June 21, 2017

On National Aboriginal Day, Rapport is pleased to bring you a number of relevant posts, from book reviews, to a reflection on a visit to a former Residential School, to a snapshot of a museum display on First Nations people in Vancouver "before the city."

As Ontario's curriculum is in the process of being "enhanced" with more FNMI content (overall expectations), we should all take an opportunity to read something new, discover a new perspective, or challenge ourselves to teach something unfamiliar next year. 

In addition to this week's blog posts, here are a few suggestions: 

Wrapping up for the Summer

Rapport will be taking a break over the summer, with a few posts here and there but no regular publishing schedule. 

I am seeking contributors for next year. If you're interested in writing for Rapport, please email me, Risa Gluskin, your editor, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thank you for reading. I hope you have enjoyed the blog. 

 

Risa

 

 

By Risa Gluskin

Our history subject council, Toronto History Humanities and Social Science Subject Council (THHSSSC), had been planning a trip to the former Residential School in Brantford for quite a while. We finally went on May 26, 2017. The Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, home to the under-renovation former Mohawk Institute, made for a revelatory trip.

The Mohawk Institute, in operation from the 1830s to 1970, brought the TRC’s Calls to Action home to me and many of my fellow visitors. I left feeling that every Canadian should visit a former Residential School and hear a survivor speak.

Even before hearing any stories specific to this school, the visitor gets an ominous feeling when approaching up the long driveway leading to the 1903 building. The building has that heavy institutional look, not a student-friendly appeal. After learning what happened in the building, it seems even more imposing because now you’re thinking of it from the perspective of a scared child.

Photo by Alan L. Brown, 2004.

 

Under renovation, 2017.

 

Woodland Cultural Centre houses a museum that tells the story of the people of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Their collection contains items left behind in the former school. Most touching were the quilts that were found up in the rafters of the building, left there by the cold and lonely students wishing for the comforts of home. In the virtual tour video other objects are shown: candy wrappers, marbles, poker chips. The building itself and its contents are historical evidence of the human stories that occurred in this brutal place often called the ‘mush hole’ – if children refused to eat a meal of overcooked porridge, the exact same food and bowl would be given to them for the next meal, possibly two. 

 

After our virtual tour of the building and actual tour of the museum, we were lucky to hear from a survivor, Geronimo Henry, now 80 years old.  Geronimo’s mother sent him to the Mohawk Institute in 1942 after his dad left and she had to choose between walking to her job or sending him to school. As Geronimo revealed, she never visited him, which meant he didn’t go home in the summers like some of the other children. He spent 10 years there. It was heart wrenching to hear him talk of his anger toward his mother, later his forgiveness of her. It also tugged at the heart strings to learn of the way he and the other children entered the school – each was given a number (48 in his case and 36 to his brother) and told that’s how they’d be referred to. It’s hard to imagine a child spending 10 years known as a number – as he recounts, it was sewn into his shirt, his pants, even his socks.

Geronimo Henry speaking to students in Waterloo, 2016. From the Waterloo Region Record.

 

To hear an 80-year old man use the language of regimentation to refer to his “school” is very sad for an educator. He started working when he was seven. Boys like him worked on the school’s farm. They milked cows and gathered eggs yet they never got to enjoy those foods. We as educated teachers may know that kids in the schools were malnourished, but to hear it from am survivor makes one cringe. To hear that boys scavenged food at the local dump built adjacent to the school property is shocking.

I looked at the run-down school building differently after Geronimo’s talk. I saw it almost as a monster that ground down little children. Walking around the outside in the tall, messy grass, with bricks strewn here and there and machinery lying about, I felt ashamed as a Canadian yet somehow empowered with new perspective.

It was an eye-opening day. It’s crucial for teachers to ensure the truth is heard and to make it matter to all Canadians.

Doing History: Profiles of people working in history but not as history teachers. 

 

How did you come to work in acquisitions in the broadcasting field?

I’ve worked in acquisitions and programming at TVO for fifteen years. Before that, I worked in the Ontario Centre of the National Film Board of Canada, where we often partnered with TVO both officially and informally. Having spent five years working in a documentary production environment, it seemed a natural progression to this position, with its emphasis on factual and documentary programming.

 

Do you think history has the power to connect young people to the world? How so?

Absolutely! One of the guiding principles of TVO’s current strategy regarding history programming is to focus on acquisitions that help explain how we got here from there. In other words, programming that explains the current world situation through the lens of history. For example, the 3-part series, The Ottomans: Europe’s Muslim Emperors traces the rise and fall of one of the world’s most influential empires, with particular emphasis on how the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent carve up of its lands sowed the seeds of many problems that still haunt us today. Our “living history” series like Victorian Farm and Wartime Farm connect a younger audience to a different time period by showing in a real way what it would be like to live in another era. I think the combination of explaining today through the past, and understanding yesterday through a contemporary lens is very powerful.

 

Reviews by students of John Myers at OISE.

See below for reviews of:

The Inconvenient Indian

Secret Path

Fatty Legs

A Stranger at Home

Peace Pipe Dreams

A National Crime

Clearing the Plains

Ravensong

Ancient People of the Arctic

What are your job title and job responsibilities at the Aga Khan Museum?

My job title at the Aga Khan Museum is "Museum Educator".  My role is to prep, and deliver educational programs for school groups.  As a Museum educator/part of the education team, we are also responsible for improvement of programs, creation of new/updated programs based on new exhibitions and to brainstorm possible ways we can tie certain programs in with the Ontario curriculum.

 

What is your educational background? When did you graduate from university?

I graduated from the University of Toronto in 2012.  I majored in history with a minor in religion and human geography

 

What other museums have you worked in?

I've worked for the Markham Museum as an educational program instructor as well as a curatorial assistant.  I have also worked for TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) as an exhibition facilitator.

 

How engaged are students when they visit the museum?

Generally students are quite engaged.  Level of involvement does vary between age groups.  A lot of times, it is up to us, the educators, to adapt to the different ages and try to engage them more.  In my experience, most students are very engaged/are very interested in the artifacts and also with the hands on workshops.  As the groups get older, for example a grade 10 class tends to be a little less responsive to questions and are less inclined to answer questions/give comments, however, they are still very interested in the museum and artifacts, they are just less verbal compared to say a grade 3 class.  

 

How do you prepare yourself for potential questions by visitors?

I make sure I do my homework.  We are given all information on artifacts and it is up to us to learn the material.  There are also tours that happen daily that we are more than welcome to take part in; when I was first hired, I would go on multiple tours just to hear different tour guides' talk about the artifacts.  Obviously, we cannot know every little detail about every artifact, but we try our best.  I have learnt over the years from working at museums that it is perfectly okay to say "I don't know" when a visitor asks a question.  When that happens, it causes me to be curious and want to find out the answer. 

 

What drew you to the study of history?

I have always been into history.  I see history as a mystery.  We look at evidence found from the past in attempt to figure out a story of what happened.  There is cause and effect, there is push and pull, there is human interaction, religions, which all comes together to paint a picture.  That has just always been so interesting to me.  History is much more than memorizing dates and remembering how to spell strange names.  Often times historians find new information/new evidence on something we have believed for years and suddenly what we thought we knew about a specific event and/or time period needs to be re-examined and that is so intriguing.

 

Do you have any advice for students wishing to pursue a career in the museum education field?

My advice for students pursuing this field is to make sure that this is something you really enjoy doing.  For me, if I didn't work at a museum, I would be visiting one, so it works out that I get paid to be in one.  It is definitely not the easiest path because full time positions do not come easy in this field, however, it is very rewarding.  When a student completely understands what you are teaching them, or a visitor genuinely thanks you for expanding their knowledge or you end up teaching someone about a topic that they didn't even know existed, there is nothing like it.

 

Editor's Note: I had a wonderful tour of the museum from Casey Lee at the Aga Khan Museum in February, 2017.