Teaching Intersectionality of Race and Gender in ELA A30

As I mentioned in my previous post, teaching with a Social Justice pedagogy is important to me. During my Internship, I had the opportunity to teach a sub-unit on First Nations peoples, specifically on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. We learned about stereotypes, the causes for such a high number of women in this particular group of people, the lack of awareness, etc..

As before, I have included my unit overview (FQ) and outcomes (Unit Overview Chart). These documents show which outcomes and indicators I used, as well as the literature and activities I used. I was given 8 class hours to complete this unit, so that is why it is limited. However, with my knowledge gained from Women’s and Gender Studies 100, I think I will be able to increase my selection of materials so long as I have time within the course. On a side note, before I introduced my first piece of literature, I asked my students if they had ever hear of the term Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Many of them had, but didn’t understand the big deal. Part of this misunderstanding came from not knowing the facts. When I asked if they had heard a number attached to MMIW, many stared at me with blank looks. Some guessed “a couple hundred, maybe.” One student (out of two classes and 51 students total) said 1,200. We talked about how this number was problematic because many sources have conflicting numbers. This is because some sources are using different time frames (i.e. since the 1950s, since the 1980s, since 2000). Obviously, the more recent that a source uses as the starting point, the less women will be counted. Additionally, part of the problem is that the acronym MMIW counts missing women. People argue whether these women are actually missing or don’t want to be found by their families, a.k.a. they have severed ties and therefore are not missing. From my WGST 100 class, I learned that this number is also complicated because of jurisdiction between different police forces. Some police wait a designated period of time before declaring an Indigenous woman missing or murdered. Also, there is a difference between suspicious murders. The number that my professor gave us for MMIW was much higher than I had ever previously heard in any of my research. 4,000. 4,000 FNMI women fit the category of missing or murdered in Canada alone. This number makes me very emotional and, for me at least, reinforces the need to teach young students about this topic.

I started my unit by using the website “Who is She” and selected one of the family submissions (“Panamick-Ense Family”), which appeared as a free verse poem. I chose to use this site as it was a brand new site that was only up for a few months before I started my unit. The only pitfall of this site was that because it was so new it didn’t have an extensive list of resources. The poem also helped students understand and relate to the loss of Indigenous women to their families and communities. On the same day, I had students read the article “Violence Against Indigenous Women and the Case of Cindy Gladue.” It contains mature subject matter, so it is your choice whether you want to include this article or replace it with another that discusses MMIW. I chose this article because I wanted to shock my students with the horrendous violence committed against Cindy Gladue. Afterwards, I had students work in groups of 3-4 to discuss the commonaltites of these works and complete a chart that I call the “What Chart.” Essentially, this is a three column chart that asks three “what” questions: What (is the issue), So What (why should people care), and Now What (what can be done about this issue).

We also looked at the poem “The Onondaga Madonna,” in which I lead the analysis. We spent quite a bit of time talking about the virgin/whore dichotomy and looking at the ways that the Indigenous woman was sexualized. Of course we looked at the colonization aspects, but I wanted to focus on how from contact on, Indigenous women have been sexualized and thought of as an “exotic other.” This is a dangerous concept and has contributed to the number of women who become MMIW.

Moving along to my last piece in this sub-unit, I chose to teach the Helen Betty Story through a graphic novel (The Life of Helen Betty Osborne: A Graphic Novel). Since my Grade 12’s (A30) had read Sugar Falls the previous year, instead of pre-teaching different ways to read graphic novels, I spent only a portion of the time reviewing this information, such as textual features. It was actually quite nice that my students had read Sugar Falls the year before because The Life of Helen Betty Osborne: A Graphic Novel is written by the same author so they were familiar with his writing. My questions for this text moved beyond simple feature analysis to textual analysis and how their knowledge of the unit changed as they learned more about this topic. To view my assignment, view it here: The Life of Helen Betty Osborne Questions. If you are interested in how I assessed this work, leave a comment below!

As with Sugar Falls, I bought this text (well, the new version shown below – the version displayed in the image above is no longer available). As a teacher, I strongly recommend using this piece. My Grade 12 students appreciated this piece and proved that they were not too old for graphic novels (which is a common reason that teachers don’t use them in the upper levels). As with Sugar Falls, students appreciated that they could see the emotion in the characters and visualize the story, rather than simply having information thrown at them.

This entry was posted in Professional Interests, Social Justice, Uncategorized, WGST 100: Introduction to Women's and Genders Studies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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