It’s about pace, the First Nations versus the European explorers. Like shopping. If you’re just looking, you might spend ages in the store, trying everything on and deciding if you need it. If you want a white tank top, you go to the store, find the tank tops, pick up the right sized white one, pay for it, and leave. Done.
So the First Nations were browsing, following the food and looking for a nice place to settle down. Explorers: white tank top. To shoplift. And they wouldn’t stop until they found it and took it back to the king.
Canadian History class, Black Forest Academy
It’s Friday morning, and my Canadian history students are taking their first geography quiz. Far from being upset or shocked, they are excited about this quiz.
What? Memorize all the provinces, territories, capitals, major cities and Alert? (Alert, where only five people live permanently, isn’t a major city but is the farthest north town in the world, which makes it significant to me.)
Yes, Ms. Dahlstrom. We’d love to do that. We’ll take that quiz with confident glee, chuckling to ourselves about how much we love our nation’s geography. Because we are Canadian, and that’s how we like it.
There are ten Canadians (minus one who isn’t actually Canadian, but who for the sake of anonymity will henceforth be called one, anyway). They are charming, enthusiastic and, of course, patriotic. As a junior anthropologist, here is what a few weeks of observation has revealed about my smallest class:
- They are mostly from Ontario, reflecting the Mostly-from-Ontario population spread of their nation. I know more about British Columbia than my students, which is a refreshing change from knowing virtually nothing at all.
- Despite holding Canadian passports, they’ve spent between zero and twelve years in Canada. This leads to wide variance in their background knowledge about the country. For some, it’s names and dates. For others, it’s maple syrup with every meal.
- They are generally both proud of and curious about their national identity. When I ask them what makes them Canadian, they can talk about hockey and being “not American,” but little else. Because of this, they enter the study of their history with genuine eagerness, like genealogists, tracing dusty paths that must lead, eventually, to them.
And if they are the genealogists, then I’m merely the one leading the study, perhaps a generation or so up the tree, asking questions we’re all thinking. Why do people speak differently in the Maritimes? Why is French one of the national languages in Canada, while the British queen continues to age on each new coin? What possesses the Inuit to live somewhere so cold? We don’t know, but chances are good that the history of Canada will reveal some answers, the denouement of a novel of which we’ve only skimmed the last few sentences.
I’m excited because I’m learning, too. Honestly, I’m excited for the first geography quiz because it’s the first one I’ve ever made, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out. For me it’s learning to teach history, but it’s also discovering a whole new history, parallel to the one I vaguely remembered but distinct in ways that intrigue me. For the first time in years, I’m teaching a subject that isn’t the most natural, where I can truly participate in the discovery in a way that I can’t always with English. I already know those endings, and spend my time trying to get students away from interpreting plot and on to the art of the language. Here, the plot is key, and it’s a story I don’t know yet.
“I’m going to call my mom tonight and tell her I know all the provinces!”exclaims one girl, finishing her quiz with a triumphant flourish. “I’m so glad I know this!”
Me too, I think. I can’t wait to see what happens next.