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Idle No More commenters could use some lessons in critical thinking

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Idle No More teaches us more than we want to know.

When one looks at videos on the BBC website of scenes involving indigenous people fending off government helicopters with primitive arrows in Brazil, I suspect many of us tend to support "David."

Collectively, we speak of Gandhi as an almost divine figure who was able to slay "Goliath" without spilling blood.

We romanticize Irish independence in the early 20th century and boast about our Irish heritage in pubs across the country as a symbol of courage and toughness.

In all three cases, people had their land stolen and they fought and continue to fight to take it back or to protect it. In all three cases, colonialism failed to quash the connection these people have with the ecosystem, the landscape and systems on which they depend.

In Canada, however, we see this relationship differently.

We are not as easily able to recognize or admit the same injustices. We are quick to suggest our colonial experience is different from Asia's, Africa's and South America's.

I am not so sure it is.

Furthermore, the recent dialogue generated by Idle No More has made two things very clear: Firstly, indigenous people in this country had their land stolen and they want it back. Secondly, Idle No More has identified an undercurrent of racism in this country that few are willing to admit.

Take, for example, the reader comments in the Winnipeg Free Press and other news outlets. Now, I realize that these platforms are often the lairs for trolls who wish to issue slurs anonymously because they are so ill informed on issues and are angry people. But I think in this case, they speak volumes about the relationship between colonized and colonizer. The comments, many of which have had to be deleted from the Free Press website, are so offensive that one wonders where this hatred comes from. The comments attack indigenous people in this country because of who they are and what they look like and are fundamentally based on fear.

From a teacher's perspective, it has been interesting to examine these comments with my students as examples that lack logic and critical thinking. One of the common comments on the Winnipeg Free Press website relates to Chief Theresa Spence's figure. Several comments have attacked her physicality, and through some bizarre logic, have related this to her message.

Other breaches of logic sound very similar to Donnie B's comment on Jan. 12: "So working for a living and not idleing (sic) for handouts will be a hot topic?" Here we can identify a few problems related to critical thinking, logic and spelling.

Donnie is suggesting the Idle No More movement and the peaceful democratic protest thus far is not justified because indigenous people in this country do not work and are seeking handouts. I am not sure if Donnie works for Statistics Canada, but he can be assured that our labour force is comprised of many indigenous people. On reserve, this is another matter, but what Donnie must realize is that reserves are a colonial design and an act of apartheid.

The following comment suggests something even larger -- a lack of historical understanding. "HIDHo" states on Jan. 12, "I think it is about time these people moved out of the past and into the 21st century. I would hope that the meeting is with an eye to ending all treaties, not signing new ones."

HIDHo fails to explain who "these people" are and that somehow the last 150 years of Canadian history are a mere detail. By his logic, HIDHo may wish that we stop teaching history in schools and universities. What's the point? That stuff was just in the past.

Lastly, there is this comment: "They surrendered ALL LANDS! It's not indian land. I, being from British ancestry, IT'S MINE! SO now they can get the foque of my land now,thanx. (sic)"

The issue behind the racism and fear that has crept into our national dialogue is one that deals with how we think and what we know. The K-12 system needs to address both areas. As teachers, we need to teach our students what critical thinking is and how to apply it. We need to do professional development in critical thinking and become critical thinkers ourselves.

We also need to teach students about a Canadian narrative that involves the stories of First Nations, Dene, Métis and Inuit.

We need to get students to read Treaty 1, deconstruct the Indian Act and actually talk to someone who is of First Nations descent.

We need to teach empathy and ask students to solve problems instead of issuing gutless and polemic statements anonymously on the Internet.

Matt Henderson is a graduate student in the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba and teaches high school social studies at St. John's-Ravenscourt School.

The Learning Curve is an occasional column written by local academics who are experts in their fields. It is open to any educator from Winnipeg's post-secondary institutions. Send 600-word submissions and a mini bio to julie.carl@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 J14

History

Updated on Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 12:15 PM CST: replaces photo

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