Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"So, What's a White Girl like Me Doing in a Place like This?": Rethinking Pedagogical Practices in an Indigenous Context

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"So, What's a White Girl like Me Doing in a Place like This?": Rethinking Pedagogical Practices in an Indigenous Context

Article excerpt

This article addresses the question of whether a white academic can act as an ally to Native students and faculty in their struggle to "Indigenize" the Canadian university system. Through an analysis of two personal experiences teaching in an Indigenous context, the author argues that university classrooms can become spaces of liberation and decolonization. This transformation is possible when the traditional power dynamic between teacher and student is destabilized, the role of the teacher is decentred, and priority is given to the reading strategies that Indigenous students bring to the texts and to the Indigenous texts themselves.

Cet article pose la question a savoir si un universitaire blanc peut se proposer comme allie d'etudiants et de professeurs indigenes dans leur lutte pour l'<> du systeme universitaire canadien. A travers l'analyse de deux experiences personnelles de I'enseignement dans un contexte indigene, l'auteure avance l'argument que les salles de classe universitaires peuvent devenir des espaces de liberation et de decolonisation. Cette transformation est possible Iorsque le rapport traditionnel au pouvoir entre enseignant et etudiant est destabilise; le role du professeur et decentre; et la priorite est accordee aux strategies de lecture apportees par les etudiants indigenes et aux textes indigenes eux-memes.


Native writing, publishing, performing, reviewing, teaching, and reading necessarily take place ... in contexts shaped and controlled by the discursive and institutional power of the dominant white culture in Canada. Editorial boards, granting agencies, publishing companies ... enact policies of inclusion and exclusion, and produce meanings based on norms extrinsic to, even inimical to Native values and interests.... So, what's a white girl like me doing in a place like this? (Hoy, p. 14)


Helen Hoy's question above, a self-reflexive acknowledgment of her complicity as a white academic in the unequal relationship of power between Aboriginal (1) peoples and mainstream cultural institutions in Canada, acts as a framing device for her book, How Should I Read These?: Native Women Writers in Canada. By appropriating Hoy's question as the title of this paper, I acknowledge with her the problematic ground on which I stand. For I too am a white academic writing and teaching on Indigenous cultural production in Canada. According to Cherokee scholar and University of Toronto English professor, Daniel Heath Justice, however, the often repeated imperative that "non-Natives stay out of Native Studies" (2) is an inadequate solution to my dilemma. As he writes: "It has never been as simplistic as 'only Indians should teach/write about/talk about Indian issues.' Considerate non-Indians have a place in our communities and we hold enormous respect for those who are sincere and responsible, regardless of their ethnicity ..." (2001, p. 266).

That I have a role to play as a white ally of Indigenous peoples is emphasized by Renre Hulan, an English Professor at St. Mary's University. In her reading of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), published in 1996, she highlights the ethical imperative it places on Canadians of all ethnicities and races to become more rather than less involved in learning about the histories and cultures of Canada's First Peoples. "The authors of [RCAP]," she writes, "repeatedly stress ... the importance of educating the 'public mind.' Drawing attention to the general lack of information about First Nations issues on curricula in particular, they 'urge Canadians to become involved in a broad and creative campaign of public education'" (RCAP, qtd. in Hulan, 1998, p. 220). For Hulan, the participation of "those who teach Canadian Literature," whether they be Native or not, is key to the success of "this public education" (Hulan, p. …

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