Ann Pohl of the Coalition for the Advancement of Aboriginal Studies passed on this letter from a non-Aboriginal teacher and one response from a member of CAAS. We'd be interested in hearing from others.
In my OAC [Ontario Academic Credit] Canadian Lit. course I include a unit on
Aboriginal writing where we also discuss and research
oral traditions. I would like to develop a purely
Aboriginal story/myth telling course eventually.
Jennifer, Canadian, secondary school teacher
I have been teaching Aboriginal literature at Lakehead University for a
long time. I think it's great that you include Aboriginal
writing in your CanLit class.
However, exciting, enriching and important as the oral traditions are, I,
as a non-Aboriginal person, never taught them (I may have alluded
to them) as I know that at least the Anishnabe people in my
area (who were often my students) are not comfortable with
classifying their orally passed down stories as "literature"
- to be de-contextualized and analysed in a classroom setting.
But I always did have a class on the limitations of the written and printed
word when it comes to publications of so-called legends or myths (Ralph
Maud did some work on this) so that my students would gain an idea of the
infinite number and versions of a story of which they would only see
one in a book.
At Lakehead University, the oral traditions are taught in
Indigenous Learning by an Indigenous professor.
Let's talk some more.
Dr. Renate Eigenbrod, non-Aboriginal scholar in Native Literature
>This is a very interesting question ... I have struggled with it for some
>time ... here are some of my struggles:
>Right, we cannot analyse in the classroom sacred stories, however, if the
>oral traditions are not included then "Canadian Literature" really means a
>very limited aspect and viewpoint of that history ...no?
>On the other hand, the word 'literature' has so many, many connotations.
>Since, sadly, in high schools at least in Ontario, we are far away from
>having Indigenous Studies courses, Canadian Lit. seems to be the only
>possible place to gain some understanding.
>The arrogance of saying that meaningful 'stories' only started once this
>country was 'discovered' (i.e. Catherine Parr Traill stuff) is unpalatable
>to me, but sometimes, so is treading along a sacred path and having
>students not understand the depth of what they
>are hearing. Note: I have nothing against Catherine P.T. herself, only
>that one would think that she and her sister were the first human beings
>to ever reflect upon ALL of Canada if one only went by the Can Lit
>offerings in many courses. Unless, of course, Columbus' self-important
>musings are also included!
>What do others think?
>P.S. I am so grateful for this forum!!
>P.P.S. One further note: Perhaps part of my dilemma is that I teach High
>School Seniors in the heart of Loyalist Country. I am always moved by how
>eager they are to learn about Indigenous cultures, but I am also saddened
>by how little they know. Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory is 20 minutes from our school, if that, but the majority of my students have only ever 'passed through' it on their way to Kingston!