Unsettling Settler Narratives in the Pre-Confederation Canada Survey: What I’ve Learned, part III

Published on: 14 Oct 2019

The instruction sheet below describes a student assignment I designed for my pre-Confederation Canada course. Although the assignment is perhaps best suited to a pre- or post-Confederation survey with fewer than 40 students, it could be adapted to larger classes and other kinds of history courses.

Part I

Part II

Since territorial acknowledgements have become commonplace in universities but also criticized in ways recently summarized by Joe Friesen in Intersections, the assignment was designed to give students an opportunity to think critically about some of these issues. The assignment also required that students reflect upon their relationship to the colonial histories that I was discussing in lectures. I wanted to help them see how these histories were not just in the past but had consequences that were on-going.

Although my aspiration for this assignment was to be meaningful and relevant to both settler and Indigenous students, their experiences will be quite different. Indigenous students who have access to family and community connections are likely to have a very good understanding of how they are situated relative to Canada’s colonial histories and in these cases I would encourage them to integrate that knowledge into the project. Some do not have those connections or knowledge, in which case the assignment could, ideally, be an opportunity to learn about and reconnect with their own personal histories. I talk to the class about the strengths and weaknesses of the information on Native-land.ca and encourage Indigenous students to draw on their own community histories instead. I also encourage all students to approach the final presentation in their own unique ways, including content and mode of delivery.

For both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, hearing about colonial violence is distressing, sometimes traumatizing, and can lead to a sense of powerlessness, hopelessness, or anger. I hoped that this assignment would help students to process these feelings and to see their own histories as important parts of the learning process. The project’s successive stages was intended to give students opportunities to create community and bonds of mutual support; to evolve, grow, and change over time; and to share their skills, knowledge, and talents. I also hoped it would empower students to engage in transformative acts outside the classroom.

I am happy to answer questions and I welcome suggestions about how to improve the structure or content of the assignment. Please use the comment function below or email me at cnielson@mtroyal.ca.  

Territorial Acknowledgement: Situating Self in Canadian Colonial Histories 

Part A: 5% [pass/fail]

Choose a location on which you or an ancestor live or have lived.
Use Native-Land.ca to identify the Indigenous group(s) that claim this land as part of their traditional territories.
Use the same website to identify the Indigenous languages spoken in this territory.
Use the same website to identify whether this territory has been claimed by the Crown through a treaty relationship or if it is un-ceded land.
Submit a written description of your findings.
Part B: 10% [Group self-assessment with written justification]

In-class discussion of the politics of maps and mapping, language recovery and revitalization, treaties and treaty-making. :
Readings: “Conceptions of Space,” excerpt from Smith, Linda Tuhiwai, Decolonizing Indigenous Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2012); Marie Battiste, “Micmac Literacy and Cognitive Assimilation,” in Cannon and Sunseri, eds. Racism, Colonialism, and Indigeneity in Canada (2011); J.R. Miller, “Canada’s Treaty-Making Tradition” in Burnett and Read, eds. Aboriginal History, A Reader (2016).

At the end of class, write an assessment of your group’s performance, give yourselves a letter grade, and submit it to the instructor.
Part C: 10% [evaluated by instructor]

Reflect upon your relationship to processes of colonization: What is the nature of your relationship to the land on which you live? How has colonization of Indigenous space affected you and your kin? What historical processes led to your or your kin’s residence on this land?
Read Chelsea Vowel’s blog post https://apihtawikosisan.com/2016/09/beyond-territorial-acknowledgments/ 
Create a detailed and meaningful territorial acknowledgement that integrates what you’ve learned from each of these exercises.
Share your acknowledgement in a 5-10 minute in-class presentation.*
 *If you would like to be excused from this in-class presentation, please contact the instructor to arrange for an alternate mode of delivery.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Michael Broadfoot, Kit Dobson, Liam Haggarty, Adele Perry, Irene Shankar, Renae Watchman, Carol Williams, Michelle Yeo, and all the students in HIST 1131 Winter 2019. Any absences, shortcomings, and errors are entirely my own.


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