Erasing the Indigenous

October 10, 2017 § 6 Comments

In 2015, then-new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justified appointing women to half of his cabinet posts with ‘It’s 2015.’  And we all applauded.  He was elected largely because he wasn’t the incumbent Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.  But he also won based on election promises of gender equality, LGBTQ equality, as well as a ‘new deal’ for the indigenous population.

But here we are two years on, and the plight of the indigenous population of Canada remains the same as it ever was.  Trudeau has not exactly lived up to his campaign pledges to re-set the relationship between First Nations and the Canadian state.  This is not all Trudeau’s fault in the sense that he reflects a deeply racist Canadian society.  I have written about this numerous times (here, here, here, and here, for example).

Last week in my Twitter feed, I was gobsmacked to come across this:

This couldn’t be real, could it?  It had to be another bit of Twitter and untruths.  But, no, it’s real:

Even Global News picked it the story today.  So, let’s think about the history presented in this Grade 3 workbook.  According to it, the indigenous population of Canada agreed to simply pick up stakes and move to allow nice European colonists to settle the land.  Nevermind the centuries of occupation, and all of those things.  Nope, the very nice Indians agreed to move.

I wish I could say I was shocked by this.  I’m not.  This is pretty much part and parcel of how Euro-Canadian culture thinks about the indigenous population, if it thinks about the indigenous population at all.  Or, when Euro-Canadians think about the indigenous population, it’s in entirely negative ways; I don’t think I need to get into the stereotypes here.

I tried to do some research on this workbook and the company that published it, Popular Book Company.  My web sleuthing turned up next to nothing.  If I Google the book itself, all I get are links to Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Indigo.ca (Indigo is Canada’s largest bookseller).  Finally, I discovered that this series is popular amongst homeschoolers in Canada, and, as of 2015, over 2 million copies were in circulation.  My attempts to find anything out about Popular Book Company came to nothing; all I could find out is that it’s a subsidiary of a Singapore-based company, PopularWorld.

I suppose the actual damage done by this outright stupidity is limited.  Nonetheless, it exists.  But how this stupidity occurred is another thing.  From what I learned on the interwebs, this edition of the Grade 3 curriculum was published in 2015, the previous edition in 2007.  I can’t tell if this stupidity was in the 2007 version, but it is certainly in the 2015 edition.

I have experience working in textbook publication. I have written copy for textbooks, I have edited textbook copy.  And I have reviewed textbooks before publication.  And this is for textbooks at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary education.  To get to publication, textbooks go through rounds of edits and expert review.  My guess is this didn’t happen here.  I have also worked with provincial boards in Canada to revise curriculum, including textbooks.  Deep thought and careful consideration goes into this process.  And I have friends who work with homeschoolers, at least in Québec, to ensure that the textbooks and curriculum homeschoolers use and follow is appropriate.  And they take their job seriously.

So how did this happen?  Who wrote this stupidity?  Who allowed it to go to publication?  And why did it take two years for anything to happen?  Initially, Popular said it would revise future editions of the workbook.  Eventually, however, it agreed to recall already extant versions and make sure that this is edited when the book is re-printed.

Great.  But how did this happen in the first place?

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§ 6 Responses to Erasing the Indigenous

  • “The First Nations people’s agreed to move to different areas to make room for the new settlements.” Indeed they did! We Indians (i.e. Indian Indians, brown guys:) did it too! We made room for the nice Europeans because they needed land to live on, then they needed our natural resources, our people to labour in their armies, our minds and then our souls. Now we have school history textbooks that contain distorted accounts of our history! People are beginning to realise what’s been happening, thanks to all this information on the net. A few years ago you wouldn’t have been able to let us know that this is happening in Canada… I completely understand how you feel and I’m glad you’re doing what you can about it. Hope Popular keeps its word.

    • Ah, yes, the plight of the sub-continent. Another discussion that could go on for days. I guess the sad truth of history is that it is incumbent upon the wronged group to remember the history of that wrong and to educate others about it. Eventually, of course, it ends up as common knowledge. But, for example, the Shoah was kept alive by the Jewish population of, especially, the United States, both in terms of memory, but study and publicization of it. So when the mainstream becomes aware of something, it is only after many years of the victim group (whether South Asians, Irish, Armenians, the Jewish, the indigenous, etc.) trying to remind us of the historical wrongs.

      It’s kind of depressing. But, it does seem to be how it works.

      I would hope Popular keeps its word. It kind of has to.

  • While I agree that the wronged group has to remember and publicise the true history of a people, I feel that’s it’s too late to do anything about it as the new generation is acculturated to the ways of the group that wronged it in the first place. I can’t help thinking of Alex Haley as the prime example of what I’m trying to say. Twelve years of painstaking research followed by a book that should tell the black kids in America about their cultured African backgrounds seven generations ago. Do they know? Can they connect? Does it alter their perceptions of themselves as descendants of a people who were proud and independent, not just descendants of stolen people sold into slavery?

  • Yes, it does become common knowledge, and that has its uses too, even if it’s just knowing. I was shocked when I first heard about the Armenian genocide two years ago (as it was the centenary year it got press coverage) as I had never heard of it before.

  • I came across so much of stuff regarding the ‘hidden history of African Americans.’ I don’t know what to believe! Just adding this note as I made a reference to Alex Haley earlier on this page and I’m thinking what I wrote then makes no sense in the light of all the material that is out there…

  • I think it’s an unfair burden for the victim groups to have to be the ones who remember, to make the rest of us do so. But that seems to be the way it is. I don’t know if anyone reads Roots anymore, but in my experience, every African American I’ve ever known knows how his people came here.

    There was a pretty good Canadian film made surrounding the Armenian genocide, back in the 90s, Ararat, by Atom Egoyan.

    Sometimes the memories of the oppressed group become common knowledge, as is the case with slavery, the Shoah, the Irish Famine. But even then, it takes the memories and lobbying of the oppressed group, mixed with support from the mainstream to get the event into the public eye and consciousness and to remain there.

    And when it comes to the indigenous in Canada, while there are Euro-Canadians who work hard to keep the horrible history visible, for too many Canadians, it’s easier to ignore it, which allows us as a nation to keep our sense of smug superiority over the United States.

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