I’ve been meaning to write about this particular lesson I had with my Socials 10 class, and attending Chinese Canadian Historical Society’s public lecture hosted by UBC’s Dr. Henry Yu and Sarah Ling about the Fraser River, Chinese migration and intersections with First Nations histories prompted more mental connections!
As I’ve been documenting my experiences inside the English/ Socials classroom, I’ve always been conscious about bringing in my own interests to hopefully complement the curriculum. Having a handful of classes to teach a mini-unit on Immigration to BC has been a blessing with its own set of challenges (for another post!)… mainly in trying to decide what aspects of such a topic are most important for the next generation to know. An undertaking.
Prior to this lesson, students had been instructed on Indigenous relations in terms of the history of the Metis peoples and the Red River Rebellion, with some understanding of contemporary issues. In the time that I was allotted, I was conscientious that there is a lot to talk about in regards to Indigenous histories, but.. where to start, and what key ideas need to be communicated within the limited time frame?
It is a privilege to be in a high school classroom in the lower mainland, to be in a space that is situated on that land that we get to learn on, and learn from. Most students seemed to have general grasp on the ‘important’ aspects of Indigenous histories in regards to abuse and residential school, albeit on a very very very basal level. And while I would have loved to delve deeper into such an important moment, again, time on practicum was not on my side *something to keep in mind for a future own classroom!
We often remark how multicultural Vancouver is. What do we mean by that? That cultures exist in a bubble, an untouchable set of nuclei existing separately by the conventions of some invisible divider? Not true. Multiculturalism has its merits, but often overlooks the intercultural nature of society and sociology. To introduce this idea, students watched the documentary Cedar and Bamboo. Many thanks to colleagues at CCHS and beyond for supporting and creating pedagogical resources that are accessible in and beyond the classroom!
Cedar and Bamboo’s (2009) Trailer:
The conversation around First Nations and Chinese relations is limited, despite a history that traces back centuries. So naturally, students hadn’t encountered or imagined these mix-raced relationships that are quite local to them. After viewing the film, we engaged in discussion mainly about how identity, and where one is ‘from’ often influences belonging. From the stories of the subjects in the film, identity and belonging are a deeply personal experience, and can be even more further complicated with the influence of institutions, or in this case, the Canadian government. At a time where both Chinese and First Nations folks were considered visible minorities and aberrations to white Canada, government legislation reflected these racialized attitudes in terms of staking claim and limiting access to land, resources, and identity.
Cedar and Bamboo is a useful resource in raising student awareness around intercultural histories, particularly those that are incredibly relevant given where students go to school in BC’s lower mainland. The intersection between Chinese and Indigenous roots is indeed quite personal, but are also a reflection of a greater history rooted in trade, agriculture, racism, migration, government bureaucracies, and ultimately, a search for belonging. The documentary runs for 22 minutes and follows four narratives from a youth, adult, and elder’s perspective in English, Cantonese, and hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓.
Before viewing this film, I would recommend front loading content around the Indian Act and the history of residential schools, Chinese labour and migration histories and government policy to provide students with a larger social context to evaluate how such ‘big’ facets of society influence the individual in a top-down manner. Cedar and Bamboo pulls on the heart strings of its viewers in its thematic narrative around identity politics and belonging, which certainly resonates with students… because isn’t that what high school’s all about? Fitting in and belonging as a small fish in a big pond? Not wanting to be different, hiding that difference, feeling the ramifications of being different.. strong connections between racial/ identity politics and belonging that students could certainly speak to.
Based on the discussion questions that a generous colleague, Sarah Ling, provided, the class’ conversation began to focus on why these two “different” groups would be in contact, both groups being integral parts to the foundation of our Canada, both groups whose history is largely unknown -separately, and together. “Why aren’t we learning about this in our social studies curriculum, Ms. Bautista?” It’s a good set of questions that I myself continue to ask, to demand a rethinking of our education system that more thoughtfully reflects the significance and contributions of other histories, instead of seeing them as merely just ‘othered’ histories.
UBC friends and colleagues Sarah Ling and Alejandro Yoshizawa have spent the last few years working with the Grant family to share their mixed -race family history of growing up with Indigenous and Chinese ancestry. This compelling feature-length film, All Our Father’s Relations, will be coming out soon, and certainly is a cornerstone piece in a much-needed dialogue about othered (Canadian) histories. Visit their website for the film synopsis and their beautiful trailer!