Mini-Lesson for Inconvenient Indian
Mini-Lesson for Inconvenient Indian
- Indigenous Studies: Arts, History/Politics, Identity/Society, Issues and Contemporary Challenges
Warnings: Image of middle finger, hunting and dead animals, blood, some nudity
Overarching Question: How can practising and reclaiming culture be a form of resistance?
Educational Synopsis: An adaptation of Thomas King’s bestselling book, the film Inconvenient Indian dismantles North America’s colonial narrative by reframing history through the powerful voices of those who continue to practise Indigenous culture. The film features highlights from the book such as the cabdriver, Coyote, taking the author/narrator on a journey through the colonial version of history while exposing misconceptions of white supremacy and the attempted erasure, assimilation and genocide of Indigenous Peoples. The activities in this mini-lesson centre on reclaiming, amplifying and celebrating Indigenous cultural practices such as oral tradition, land-based learning as a form of resistance, and reimagining the role new technologies can have on uplifting and sharing Indigenous culture while unravelling misconceptions about Indigenous Peoples.
Activity 1: Oral Tradition and New Technologies
Video clip to watch:
CIRCLE: If possible, have students arrange chairs or desks in a circle or U-shape.
REFLECT on the quote “The truth about stories is, that’s all we are” and what this statement means to you.
CONSIDER the role oral tradition has within Indigenous culture.
- What aspects of oral tradition were exemplified in the film?
- How do stories/histories shape who we are and how we perceive the world?
Note: Contextual information is provided below to help guide the students in learning about oral tradition.
RESEARCH: Find examples of Indigenous Peoples amplifying, uplifting, reclaiming, reuniting, sharing and celebrating culture through the use of technology.
Using computers, tablets or phones, students are given 10 minutes (or more, relative to the amount of time the teacher determines) to find examples of Indigenous influencers/changemakers who may be found on various social-media sites (emphasize that students should find actual Indigenous influencers/changemakers). Use search handles including the word “Indigenous” combined with the words “TikTok,” “artists,” “music,” “musicians,” “filmmakers,” “athletes,” “sports hall of fame,” “fashion,” “jewellery,” “influencers,” “changemakers,” “lawyers,” “politicians,” “activists,” “Order of Canada,” “indspire,” “politicians,” “leaders,” “educators” or others that may come to mind.
SHARE: Select one influencer/changemaker and share the following verbally, through social media and/or on sticky notes placed on a wall: name, what that person does, and social-media handle.
Oral tradition is a form of Indigenous pedagogy (way of educating). It is a way of transferring knowledge, stories, genealogy, relationships, history, songs, language, values and beliefs through voice, body language and visuals. This film features examples of those who continue the tradition of Indigenous resistance through cultural practice: Christi Belcourt; Alethea Arnaquq-Baril; Nyla Innuksuk; the Halluci Nation (formerly known as Tribe Called Red); Skawennati; Jason Edward Lewis; Carman Tozer; Steven Lonsdale; and Kent Monkman. Cyberspace and cinema amplify the voices of Indigenous Peoples, which in turn builds access, relationships and education locally, nationally and internationally. Thanks to access and inclusion in the use of new technologies, Indigenous Peoples are no longer being misrepresented and excluded from the screen, as they are now able to be active creators.
Activity 2: Teaching Through Story – Indigenous Pedagogy
Video clips to watch:
CIRCLE: If possible, have students arrange chairs or desks in a circle or U-shape.
RECALL: What was the narration in the film that was connected to the Coyote story about?
REFLECT: What was the significance of the Coyote character in the film and what lesson was the Coyote character trying to teach?
DISCUSS: With a shoulder share partner, discuss the RECOLLECTION and REFLECTION with each other.
SHARE: Students and teachers can verbally share insights into the Coyote character.
In the context of Indigenous methods of educating, stories are more than made-up fictional pieces of entertainment. Stories include the history and beliefs passed down to teach life lessons, while many emphasize the concept of relationality. Coyote or Trickster characters and stories have long been woven into the fabric of many Indigenous circles and distinct First Nations. There are commonalities among Nations, yet each has distinct stories and teachings that align with Tricksters who may take on unique forms within various Nations. Coyote, in some circles, is viewed as a hero or teacher who uses tricks and often ends up in situations that teach it or others a life lesson. Coyote teachings are often set in the past, yet in this film Coyote is interwoven into the film while driving the story and the narrator, which is telling with regards to how cultural ways of teaching are still relevant today.
Activity 3: Teaching Through Land
Video clip to watch:
If possible, go outside with students to an area that is quiet and has elements of nature (trees, birds) and space to sit on the ground in a circle. If going outside is not an option, bring outside in by playing sounds of a calming forest and have students visualize sitting in a circle together outside.
Ask students to close their eyes and listen to the sounds of the natural world (or sound on speakers). Guide them to calm the mind and body down by breathing in and out slowly. While they are in a calm and quiet state, ask students to think (REFLECT) on the statement “We are the land, the land is us” for about one minute.
How can slowing down, connecting with the land and supporting Indigenous land-based learning methods encourage a healthy self and society?
How is practising, celebrating and reclaiming connections to the land a form of resistance to colonial oppression in terms of attempts to dispossess and disconnect Indigenous Peoples from the land?
Give insight into the questions posed. Use the notes in the discussion guide, if needed, to help guide the unravelling of information.
EXTENSION: Time permitting, do one or both of the following:
- A haiku based on the phrase “We are the land, the land is us” (use the 5-7-5 syllables form for the three lines of the poem);
- Have students share their haiku orally in the spirit of practising oral tradition;
- Record and add visuals, then share on social media with the hashtag #we_are_the_land_the_land_is_us.
CREATE a collaborative poster with the words #we_are_the_land_the_land_is_us.
- Use hollow fonts or fonts designed by students;
- Draw elements from the environment into and on the background of the message;
- Depending on the number of students, each student can focus on one letter or one word;
- or: Divide into smaller groups to make a series of “We are the land, the land is us” posters.
Relationship to the land is central to Indigenous cultural identity, and distinct groups have relationships to the land that are unique to them. Language, worldview, ceremony, song, dance, economies, governance, social structures, survival and values are all embedded in the relationality Indigenous Peoples have with the environment. This clip speaks to reconnecting with a pace of life that coincides with deep-rooted connection to the land (which is considered alive), with spirit and in relation to the health and well-being of society. Indigenous methods of education in relation to the land are sometimes referred to as land literacy, land-based learning, place-based learning or traditional environmental knowledge, and they emphasize valuing relationality to the environment and the role we play in ensuring the land is protected for current and future generations.
TAKE ACTION: “You’ve heard the story… do with it what you will.” – Thomas King
RELISTEN: “I’m Not the Indian You Had in Mind,” by Thomas King, is a poem performed by Snotty Nose Rez Kids.
CONSIDER the role media has played in shaping misconceptions and how new media technologies combined with awareness can contribute to the uplifting, celebrating and reimagining of Indigenous cultures and relationships with each other.
COUNTER the belief that the existence of Indigenous Peoples is an inconvenience to society as you know it today and as it will be in the future by creating an UPLIFTING Indigenous Peoples campaign.
- Using the “influencer/changemaker” who was featured in Activity 1 as a source of inspiration or another Indigenous role model…
CREATE a reimagined version of the poem “I’m Not the Indian You Had in Mind.” Replace the title with the phrase “They are the Indigenous person you should have in mind.”
- Choose phrases that counter anti-Indigenous racism and words that uplift and describe positive characteristics and cultural practices.
They are the Indigenous person you should have in mind
They are fierce and beautiful. They are the land
They are knowledgeable of the flowers that reach for the morning sun
They know the stars and are gentle as a summer breeze
They are the Indigenous person you should have in mind
- Create an upstander campaign that shares and uplifts Indigenous people while standing up against the ongoing racism and hate projected upon them.
- Share the reimagined poems in a social-media campaign or in the halls and on the walls of the school and local community.
The term “Indigenous” is used throughout this study guide. Indigenous has replaced the term “Aboriginal” and is the most current term that is inclusive of First Nations, Inuit and Métis. The term “Indian” is outdated and considered offensive by many. “Indian” was a commonly used term to generalize Indigenous Peoples since contact, and it continues to be used within legal documents that connect to the Indian Act. It is used within this document and the film and was intentionally included in the title of the film and book.
Throughout what is now Canada, Indigenous Peoples have always had terms within their own kinship systems and language to define who they are as a distinct group, for example: Kanien’kehaka, “People of the Flint Nation”; Itsa Ĩyãħé, “Mountain People”; Anishinaabe, “the spirit that is lowered from above”; and Mi’kmaq, “my friends.”
Furthermore, many individuals and families have been disconnected from their original names, which has further disconnected Indigenous peoples from an inherent sense of self relating to their culture. Policies such as the residential school system, “Project Surname” and the “Eskimo Tag System” attempted to erase naming and kinship that were traditionally given at birth and passed on, along with spiritual beliefs, through generations. Indigenous names hold histories, stories, lineage and strengths that help nurture a strong sense of identity. As with other cultural practices, many Indigenous Peoples continue to practise naming, while some are reclaiming their identities by legally changing their names or naming their children with traditional names.
Indigenous pedagogy is the method and practice of teaching and transferring knowledge through Indigenous approaches that vary across distinct groups, although there are many foundational commonalities. Some examples of Indigenous pedagogical methods include but are not limited to: holism, relationality, reciprocity, land-based/place-based, ecological, intergenerational (i.e., Elder to child, child to Elder), ceremonial, oral, experiential, trust-based, worldview embedded in language, matrilineal, and collective.
Indigenous methods of education were drastically sabotaged, despite the need for colonizers to use Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge of the land and each other as a means of everyday survival and allyship when establishing themselves on this land. Traditional Indigenous methods of educating were deemed inferior, and colonization tactics including the Indian Act and residential schools stripped generations of Indigenous methods of knowledge transference that support the well-being of the child, the community, society and the land. Traditional Indigenous education methods are integral to the reclamation of culture and deserve to be celebrated.
Oral tradition includes teaching through story, song, dance, art, ceremony and performance, which were intentionally severed and intended to be eliminated through colonization tactics that forbade Indigenous Peoples from speaking their language and participating in ceremony. The goal was to break kinship systems apart. Indigenous languages, land and worldview are interconnected. Oral traditions align with character values embedded in truth-telling, honour and trust. When Indigenous Peoples practise, share and celebrate language, stories, child-rearing practices, teachings, dances, songs and other educational methods, they are resisting the lasting impacts and current methods of colonization that are systemically embedded in most aspects of mainstream social, economic and political mindsets. The reclamation and celebration of culture is a form of resistance.
Cyberspace, cinema and more accessible new communication technologies contribute to the amplification and reverberation of voices that were once misrepresented and underrepresented, on big screens, home screens and now hand-held screens. Cyberspace or cinema can create connections and entry points for deepening understanding, sharing truths and extending the reach of communication and relationship. The kindling of relationships with one another and the natural world can be enhanced or evoked with truth, storytelling and shared experiences ignited through the creation and content of film. Media tools assist in practising and sharing the tradition of sophisticated oral traditions through visual and auditory forms.
Coyote or Trickster characters and stories have long been woven into the fabric of many Indigenous circles as a form of teaching and entertaining. There are commonalities among Nations, yet each has distinct stories and teachings that align with Tricksters, who may take on unique forms within various Nations. Coyote, in some circles, is viewed as a hero or teacher who uses tricks and often ends up in situations that teach it or others a life lesson. Oral traditions that include Coyote stories are one example of methods used for knowledge transference and life lessons. Not all Indigenous groups use Coyote as a central Trickster character. For example, “Napi” is used to teach many lessons within Blackfoot Peoples’ culture. Distinct groups have distinct characters, icons, animal figures or archetypes embedded into beliefs, histories, stories and ways of knowledge transference and life lessons. It is important to connect with local Indigenous communities, Elders and knowledge keepers through protocols unique to them so as to gain first-hand knowledge and understand the protocols in place with regard to who has the right to tell certain stories and when.
Reciprocity, respect, balance and interconnection to overall holistic wellness (spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, cultural) are central to learning from the land. Relationship to the land is central to Indigenous cultures and is a source of identity. Distinct groups have relationships to the land that are unique to them. Language, worldview, ceremony, song, dance, survival and values are all embedded in the relationality Indigenous Peoples have with the environment.
The history and teachings of the environment run deeper than the past 500 years. Nations coexisted, survived, thrived and utilized the environment prior to Crown Treaties and colonial takeover. The connection to the natural world has been disrupted and severed through policies of colonization, assimilation and attempted genocide. Forced disconnection from the environment has contributed to negative impacts on individual, group and societal holistic well-being. Some examples of methods used to disconnect Indigenous Peoples from the land include forced relocation, forced confinement onto reserves, fraudulent land acquisition, Métis scrip fraud, ecocide, environmental racism, forbidding language transference and prohibiting traditional food and medicine harvesting. Outlawing and demonizing ceremonies, which celebrate and honour the natural world, was another method of attempting to disconnect Indigenous Peoples from their cultural way of life as it connects to the natural world.
Despite methods used to disconnect and dispossess Indigenous Peoples from the land and land-based teaching, many continue to practise land-based cultural traditions while passing on knowledge to current and future generations. Rematriation and reclamation in connection to land is an essential component of cultural identity and is a form of resistance.
Anti-Indigenous racism continues to run rampant in the minds, lives and actions of many within Canadian society. Anti-Indigenous racism has roots within policies and practices that have shaped society, and it persists to justify land acquisition, mistreatment, violence and dehumanizing of Indigenous Peoples. Anti-Indigenous racism has caused trauma across generations, which directly impacts the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. It has been the main root of ongoing negative social impacts, including poverty, socio-economic disparity, self-harm, substance abuse, incarceration, low self-esteem, lateral violence, missing and murdered women, physical, spiritual and psychological abuse, and family breakdown. These negative social implications are still used as an excuse by many to continue to hold negative stereotypes and racist beliefs about Indigenous Peoples. But many Indigenous Peoples are thriving. This is an encouraging reality, and new technologies can contribute to this reality by helping to make it known. Despite the grief, hurt and loss that many have and some continue to carry, Indigenous Peoples continue to survive and thrive while resisting the long-lasting effects of colonization.
An upstander speaks, takes actions and intervenes to help uplift and support individuals and groups who are being degraded, attacked or bullied.
This Community Discussion Guide was written in collaboration with project consultant Crystal Clark.
Crystal Clark is a Cree/Dene Métis mother, educator, Indigenous Education Consultant and artist who is dedicated to supporting the Calls to Action. She has a background in New Media studies at the Vancouver Film School, a Bachelor of Education, a Fine Arts Degree, a Master’s degree in Educational Technology, as well as an Indigenous Creative Writing and Visual Arts diploma from the En’owkin Center. In addition to her extensive teaching experience in First Nations communities, she has experience in resource development, research, the facilitation of Indigenous education for teachers across the province of Alberta, and teaching educational technology to pre-service teachers.
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