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Briscoe, Angela. “Representations of Mohawk & Native Histories in High School Textbooks: A Comparative Analysis of English-Language & Mohawk Textbooks in Quebec.” M.A. Thesis, Concordia University, 2005.


This study begins with the premise that history education is particularly important to the reclamation of cultures, heritages, and histories by the Native peoples of Canada because the subject aims to teach students about where their ancestors have come from. This, in turn, conditions the reaim of possibilities that students can envision for the future. The overall aim of this research is to identify and articulate some of the differences between Native and western approaches to studying and teaching history. This thesis asks four central questions: What discourses are used to teach Mohawk youth about historical events? What are the main characteristics and principles of the historical discourses presented in the Mohawk text? Are those discourses also represented in the English-language history textbook for Quebec high schools? And, finally, how might changes be made to the content of the English-language provincial textbook to include Mohawk self-representations of their communities’ histories?

The research approach used in this study draws heavily from developments in action and community-based research methods, and employs a theoretical and conceptual approach that aims to reflect the interests and concerns of Native people. Proceeding from the assumption that multiple histories exist and are taught to young people to instill in them an appreciation of their political and cultural heritage, the design for this research aims to describe and interpret Mohawk historical discourses as represented in the social studies text Seven Generations. The English language text approved for Quebec’s History 414, Diverse Pasts, was also analyzed to compare Mohawk and ‘mainstream’ representations of key events, concepts, and issues. The provincial textbook analysis is used as a point of contrast which serves to highlight those characteristics that are most distinctive about Mohawk self-representation. This analysis is also influenced by key informant interviews with Mohawk people specializing in the fields of history and education.

This analysis found that the Mohawk discourses presented in Seven Generations affirm, explain and argue the legitimacy of Mohawk claims to sovereignty and territory. The discourses presented in Diverse Pasts, on the other hand, are ambivalent in their representations of Mohawk claims to sovereignty and territory, and generally omit critical discussions of Mohawk claims and issues related to colonization. Seven Generations contributes to the national identity and culture of Mohawk students through the reiteration of principles of world view, sovereignty, and territorial claims. However, the language used in Diverse Pasts presents Native people generally as “Other” and contributes to the identify formation of those Quebecois students who identify with a European-Canadian subject position. Therefore, discourses in Diverse Pasts and Seven Generations reveal a dichotomy between representations of the Iroquois and Mohawk as distinct, autonomous and diverse nations and representations of Native peoples as a homogeneous group with tenuous claims to self-determination and dismissible claims to territory. The author concludes that the representations of native peoples in both texts are examples of the dividing practices described by Foucault (1983), wherein discourses mediate knowledge of ourselves and others through polarized understandings of groups.

This study includes discussions of the following topics: residential schooling and policies of assimilation; textbook representations of “Indians”; literature in the field of multi-cultural education and curriculum development concerning race-, class-, and gender-based inequalities; the processes of knowledge production and reproduction of social inequalities; history and multi-cultural education in Quebec; and indigenous critiques of historiography.

An important area for future research would be to consider how discourses communicated in history curriculum, including classroom teaching and textbooks, shape young peoples’ awareness and understandings, if at all, of contemporary social and political issues. Further research on the consumption of discourses by high school students could also be used to expand our understanding of the role and relative importance of textbook content for the formation of young peoples’ political awareness and engagement. This study also suggests further research concerning the role of history education in shaping young peoples’ sense of citizenship and national identity.

Mary Chaktsiris