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Dion, Susan. “Braiding Histories: Responding to the Problematics of Canadians Hearing First Nations Post-Contact Experiences.” PhD diss., Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, 2002.


This research project was initiated by an unwillingness to accept as “natural” the knowledge and truth about Aboriginal people conferred by dominant society and a desire to accomplish change in the “ways of knowing” about Aboriginal people in the schools.

The Braiding Histories project has two central strands and is intricately connected with a writing project entitled Braiding Histories: Learning from the Life Stories of First Nations People. The first part of this project includes the Braiding Histories stories and an analysis of the writing of the stories themselves. These stories are meant to respond to the need for “tellings” that will disrupt the “taken for granted ways of knowing” about First Nations people that are produced and reproduced by the school curriculum. The second strand is an empirical study, utilizing questions initiated by post-structural theory, that involves an investigation of how texts that detail post-contact history get taken up in the classroom. Working with three intermediate teachers in Ontario and using the Braiding Histories stories as a starting point, the author explores how non-Aboriginal teachers, working with predominately non-Aboriginal students, comprehend and make use of their stories. Data were gathered through three main processes: initial interviews with teachers, a series of three planning sessions prior to teaching the stories and a fourth at the conclusion of the project, and classroom audio recordings and samples of student work.

The prevailing classroom discourses that dominate teachers’ approaches to First Nations subject material continue to perpetuate an understanding of Aboriginal people as “Romantic Mythical Other.” The study found that teacher concerns with “teaching well” and “taking care” of the needs of their students contributed to an emphasis on attention to historical details, without attending to the context or significance of those details. This study also finds that the teachers studied were able to structure students’ engagement with the Braiding Histories stories in ways that were framed by their existing scaffolding. Rather than disrupt, the text was used in ways to reproduce existing ways of knowing about the relationship between Aboriginal people and other Canadians.

This study includes a discussion of “historical amnesia” in the classroom; Aboriginal representation and the Ontario School Curriculum; “dangerous memories” and schools as a critical site for learning; prevailing classroom discourses; multiculturalism and the People of Native Ancestry documents; anti-racist education and the 1991 Native Studies Guide; critical pedagogy; decolonizing education; and the concept of voice. The project also deals with difficult learning, notions of telling and (re)telling stories, the difficulties and questions associated with retelling, teaching and responsibility, and empathy and the history classroom.

Given the findings concerning the scaffolding that structures teachers’ approaches to the stories, is it possible to work with teachers to investigate and explore the scaffolding that structures their work? Is it possible to dismantle and reconstruct a scaffolding that would serve transformative practice? One approach might be to prepare a Protocol for Teachers to use with the Braiding Histories stories that would provide teachers with adequate support for sharing the stories with their students in a way that does not do violence to the hope of changing “ways of knowing.” Concerning implications in the classroom, how do teachers define learning? How are their expectations of themselves as teachers implicated in their classroom practice?

Mary Chaktsiris