Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

The Stories Nations Tell: Sites of Pedagogy, Historical Consciousness, and National Narratives

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

The Stories Nations Tell: Sites of Pedagogy, Historical Consciousness, and National Narratives

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 1908, a monument to French explorer Samuel de Champlain, and founder of New France, was installed in Ottawa, the Canadian capital. The original had two statues. The first portrayed Champlain at one-and-a-half-times his life-size, resting atop a tall plinth, his triumphant gaze fixed into the distance. The second was a miniature loincloth-clad Indian scout crouched in a position of deference and servitude on a plinth at Champlain's feet. From the beginning, the monument became a lightning rod of contestation and debate (Neatby & Hodgins, 2012). Early critiques challenged how Champlain, the French colonial hero, had been appropriated into the triumphal history of British imperialism. Later, resentment and anger emerged in light of the monument's patronization and racialization of Canada's Indigenous peoples. In 1996, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Ovide Mercredi, demanded the offending statue be removed. Three years later, the scout was detached from the Champlain statue and placed at a park across the road.

Subsequently, in the 1990s, First Nations artist Jeffrey Thomas's photographic practice transformed the scout into a counternarrative of the initial monument's racialization and marginalization by "interrogating [it] in relation to the late twentieth-century realities of urban Indians like himself' (Phillips, 2012, p. 344). In one piece, Thomas's teenaged son, Bear, sits in front of Champlain, wearing a baseball cap backwards and a graphic T-shirt depicting a nineteenth-century Plains Indian sporting sunglasses, with the text Full Blooded Indian written above it (Phillips, 2012). In another photograph, titled Onkwehonwe, Greg Hill squats on the vacated plinth in the scout's pose, wearing regular clothing but outfitted in a traditional gustoweh headdress fashioned from cereal boxes (see Figure 1). Thomas's interventionist photography points to the power of art to both disrupt and counter dominant storylines of the colonial and national past by visually inscribing a "silenced Indigenous memory" (Phillips, 2012, p. 341). Moreover, it exemplifies Counter National Narratives 3.0, described later in this article.

The controversy around Canada's Champlain Monument and others like it that is erupting around the world (see, e.g., Renzetti, 2015) reveals the power and controversy inherent in sites of pedagogy--classrooms, textbooks, monuments, memorials, national historic sites, news media, architectural spaces, arbitrated cityscapes, and public performances--that construct and communicate national narratives (Carretero, 2011; Donald, 2009; Ellsworth, 2005; Nora, 1996). These national narratives are discursive devices that combine history, collective memory, and myth into teleological communications of a nation's past, present, and future, what Hobsbawm (1990) has called "the nation's programmatic mythology" (p. 6). Often, they attempt to suture a country's differences by representing its citizens as belonging to a larger national famiglia, the imagined community of the nation-state (Anderson, 1996).

The national narratives constructed and communicated in sites of pedagogy frequently encompass or reflect what Wertsch (2004, 2008) terms "schematic narrative templates"--underlying abstract structures belonging "to particular narrative traditions that can be expected to differ from one cultural setting to another ... [and] are not readily available to conscious reflection" (2004, p. 57). These templates pervade through time and "act as unnoticed yet very powerful coauthors when we attempt to tell 'what really happened'" (2008, p. 142). Wertsch (2004, 2008) distinguishes between "specific narratives" and "schematic narrative templates," noting that while the former "deal with 'mid-level' events that populate textbooks, examinations and other textual forms" the latter "involve a much more abstract level of representation and provide a narrative framework that is compatible with many instantiations in specific narratives" (2004, p. …

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