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Finding Franklin: New Approaches to Teaching Canadian History Symposium Day Two

Posted by Dr. Rose Fine-Meyer
12 June 2015 - 7:19am

Finding Franklin: New Approaches to Teaching Canadian History Symposium                       

Ottawa, Ontario-Thursday June 4 and Friday 5, 2015

Second blog: Dr. Rose Fine-Meyer

Day Two.

On the second day of the “Finding Franklin Symposium” we gathered once again at the Parks Canada offices. Historian Lyle Dick and website developer Stewart Arneil began the day with a presentation of the research process and website development of the Franklin Mystery. Their PowerPoint contained a fabulous collection of primary documents. They explained that the focus of the Franklin website was to present two parallel stories: the story of European exploration and the story of the Inuit homeland. They wanted to educate Canadians about the history of the arctic as well as the history of the Franklin expedition. They gathered a wide range of diverse documents, selecting those materials that provided different perspectives. They wanted those visiting the website to view, for example, maps with multiple perspectives, demonstrating different concepts of time and space. They noted that European maps represent “spaces one moves through” as opposed to Inuit maps which represent “spaces to live in.” Arneil spoke about the challenges involved in bringing together content (metadata), visuals (interface) and incorporating user interactions.

Historian and educator Ruth Sandwell then provided an overview of the Mystery Quests, speaking specifically to the teaching and learning materials. Students are given the tools (evidence) to draw conclusions. After reviewing scholarship in the field, including the work of Peter Seixas, Roland Case and Stéphane Lévesque, she noted that students need support in making sense of the evidence and this is achieved through the use of Teachers Guides and the Mystery Quests (which can be downloaded). The Franklin Mystery includes a series of interviews that provide different interpretations. They also incorporate key concepts in historical thinking and are structured around Critical Thinking Challenges.

Those in attendance were then able to break out into group work/discussions, wonderfully facilitated by James Miles, David Bussell and Heather McGregor. Each group was provided with a set of questions and a selection of primary documents from the Mystery Quests. After some investigation and lively debates, each group was able to draw conclusions to suggest possible answers to questions posed by the mysteries. My group explored documents for younger grades that asked students to draw conclusions about which ‘people’ were more prepared to survive in the arctic: the Inuit people or the European “explorers.” Students find primary documents and visuals that provide evidence related to clothing, food, supplies, environment, housing, and land use.

After the group work, Ken Beardsall and Liz Fowler, Nunavut educators and Knowledge Holders, shared Nunavut educational materials related to the Franklin Mystery. They noted that the Nunavut Education Act was “based on Inuit societal values and principles; that students learn the stories of Inuit Elders.” The grade 8 course, for example, focuses on Nunaliriniq, or “land thinking” or physical geography. Students listen to oral narratives which explain the significance of the land to the Franklin story. Liz noted that one of the challenges was with language difference: “Inuktitut and English people think differently about land.” The Inuit, for example, do not name geographical features after famous people, the way European explorers did. She demonstrated some of the differences through an examination of place names. In Inuit culture, the names of places have a story behind them: “about the land, about the lakes and animals that live there; places where one can find fish, or where the ice melts.”  Place names are the knowledge that is passed on from the elders and which are essential for survival; where there is open water, or strong currents or deep snow. Liz added that unlike the Europeans, the Inuit would not rename other people’s land, because they would respect that local names provide important knowledge, and a connection between people and their land. Inuit language has words that speak to the important of interconnections, of working together, and of sharing. The Inuit people survived by working together and by having an intimate knowledge of their environment.   English names such as Victoria Island, Vincent straight, or Hudson Bay, named after prominent leaders, do not provide people with an understanding of the land.

After lunch the forum continued with talks by Alex Makin and Heather McGregor. Alex Makin, a teacher in Whale Cove, Nunavut, explained about his teaching in the arctic. He said an educator teaching Indigenous histories had to understand many things. For example, one needs to have patience when speaking with Elders because the “process” is as important as the “answers.” He noted that in teaching the Franklin story, he realized that there were three themes: reliability (the students already have great knowledge about their land and people); there needs to be a strong emphasis on Inuit ways of knowing (this needs to be central to all stories) and finally, the importance of team work. Liz Fowler noted that The Inuit have not been writing about themselves for a long time due to issues of government intervention, resettlement, residential schools, and land destruction and control. She asked, “How can you be part of the change when you’re not part of the change?” The many new initiatives related to education in Nunavut are now addressing how to articulate about the Inuit people, respect and honour their histories, and move forward. She noted “Education not for but by and with.”

Heather McGregor, who was central to the organization of this forum, provided a summary of her work with the Mysteries educational materials and the use of primary materials and role play. The Inuit have one word for interviews which is “our story.” English has multiple words, such as interviews, oral histories, testimonies, information etc. She noted that all Inuit documents, provided on the website, have multiple voices which resonate throughout and provide a deep understanding of the Inuit people.

Finally, we were all privileged to have an opportunity to view some of the artifacts found on the Franklin ship HMS Erebus. The Parks Canada conservators were willing to answer questions as they showed us the original Captain’s Bell and Wedgwood china plates. The conservator noted that they were still sitting in water in order not to shock the items, which had been immerse in frigid arctic waters for century and a half. Conserving the artifacts involves special technology. Each day they warm the water slightly and remove the salt, allowing the items to slowly adapt to their new environment. She noted that this slow process preserves the artifacts. Eventually the artifacts will be on display for Canadians to observe. (I have attached two photos, one of the bell and one of the china plates.)

In summary, the two day “Finding Franklin Symposium” was an extremely exciting forum for me to attend. I was grateful to hear from historians, educators, conservators, curators, archivists, students, and teachers from across Canada. Thank you to THENHIER, under the exceptional leadership of Dr. Penney Clark, and its partners, for supporting and organizing this inspiring event. The Franklin expedition and its newly uncovered findings, and the launch of the “Franklin Mystery: Life and Death in the Arctic,” part of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History, gave those of us privileged to be present, an opportunity to explore this historical event from multiple perspectives. But, more importantly, it also brought us all together (from coast to coast to coast) and gave us a space to share and learn from each other.

Photos: By Author