Persistence through Pedagogy
- Fyre Jean Graveline (Author)
Healing Wounded Hearts. Fernwood (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Blair Stonechild (Author)
The New Buffalo: The Struggle for Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education in Canada. University of Manitoba Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
The New Buffalo and Healing Wounded Hearts testify to harrowing, ongoing struggles for Indigenous access to and control of post-secondary education in Canada against a deluge of systemic and ideological opposition. Composed by scholars in the vanguard of Indigenous pedagogy-a Cree professor of Indigenous Studies at First Nations University and a Métis chair of the First Nations Studies Program at UNBC, respectively-these works seek, in Blair Stonechild's words, to guide and inspire "those . . . who believe in the power of Aboriginal-controlled higher education, the dignity it brings, and the promise it holds for future generations." Despite an overarching confluence of purpose, however, Stonechild and Fyre Jean Graveline could scarcely have brought more disparate tools to bear on their subject matter. Stonechild's The New Buffalo offers "the first major exploration of First Nations post-secondary education policy" in chronologically ordered, academic prose. Graveline's Healing Wounded Hearts, meanwhile, fuses autobiography, poetry, traditional storytelling, scholarly research, and visual art in a work of "Indigenous Creative Non-Fiction" designed to dismantle oppressive hierarchies embedded in language and ideology that stifle the re-imagining of classroom spaces according to Indigenous world views.
Despite Stonechild's deep personal commitment to Indigenous education, as evidenced by his work with Manitou College and First Nations University, he opts in The New Buffalo for a detached and objective tone, broken only occasionally by passionate exasperation (as when he describes the Saskatchewan chiefs' decision to close Manitou College, thereby obliterating the country's only Indigenous-controlled post-secondary institution at the time). Fortunately for Stonechild, the history he relates is so gripping that any reader interested in Indigenous issues will nonetheless remain riveted by this sordid tale of buck-passing, avoidance, and apologetics by federal and provincial governments, and perseverance, resistance, and activism by Indigenous organizations and individuals.
The foundation of Stonechild's argument is that post-secondary education is an Indigenous right rather than a benefit to be meted out selectively by the federal government. Although there is no explicit mention of post-secondary education in the treaties, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled consistently that "the spirit and the intent of the treaties are as significant as the actual wording." Educational responsibility was insisted upon by First Nations leadership during the treaty process to facilitate the flourishing of future generations in radically changing economic environments. Because post-secondary education is essential to success in contemporary Canadian society, Stonechild argues convincingly that Indigenous access is therefore an undeniable federal obligation by virtue of treaty intent. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples agrees, recommending "that the government of Canada recognize and fulfill its obligation to treaty nations by supporting a full range of education services, including post-secondary education." However, even demonstration of governmental commitment in this regard-which has yet to be shown-will remain only part of progressive strategies for Indigenous empowerment until higher education is rendered more relevant to Indigenous students, thereby fostering retention and success, which is why Stonechild calls for Indigenous control over post-secondary education and why Graveline promotes Indigenous pedagogical praxis.
In Healing Wounded Hearts, Graveline dramatizes her personal journey to bring Indigenous world views into the post-secondary environment in an attempt to divest what she calls "Mooniyâs" ideologies-meaning the ideologies of "White peoples" who "Talk with Money"-of their power to alienate Indigenous students. Tearing apart and reconfiguring the English language with unique capitalization, punctuation, and sentence structure, Graveline strives to dig up and display to view the patriarchal roots of mainstream Canadian thought. By turns engaging, inspiring, aggravating, and confusing (at times, all at once), Graveline's methodology at its best forces the reader to self-perceive within a context of ongoing colonial disparity and violence, as in the appallingly beautiful and biting poetic section "She Fought Back," about Cree rape and murder victim Helen Betty Osborne.
Healing Wounded Hearts, however, at times borders on patronizing, as when its author self-identifies as a vehicle for the reader's emancipation from oppressive ideologies. "I am revealing. core Truths about Me.You. Humanity," she writes. "You," on the other hand, "are experiencing MedicineStories." "can I be Midwife to you? in a difficult but necessary Transition. / from Consent to Resistance." Here Graveline constructs the imagined reader as a "Mooniyâs" thinker in need of ideological rebirth. But she must, of course, anticipate a wider audience of "Nehiyâw'ak" (or Indigenous peoples), "Mooniyâs," and others less readily categorized. Also, while she contends that traditional Indigenous pedagogies are non-coercive, allowing the learner to extrapolate meaning for her or himself, Graveline guides the reader repeatedly through her stories, explaining their significance in a multitude of passages that reflect a lack of confidence in the reader's interpretive ability. This is most notable in the final traditional-story section where "Mahê'kun," the wolf-who has quite obviously been an allegorical representation of the author throughout the book-is renamed "FyreMahê'kun," just in case the reader didn't get the connection.
Despite these minor weaknesses, The New Buffalo and Healing Wounded Hearts are important works, particularly when read in dialogue, with the excesses of the latter recuperated by the clarity of the former, whose dryness is then moistened by a sensual mix of poetry and rage.
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- Three Solitudes by Laura J. Murray
Books reviewed: We Are Not You: First Nations and Canadian Modernity by Claude Denis
- Charting Indigenous Pasts and Futures by Keavy Martin
Books reviewed: Lines Drawn upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands by Karl S. Hele and Where the Pavement Ends: Canada's Aboriginal Recovery Movement and the Urgent Need for Reconciliation by Marie Wadden
- Art Objects and Family Heirlooms by Renée Hulan
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MLA: Graveline, Fyre Jean, McKegney, Sam, McKegney, Sam, and Stonechild, Blair. Persistence through Pedagogy. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #198 (Autumn 2008), Canada and Its Discontents. (pg. 176 - 177)
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