Before Reading This Section:
- What is the significance in First Nations culture with ravens? Look into the meanings and share here.
According the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Raven The raven is a fierce and crafty bird which widely figures in native mythology as a mischief maker ; The Aboriginal people of the Northwest Coast had numerous origin myths which explained, for example, how daylight began or why summer and winter alternate. The principal character in many of these myths is a powerful trickster, Raven, who is known to different tribes under various names. On the northern part of the coast, Raven was the most popular crest figure. In the south he was valued as a guardian spirit. Possessors of this spirit are fine hunters who enjoy special ease in killing game. Raven combined the characteristics of good and evil, and for his mischief he was turned black forever. The Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian had moieties they called Raven. (Raven Symbolism - www.The Canadian Encyclopedia.ca )
After Reading This Section:
- “I don’t get it” - how would you explain this section, especially with its odd juxtaposition of the paper bag masks and the raven’s visit?
The author is placing two different symbolism side by side so that we may think of the good? or Evil of where Chanie is at each place the Raven shows up.
A quick internet search will lead you to pages that explain how the raven was a central character in many tales told by the First Nations cultures of the Northwest Coast. I felt like it really made sense to read the following: "He symbolizes creation, knowledge, prestige as well as the complexity of nature and the subtlety of truth. He also symbolizes the unknown and is there to show that every person sees the world in a different way as another" (Northwest Coast Art – The Raven - Native Symbol or Totem | Courtenay, BC )
With the raven symbolizing "the subtlety of truth" and the fact that there are multiple perspectives in the world, it fits right into the messages we're receiving through reading 'Secret Path'. I particularly like the fact that the raven is also connected to mischief and curiosity - this seems to connect with what's usually at the core of a 12-year old and, as such, fits with Chanie - the raven is also able to shift form from bird to human and back again, which I feel makes sense as we move forward in the text (Northwest Coast Art – The Raven - Native Symbol or Totem | Courtenay, BC )
This section plays with imagery and symbolism; the words of "Haunt Them, Haunt Them, Haunt Them" intermingle with the panels that follow in complex ways. The visit from the raven as Chanie begins to truly feel despair leans on our interpretation of the raven as a being that brings out truths; the raven can change it's state of being, and as Chanie realizes that he just might be walking to his end, the raven is in a great position to make a deal - as trickster characters do. The mask brings us back to the reality of the "little monsters" perspective of first nations children and natural tie into the idea of "haunting" - the boys are literally making Halloween masks... But the raven's visit suggests that Chanie and the other "little monsters" can be something more (especially Chanie) - they can go from wearing their "masks" and being what the teachers/priests (colonizers) say they are, to being something more - the way a raven can change WHAT it is, Chanie can too. When the end comes, Chanie can "Haunt Them" by being that story that simply won't go away. Chanie can haunt them by forcing them to see with different eyes. The raven is holding eyes, literally, perhaps to symbolize holding perspectives and a view that can be changed when it NEEDS to, like the raven can change when it needs to. Chanie is on the way to the end, the raven wishes him "ordinary death" since that's all it can do - but it's not quite time. It's almost like the raven has to have Chanie agree to "Haunt them" before the end comes.
I also feel that Chanie is being portrayed as a reluctant participant in this blurry agreement; he'd rather come back, not have this happen and not haunt them...but he knows that, yes, he will haunt them as now there's really no other alternative.
Thanks Janet and Emile - you are both so articulate!
My foray into discovering more about ravens comes from a different source - a picture book that's on the 2017 list of nominated books for the OLA's Blue Spruce award. "Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox" is by Danielle Daniel and on one page, it says:
"Sometimes I feel like a raven
Dark and mysterious
I am both messenger and secret keeper
And help bring light from darkness"
Danielle Daniel (see Danielle Daniel ) is an author and illustrator with aboriginal heritage and lives in Ontario. Reading this page in her picture book helped me understand what the raven might be up to throughout the book, "Secret Path".
I think that seeing the raven as connected to the subtlety of truth works perfectly with the idea of it bringing light from darkness - thanks very much for sharing that work and interpretation.
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I have been mostly a fly on the wall, because I have been busy (I was at the National Education Roundtable for the National Truth and Reconciliation Committee all last week), and because, as Anishinaabe kwe, I am curious about settler folks ideas on teaching of this text, and reconciliation.
I have enjoyed the comments relating to the power of the poetry and graphics. I have a number of concerns, however, with this section.
This is the sort of question, what does raven mean to indigenous peoples, that I would encourage people to not set students to do, do an internet search of the meaning of something to indigenous peoples. One of the Elders I work with does a great activity with teachers. She puts out her bundle (sacred items brought out for ceremony) and then tells people to do an internet search of what the items are, and what their purpose is. The results are problematic, and sometimes hysterical, from an Indigenous perspective. Who knew that you could take a weekend course to become a shaman? One of the sites referenced above is by a settler couple who own an art gallery on Vancouver Island. Not a reliable source. There is also a reference to a book that I think is offensive to Indigenous Peoples, Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox. The author, a Metis woman is talking about totems (terminology never used in Anishinaabe circles contrary to what the author says) and implying that sometimes the protagonist "feels like". I never "feel like" mukwa; I am mukwa. We are born into our clans, and with that come roles and responsibilities. I can't "feel" like I want to be raven (I have never heard of that clan in this Anishinaabe area. Could be teachings that I have just not yet come across). Just because someone self-identifies and gets nominated for an award does not mean it is a reliable source. Look at the book that won, Spirit Bear, by a settler woman. Highly offensive to most Indigenous folk.
This, of course, leads to something core in education that crosses all curricular areas--teaching students to critically analyse their sources.
My point here is to tread carefully on any bit that is referencing culture. Ask Indigenous folk. Everyone who is a teacher has an Indigenous education lead for your board. Not everyone doing this role, though, is Indigenous, and not every Indigenous person is schooled in their own history and culture either. Remember, most of us went through the same public school system, where were never taught about ourselves, and if we were, it was not pretty (trust me here. I went to a Catholic school called Canadian Martyrs where I was taught in gruesome detail about how the "savages" treated the Jesuits).
I think it's fantastic that so many people are thinking of ways to include this text is their schools. I have purchased a couple class sets for a number of schools, and I have seen some phenomenal work being done already from a teacher in my board with it (hi Heather if you're here!). Every province is being tasked to create curricular resources to support this book. And so it is imperative that we start having these conversations to ensure we are all moving forward together in a good way. It is also imperative that we not perpetuate the romanticism, essentialization and stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples as we make these steps.
I hope this helps provide an Indigenous perspective.
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The Jesuits! We could have attended the same Catholic school. History is a very malleable beast; it wants to please its owner, even if that means presenting 'alternative facts'. I, too was guilty of stumbling on the art gallery website. If it is any consolation, I did look into the owners and realized that the facts are filtered through an outsider's lens (with an MBA, no less!). The site is so slick that it oozes veracity and carries authority. I decided to include the quote just because of the reference to eyes. I did find this reference as well: Marshall Cultural Atlas and was interested to see imagery similar to that in the book. It is important to remember that the internet, like politics, presents what people want to see. Thank you for reminding us!
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Thanks for your comments - I totally understand your points around this kind of question and I think you are right to point out the numerous misunderstandings that can easily arise and be perpetuated. You bring forward good points about the system we've all been brought up in and the VERY one-sided history we've been presented - this reality has been the driving force behind the work I am doing with my colleagues around different perspectives in history and not just this particular text (regardless of how great I think the graphic novel and album are). I also agree that we have to be very careful about sending students to find "answers" to questions about culture. In fact, my first inclination was to centre my response around the fact that I was having trouble finding the raven within stories of indigenous peoples of Ontario, but I recognized that I simply had to keep searching, which I did to find examples of stories where the raven "set things right", which seemed to fit with the text and the explanations I had found).
The site I actually referenced sells visual art - but your comment about it not being a reliable source suggests that it was the only page I found, which I can assure you it was not. I chose this particular page because the explanation it provided was consistent with the other pages I had read and this page happened to have the phrasing that I found most eloquent - in other words I checked multiple sources as we would expect our students to do in any research context.
In your last two paragraphs you do a great job explaining just how difficult the process of finding "answers" can be, particularly when we are trying to understanding culture or symbolism and we're working within an education system and society where so many gaps and misunderstandings have been created - thinking of misinformation and romanticism reminded me of this:
Thanks again for sparking my thinking,
Love that video. Are you also doing the MOOC from UBC? I say that all the time. i should get a shirt made.
I do hate this forum for discussion. I do this sort of education for a living, and because it is so important to me. I know well that everyone who has given up their spare time to be a part of this group is coming in with a good heart. I want to help out, so that everyone can develop their own critical lenses with regards to Indigenous education. I certainly do not mean to make anyone feel badly. How could people know much of this? Most of us got nothing in our own educations other than torturing Jesuits and Louis Riel. Maybe Oka Crisis. And there are so many people in the spirit of reconciliation wanting to do more, and are presented with challenges of knowing what, and how to do it best.
Sometimes too I think we all look for cultural ties in a book about an indigenous kid. Maybe it's just a raven with the symbolism from the western canon for the raven. As I mentioned in another response, I immediately thought of Poe's The Raven, and Hitchcock's The Birds.
Hello again, Colinda,
I am taking the course, but I've been familiar with the piece for some time and I'm very much familiar with the concept of the "dead Indian" that seems to be what most people in North America "have in mind". I've enjoyed reading Thomas King's work for a few years now and am currently reading 'Mixed Blood Messages" by Louis Owens before getting to several other texts that I have set aside for my own learning. You're right, we certainly weren't taught any of this at school, which is why I've been doing my own self-directed learning for a few years now, including some digging into a family history that seems to be intentionally unclear (though I digress).
I appreciate the opportunity to connect with you - and I am pretty sure I have seen instances of the kind of misrepresentation that you described within my board (which I have humbly tried to address at the school level).
To be fair, truly developing our critical lens requires work that goes far beyond the kind of discussion and analysis that we're doing as we interpret this text within the context of a book club.
Thanks again - I do appreciate the opportunity to have a healthy discussion with some genuine "back and forth",
Thank you so much for your explanations about the problematic nature of this question and task. As the person who originally created the reflection question, I apologize for the erroneous path that it can (and did) set people on. As a teacher-librarian, I usually consider myself a half-decent researcher, yet I've never come across any of the controversy surrounding the picture book that I cited in my response and that is an important thing to consider with the book. When I triangulate data and information, I consider various sources, but I had no idea about Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox. (By the way, which Spirit Bear book is the one you refer to? Who is the author?) I also want to thank you for responding with patience rather than anger.
How do we sort out self-identified individuals vs those with connections and/or authority? What do we do if our board's Indigenous lead educators are not themselves Indigenous, or familiar with the certain topic? If students or teachers didn't know about what the significance of the raven is, what other ways can they use to ensure their sources are accurate? (Also, at the risk of sounding unwise, what is meant by "essentialization"?) We are extremely fortunate that you are part of this course and brought this to everyone's attention.
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That is the million dollar question!! How indeed. Ask. Find someone in the community who knows or maybe has connections. I have a number of Elders and traditional practitioners "on speed dial." I am very much a learner on this path as well. I have a vested interest, this topic rests so close to my heart, and I have been on this journey for some time, much before talk of reconciliation or the inception of The Secret Path, so I am further along the path than some others. And to top it off, I am bear clan. This means that one of my responsibilities according to my clan is to police.
Part of the problem with the lack of controversy around books like Sometimes.... is that those of us like me doing this type of work get tapped out. I can only raise concerns in so many places. I bought that book because I thought it looked cute, and it was on the FN Community Reads. Then I read it and went, whaaaaat?!? I told my friends, showed a couple traditional people who laughed and shook their heads. And then, of course, it goes into school libraries and then people think they have included Indigenous content. Same thing with some of the big publishers--one of them has terrible appropriation in their texts. So schools and boards buy them, and think they are doing something good to move Indigenous education forward. It is rampant, and frustrating.
One good place to check for print sources is goodminds.com. They have a full time staff member who vets books for indigenous content. But even she was frustrated that they were carrying all of the First Nation Community Reads books, despite the content concerns of two of the books.
Someone said earlier about ravens being tied to west coast, and there is certainly a more obvious tie there. I think when looking for resources we need to dig deep to see what looks like a reputable source. Some of what is on that art site that a couple people referenced looks like it may be true, but I would still not call that a reliable resource. How can a settler art gallery owner speak knowledgeably on Indigenous culture? Maybe he has had a lot of training, and explanations from artists themselves, but I wouldn't be confident in that. I would want to critique the way I would any other website. My teaching background is as a history teacher, and I think of the lessons I gave students on critiquing websites when deciding if they are good sources or not. I did a search myself, and in the top 10 (I don't use google, so often get different top hits than others) was this one, from the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa: Civilization.ca - Grand Hall - Raven's canoe I think that it would be a more reliable source, a national museum site than a person's business site. Ontario is mostly Anishinaabe country, so our trickster is Nanboozhoo (or Nanabush), and usually is in the form of a rabbit. I can't speak for certain on the raven. Personally, I thought of Edgar Allan Poe, and his famous poem The Raven, and what the raven entails there.
The other book I was concerned about is called Spirit Bear, by Jennifer Harrington. Won First Nation Community Reads. Not sure who chooses the books (Sometimes I feel like a fox on the same list). Super frustrating because how would people know better?
Re: essentialization. Term sometimes used in equity work, especially with regards to marginalized peoples, or Indigenous Peoples of oversimplification of what that group is about. I should have just explained it, because it is only in small circles I've heard it used and explained to me.
I would hope that everyone finds a go-to person to check when unsure. There are many people who present themselves as knowledgeable, some even as Elders, and they are not. One of my happiest moments this fall was when two different principals forwarded an email that they had received from a local "Elder" offering presentations. They both said, I'm not quite sure if this is okay.... They are starting to get that critical eye. Elders are already busy--they don't have time to coldcall or mass email people. Check out our provincial subject council for FNMI education, www.fnmieao.com
I'm the chair of the subject side right now. Lots of info on our site. And you can email me questions through the site (as long as the moderator remembers to forward them to me.....)
Goodminds is fabulous and I admire Jeff Burnham. (Here's a live link> Our Goals | GoodMinds.com )
I need to find out more about the First Nation Community Reads program. They had a session at the recent Ontario Library Association conference but I didn't get a chance to attend.
If the raven is more of a west coast tie, does that mean that Gord Downie or Jeff Lemire have erred with the inclusion? Where is the line between "this is misrepresentation" and "this is creative licence"?
Thanks again Colinda!
The raven is the principal character in many myths: it is a trickster; a guardian; good or evil; a healer; a guide to the next world.
This description of the raven, from the Spirits of the West Coast Art Gallery website, seems particularly apt:
He also symbolizes the unknown and is there to show that every person sees the world in a different way as another. The Raven was often called upon to clarify truths in visions, as the wise elders knew that what the eye sees is not always the truth.
The raven is also known to be able to transform into other creatures. One story that I came upon describes what happens when Raven loses his eyes. The raven is featured in a work by Ojibwe artist, Yvonne Garbutt, where men who are working far from their families transform into ravens to cover great distances. In this story, the men visit home bearing gifts of
I see this section as a dream sequence, where the raven helps Chanie through his transformation. The panel showing the priest behind the camera could suggest the old belief that to submit to being photographed was to lose one’s soul.
“I’ve seen how they are; How they’d all sell their souls; In little bits and pieces till they get old”
The masks hide the identities of the boys and could represent their losing their identities or surviving by paying lip service to new traditions. In the video version of this section, Chanie’s monster mask is superimposed over the building that houses the institution, its eyes overlaying windows behind which monstrous acts are committed.