeology today is a far cry from what he learned about the field in school. “The education system in the ’70s and in the ’80s [stated that] Indigenous people were primitive; their technology was primitive,” he said. “When I first started in archaeology … people that I ran into within the [Indigenous] community were saying I was a traitor and that this is something that is done to us and not by us.”

Kevin Brownlee stands in front of a museum display.
As an adoptee, Kevin Brownlee didn’t grow up knowing where he came from. His career in archaeology helped him learn more about his family history and culture. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Brownlee, who is Cree, asserts that Indigenous peoples had immense skill and created tools, clothing and built incredible structures. “I’m learning how to make stone tools … [it] ain’t super easy,” he said. “You try to make these things, and so you start getting a better appreciation of Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous science [and] the fact that they were engineers.”

Brownlee served as the curator of archaeology at the Manitoba Museum and is now the curator of Indigenous collections and repatriation at the Royal B.C. Museum.  In his decades working in the field of archaeology, he focused on bringing archaeology to Indigenous youth. This included inviting youth to digs to learn the process of excavating a site and visiting classrooms to talk about his work. 

“Getting into the classrooms and talking to the youth, you would see the Indigenous kids in the class … coming out of their shell. And they’re like, ‘It’s my history he’s talking [about.] That’s my people.’ And they stand a little bit taller,” Brownlee said.  “It’s so awesome to see that immediate response where these kids are feeling prouder of themselves and that they’re recognizing the skill of their ancestors,” he said. “You know, we were anything but primitive.”

A wide shot of several people at an archaeological dig site. The site is surrounded by trees and is next to a bike path.
Participants from Pikwakanagan and Kitigan Zibi joined forces to dig into their shared history on unceded Algonquin territory over the course of eight weeks. (Submitted by Indigenous Archeological Field School)
‘We know our history’

Indigenous oral history has never measured up to scientific standards, Jennifer Tenasco said.  But archaeology can collect data that fits into the western scientific knowledge mold, “proving that our ancestors have been here since time immemorial.”

“To me it’s just weird when non-Indigenous people are telling our people our own history, when I feel like … we know our history,” Tenasco added. “We should be telling them our history and not the other way around.”

Unreserved 54:00 A new era of archaeology

Click on the following link to listen to Unreserved


Laura Beaulne-Stuebing, Producer

Laura Beaulne-Stuebing is a producer for CBC Radio’s Unreserved. She is based in Ottawa.


August 25, 2022


46 % of Quebecers credit Jacques Cartier for the discovery of Canada vs 11 % who picked Indigenous people

Who ‘discovered Canada’? Quebec says French explorer over Indigenous people: survey

CTV News: OTTAWA, W.VA. –  Quebecers are more inclined to say Jacques Cartier — or even Christopher Columbus — “discovered Canada,” compared to the rest of the country, which points to Indigenous people, a new survey suggests. The results are based on a web study the polling firm Leger did for the Association for Canadian Studies from July 8 to 10, in which it asked a series of questions around historical narratives in the country.

The survey found that when asked the open-ended question of “who discovered Canada,” 21 per cent of overall respondents named Indigenous people. Some 16 per cent offered up the name of Jacques Cartier, the French explorer who made several voyages to the country’s shores and waterways beginning in 1534.

The survey reports another 15 per cent of respondents said they didn’t know.

It says a remainder named a mix of the Vikings, Christopher Columbus and Samuel de Champlain, another explorer credited for the founding of Quebec and helping colonize the region for France.

The survey polled 1,764 Canadians and cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered truly random samples. When the results were broken down by age, those 18 to 54 tended to say Indigenous Peoples in higher numbers than those 55 and older.

The concept of “discovery” is one that has been challenged as of late, most recently during Pope Francis’ visit to Canada. The 85-year-old pontiff faced repeated calls last month to denounce a series of edicts, known as papal bulls, dating back to the 15th century, which countries used to justify colonizing lands thought to be uninhabited when in fact they were home to Indigenous people.

The survey suggests a divide between how residents in Quebec and the rest of the country approach the question of “who discovered Canada.” It reports 46 per cent of Quebecers credit Cartier for Canada’s discovery, compared to 11 per cent in the province who picked Indigenous people.

By contrast, results show 20 per cent or higher of respondents across British Columbia, Altanic Canada, the Prairies, Alberta and Ontario chose Indigenous people, while less than 10 per cent from each picked Cartier.

Association president Jack Jedwab says inside Quebec there appears to be a greater tendency to see the country through the lens of French and English nations. “Whereas in the rest of Canada now, there’s this movement to see the country more from the lens of three founders,” including Indigenous people, he says.

“There’s more exposure to that perspective than there is in Quebec,” he adds.

When it comes to Columbus, the survey reports 20 per cent of Quebec respondents saw him as discovering Canada, compared to less than 15 per cent of all respondents from other regions polled. Jedwab says the fact Columbus was picked at all is “worrisome.” “I don’t know what they’re reading, but clearly that’s not something you’d find in any Canadian history text.”

The survey also asked Canadians whether they believe they live on unceded territory — lands Indigenous people never legally surrendered to government authorities. Of all respondents, it says 66 per cent answered “no,” compared to 34 per cent who said “yes.”

According to its regional breakdown, the survey found nearly 60 per cent of respondents in B.C. — the highest of any area — said they lived on unceded Indigenous territory, compared to almost 44 per cent who said they didn’t. Survey results show the lowest was in Quebec, where only around 20 per cent of residents said they lived on unceded territory compared to 79 per cent who didn’t.

Unlike other provinces, most of B.C. is considered to be unceded Indigenous territory. When the province joined Confederation in 1871, its government didn’t recognize Indigenous title and did not see a need for treaties.

Jedwab believes the findings suggest varying levels of awareness residents in different provinces have around Indigenous land issues. For example, he points out that political leaders in Quebec rarely do Indigenous land acknowledgments.

“When people are doing the land acknowledgment, there’s a reminder, a built-in reminder, about the founding of the country and what it was founded upon.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2022

April 8, 2023

Fed. Govt.

A curious photo from 1885 captures what Indigenous reconciliation could have been

The image of an Indigenous ceremony from the 1880s, discovered in the attic of an old home, was strange, given what it depicted. It proved to contain great symbolism for reconciliation

Members of the North-West Field Force meet on April 10, 1885, with the Cree followers of Chief Day Star (Kīsikāwacāhk), one of the signatories of Treaty Four. UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG ARCHIVES

BILL WAISER: SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL: Bill Waiser is a historian and the author of A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, which won the 2016 Governor-General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction.

The Globe and Mail: In 1989, Gerry Dupont, who ran a stucco repair business, struck up a conversation with a woman named Carla Davidson at Winnipeg’s Festival du Voyageur – sparking a mystery that would resonate more than three decades later. Gerry told Carla that he was there because of his interest in Métis leader Louis Riel. Carla replied that her great-grandfather had actually served in the North-West Field Force during the 1885 North-West Resistance (also known as the North-West Rebellion), and that she had found six photographs from 1885 in the attic of his old home.

Intrigued, Gerry arranged to see the pictures and quickly struck a deal. Gerry said that Carla gave him the photos in exchange for a fur hat, like the one he was wearing at the festival – and the promise that he would donate them one day to an archival institution. Gerry kept his pledge. After first confirming that the photographs were indeed authentic, he recently gave them to the University of Winnipeg’s archives in 2021.

University archivist Brett Lougheed knew fairly quickly that he had something special – but wasn’t sure quite how “unique they might be.”

A lithograph, based on sketches from a Canadian sergeant, shows the battle in 1885 for Batoche, where Louis Riel made his last stand during the North-West Rebellion. LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA

On March 19, 1885, Louis Riel declared a provisional government at Batoche, in present-day central Saskatchewan, in an effort to force John A. Macdonald’s Conservative government to negotiate with the Métis and deal with their grievances. But a deadly clash between the Métis and the North-West Mounted Police at Duck Lake one week later prompted the Macdonald government to quickly mobilize a large militia force to put down the resistance.

The swiftness of Ottawa’s response was motivated, at least in part, by the misguided belief that the Cree would join forces with Riel in a combined First Nations-Métis insurgency that could sweep across the western interior like a prairie fire. As Edgar Dewdney, who served as both lieutenant-governor and Indian Commissioner for the North-West Territories, had telegraphed the prime minister: “Situation looks serious.”

Major-General Frederick Middleton, the 60-year-old commander of the hastily assembled Canadian militia, was handed the job of confronting Riel and his Métis fighters. “Old Fred,” as he was mockingly called by his men, decided from the outset to concentrate his army’s energies at Batoche, believing that a quick knockout blow at the heart of Riel’s resistance would end the trouble.

So he gathered the first troops in the field at Fort Qu’Appelle, just north of the new Canadian Pacific Railway mainline, and began to march north on April 6, 1885, through the Touchwood Hills. Middleton was supremely confident that any Indigenous resistance would melt away before his force reached Métis headquarters: “Almost certain Riel and people will bolt,” he telegraphed the minister of the militia from the field. His only worry was the inclement spring weather.

Fort Qu’Appelle in 1885. It would be another 20 years before this area became part of the province of Saskatchewan; in Riel’s time it was within the North-West Territories, along with what is now Alberta. UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG ARCHIVES

Five of the six photographs Gerry Dupont donated feature members of the 95th Manitoba Grenadiers (which later became the Winnipeg Light Infantry) and their camp at Fort Qu’Appelle, in what was then the North-West Territories. The images are generally poor in quality, but collectively, they give some sense of the military presence in the area.

E.J. Pattison of Neepawa, Man. – Carla Davidson’s grandfather – had scribbled on the back of one of the photographs that his dad, John, was among the assembled men. A check of Canadian military honours confirms that John Pattison was indeed awarded the North-West Canada medal for service in 1885. But the sixth photograph in the set was curious. It shows members of the North-West Field Force, including Middleton, watching a First Nations ceremony. On the back of the photograph, E.J. Pattison had written: “Story almost forgotten but this picture would be the surrender of some of the subchiefs at Fort Qu’Appelle at the end of the Rebellion.”

It’s a puzzler, because Middleton never returned to Fort Qu’Appelle after marching north to deal with Riel. Nor did any First Nations chiefs in the area surrender to Middleton. In fact, there is no record of any meeting between the major-general and local bands at Fort Qu’Appelle. Stranger still, military specialist Scott Whiting of Parks Canada examined the photos and noted that many of the soldiers in the First Nations ceremony photograph are wearing scarlet line-infantry uniforms – not the rifle green nor the dark blue of the two Winnipeg regiments stationed at Fort Qu’Appelle at the time. The buttons weren’t a match, either.

He also pointed out that the 95th Manitoba Grenadiers – John Pattison’s unit – was not mobilized until April 10, four days after Middleton had left Fort Qu’Appelle for Batoche. Had the photograph perhaps been taken some place else?

Middleton’s records provided the answer. In the general’s official 1885 report on military operations in the North-West, his April 10 entry reads in part: “halted 2 miles short of the Salt Plains [what is today the Quill Lakes] … I had a meeting or, as it is called in this part of the country, a ‘Pow-wow,’ with the Indian Chief Day Star and his people at Indian Farm. They, of course, expressed the greatest loyalty, and received the usual present of tea, tobacco, and flour.” A newspaper search confirmed the meeting; two men with Middleton had written home about the event, and their letters were published in their local newspapers.

With this detail, the photo reveals itself as a moment of symbolism – and disappointment.

Major-General Frederick Middleton raises his hand in the photo with Day Star’s followers. UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG ARCHIVES

On Sept. 15, 1874, on behalf of his Plains Cree followers, Chief Day Star (Kīsikāwacāhk) was among the 13 chiefs who signed Treaty Four at Fort Qu’Appelle. Two years later, the band’s reserve was surveyed in the Big Touchwood Hills, north of present-day Punnichy, Sask.

Eileen Kinequon (kīnikwān), a descendant of Day Star, and her husband John Cuthand, a knowledge keeper from the Little Pine First Nation, said that Day Star was ridiculed by other Plains Cree chiefs for asking the Canadian government for a reserve “in the trees.” But they explained that Day Star had selected land that had come to him in a vision. The reserve included the highest hill in the region, known as Blue Hill, or sîpihkpowacîhk, which is a sacred place to this day; Day Star First Nation members sometimes refer to themselves as the Blue Hill People (sîpihkpowacîwiyiniwak).

Day Star worked hard to bring the reserve under cultivation. His farming efforts, especially in his garden, were recognized in 1881; during a visit with local First Nations leaders at Fort Qu’Appelle, the Marquess of Lorne, who was then Canada’s governor-general, presented him with a silver medal, awards given to those who show “the best disposition to carry out the treaties.”

Day Star lived up to that expectation when he welcomed Middleton and the men of “C” Company, Infantry School Corps – wearing their scarlet line-infantry uniforms, as seen in that sixth photograph – to the Touchwood Hills in April, 1885.

It’s not clear where Day Star is in the photograph. No contemporaneous images of the chief exist today – only a portrait sketch. Day Star First Nation Chief Lloyd Buffalo and two councillors studied the photo for almost an hour in August, 2022, but they were not able to find the nation’s eponymous leader.

Elder John Cuthand and his brother Doug, a First Nations filmmaker and journalist, have suggested that Day Star is probably seated with his back to the camera, watching the ceremony with his family and headmen beside him. They say he’s likely the one with the staff, wearing a headdress; Mr. Buffalo believes that this could be the chief.

The Cuthand brothers suspect this figure in the photo, seated and wearing a headdress, is Day Star. UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG ARCHIVES

The person who took the shot is also unknown, though it might have been the itinerant photographer Oliver Buell, who took a series of photos in 1885 and travelled with the Middleton column.

But there is one certainty about the image: what is being depicted. After affirming their loyalty to the Crown during the resistance, Day Star and his band were holding a pipe-stem ceremony for Middleton and his soldiers. The short, stout general with the walrus mustache and side cap is standing on the far right of the frame, raising his right arm in approval, looking directly into the camera, clearly revelling in the honour.

Unfortunately, Day Star’s message was lost on the Canadian state. Even though any First Nations involvement in the resistance was isolated, sporadic and limited, the Macdonald government deliberately used the western crisis “for our own purposes,” as the prime minister himself wrote in a letter to Lord Lansdowne, then the governor-general. At the end of the North-West resistance, the Indian Affairs department adopted a number of coercive and interfering Indian Affairs policies, such as the pass system, to control and manage the lives of First Nations people. The goal was to crush their independence, while keeping them separate from the white settler community. It was as if Day Star and other chiefs had never made their pledge to remain loyal during the troubles.

That’s what makes the photograph so significant, if not instructive. Canada’s heavy-handed treatment of prairie First Nations after 1885 was a betrayal of the treaty relationship. There could have been a different ending to part of the resistance story – if only the Canadian government had followed the lead of chiefs such as Day Star.

To learn more about the six photos, visit the collection at the University of Winnipeg’s archives or view the series online.

March 4, 2023

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Canadian history was overdue for a rewrite

The statue of John A. Macdonald, in Montreal, on Mar. 21, 2019.

The Globe and Mail: The Governor-General of Canada usually chooses her words with careful, unsmiling deliberation. But her anger at the way that Canadian history has, until recently, been taught in our schools was unmistakable.

“It has been uneven and it is unfair,” Mary Simon said. “This country is so diverse, but for the longest time our history didn’t reflect the richness of that diversity. Indigenous people were misrepresented. This was racism presented as fact – as history – something to teach children.”

Last November, I met Ms. Simon in the Citadelle, the head of state’s official residence in Quebec City. Outside the window, way below the 18th century stone ramparts, the wide St. Lawrence River glimmered in the winter sunlight. Generations of Canadian children learned in school how European explorers – first the French, then the English – laboriously made their way up that river to claim for their monarchs this “empty” patch of a vast continent that they had recently discovered.

The story evolved, according to their textbooks, as Canada unshackled itself from European empires and established first a federation of “two founding peoples,” then complete independence. High-minded statesmen replaced the swashbuckling adventurers, and established “peace, order and good government” (POGG) for the settler society. It was a grand narrative, designed to explain how the modern state grew and to build a sense of nationalism.

Except that it was often based on dubious scholarship and, as the Governor-General pointed out, it excluded so many other stories: “We have glossed over and denied events or policies or truths that are hard to face,” she said. The histories of Indigenous peoples, non-European immigrants and women were invisible.

Ms. Simon, who grew up in the Arctic with an Inuk mother and a father of English origin, was an adult, slowly emerging as a forceful Northern voice in constitutional debates, before she realized the ignorance of most Canadians about life beyond the strip of settlement near the U.S. border. “I was always astonished at how non-Indigenous people had no knowledge of Indigenous people. They just lumped us all together as ‘Aboriginal people.’ They didn’t know anything about who we were, or our lives, or what residential schools were.”

Mary Simon is sworn in as the Governor General of Canada during a ceremony in the Senate chamber, in Ottawa, on July 26, 2021.BLAIR GABLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

However, that was Canada up to the late 20th century. Ms. Simon’s presence in the Citadelle, as Canada’s first Indigenous head of state, symbolizes the way that this country is struggling to make its history and its politics more inclusive. Today, the Governor-General speaks frequently and forcefully about the need to “seek out the truth of our history,” as she put it in the Queen’s University Tom Courchene Lecturelast year.

But if the demolition of the old self-serving narrative of Canadian history, focused on all those POGG white guys, was overdue, what are students in public and high schools across the country learning in its stead? While scholars within universities argue about historicism versus presentism, and angry crowds pull down statues of Sir John A. Macdonald, what is happening in classrooms?

I had heard some answers to such questions earlier in the day, at the presentation of the prestigious Governor-General’s History Awards to 13 teachers in the Citadelle’s ballroom. The teachers had been selected by Canada’s National History Society, the Winnipeg-based organization that wants citizens today to understand their country’s past better. The range of these teachers’ projects was astonishing for anybody who had not set foot in a history classroom in the past 15 years.

For example, Cynthia Bettio, who taught a class of Grade 10 high achievers in a large Richmond Hill, Ont., high school, explained with pride, “In my classroom, we don’t just learn history, we do history.” The curriculum required the class to study Canadian history from 1914 to the present day, and Ms. Bettio designed a course in which those years were seen from the perspective of traditionally under-represented groups, including Indigenous people, racialized communities and women.

The students, a large number from non-European backgrounds who typify urban diversity in today’s Canada, learned what questions to ask of any historical narrative, and how to assess and evaluate different sources. Ms. Bettio told me that she “really wanted to ensure that my students could see themselves in the history of the country they call their own.”

For example, Sikh students realized that there were events in the past that were relevant to their community, such as the Komagata Maru incident of 1914. Students whose families had fled the war in Syria glimpsed parallels with that conflict and what happened in Holland during the Second World War. Ms. Bettio described how “they saw the connections between past events and the realities they have as Canadians.” By the end of the year, the students had learned to think about the ethical dimensions of what has happened in the past, and how events are remembered.

More than a 1,000 kilometres away, in the small Manitoba town of Hartney (population 462), teachers Carla Cooke and Tracey Salamondra had taken an entirely different approach to the same challenge: Showing their Grade 11 students “how to do history.” Rural teenagers rarely see themselves reflected in large, national narratives, but their teachers developed a course that had little to do with Confederation or the Charter of Rights and everything to do, in Ms. Salamondra’s words, with “history that exists outside the textbooks and the cities.”

These teenagers were invited to produce interpretive panels for a trail through a local park. They visited the local museum to do artifact research, scoured online newspaper archives, conducted interviews with local historians and volunteers, and constructed a narrative about Prairie settlement. Ms. Salamondra stopped worrying that her students could not afford to attend well-publicized school trips to the Vimy battleground and enjoyed seeing how enthusiasm for a local history project spread through the whole school.

“When kids know their community,” Ms. Salamondra said, “they know part of themselves.” The students also realized how one-sided historical accounts can be. They noticed that their local museum had disproportionally few Indigenous artifacts and sources.

Dr. Clement Ligoure treated hundreds of patients after the Halifax Explosion devastated parts of the city in Dec. 1917.C. C. LIGOURE/COURTESY OF QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES

The teachers I met in Quebec City came from seven of Canada’s 10 provinces, and were as likely to work in small elementary schools as high schools. In Halifax, for example, a group of 22 students in Grade 1 chose to research a little-known Black doctor, Dr. Clement Ligoure, who had played a key role in helping the injured after the 1917 Halifax Explosion. Their teacher, Natasha Camacho, showed them how to find materials in local museums and archives.

“They were thrilled to discover for themselves that Dr. Ligoure lived and practised just a few steps from their school,” she said.

The class, which included five Black students, reported their findings in writing and art projects, and produced a documentary. They were shocked to learn that their families and neighbours had not heard of this important figure, because he seldom appears in most accounts of the 1917 disaster. They sent petitions to the mayor requesting a heritage plaque in front of Dr. Ligoure’s house; this gave them “a sense of their own agency,” Ms. Camacho said. Even six-year-olds can reshape history.

Luisa Fracassi, who teaches in an east end Toronto school where nine out of 10 students come from minority groups, developed a course for her Grade 10 history class that she called “Immigrant Voices” and involved changes in Canadian immigration policy from the 1960s. The students participated in two virtual tours of the Pier 21 Museum in Halifax, on Jewish and Asian immigration, looking at primary sources such as photos and letters.

Next, they attended a workshop on how to conduct oral history interviews. Then each student conducted one, often with a grandparent, which they then had to transcribe and shape into a story. Ms. Fracassi explained how the project helped students see how their stories connected them “to the broader history of Canadian immigration.”

These days, there is little Canadian history in Canadian classrooms – only one mandatory high-school course in most provinces, and no compulsory courses elsewhere. That gives teachers only a small window to instill an interest in our collective past. And most teachers are facing students who have already learned not to take anything on trust, and who frequently come from families who have been in this country for less than two or three generations.

So the past two decades have seen a revolution in history teaching in schools, as educators rewrote the curriculum so it might resonate with today’s students. The focus today is on acquisition of history skills, rather than assimilation of facts, so students can see how to “do” history for themselves. Layered on top of this is the new attention to Indigenous history – one of the “calls to action” in the 2015 report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Many of the educators in Quebec City had put the spotlight on Indigenous history. Barbara Giroux’s Grade 1 class in Ottawa had tracked news stories about Indigenous people today, then formulated the question, “Do all Canadian children have the same rights? If not, why not?” Jen Maxwell’s Grade 12 class in Abbotsford, B.C., researched the TRC’s 94 calls to action, then developed their own ideas about how to take concrete action on those calls.

Peggy Cameron, from the non-profit Friends of Halifax Common, stands in front of a stately home for which the group is seeking heritage designation to save it from demolition, in Halifax, on Jan. 19.DARREN CALABRESE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

In Winnipeg, elementary teacher Jacqueline Cleave’s students explored the TRC’s calls to action, then researched the issues of colonization they address through meetings with Indigenous elders and visits to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. The book that the students produced, featuring the calls to action in child-friendly language, is now in local schools and libraries.

In some cases, students themselves selected their topic. In Manitoba, a group of students at Winnipeg’s Westwood Collegiate came up with a project on the Holocaust, then educator Kelly Hiebert organized an extracurricular history society to help them pursue it. The teenagers produced a documentary featuring interviews with nine Holocaust survivors in the city about the hatred and antisemitism they had encountered in Europe and Canada.

But before they embarked on the interviews, the students had consulted historians and educators including officials at the United States Holocaust Museum. Production of the video involved a specially composed soundtrack, plus archival film interspersed through the interviews. The documentary, titled, Truth Against Distortion: Survivors Speak Out Against the Rise of Hate, has been entered into several film festivals, widely distributed, and is available on YouTube.

“A big part of the documentary was the parallels between the past and Canada today,” Mr. Hiebert explained. The students themselves were unsettled by the passionate media debates about mask and vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Making the documentary, he said, showed them “how history has to be told truthfully, with evidence from experts and primary sources, not just websites and Twitter. They became very critical consumers of social media.”

The teachers knew that their approaches were controversial. I heard several of their anecdotes about angry parents asking, “When are you going to stop this propaganda?” or “When are you going to start teaching proper history?” The various projects might get students to engage with history, but even some of the teachers’ own colleagues asked why there was no overarching theme to explain the “big picture” of this country – the historical development of today’s Canada that might give students a coherent sense of national identity.

Rose Fine-Meyer, a curriculum expert at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and one of the National History Society’s judges for the awards, is as impatient as the Governor-General with that argument: “The old ‘master narrative’ of Canadian history was always a false construct,” she said. “Why do you need a dominant narrative? There is no single story – except our interrelationship with each other on this land.”

An illustration by C.W. Jefferys from his book Canada’s Past In Pictures, published in 1934 by Ryerson Press Toronto, envisions the scene of explorer Jacques Cartier meeting the Iroquoian people of the St. Lawrence in 1535.C.W. JEFFERYS/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Civics and social-studies classes teach how government works and the requirements of citizenship. Today’s history classes highlight a diverse, multicultural and fragmented history, in which Jacques Cartier, Mackenzie King or Lester Pearson may or may not have walk-on parts. The best teachers, in Ms. Fine-Meyer’s view, introduced the craft of the history profession to their students, then encouraged them to take those skills outside the classroom and use them in hands-on experiences to explore multiple and diverse perspectives on their topic.

At the Governor-General’s History Awards ceremony, Ms. Simon encouraged the teachers to keep building “platforms for inclusivity,” and for addressing head on “inequality, diversity and inclusion.” She said that those who bemoaned “what they call a ‘rewriting’ of history or questioning historical figures from our country’s past” were missing the point. “We are telling a fuller history.”

It is certainly a larger history, and I would be happy to see any child taught by the teachers I met. But it is also a radically different approach to history than the one I absorbed in my own education, during which teachers drew on the past to shape national pride and literary skills.

Today’s history educators in Canada put the emphasis on “critical thinking skills”: They teach students to gather, analyze, interpret and assess diverse historical evidence. These are skills essential for an informed citizenry in the age of social media, conspiracy theories and polarized politics. The narratives I was taught certainly had a propaganda element, but the Canadian history being taught today has abandoned any attempt at a modern, integrated narrative that encompasses a far wider range of experiences.

Perhaps such a narrative is impossible in a sprawling, diverse country like Canada, with a demographic churn that transforms communities from one generation to the next. Yet there are distinct, common values that have persisted and evolved through the years – support for gun control, bodily autonomy, compromise rather than conflict, health care as a common good. The roots of those shared values, which make Canada the country it is, lie in the past – back to Confederation and beyond.


Charlotte Gray: SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL – Charlotte Gray is a biographer and historian who won the Pierre Berton Award in 2003.

June 15, 2021

Canadian Race Relations Foundation Poll on Residential Schools

Thirteen years after the Government of Canada offered a formal apology to the survivors of the residential school system and families, 68 percent of Canadians polled still say they were either unaware of the severity of abuses at residential schools or completely shocked by it. A poll conducted by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Assembly of First Nations and Abacus Data shows that the majority of Canadians believe governments are not doing enough to teach students about the legacy of the residential school system. “The results of the survey expose glaring gaps of knowledge and education related to Canada’s history and renew calls to re-examine questions around who should be held accountable.

  • 93 percent of Canadians are aware of the discovery of remains at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, with 58 percent Canadians following the news closely.
  • This is a slight increase (seven percent) in the number of Canadians who were closely following the news on the legacy of residential schools upon the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, nearly six years ago.
  • Despite 72 percent of Canadians being saddened by the news of the mass grave, only 10 percent of Canadians are very familiar with the history of the residential school system.
  • 62 percent of Canadians believe that provincial education curricula do not include nearly enough about residential schools,
  • 65 percent believe the level of education around residential schools should increase.
  • 70 percent of survey respondents say that the framing of residential schools has been downplayed in the education system.
  • The majority of Canadians are unequivocal about whom should take responsibility for the damage done by the residential school system:
    • Ninety percent of respondents believe that the federal government is liable for the damage caused by residential schools, followed by the Catholic Church (81 percent) and the RCMP (80 percent).
      Four out of five Canadians would like to see the Pope formally apologize to the survivors of residential schools. Nearly as many want the federal government to offer more funding to identify other possible mass graves at all residential school sites.

“By margins of greater than three to one, Canadians are telling us they want action on First Nations priorities,” added AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “People want to see Canada accelerate progress on the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, invest in efforts to identify all unmarked graves at residential schools, and to stop fighting against our children and residential school survivors in court. Decisionmakers at all levels must heed these calls for action. These are some of the ways we can truly honour the lives of those who were so tragically lost.”

May 15, 2023


Colonialism, Capitalism And State Schooling In B.C.

A new book from Sean Carleton encourages critical thinking about connections between colonialism, education and capitalist exploitation

Colonialism, Capitalism And State Schooling In B.C.
Photo via BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Maple: For this week’s Class Struggle, I sat down with Sean Carleton to talk about his 2022 book Lessons in Legitimacy: Colonialism, Capitalism, and the Rise of State Schooling in British Columbia, the paperback version of which is out from UBC Press today. 

Sean is an assistant professor of history and Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba. Lessons in Legitimacy argues that schooling played a central role in the making of settler-colonial capitalism in British Columbia. The book encourages us to think critically about the connections between colonialism, education and the exploitation at the heart of capitalism. 

Adam King: First, congratulations on the book! It seems like it’s been really well received since it was first published last year, and it’s great to see a paperback version now available. 

Can you start by telling readers about the general argument you make in Lessons in Legitimacy? Why focus on schooling, and why concentrate on this particular period, 1849-1930? 

Sean Carleton: Thank you. Yes, the book is doing well, which is great because I’m donating the royalties to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society. So, hopefully the cheaper paperback can get the book into even more hands.

Overall, Lessons in Legitimacy contributes to the important project of truth-telling about Canada’s history of schooling and settler capitalism in the era of so-called reconciliation. The book unsettles the conventions of education history by bringing accounts of Indigenous and non-Indigenous schooling, often studied separately, into one analytical frame. Lessons in Legitimacy is the first substantial study to examine the role played by various kinds of state schooling, including Indian Day Schools and Indian Residential Schools as well as public schools, in helping to build British Columbia, first as a British colony and then as Canada’s westernmost province, between 1849 and 1930.

The book begins by placing the study of education in British Columbia in a trans-imperial context to show how the strategy of “ruling by schooling” was borrowed from other parts of the British Empire and adapted by state officials on the west coast to meet local needs. This included creating different kinds of schools for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and youth. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, different kinds of state schooling shared a hidden curriculum containing what I call “lessons in legitimacy”: the formal and informal teachings that justified the colonial project and normalized the unequal social relations of settler capitalism as commonsensical. 

Students got lessons in everything from history and civics to home economics and calisthenics in ways that built their character and taught them to take up and accept unequal roles in the emerging socio-economic order. Schooling not only preserved social order in the colonies, it actively helped produce and reproduce — and legitimate — that order. Schools therefore served as important laboratories for learning colonial legitimacy in British Columbia.

AK: In the book, you write: “[C]olonial and then provincial and federal governments gradually and strategically took on greater responsibility for educating Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. They administered various kinds of primary and secondary schooling – such as public schools, Indian Day Schools, and Indian Residential Schools – in ways that helped catalyze and legitimize the making of British Columbia as a capitalist settler society.” 

How do you draw the connections between the colonial project of residential schooling targeted at Indigenous peoples and schooling serving the settler population? 

SC: This is a unique aspect of the book. It demonstrates the value of examining histories of schooling for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and youth together as a totality. Studying these histories separately misses much about the story of schooling and settler capitalism in Canada and can contribute to Indigenous erasure. 

I challenge that erasure by showing how the boundaries between Indigenous and non-Indigenous schooling were often broken in everyday life. Indigenous students consistently attended common and public schools in greater numbers than previously thought, and some settler parents and government officials, provincially and federally, approved and at times even defended this practice. As well, individuals also frequently moved between differing educational spheres: residential school principals sat on public school boards; their students became teachers in day and residential schools; and public school graduates also taught in day and residential schools. Thus, the complexities of colonial education can be brought into sharper focus when the two streams of schooling, for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, are considered together.

AK: Given the appalling history of Indian Residential Schools — and the growing public awareness of the crimes committed against Indigenous children in these institutions — some might be surprised at your drawing together of residential schools and public schooling more generally. What does looking at schooling, in general, tell us about the colonial development of B.C?

SC: I’m, of course, very careful not to make false comparisons. Instead, my goal is to show how the state used similar, though different, kinds of schooling to build capitalist societies. They need to be understood as distinct but overlapping projects of state schooling. Here I am drawing on anti-colonial thinker Albert Memmi’s ideas in The Colonizer and the Colonized, where he presents an analysis of both colonizers and the colonized to offer a picture of colonial society as a whole. Settler colonialism is not only about eliminating “the native,” as scholars such as Patrick Wolfe contend, but also about building up disciplined settlers/workers as replacements to continuously build and defend the settler capitalist status quo.

In terms of the role of education in this great transformation, I show how state schooling was not only about legitimizing colonial lessons in a pedagogical sense, but it was actually part of the process of colonial and capitalist state building. Let’s take land and taxes as two easy ways to think about the material interests at play. In British Columbia, public schooling was largely paid for by dispossessing Indigenous peoples of their land. In the 1850s, Britain simply asserted sovereignty over what became the colony of British Columbia. Then, the province of B.C. refused to sign treaties with Indigenous nations. As a result, much of British Columbia’s land base was — and remains — stolen, unceded land. 

During the early period of colonial settlement, and in an effort to attract and retain colonists and their families, state officials often reserved “free” plots of land to be used for the construction of schools. Property taxes were then introduced to help pay for increasing schooling costs. Thus, stolen Indigenous land underwrote the expansion and maintenance of the public school system in British Columbia, as elsewhere. The book asks these kinds of questions — and considers who benefits most from this arrangement — that serve to implicate public schooling in the settler capitalist project.

AK: Settler society is, and was, of course a class-divided society. The vast majority of settlers were or would become workers. Part of the ‘legitimation’ of settler-colonial capitalism during the period your book covers was undoubtedly about reconciling people, Indigenous and settler, to their future status as wage labour. What role would you say schooling played in the ‘making’ of the working class in B.C.? 

SC: Part Three of the book specifically focuses on efforts in the early 20th century to reform schooling, for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, in ways that continued to legitimize British Columbia’s capitalist settler society. At the turn of the century, many British Columbians viewed improved education as a key to continued socio-economic growth. In the early 1900s, the government revised schooling to train an expanding workforce and to assist with the development of Canada. In Victoria, the provincial government made a number of changes to public schooling, including introducing modern educational methods designed to keep students in class longer and to transform them into productive workers and socially efficient citizens with things like manual training and home economics classes. By the 1920s, in the aftermath of the First World War, most British Columbians had accepted improved but compulsory and government-controlled education as a normal and necessary part of life.

At the same time, in the early 1900s, the federal government expanded Indian education. It hoped that a stronger emphasis on industrial training in Indian Day Schools and Indian Residential Schools could transition Indigenous peoples from wards of the state into productive wage workers, though I outline how some Indigenous parents and students continued to challenge federal schooling schemes, with varying levels of success. 

Overall, the book shows how provincial and federal efforts to assert authority over schooling for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students overlapped and played essential roles in helping to legitimize and consolidate British Columbia’s capitalist settler society by the onset of the Great Depression. New phases of colonial dispossession, proletarianization and capitalist accumulation continued after 1930, of course, but by this time the foundations of state schooling were firmly established and have not been radically altered since.

AK: Those at all familiar with the history of residential schools in Canada know that Indigenous peoples were never simply passive victims of this colonial violence. Indigenous people — children and families — resisted in a myriad of ways. Can you talk about how various peoples resisted the project of colonial education?  

SC: Although the state had effectively taken control of education by the 1920s, the book stresses that resistance was ever-present, even if it didn’t always bring about meaningful change. State power, like colonial hegemony, was totalizing but never totally complete, and ruling by schooling was a contested phenomenon. 

In British Columbia, some parents and guardians kept their children at home for various reasons: the school was too far away; they disliked certain teachers; or they needed children’s labour. Once in class, students often chafed against the authoritarianism that teachers were hired to impose. Indigenous students and parents also found ways to resist and challenge colonial authority, including running away, boycotts, and even student arsons. The stories of resistance presented in the book are reminders that schooling is continually contested and negotiated, even though the terms of engagement are deeply unequal, which was especially the case for Indigenous parents and children.

AK: Finally, what would you say are the primary lessons the book offers for a radical critique of settler colonialism and education policy today? 

SC: I think the book sparks larger questions about the role of state schooling in capitalist societies. What is the difference between education and schooling? Is state schooling, specifically, a public good? Which “public” is it “good” for, or to pick up on questions from political economy, who benefits most from state schooling?

The book actually shows that government control over schooling was neither predetermined nor straightforwardly imposed. Instead, it offers a long view of the development of state-supported schooling as a struggle and negotiated compromise. Colonial officials promoted colonization by building roads and bridges and establishing police forces and courthouses, but they also grudgingly agreed to assist schooling efforts in limited ways, especially for labouring classes to appease disgruntled settlers. 

As more working-class families moved to British Columbia, many parents lobbied the government to fund non-denominational schooling. Unable to afford private schools, they eventually ceded authority over education to the provincial government. At the same time, the federal government, responsible for Indian education, supported the expansion of missionary schooling for Indigenous peoples and collaborated with churches to create new schools. The goal of Indian education was to eliminate the so-called Indian problem by delegitimizing Indigenous lifeways and preparing children to join the workforce. Finally, to justify their increased expenditure, both provincial and federal governments assumed even more authority over education while reforming mass, mandatory schooling as a tool of rule/legitimacy. In less than a century, schooling in British Columbia shifted from mostly ad hoc and voluntary operations to compulsory state-controlled institutions designed to educate thousands of children, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, in ways that supported ongoing settler capitalism and Canadian nation building.

Understanding this history of struggle, the root — the heart of radical analysis — of state schooling challenges simplistic notions of schooling, controlled by the state, as an unquestionable, progressive social good. Schooling was, and still is, used by the state as a tool of legitimation. That being said, I think we can defend public education vigorously, and push to ensure it serves democracy and the public good more than corporate interests while also understanding how that narrow vision of simply “improving public schooling” is implicated in the project of keeping settler capitalism intact. 

This dual view of schooling — as a source of oppression but also an important site for struggle (which I borrow from political economy) — keeps alive the possibility of transforming education as we transform the world and create new possibilities of living otherwise. I hope the book can get people to think more critically about the relationship between schooling and society — and dream of what education could be if it were not controlled by the state and used as a tool for legitimizing ongoing settler capitalism.

by Adam D.K. King

June 20, 2022

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

How familiar are Canadians with the history of Indigenous residential schools?

Toronto Star: One year after more than 1,000 unmarked graves were discovered on the grounds of former residential schools — putting a global spotlight on Canada’s horrific history of assimilation and abuse of Indigenous children — Canadians are barely any more familiar with the painful legacy of the institutions, new research shows.

According to data shared with the Star, 62 per cent of Canadians say they feel very or somewhat familiar with the history of residential schools, compared to 60 per cent who said they felt the same way in early 2021.

“I’m not surprised,” says Nunavut MP Lori Idlout. “If there’s interest in Indigenous history, it has to be sought out, so I’m not surprised that the history is still not well understood by mainstream Canada.”

The numbers come from a new report on Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, as part of the annual Confederation of Tomorrow survey conducted by the Environics Institute and its partners. More than 5,400 adults took part in the survey, which was first rolled out in 2019. This year’s report is the first release since the burial sites were confirmed last year.

But while the discoveries dominated political and public discussions over the past year, awareness has hardly changed, the report notes. “The education system in Canada still does not incorporate the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit at all levels,” said Idlout, who serves as the NDP’s critic for Indigenous services, Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs.

It’s not for a lack of available material, Idlout told the Star. She said two landmark documents — the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — are rife with the experiences, stories and recommendations necessary to improve Canada’s understanding of its history.  “There’s already been a lot of gathering to try and educate more Canadians about what needs to happen, and a huge part of it just needs to be to ensure that (the recommendations) are being implemented,” she said.

The survey findings suggest that bridging that gap could pose a challenge. It found that over the past year:

  • the percentage of Indigenous people who felt that relations between themselves and non-Indigenous people were positive dropped from 47 per cent to 34 per cent. Similarly, those who felt their relationship with non-Indigenous people was negative climbed from 47 per cent to 60 per cent. 
  • The survey also found that in 2020, 63 per cent of Indigenous people felt all levels of government had not gone far enough to advance reconciliation, a number that rose to 71 per cent in 2022. The figure was much lower when the same question was posed to non-Indigenous people, with 44 per cent of those respondents reporting in 2022 that governments had not worked hard enough on reconciliation. 
  • Overall, the proportion of all respondents who said governments had not gone far enough increased in all parts of Canada aside from the north, where figures were already higher than in other regions. The numbers also increased across all age groups, but were more pronounced among Canadians aged 18 to 34.

Last month, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the process of fully investigating the deaths that occurred at residential schools could, according to some communities, take up to a decade. “I think most of us aren’t really prepared for what that truth, ultimately, will reveal as a country. We’re really at the tip of the iceberg in terms of discoveries,” Miller said.

Among other pledges toward advancing reconciliation, the federal government has put $78.3 million toward 70 projects involved with commemorating and investigating sites of former residential schools. The federal budget earmarked $122 million over the next three years to further support the Residential School Missing Children’s Community Support Funding program.

Two weeks ago, the government named Kimberly Murray, the former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as its special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked graves at former residential schools. The appointment fulfilled the Liberal government’s 10-month promise to create the role, which is focused on crafting a federal legal framework to appropriately address the discoveries and investigations.

Idlout said that while Indigenous advocacy is often “ignored” by governments — and that the survey results bear out her belief — she said she has sensed “sincere empathy” from the cabinet ministers tasked with pushing reconciliation forward. 

“We do have great meetings,” she said, “but I’m at a point where I need to turn that empathy into action.”

May 31, 2023

Marie Clements won’t let Canada forget its painful past with sweeping epic Bones of Crows


Grace Dove as Aline Spears in the film Bones of Crows.FARAH NOSH/HANDOUT

The Globe and Mail: From the beginning, Metis-Dene writer-director Marie Clements had planned to shoot parts of her new film, Bones of Crows, at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. She established a relationship with the community to provide support to cast and crew members who belonged to that region. A week before the shoot, however, news broke of the remains of 215 Indigenous children found in unmarked graves on the site.

“Obviously we’re a big machine, and as a production we’re thinking we’ll have to move and we better start on that right away,” Clements says in an interview. To her surprise, the organizers asked the team to continue with their plans. “They wanted the truth to be seen and heard.”

A sweeping epic spanning a century and multiple generations, Bones of Crows opens in theatres across the country this Friday. Through the story of Aline Spears (played by Summer Testawich, Grace Dove and Carla-Rae at different stages of her life), a Cree code talker in the Canadian military, the film highlights a painful chapter of our history long overlooked.

On set at the former B.C. residential school, which was in operation until 1969, there was grief and heaviness hanging in the air as the film crew started to shoot. Outside, the memorial for the children believed to be missing from records kept growing, as hundreds of people came to pay their respects.

“The blunt reality of it – that we’re working on a subject and we’re in the presence of it – it’s not in the past. It gave us a heightened consciousness,” Clements says. “We had to focus – for those families, for those babies that were found, and connecting our own families with that experience.

“It’s still kind of a blur because, I guess, it hurt. But it was also a profound reminder of how important our stories are. Because they’re still continuing. They’re still alive, and we’re still alive.”

Although many Indigenous filmmakers in Canada grow up with stories of their family’s experience with residential schools, their depiction in popular culture has just scratched the surface. And so, Clements envisioned a deeper interrogation, spanning from the time of first contact to the present day.

There are still people who remain grossly unaware of these stories, despite recurring news headlines, she says. It’s also a history that people from her parents’ generation don’t like to dwell upon.

“It wasn’t something they leaned into. There was a kind of feeling that they have survived, and there was a kind of privilege in that – to try and grab on to the future, and to try to just get over it, and be able to provide our generation with a better future,” she says. “So this kind of secret, even in our families, is hard to get to.”

The film is a sweeping epic that highlights a painful chapter of Canada’s history long overlooked.FARAH NOSH/HANDOUT

A curiosity about the world around her and a desire to pursue the truth have driven Clements as a filmmaker. Her dramatic feature debut, Red Snow (2019), a war drama about an Indigenous soldier in the Canadian army fighting in Afghanistan who gets captured by the Taliban, was shot in the Northwest Territories among other Canadian locations. Her music documentary The Road Forward (2017) connects the beginnings of Indigenous nationalism in the 1930s to First Nations activism today.

“Frankly, there’s so many things that make me mad that it’s great fuel for stories,” she says, laughing. “What I hope to do with my work is that people would be able to have a different kind of dialogue after they witness something. Whether they agree with me, whether they hated what they saw – at least it’s a dialogue they might not have had before.”

Bones of Crows’ central character, Aline, was built partly from Clements’s observations of her mother and aunties, and the extraordinary ways they moved in the world. While the film’s research team benefited from records and documents that had previously been unavailable to Clements as a young person, she felt a need to reclaim accounts she’d heard on a personal and community level.

“People, families – they have their codes,” she says. “We witness, you know, our mothers and fathers, and their little ways of surviving. As you get older, you start to understand how they managed difficult situations. Or how they glossed over things. Every family’s codes are unique but we all have them.”


Although it’s a difficult film to watch, Bones of Crows offers a perspective often missing from news stories.DEREK RODGERS/HANDOUT
  • Bones of Crows
  • Written and directed by Marie Clements
  • Starring Grace Dove, Carla-Rae and Summer Testawich
  • Classification N/A; 124 minutes
  • Opens in theatres June 2

Critic’s Pick

“How good are you at keeping secrets?” a senior military officer asks Aline Spears, a Morse code operator with the Canadian army, while offering an opportunity to work with a secret division in the air force in 1942, writing and deciphering code in Cree.

“I have a lot of experience,” Spears replies, with a wistful smile.

Based on true events, Bones of Crows traces Spears’ story as a Cree girl taken from her family to a residential school, to a young woman serving in the Canadian military, to finally a matriarch testifying at the Vatican.

Although it’s a difficult film to watch, the loving way in which it depicts Indigenous families and their traditions, including a simple family dinner, offers a perspective often missing from news stories. The historical span from the late 1800s to present day also gives the film heft; the flashbacks used to reflect how memories carry intergenerational trauma are a poignant device. It’s a gift to watch the largely Indigenous cast bring to life a story that many of them have a personal connection to.

There are some quibbles, and the writing could be stronger in parts. However, it’s important to remember the film is based on stories told by the survivors. Hearing some of those testimonies at the end of the movie is especially moving. Bones of Crows offers a history lesson we cannot afford to forget.

January 13, 2023

Poilievre delivers speech to a group criticized for residential school ‘denialism’

Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre is receiving criticism for delivering a speech to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg-based think tank associated with efforts to downplay the effects of Canada’s residential school system.

CBC News: Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre faced criticism from his political opponents Friday for delivering a speech to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP), a controversial Winnipeg-based group that has been associated with efforts to downplay the effects of residential schools on Indigenous children and oppose vaccine mandates.

Before introducing Poilievre on Friday, the group’s president, Peter Holle, said the FCPP is one of the “most prolific think tanks” and it publishes articles that “might rub you the wrong way.” Holle said the group is determined to “challenge false narratives” and claimed there’s a “phoney-baloney discussion about climate” among the “chattering classes and commentariat.”

In 2018, the FCPP ran radio ads claiming to debunk “myths” about Canada’s residential schools. The ads dismissed as “myth” the claims that residential schools were responsible for “robbing native kids of their childhood” or the dramatic decline in Indigenous language skills.

It also published an article, written by a former residential school student and FCPP research associate, that sought to downplay the intergenerational effects of these institutions on First Nations communities.

The article, written by Mark DeWolf, criticized the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for “spreading erroneous information.” “Recognizing the system as a bad one should not have us wildly exaggerating its failures, demonizing it, and allowing it to distract us from far more serious threats to First Nations individuals and communities,” DeWolf wrote in his August 2018 piece for the FCPP.

The TRC conducted an exhaustive six-year study of the system. It concluded physical, mental and sexual abuse was rampant at the schools, and some 6,000 children died while in their care because of malnourishment or disease.

It also concluded the residential school system was a form of cultural genocide.

Shoes, toys and more were set up around the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 2, 2021, in recognition of the reported discovery of children’s remains at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Brian Morris/CBC)

The FCPP also has posted commentary articles on its website that defended research into the connection between race and IQ. It recently published a post that decried “anti-white male policies,” saying that such discrimination is the “only systemic discrimination there is.”

Speaking to CBC on Friday, FCPP spokesperson David Leis said the centre tries to promote a variety of views and that it invites speakers from all political backgrounds to its events. “People have a variety of perspectives in our country and what we need to do is be able to listen to each other and understand each other,” Leis said.

A spokesperson for Poilievre said his appearance at the FCPP doesn’t mean he endorses “the views of everyone who has ever worked for the group.” “Mr. Poilievre clearly does not agree with the opinions you’ve pointed out. We condemn all forms of racism and bigotry,” his spokesperson said, adding that CBC faced its own accusations of systemic racism from one of its unions in 2020.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said it was “appalling” that Poilievre would “associate himself with an organization like this, particularly after a day like today,” he said. He was referring to the discovery of a jawbone fragment belonging to a child at a former residential school site.

Another Liberal cabinet minister, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, said it was “disheartening” to learn that Poilievre delivered a speech to the group and its followers.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said efforts to downplay the harms of residential schools are “ignorant and unhelpful.” “I condemn any association with denialist views and the deep hurt they cause our survivors and their families,” Archibald said in a media statement.

Poilievre uses speech to blast Trudeau

Poilievre did not address the criticisms during his Friday speech to the 500-strong crowd assembled at a Winnipeg conference centre for his appearance.

Instead, he delivered a blistering attack on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, blaming Liberal policies for inflation, sky-high real estate prices, a shortage of children’s medication, delays in passport processing and ongoing problems in air transportation, among other problems.

“He will never fix them and that’s why we need to replace him with a new government that will work for the people,” Poilievre said of Trudeau in his speech. “He will not fix these problems because he is the problem.”

Poilievre promised to rein in the federal budget through a “pay-as-you go” law, which would demand that every dollar of new spending be matched by a cut to something else.

He also pledged to work with the provinces to speed up the certification of foreign-trained medical professionals to fill labour gaps in the health-care system.

Poilievre said he would not shy away from his pointed attacks on the Liberal government even though, he said, the conventional wisdom from the “Laurentian elite” and the “established liberal orthodoxy” is that he should moderate his positions after claiming the party’s leadership.

“That is not how our system was designed. Our system was deliberately designed to make the most powerful people tremble in the House of Commons,” he said.

Criticism of vaccine mandates

Like Poilievre, the FCPP has been critical of COVID-19-related vaccine mandates.

It published a web post decrying past proof-of-vaccination policies implemented by all levels of government as “a state-mandated invasion of our bodily autonomy.” Another post, which took a similar position, called vaccine mandates “a politically expedient use of state authority to attack Canadian citizens.”

Thomas Linner is the provincial director of the Manitoba Health Coalition, a group with ties to the provincial NDP and unions. He said it was inappropriate for Poilievre to stand “beside an organization that has espoused deeply divisive and extreme positions on vaccine and COVID-19 public health measures, support for the illegal and dangerous occupations of Canadian cities.”

Other Canadian politicians have appeared at FCPP events, including former finance minister Paul Martin, who spoke to the group in 2002.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC’s parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at

July 10, 2021


Premier Pallister whitewashes Manitoba history

A First Nations leader is among those accusing Manitoba’s premier of offering a distorted reframing of the province’s history, omitting the displacement of Indigenous people and violence against them in what feels like “a punch in the gut.” “It’s very disheartening, very disrespectful to Indigenous people,” said Leroy Constant, the interim grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Constant is among a number of Indigenous people calling on Brian Pallister to educate himself on the history of colonization in the province, after the premier spoke publicly about the toppling of the statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on the Manitoba legislative grounds on Canada Day.

On Wednesday, Pallister admonished those involved in bringing the statues down and announced they will be restored. “The people who came here to this country, before it was a country and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came here to build. They came to build better.” Brian Pallister.

That take on history doesn’t sit well with Leroy Constant, the interim grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Constant, is also the chief of York Factory First Nation in northern Manitoba. Pallister’s comments served to “minimize, romanticize and celebrate the settler colonialism that displaced First Nations from their ancient and sacred lands in the most brutal and heinous ways,” Constant said. That’s “unconscionable and a desecration to the graves of the ancestors on which the legislature is built and on which the city of Winnipeg now lies,” he said. Pallister is out of touch with reality, says Mary Jane Logan McCallum, a history professor at the University of Winnipeg and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous people, history and archives. “I think his knowledge of Manitoba history is about 50 years out of date, maybe 60 years out of date,” said the member of Munsee Delaware Nation in Ontario.

Settlers in Canada did come to build farms, businesses and churches as Pallister says, but that building came from dispossessing and destroying Indigenous peoples’ way of life, she said. In the 1870s, the numbered treaties that cover Manitoba were signed by the Crown and First Nations leaders. They allowed the Canadian government to actively pursue agriculture, settlement, transportation links and resource development in exchange for payment or other promises, the Treaty Commission of Manitoba says.

Within a few short years, though, McCallum says land was given to settlers in exchange for small, remote reserves and First Nations treaty rights were never fully realized. Then came the deluge of government and church-run programs that attempted to assimilate Indigenous people and “take the Indian out of the child.” The idea that “to build you always have to tear down” suggests “that what is being torn down doesn’t matter — it’s not relevant, it’s not meaningful,” McCallum said. “In a way, that fails to bring a really deep analysis to our country’s history and it allows us to get through with a really positive story of progress.”

October 13, 2021


Protection of Inuktuk Language Rights

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. – NTI has filed a landmark lawsuit with the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, asserting that the Government of Nunavut (GN), by failing to provide a public school system offering Nunavut Inuit equal opportunities to complete schooling in their own language and culture, is violating constitutionally-protected equality rights of Nunavut Inuit guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

With the adoption of a new Education Act in 2009, Nunavut Inuit had high hopes and expectations that the GN would fulfill Inuit aspirations of a public education system that embraced the Inuktut language and produced high school graduates thoroughly fluent in the Inuktut language, equally as English or French.

But after failing to meet its political commitments as reflected in the legal obligations for the provision of fully bilingual Inuktut education in Nunavut by 2019, the GN made legislative amendments in the fall of 2020 that postponed the obligation to provide Inuit language education. The new framework of amendments drastically changed the GN’s previous priorities and obligations to provide Inuit students with an education in their own language by effectively reducing Inuktut language of instruction commitments after Grade 4 to language arts courses and permanently removing the government’s legal responsibility to build a bilingual education system up to Grade 12. Further, the GN had given itself a new, later deadline of 2039 for meeting even weaker commitments.

Education delivered in Inuktut is foundational to maintaining Inuit language and culture, and a vital component of the cultural identity, history and survival of Nunavut Inuit. As many Indigenous groups in Canada struggle to protect and revive languages within their communities, Nunavut is uniquely positioned to successfully support Inuit language before it becomes extinct.

Although 85% percent of the Nunavut population comprises of Nunavut Inuit, only 64% of Nunavut Inuit reported Inuktut use during the 2016 Canadian Census, and is further declining at an alarming rate. As a result of the GNs broken commitments and continued failures of implementing bilingual education, the use and fluency of Inuktut is under threat for future generations.

Without drastic action and corrective measures on the part of the Government of Nunavut, the erosion of the Inuit language — and the associated impact on Inuit culture and self-determination — will have dire and irreversible social consequences to Nunavut Inuit.

October 26, 2021


Revision to Ethics and Religious Culture course

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador – The Legault government is revising the Ethics and Religious Culture course, offered to secondary school students in the province, with the objective of giving its content a more “Quebec citizenship” focus. The project is part of the new nationalist ideology championed by Premier François Legault. The Premier’s initiative raises many concerns, including those of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL).
“What kind of message to young people can be expected by a provincial government that is determined to deny the deep roots of discrimination and racism that make it a systemic scourge? What other message can we expect from a provincial government that is determined not only to deny, but to fight in court the very existence of First Nations’ fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination, to govern themselves according to their rights, customs and traditions?
If we base ourselves on statements and actions that are taken by the Legault government on a daily basis, young Quebecers will be convinced that it is legitimate and fair to have built Quebec’s collective wealth on the backs of First Nations, by depriving them of their right to their territories and resources and
That the rights of the “Quebec nation” in terms of culture, language and heritage are superior to those of other nations who share the territory and that this national supremacy is legitimate. The AFNQL is very concerned that this initiative, with such strong nationalistic content put forward by the Legault government, will be taking us back years whereas, it could have been a step forward towards the Systemic Reconciliation that First Nations are proposing to Quebecers. There are other ways to build national pride,” says AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard.