- Susan D. Dion (Author)
Braiding Histories: Learning from Aboriginal Peoples' Experiences and Perspectives. University of British Columbia Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- David Bouchard (Author), Shelley Willier (Author), Steve Wood (Translator), and Jim Poitras (Illustrator)
The Drum Calls Softly. Red Deer Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Susan Gingell
For those interested in attempts to recreate Aboriginal storytelling in textualized forms, the multimedia and bilingual English-Cree format of The Drum Calls Softly is an engaging instance. David Boucher’s and Shelley Willier’s English stanzas precede Steve Wood’s Cree translations on the most left-hand side of each two-page spread, and Jim Poitras’s pictures of Aboriginal people in mostly natural environments overlap the left page as well as being accorded full right-hand sides and four two-page spreads. Thus graphic particulars insist on the importance of visual aspects of the story. The emotive reading of the narrative poetry on the accompanying CD, complete with drumming and singing by Northern Cree, flute music by Bouchard, and sounds of flowing water and crying raven, not only reproduce other aspects of embodied storytelling, but they foster Cree language learning by allowing students to hear the sounds of the Cree words, strangely printed without accents. Over the course of the storytelling, the magic of the round-dance to the heartbeat pulsing of the drum becomes one with the circle of a child’s day from dawn to night and with natural and human lifecycles.
The Aboriginal storytelling of Education professor Susan Dion and her brother Michael Dion’s Braiding Histories: Learning from the Life Stories of First Nations People project has a more explicitly pedagogical context. The Dions (re)tell three stories: those of historical figures Plains Cree chief Mistahimaskwa/Big Bear and Shanawdithit (Beothuk), and that of their mother, Audrey Angela Dion (Lenape), the latter intended to honour her and help counter the impression given in so many schoolbooks that Aboriginal people “are a people of the past.” The narratives were designed to reclaim the Aboriginal past from hegemonic historical accounts and to “contribute to a discourse that affirms the agency of Aboriginal people and recognizes [their] work as active agents resisting ongoing conditions of injustice.” Again the stories are richly contextualized, this time by drawings, photographs, and maps, but the guiding questions and poetically textured statements that preface the stories could have more clearly addressed the issues Susan Dion wanted classroom teachers and students to consider.
Braiding Histories records Dion’s learning from work with three intermediate level teachers of History and English and their students for whom the stories became instructional materials. By documenting the preparatory work she did with the teachers and as much of the classroom work and student assignments as tape recordings, student submissions, and teachers’ records made possible, Dion shows how her counter-hegemonic purposes were subverted by curriculum expectations with regard to Aboriginal peoples that have not changed much since Basil Johnson wrote his salutary essay “”Is That All There Is? Tribal Literature”; by a vision of history as principally a vehicle of self-knowledge; by the scripts of pastoral care of students, understandings of what it means to teach well (stay in control, teach facts and information, build vocabulary, help fashion students into good citizens proud of their personal and national histories) and multicultural and anti-racist pedagogies that teachers brought to their teaching; and by the partially acknowledged limitations of the instructional framework at the beginning of the Braiding Histories narratives.
Professors and students of Canadian literature are likely to find of most interest two features of Dion’s book. The first is revelations of the limitations of multicultural and anti-racist approaches to teaching about Aboriginal people in Canada, approaches that may well help students learn to celebrate cultural difference and that stress common humanity, but leave intact students’ sense of Canada as essentially a first-rate place to live despite some unhappy chapters in the past. Perhaps most tellingly Dion demonstrates the limitations of empathy-evoking teaching strategies that both leave uninvestigated the way contemporary Canadians have benefitted from the various violences to Aboriginal peoples in Canada and serve to re-inscribe Aboriginal people as victims with little agency, while also reinforcing non-Aboriginal students’ sense of themselves as kind, caring, and empowered subjects. The second is Dion’s elaboration of a critical pedagogy of remembrance that she facilitates by having students create a “file of (Un)certainties.” Students are required to collect and write about cultural artifacts that contributed to their (mis)knowledge of, and structured students’ relationship to, Aboriginal peoples while also analyzing the cognitive dissonances produced by learning from exposure to Indigenous knowledge in the form of Aboriginal artists’ and scholars’ representations of their people and way of life.
- The Soul of the World by Catherine Rainwater
Books reviewed: Earth's Mind: Essays in Native Literature by Roger Dunsmore and Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native Women's Writings of North America by Gloria Bird and Joy Harjo
- Aboriginal Storytelling by Susan Gingell
Books reviewed: Braiding Histories: Learning from Aboriginal Peoples' Experiences and Perspectives by Susan D. Dion and The Drum Calls Softly by David Bouchard, Jim Poitras, Shelley Willier, and Steve Wood
- The Full Circle by Madelaine Jacobs
Books reviewed: Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture by Eric Guimond, Madeleine Dion Stout, and Gail Guthrie Valaskakis
- Art Objects and Family Heirlooms by Renée Hulan
Books reviewed: Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America by Sarah E. Boehme et al., Looking North: Art from the University of Alaska Museum by Aldona Jonaitis, and Imaging the Arctic by J. C. H. King and Henriette Lidchi
- Life at High Latitudes by Sherrill Grace
Books reviewed: High Latitudes by Farley Mowat, Inuit Journey: The Co-operative Venture in Canada's North by Edith Iglauer, and Thunder on the Tundra: Inuit Quajimajatuqangit of the Bathurst Cariboo by Kitikmeot Elders, Sandra Eyegetok, Naikak Hakongak, and Natasha Thorpe
MLA: Gingell, Susan. Aboriginal Storytelling. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #205 (Summer 2010), Queerly Canadian. (pg. 131 - 132)
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