Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Big Bear and Cultural Responsiveness

I know that I write about educational change and 21st century classrooms. Today I feel like I should give you a book report of sorts. I was excited to get an e-copy of "Big Bear" by Rudy Wiebe for my Sony Reader. I teach in Treaty 6 country and was amazed at the compelling story told about Big Bear, Poundmaker and others. I consider myself well read and culturally responsive and I am excited to have found such a great resource, yet I am embarrassed I have not read more on our history told by it's original peoples. This book is truly one of the best I have read in a while.
Treaty Map
Here a few excerpts:

"The running hooves drummed Big Bear into another country, calling and calling, as the buffalo effortlessly fanned out before him. The gashed wounds left in the animals' flanks by hunters they had once and then again outrun dripped brilliant red in the rhythmic bunch and release of their muscles, and then there was only one great cow running, floating strong, growing large until beside him streamed the tufted stick of her tail, the rolling leap of muscle in her hindquarters, and he felt life surge within her, her heart in that violent, happy thunder as she ran true the great curve of Earth, as he drifted along her flank, and for an instant his arrow pointed at her, one instant and its feathers burst in the course hair behind her shoulder. And her rhythm rippled momentarily, her heart staggered as his arrow feathers flamed into double blossom. Then his horse had to swing sharply aside or he would have pitched her over her, falling.
He stood where her magnificent head furrowed the ground and he prayed, asking forgiveness of the Buffalo Spirit for this death, giving thanks for the life that had thereby been granted. And saw a coyote standing on a rise beyond her, mouth open laughing. And he also saw what Coyote was laughing at: a fountain of blood growing out of the ground like a hideous prairie lily opening upward, and he stretched out his hands to stop that. But it burst between his fingers, higher, he would never be able to squash it back into the earth, while Coyote on another rise now stood laughing, mouth open. As his whole world changed to blood."

I was amazed at the stories shared by descendants of people that were there when the treaties were signed, the buffalo disappeared, the land bought, the battles at Cutknife, Frog Lake, Cypress Hills and Batoche.

One of the most notable things I had to look at from a new perspective was how the treaties promised that the Indians would be looked after when the buffalo were gone. Nothing could be farther from the truth, they could not be expected to become farmers at the drop of a hat. I was not aware of the level of suffering and starvation in the Indian people, most notably the followers of Big Bear who refused to sign the treaty that looked to him like a lie.

The numbers in the book paint a grim picture of Indian assimilation.
  • In 1870, there were 40 000 total Indians in treaty areas.
  • In 1880, there were 32 549
  • In 1885, there were 20 170
If you are a Canadian, you must read this book! You could be like John A. McDonald who never visited the west, saw only a handful of Indian people and made decisions regarding all of these proud people from a distance. None of us should remain distant from our history. To truly understand the plight of First Nation and Metis people all of us need to continue to seek knowledge from one another.

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