Thursday, September 25, 2008

Colour An Indian: The Struggles Of An Anti-Racist Parent

My little guy Destruction started grade two this year.  Each night his father and I sit at the kitchen table with him and supervise his homework.  We consider this family time and are both equally invested in making sure that our child is learning.

scan001001 Tonight little Destruction brought home a page to colour of an Indian. It described her as living in the forest behind his school.  There are no Native children in his grade, and I cannot help but wonder if there were, would the teacher still have found this "image" acceptable?

No matter what the teachers intent was, colour an Indian, is unacceptable.  I quickly informed Destruction that he is to say either Native Canadian, or Aboriginal person.  I also reminded him of a Native family that we have been friendly with for years, and asked him if they looked like this horrendous picture.

He said, "no they look like you and me." I told him certain clothing is worn to celebrate traditional Native holidays, but it is certainly not representative of the ways in which Natives dress today. Then he brought it up...the Disney movie that is on my list of top 10 hated movies...Pocahontas.  We then spent the next 15 minutes explaining to him everything that is wrong with that movie, and why it is not representative of Native peoples.

Each day we must struggle to impart positive messages about race to our child, and to find out that the school is subverting our work in this way is infuriating.  With thanksgiving a few weeks away, I suppose I should not be surprised that the education system sees this as an opportunity to spread falsehoods about Native Canadians.

I am already preparing myself for the false tales of the long suffering Jesuit priests who tried desperately to Christianize the heathens, all the while ignoring the broken treaties, the stolen land, the murders, child abuse etc.  The colonization of Native Canadians continues to this very day.

They are over represented in our prison population, Native Canadian women suffer from the most amount of rapes, they largely live in poverty, and have high rates of obesity.  Colonization of Native Canadians has real and lasting effects, and this will all be over looked as our children learn about the great explorers Samuel de Champlain and Jacques Cartier.

I intend to inform my children of the history that the government would like us to forget.  I will remind them that the land on which our home is built is not ours; it is Native land.  I will remind them that the comforts that they take for granted were paid for by Aboriginal blood. 

Being an anti-racist parent means a commitment to telling our children the truth. Much of Canadian history when it comes to race is actually quite ugly though we collectively would like to believe that we are not "that bad".  You see, discursively many Canadians develop an identity by seeking to assert difference between us, and Americans; rather than admitting to a true and distinctive identity that has its own issues.

Tomorrow I will send this little homework assignment back to his school, informing his teacher that my child does not, "colour Indians".  My child is being raised in a household where all bodies matter and we will not tolerate the reduction of anyone based in ignorance.  


AR said...

I wouldn't be so quick to assert what the proper terms for American Indian are. Where I live, anyway, there is considerable disagreement even among Indians, many of whom find the phrase "Indian" preferable, and "Native American" highly distasteful. Russell Means, a well-known advocate for Indian rights, is one such person. Is it different in Canada?

Indeed, your use of "Native Canadian" strikes me as rather strange, since Canada is a political entity. A Native Canadian would merely be someone born in Canada, which would presumably include your children themselves!

FeministGal said...

Progressive parenting is so important, and extremely difficult because you always have to be "on" and analytical of everyday things. And what's more is that you then have to explain them to a child who is just trying to go about her/his daily business. Good for you for pausing, thinking, and teaching! Your son will grow up progressive, analytical, and valuing equality because of his mommy :)

lyndorr said...

I don't know about other people but I remember learning about how they tried to convert the Natives as being a negative thing. I and my friends in grade 6 couldn't imagine people who would come into this new land and try to convery people. We learned about the diseases that was spread.
However, even when learning about the civil rights movement and feminist movements the present was never discussed which is a shame.

tiggrrl said...

Ugh. Did I tell you about my post on racist portrayals of native Americans in daily comic strips? That picture could be right out of one of them, seriously. Here's the link:

Renee said...

@AR I am using the terminology that I have been specifically requested to use by the Aboriginal peoples that I have come into contact with. If I were to come across someone who found that term offensive and requested to be called something else then I would of course defer.

In my primary school education I was fed many untruths regarding Aboriginal peoples. Though I did not write it in this post, there was also an issue last year at this school regarding a school pageant that was clearly racial appropriation. As a parent I am committed to teaching anti-racism to my children. I am unwilling to depend on the education system to teach the proper message when they have continually taught revisionist history that privileges certain bodies.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

I linked this story to my blog Renee.

I am proud of your work and dedication to being a progressive and anti-racist parent. Bravo to you and your partner for your commitment to this with your son.

I would be interested in knowing what the teacher will say when you return this back to her/him tomorrow.


Renee said...

@Ojibway Migisi Bineshii Thanks so much for the link love.

MizDarwin said...

Seconding OMB--you *must* post the follow-up on this! Very interesting.

Renee said...

For those that are wondering I still have not heard a response back from his school. If the teacher does not respond today, I will be calling the principal on Monday. I don't want Destruction exposed to anything like this in the guise of education ever again.

bint alshamsa said...

Renee, I have linked to this post on my blog. I had a few comments about this post and about what AR said above and it was sort of long so I just wrote in on my blog instead. Of course you're welcome to read it and/or comment on it. Thank you so much for teaching your son about these issues.

Burning Prairie said...

As a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, I prefer that or Indian. Indian is so much a common term around here (Oklahoma), that I feel just a moment of confusion whenever I here or read a story about Indians from India. I go to the Indian Hospital and have a CDIB card. American Indian is ok, but I have never heard anyone in my family or anyone else refer to themselves as Native American. I usually just say I am part Cherokee. And we don't usually say tribe, we say Nation, because we are members of a sovereign nation.

Renee said...

@Burning Prairie...thank you for the clarification and I will speak to my son about using the word Indian. I just want to make sure that whatever terminology that we use that it is not offensive or othering in any way.

Tina said...

Yet again you add to the massive fangirl crush I have on you. Thank you so much. I'm also going to watch my kid's backpack for such.

Anonymous said...

OMG. "It described her as living in the forest behind his school." <--- this makes me think of a squirrel or other benevolent forest creature, not a person. I can't remember anyone describing ME as living in a forest, even though the entire island I live on is basically a rainforest with little spaces carved out for buildings and roads. People don't live in forests, they live in buildings that are located in forests.
I remember learning a little bit about Native Canadian history in HS social studies, so I think (or hope) it's getting better. It was about half a chapter, if you stuck it all together. By the time I graduated, the administration had made a new course specifically about Native history. It isn't mandatory, unlike 2 of the (white) history classes, and it's a little telling that they didn't dare displace any white history by adding more Native history to the regular classes. But it seems like they at least recognize the problem with the way history is taught now, knock on wood.

@AR, at least in my corner of Canada, native Canadian and Native Canadian mean 2 different things. I am a native Canadian, since I was born here, but not a Native Canadian, since all my ancestors came from Europe.

Danyell said...

I always found it completely disturbing how in public schools it's still okay to teach kids to be racist towards Native Americans. And when people make claims as to what it means to be a "true American", guess who they hate to be reminded of?

I don't have any kids yet, but it will be very tough & interesting having to correct everything her/his teacher says in regards to Columbus & the first Thanksgiving- it's all lies! Why is it that religious zealots can sign their kids out of evolution classes & sex ed, but another parent can't pull their kids out of a class that is based on racist assumptions & fudged history?

Firouza said...

So did you call the school Monday? I'd like to know how it went

Renee said...

The school informed me of the programs that they have been running to fight racism and improve tolerance in the classroom. It was more of the we are multi cultural bullshit which I cannot fault them for because it is provincial mandate. That image was an attempt at including Native peoples into the conversation.
I informed that anything that treats a group of people like that image did is racist. They disagree and felt that it was making it simple for the kids.
The unhusband and I are just going to have make sure we keep question our son to make sure that he is not getting a message we do not approve of. We watched Dances with Wolves as a family today and put to rest a lot of the fallacies that the school thought was a good idea to teach regarding Natives.

One Hundred Movie Reviews said...

I want to chime in on the issue of missionary work among native peoples. If a person truly believes that Jesus Christ is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of history then leaving your home, traveling thousands of miles and learning a new language in order to tell that story to people who had never heard it before is an heroic act of love and charity. Marginalizing the faith of such Christians is just as racist as marginalizing the native cultures.

Of course the reality of the situation is very comples, and the motives of the actual missionaires was not so pure. I submit to you that the motives behind the evils that were done at that time were economic rather than religious, and to label the missionaries as evil because they wanted to convert the indians is dangerously misguided. The missionaries were evil because they brutally exploited the native peoples. I believe that the distinction is important because there are missionares today who are out there teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone who will listen, and they should not be lumped in together with the villans in our history.

Tasha said...

Hi. I wanted to thank you. As a Seneca woman (albeit an American one -- not a Canadian one), I am constantly fighting the public school systems in their portrayal of Indian people. (And yes, as someone else said, many of us DO use the phrase Indian. Although we much prefer the nation we are actually from, in reference to who we are.) It is nice to hear of a non-native family also fighting the good fight.

Niyáwë (Thank you).