It was early in my teaching career when I had an experience that truly opened my mind about the power of ‘miseducation’ and how easily the dominant narrative can influence young people to develop their individual perspective…
As I walked the halls as part of my supervision duty I heard some loud noise and chanting from around the corner. As I approached to see what was happening I was met by an excited group of grade 10 students in the midst of their final project for their Civics class. They were involved in an assignment where each student was protesting a common issue from various Canadian perspectives - a great authentic learning opportunity for all the students participating. As the students streamed past me carrying their protest signs, many dressed in character; you could feel and see their engagement. It wasn’t until the final two students in the class rounded the corner into my view that my heart completely sank.
The two students, who I knew well and would be considered high academic achievers in their cohort, had been assigned the role of providing a First Nations’ perspective on the issue. To my surprise the way I, as a Haudenosaunee person, was represented was through one student donning a Plains style ceremonial headdress, and the other student donning a replica hatchet, war paint, and a sign that read “stay off our land”. To the untrained eye this may have perhaps gone unnoticed or unchecked. However, as a First Nations person, I found the characterization and stereotypical portrayal problematic. Moreover, I thought about the First Nations’ students who witnessed this event and I thought about what might have been running through their minds.
In that moment so much went through my thought process, but the thing that resonated with me the most was not that these two students had perpetuated hundreds of years of stereotypes, rather it was about the role that I/we as educators can play in re-education and unlearning the colonial narrative. When I look back at this event, and think about the learning opportunities that followed for that particular class and teacher, I recognize the value of constructive dialogue. On a personal level, it was from that particular occurrence that entirely changed my practice as an educator to be more explicit in teaching about stereotypes, bias, assumptions, voice, and dominant narratives.