Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop session at the Great Moon Gathering Conference in Cochrane, Ontario. This little town on Highway 11 is in a sense the ‘gateway’ to the coastal communities as the train, the infamous Polar Bear Express, moves people and supplies to and from Moosonee and Moose Factory and is one of the last ‘flag stop’ train services. (This train is also a tourist attraction where visitors from all over the world come to learn about Aboriginal culture and to see the northern landscape.
This conference is organized by Omushkego Education which is a regional partnership of First Nation Communities who are active within Mushkegowuk Council. As well, as promoting and maintaining a Cree vision and language, they also promote life-long learning and are active in advising, supporting and assisting the education partners in their communities. This conference is primarily for teachers of Aboriginal students up the James Bay Coast in northern Ontario who teach in the federal schools on the Indian Reserves; however, other teachers from Northern communities who also have Aboriginal students in their classes attended as well.
I gave a presentation on Web 2.0 applications that could be used to enrich classroom learning; thus, while I was there, I was able to attend a workshop session by Vicki VonZuben who is a teacher in Kashechewan who recently has become a school board Literacy Coach for the coastal communities. As a teacher Kashechewan for the last four years, she has sought educational materials that reflect the Aboriginal experience. I was interested in her presentation because I always have some Aboriginal students in my classroom and I want to offer some literature that reflects their culture and experience. Although VonZuben’s presentation was more focused on the Primary-Junior levels, I was focused on what materials I might use in an Intermediate or Senior classroom.
Here I will discuss and list what resources were shared and some other materials that I have discovered on my own.
1. Tomas King – Best known by me for his radio comedy show on CBC Radion One for four years, “The Dead Dog Café”, which was originally a café in his second novel Green Grass, Running Water. The café has all sorts of ‘dead dog’ items on the menu. In this show, three characters get together to create a radio show though none of them know anything about radio: Jasper Friendly Bear is the optimist, Gracie Heavy Hand is a no nonsense business woman and Tom King who plays himself, he thinks he knows both native and white culture, but he doesn’t understand either! He was borth in Sacramento, California in 1943 and is Cherokee, German and Greek descent, so he does have a less traditional and varied background. His first novel Medicine River, which was published in 1986 was considered a significant contribution to Canadian Literature. He is trying to redefine Native literature which has primarily held the white perspective and focused on colonization. His collection of short stories One Good Story, That One is a mix of humor, traditional mythology and contemporary issues. The main reasons I would use his materials: his blending of the traditional and the contemporary provides for critical analysis and reflection on current Aboriginal experience, and his use of humor to make comment on life and the human experience. He also has funny children’s books featuring the Wily trickster Coyote, for example, A Coyote Solstice Tale, A Coyote Columbus Story, Coyote’s new Suit and Coyote Sings to the Moon.
2. Good Minds—A Native owned and operated business located on the Six Nations Reserve at Brantford, Ontario. It began with the Gathering of the Good Minds CD-ROM Project which developed into an exceptional interactive CD-ROM portraying the history of the Iroquois based on The Great Law of Peace. As a result of this success, they created Good Minds to be a single-source of quality native resource material from Native and non-Native publishers: books, videos, CD-ROMS and educational kits.
3. Joseph Boyden—I haven’t yet read The Three Day Road, but through my connections with other English teachers across North America, I have noted that there are several teachers who are including in their course syllabus. Reading this book is on my ‘to do’ list, and I greatly regret that I didn’t know any better when Joseph Boyden came to our city and DIDN’T hear him speak! This event was held at Northern College in my community, and he used to teach there in the Aboriginal Student Program. Boyden was born in 1966, grew up in the Toronto area and attended the Jesuit-run Brebeuf College School. Like King, Boyden has a mixed descent—Irish, Scottish and Metis—and combines the traditional and the modern in his writing. Three Day Road, the first in a planned trilogy, is about two Cree soldiers serving in the Canadian military during WWI; it was inspired by the story of the Ojibway Francis Pegahmagabow, a legendary WWI sniper. The sequel, Through Black Spruce, focuses on Will, the son of one of the characters in the previous novel. The final novel has not yet been published. Most interesting to me is his first collection of short stories about which I was unaware until the Great Moon Gathering presentation—Born with a Tooth. It is described on Quill & Quire: The collection “charts [sic] the resources, rituals, misgivings, and misfortunes of a cast of characters on a Northern Ontario native reserve…a series of windows into a culture that has endured heartbreaking sabotage over many years…” The students I teach from this region would be engaged by the narratives that accurately describe the landscape and the reflected experience of its inhabitants.
4. Sherman Alexie—I’m a big fan of his The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian novel that is set on a Spokane Indian Reserve in Washington State. It’s a semi-autobiographical story of Alexie’s growing up experience. Although it definitely constructed and embellished for the purpose of storytelling, he recounts several events from his personal experience of being the first Aboriginal to leave the Reserve to attend the white school in the nearest town. It’s hilariously entertaining! I use this novel in a grade 11 college level class, and I haven’t ever had a student start that book and NOT finish it. Within the story he touches on several relevant Aboriginal issues. I quite enjoyed the film version of Smoke Signals which has comparable elements. There’s also numerous YouTube clips online with Alexie speaking to students. His official site is also a good resource for additional essays, books, articles and links.
5. Athletes from our First Nations, by Vincent Schilling—I have found that there’s always a significant number of high school boys who are looking for athletic books in the library. This non-fiction book contains profiles of 13 outstanding Aboriginal athletes in figure skating, race car driving, skiing, bowling, ringuette and hockey. It’s labeled ages 9-13, but it’s definitely engaging materials for older low-level readers.
6. The Man who Ran Faster Than Everyone: Tom Longboat, Jack Batten—A recent biography about the story of Tom Longboat (1187-1949), a Six Nations Canadian athlete who won the Boston Marathon in 1907 in record time and competed in the 1908 Olympics. His interesting history includes serving in WWI as an army runner. Although this is an engaging story, it has been criticized for not containing any First Nations’ perspectives.
7. Dance Me Outside, W.P. Kinsella—This book contains seventeen stories narrated by Silas Ermineskin and is set on a Cree Indian reserve in Central Alberta; the stories center on the lives of the people that live on that reserve. This renowned author focuses on baseball, First Nations people and other Canadian issues. There is an excellent film version of this novel as well.
8. Bear-Walker and Other Stories, Basil H. Johnston—A collection of Ojibway stories collected, translated and retold by Basil Johnston, a noted Anishinabae author and educator. This author is well versed in Aboriginal history and has written Indian School Days, Magic Weapons: Aboriginal Writers Remaking Community After Residential Schools (co-author), Anishinaubae Thesaurus, Ojibway Ceremonies, Ojibway Heritage, Tales of the Anishinaubaek, Crazy Dave, and The Star-Man: And Other Tales.
9. First Nations Catalogue of Books, Organization of Book Publishers of Ontario—This comprehensive catalogue is a great resource to search for other resources related to your course, class or purpose.
10. Learning Resources, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada—This Canadian government agency produces learning resources on Aboriginal culture. There are “fact sheets, quizzes, games, stories and other learning resources” which “encourage a better understanding of Aboriginal life and the issues facing Aboriginal youth.” This Kids’ Stop link on the learning resources page is a interactive fun zone for kids to learn more about Aboriginal history, culture and language. There are games and stories, as well as classroom resources for teachers. These resources could be useful in the elementary classroom, but they are also useful resources for the high school Native Studies course in Ontario or even a Native Art class. In particular, Through Mala’s Eyes is a recommended resource for studying Inuit culture.
11. I Lost my Talk, Rita Joe–This poem, written by this poet laureate, is excellent for exploration of the Aboriginal experience of being subjected to residential schools where they were not permitted to keep their language. Read more about Rita Joe.
I Lost my Talk
I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubencadie school.
You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad, about my word.
Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.
So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So i can teach you about me.
On the day I am blue,
I go again to the wood where the tree is swaying,
Arms touching you like a friend,
And the sound of the wind so alone like I am;
Whispers here, whispers there,
Come and just be my friend.
– Rita Joe’s last poem found on her typewriter.
12. Under the Northern Sky, Xavier Kataquapit – Originally from Attawapiskat, Ontario on the James Bay Coast, he writes a popular news column that is published in newspapers across Canada. He has a website by the same time where he sells a book of his column stories titled Stories of the Cree. He provides insight into his people’s culture and traditions.
If you are aware of effective resources that are not listed here, please add a comment below!