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From the ‘Great Black North’ to Idle No More: Infusing Canadian Content Into Your Classroom

The Great Black North

March 31, 2014

Originally posted: Spring 2014

“….But we survived /so in every Country, every Province, every City/When they ask me/ Where I’m from/I tells ‘em/My Whole family tree/From the roots to the leaves/ Are Canadian history/We are The Black Scotians ” –Reed “Izreal” Jones. “The Black Scotians” in The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry (p. 150).

What do Canadians such as Sir James Douglas, Nora Hendrix, and Drake have in common? Paulette Thompson spoke at the Washington Council for Social Studiers Annual Retreat at Lake Chelan on Friday, March 14, 2014. She presented on the African Canadian past, present and future from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, from Loyalist to Caribbean. The father of British Columbi and the grandmother of Jimi Hendrix are Canadians with African diasporic roots

Thompson used the poetry from the recent book, The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry, as a way to draw people in. A poem such as Reed “Izreal” Jones’, “The Black Scotians,” is a veritable trove of Black Canadian history because it takes the reader from Mattieu da Costa in 1603 to the Underground Railroad to today, all the while reminding everyone of the poet’s roots in eighteenth century Nova Scotia. The poetry in this anthology represents the diversity of people of African descent in Canada. Various poems could be used to infuse Canadian content into U.S. classrooms as well.

While poetry is more likely to be considered English Language Arts territory, primary source documents tend to be firmly on social studies ground. Session participants were also interested in the civics lessons of the Idle No More movement, an indigenous social movement that went worldwide. Idle No More took us back to Canada’s Indian Act and its connection to Bill C- 45. Bill C- 45 became federal law in Canada in 2012, changing rules concerning First Nations’ sovereignty, especially the leasing of reserve lands by First Nations communities, protection of waterways, and processes to assess environmental concerns. These changes were pushed through without consultation with indigenous leaders — even though the Canadian government is required to do so before passing legislation affecting First Nations communities.

One chief, Theresa Spence, started a fast to protest the refusal of the Canadian government to talk with indigenous leaders. After several weeks, the Canadian government was pressured to talk with Chief Spence as a result of flash mobs, blockades, rallies, teach-ins, and other actions all over Canada and then the rest of the world.

It was through the use of social media that four women (three indigenous and one EuroCanadian woman) and then others built a protest movement. This movement allowed us to think more about the role of social media and social change in our classrooms. The session attendees talked about comparing and contrasting these issues on both sides of the border.

There was so much to talk about in the session. Unfortunately there was too little time. Participants did begin a conversation about the fact that there is a place for African Canadian content in our classrooms.

Mary Bernson, Director of the East Asian Resource Center at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies also talked about the retreat and Thompson’s lecture: “The Social Studies Leadership Retreat, held annually in Central Washington by the Washington State Council for the Social Studies, attracts an audience of teacher-leaders from around the state. The Jackson School of International Studies is a conference co-sponsor, in recognition of the contributions made by Canadian Studies and other Jackson School Centers that send speakers every year. Paulette Thompson, a highly regarded teacher and Council board member, led an effective session that built upon her experiences learning about Canada and teaching in the Seattle schools. Because this is a residential conference, she was also able to share her knowledge informally during meals and breaks.”

“STUDY CANADA,” the Pacific Northwest National Resource Center on Canada’s annual professional development workshop, has been offered by the Center for Canadian-American Studies at Western Washington University for the last 34 years serving educators from almost every state in the nation. The Institute is funded, in part, by a Title VI grant from International and Foreign Language Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education. Paulette is a Humanities and World Language Teacher in the Ida B. Wells School for Social Justice and a U.W. graduate student in Education, Curriculum and Instruction (Multicultural Education). View the K-12 STUDY CANADA website.