Inquiry into the Northwest

Northwest Inquiry
Organizing Inquiry Topics

These last few weeks, the TALONS have taken their study of Socials 10 west, from the fledgling union of Confederation to Hudson’s Bay, Manitoba, and the resistance that unfolds along the Red River Valley. In seeking out the story of Louis Riel, and how his execution – as well as the subsequent relationship between the government and the Metis, Inuit and other First Nations of the Northwest – fits into modern Canada’s understanding of our origin story, the unit seemed naturally suited to a structure of personal and collaborative inquiry.

In thinking about what shape the inquiry would take, I wondered if Canadian History might borrow a project from a study of personal narratives a few years back. As part of an English essay-writing unit, the personal reflection and  critical exploration that came about through each member of the class writing and recording an audio version of This I Believe essays gave way to a crystalline vision of a socially constructed artistic expression.

Really, it was something.

Even the Edward R. Murrow quote from the unit page on the class wiki speaks to something I think we’re teaching no matter what the topic in history:

“..to point to the common meeting grounds of belief, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization.”


Needless to say, perhaps, I’ve been looking to repeat the experience at some point.

Though the TALONS program seldom ‘repeats’ itself very often. There are familiar elementsevents and explorations, sure. But to a certain extent, each of the TALONS cohorts walks its own path, and creates its own stories. And as these stories get filtered down between grade tens and nines, survive on the class wikis and archives of blogged assignments now going back four years (!), I look forward to this period of spring when the forms, norms and storms of the fall and winter allow for the present collective of personalities to synthesize their learning in the present community’s own terms.

This year the class’ study of North American history began with Geography and the American Revolution, before taking on a series of discussions on Canadian Confederation, and setting out into the Northwest. But through each of these subjects, there has been much conversation around the role of mythology in our national identity:

  • How we tell the stories of our inception.
  • How we internalize our narratives of victory.
  • And how best to confront the darker corners of our past.
Northwest Timeline
Northwest Timeline

All of which is the long way of introducing where the class began last week by reading up on the resources and materials created by the TALONS of 2010 and setting out their own directions of inquiry in blog form, which were then sorted into distinct themes:

Cultural Effects of Expansion

“Canada’s a pretty great place today, eh? The Northwest expansion, or basically the years from 1700 – 1900, Canada went through the time that would most influence the country that it is today.

In looking closer to a specific part of this process, I wondered how the expansion into Rupert’s Land owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company affected the Lower Canadian French people.”

Alyssa

“From 1830 to 1996 Inuit, First Nations, and Metis were torn from their native culture with intentions of assimilating them into the dominant culture through the Residential School System. These schools, run by Christian priests and nuns, raised and abused the indigenous people of Canada in hopes to “kill the Indian in the child”. Some schools in Alberta and British Columbia going so far as the compulsory sterilization OF CHILDREN. Aboriginal children weren’t seen as children, they were seen as seeds of savages to invade the garden of civilizations that were in need of extermination.”

Julie

The Fur Trade

“At the forefront of this (as you all know) was the fur trade.  For a set of pelts scraped off the backs of deceased animals you would receive fantastic HBC products such as overly strong perfume, clothing made in China, and other forms of HBC swag decked out in those trademark stripes.  Jokes aside, the items up for trade were much more practical, however, not any greater in the quality or value than their modern merchandise.   While you could get fabulous point blankets, thunder sticks, and firewater, there had to be room for profit.”

Tyler

“As common knowledge of the Fur trade, Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company were fierce rivals for many years. They both wanted to control the fur trade and were willing to do anything to control the market. This resulted in some company members even willing to murder for better trades. They began fighting and they continued fighting from the 1780′s until 1821. In 1820, both companies began struggling financially. In 1821,  Henry Bathurst the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, forced the companies to stop fighting.”

Anthony

The Life and Hard Times of Louis Riel

“Though regarded as a hero in Quebec, Riel was still widely denounced as Thomas Scott’s “murderer”, and a reward of $5000 was offered for his arrest. Sir John A. MacDonald, wanting to avoid political conflict, even offered to provide funds to Riel if he remained in his exile. But Riel eventually returned and joined federal politics. He was quite successful as well, winning in a by-election in 1873 and the general election is 1874. All was well for Riel, until he went to Ottawa to sign the register. Riel was sentenced to two years imprisonment and stripped of his political rights. The federal government finally decided to grant amnesty to Riel, provided he went into a five year banishment. During his banishment, Riel would go on to stay at two asylums in Quebec and a teaching job in Montana.”

Justann

Related Current Events

“Later that year, in May, chat logs revealed 22 year old Bradley Manning’s confession to leaking the video to Wikileaks. Manning was arrested shortly after without a trial and sent to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. There, he suffered harsh living conditions where, as David House, founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, states that Manning “[degraded] over time – physically, mentally, and emotionally.” His mental health, as stated by his lawyer, has been described as “almost gone.””

Christina

“Anyway, so Cyprus was actually surprisingly stable for a long time, rated in the top 50 of the nicest places to live, up until the Eurozone crisis in which everything went to hell  heck(Gotta keep things ‘G’). That, as you may or may not remember, happened just last year and is still affecting them today, as we see with Cyprus. Being a small island country, they don’t have a vast amount of resources to trade and sell to help them escape the crisis, which is a primary reason behind their economic downfall.”

Jess

In the photo above – and in these herehere and here – you can see the process by which these various individual threads were woven into different group inquiries that have become (over the course of the last week) the subject of various audio documentaries. Taking as examples the exemplary reporting, editing and storytelling of the folks at Radiolab and This American Life – and coinciding with a particularly timely episode of CBC’s Ideas – groups of three-to-five TALONS have been building collaborative audio documentaries of their individual explorations, soliciting interviews and writing personal reflections on their learning throughout the research process.

All of which we’re hoping to share this week, live on the (web) radio.


Building on a recent English unit that saw the class present audio dramas live in the classroom, the plan for this week is to take the groups’ various produced segments down the hall (to an often-used Math ‘tutorial’ office) and onto the Hive 105 airwaves such that they can be streamed live into the classroom speakers (for that extra bit of radio authenticity), and onto the wider web for listeners across the country, and anywhere else you might like to tune in from [For more information about how to listen to 105 the Hive in your classroom, click here].

You’ll be able to tune into the TALONS Northwest audio documentaries this week on both Wednesday and Thursday (Friday as well, if necessary), with the morning class presenting between 9:00am – 10:10am (PDT), and the afternooners going on between 1:45pm – 3:00pm (exact time to be determined), and join us on Twitter (or a Skype call in, if there’s time…) at @talonsblog during each of the broadcasts.

If you aren’t able to join us live, stay tuned to Defying Normality for the upcoming show notes and audio archive.