- 1 See the select bibliography on <www.education-canada.de>. It seems only natural that an increasing (...)
1A look at German textbooks used in English language teaching over the past fifty years shows that even into the 1990s German students mainly learnt about everyday life in Britain and the United States. Often, texts from and about these two countries dominated the language classroom. By contrast, most of today’s teaching materials clearly take account of the fact that English is a world language and that students have to learn about the many other countries where English also is spoken. Luckily, the ministerial guidelines of the various Bundesländer not only consider the integration of texts and literature from countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India, South Africa or Nigeria as an optional activity, but now call for these countries and their literatures to be dealt with in the EFL-classroom. For example, the ministerial guidelines on English for grammar and comprehensive schools (grades 11-13) in NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen) require that a teaching unit on the North American experience must also include Canadian views and perspectives.1
2In addition, in recent years the discussion on concepts of multiculturalism and newly-defined teaching objectives and different aspects of intercultural learning have started to play an increasingly central role in the teaching of English as a foreign language, not only in advanced classes but also with beginners. Here, the focus of discussion is not only on providing factual information about a foreign country, but rather on intercultural learning with the aim of developing and instilling respect, acceptance and tolerance of foreign cultures in young people’s attitudes and ways of thinking. Ideally, this involves entering, studying and understanding a culture different from the students’ own personal backgrounds.
- 2 The Métis live in the northern prairies and the Northwest Territories. In the strict sense of the (...)
3When dealing with the topics of immigration, settlement or minorities, the situation of the indigenous peoples in the various countries such as the Maoris in New Zealand, the Aborigines in Australia or the Native Peoples in North America have often been the focus of attention in the EFL-classroom in Germany. Among the various Commonwealth countries Canada, in particular, appears to be a particularly rewarding example for illustrating intercultural learning in a multicultural society, as well as the effects of immigration on native peoples. Canada is not only an immigrant country that innumerable peoples and cultures from all over the world now call their home, it is also the home of three indigenous peoples, the Inuit, the First Nations and the Métis.2
- 3 The Department of Canadian Heritage: <www.pch.gc.ca/progs/multi/what-multi_e.cfm>. (...)
- 4 Cf. JaniceKulyk Keefer, “From Mosaic to Kaleidoscope: Out of the Multicultural Past Comes a Vision (...)
4Multiculturalism has become an essential characteristic of many countries and societies around the world. Indeed, the population in many countries of the “Old World,” such as in France, Britain or Germany, to name but a few, consists of a multifaceted mixture of cultures. However, what makes Canada unique is the fact that it was the first country in the world to turn its policy of multiculturalism into legislation through an Act of Parliament. Bill C-93 allows all ethnic groups to preserve their heritage and it states that every citizen must enjoy equal opportunity when taking part in and contributing to all aspects of the country’s collective life. Put in a nutshell, Canada’s concept of multiculturalism “ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging.”3 Instead of trying to merge all immigrants into a new kind of man, Canada rather seeks to realize the ideal of a Joseph’s coat of many colours. Notions of “unity through diversity” have come up and the image of a kaleidoscope4 has been suggested, thus stressing the individuality of each group. Canada welcomes people, who believe in its idea of a multicultural society, a concept that can only survive and work if the different cultures and ethnic groups try on the one hand to respect, learn about and understand each other and are, at the same time, ready to let the others play an active part in their own culture. Needless to say it is difficult to live up to such an ideal.
- 5 Wilson Duff, The History of British Columbia, Vol. I, The Impact of the White Man, Victoria: Briti (...)
5Native Canadians just like the immigrants or so-called “new Canadians” contribute to the cultural mosaic of Canada and want to be regarded as equal members of a diversified society, although there is no doubt that the First Nations suffered under the enormous impact of white European civilization, from the moment the settlers set foot on the new continent. The native peoples have always tried to find their place in this nation, although this has mostly meant a question of either integration or assimilation5 for them, of surviving and retaining their own culture or of losing their identity, especially when living outside the reserve. It is interesting to see whether the policy of multiculturalism only applies to immigrants or whether it also includes the First Nations, who were on this continent long before the coming of the Europeans. Have the native peoples managed to develop a “sense of belonging,” although they have been slowly removed from their natural territories, put into reserves and in many ways deprived of their way of life? They know that they can only survive if they go back to their roots, if they try to preserve their beliefs, traditions and languages for the present and if they teach these values to the next generations.
- 6 Cf. select bibliography on <www.education-canada.de>. (...)
6For quite some time, Canada has experienced a growing self-confidence among the native peoples and one visible sign of this new development is the increasing number of publications by native authors, such as novels, short stories, poetry or drama but also newspapers and magazines, in which they can express themselves in writing, voice their knowledge and share it with their people and with other Canadian cultures. This latter aspect is no doubt one reason why they mainly write and publish in English.6
- 7 Smaro Kamboureli, ed., Making a Difference. Canadian Multicultural Literature, Toronto: Oxford Uni (...)
7One of the most important and prominent native writers in Canada is Thomas King, who was born to a mother of Greek and German descent and a Cherokee father. King is often considered as “one of the most innovative and popular Canadian Native writers”7, although Arnold E. Davidson et al. tend to argue that strictly speaking King cannot be called a “Canadian Native Writer”:
- 8 Arnold E. Davidson, Priscilla L. Walton and Jennifer Andrews, Border Crossings: Thomas King’s Cult (...)
As a writer born in the United States, but who considers himself Canadian and holds Canadian citizenship, he embodies two nationalities. On a cultural level, moreover, his status throws those demarcations into question, since as a Cherokee who moved to Canada, he can be read as a Canadian writer and a Native writer, but he cannot be a Canadian Native writer because the Cherokees are not ‘native’ to Canada.8
8King writes novels, short stories and poems that often reflect his dual heritage and his life between different cultures and identities and they show that the question of identity is not only an essential question for the protagonists of his stories, but also for King himself. He is known for his creative and critical writing on topics relating to the marginalization of American Indians and for his efforts to overcome common stereotypes about Native Americans with his writing.
9King’s short story “Borders” illustrates the fact that: “as a mixed-blood man, born in the United States but now a Canadian citizen, King is especially sensitive to the power of borders.”9 In this short story King portrays the experiences of a mother and her young son caught in no-man’s land between Canada and the United States, defending their Blackfoot identity. However, in this story, borders do not only divide countries. There are borders between old and young, brother and sister, mother and daughter and mother and son, native and non-native, indigenous and immigrant, past and present.
10The story is told by a third person narrator who recollects that the incident indicated below happened when he was a young boy of about 12 or 13 years of age. At the time he was living with his mother on a Canadian Blackfoot reserve in Alberta and he recalls how surprised he was, when his mother told him about her decision to visit his older sister Laetitia in Salt Lake City, who had left home and gone there about five years earlier, albeit without her “mother’s blessing.” When he and his mother are going to cross the US border in their car, the American guard asks them if they are American or Canadian and as always, the boy’s mother answers “Blackfoot.”
- 10 Thomas KING, “Borders,” in: KING, Thomas, one good story, that one, Toronto: Harper Collins Publ. (...)
“Where are you heading?”
“Salt Lake City.”
“Purpose of your visit?”
“Visit my daughter.”
“Blackfoot,” my mother told him.
“Blackfoot,” my mother repeated.
It would have been easier if my mother had just said “Canadian” and been done with it, but I could see she wasn’t going to do that.10
11Since she stubbornly refuses to tell the customs officers what they want to hear, they finally end up being trapped in this ‘no-man’s land’ between the two borders, because when they want to go back and arrive at the Canadian border they are confronted with the same problems and this time must declare their Canadian citizenship. Obviously, they are not allowed to enter either country as long as they do not officially state whether they are American or Canadian. After three days and nights of waitingand unsuccessfully trying again and again, their problem comes to the attention of the media and their story becomes news. Now, having become the focus of public interest the guards at the border finally, though rather reluctantly, have to accept Blackfoot as the correct answer to citizenship and let them pass. After a week at Laetitia’s place in Salt Lake City and various sight-seeing trips, mother and son travel back to the Canadian reserve. This time they can cross the border without any problems.
- 11 See Drew Hayden Taylor, “Storytelling to Stage,” TDR—The Drama Review, 41, 3 (T1555), Fall 1997, 1 (...)
12This story is set at the border between Canada and the United States, in the no-man’s land between these two countries, and deals with a variety of topics, with memories of the past, questions of language and identity, mothers and children, and a sense of belonging. The humorous tone of the story, certainly a characteristic of native story telling,11 makes the reader smile. Yet, what sounds funny and makes people laugh at times rather points to various problems of the First Nations and the story vividly illustrates the situation they are living in, no doubt, in many ways a result of colonization and settlement. Before the white man came, the native peoples could move around their country freely. Borders were set up by the white settlers, who took the Indians’ land, divided it up according to their own plans, regardless of whether they were depriving the native peoples of their homes or whether they separated families and tribes, as illustrated by the example of the Blackfoot, a people who live both on the Canadian and the American side. Arnold E Davidson et al. point out:
- 12 Arnold E. Davidson, Priscilla L. Walton and Jennifer Andrews, op. cit., 16.
From a European cultural perspective, borders mark differences; from a Native view, borders are and always were in flux, signifying territorial space that was mutable and open to change. The borders that presently exist ignore the Native peoples, who are often cut off from one another as a result of a line that has been drawn through their lands.12
13By focussing on the 49th parallel, the story clearly illustrates that for western civilization a national border indicates both, a border between two countries, but also between national and ethnic identities, a point of view not shared by the Native peoples:
King’s focus on the forty-ninth parallel is, indeed, timely and relevant because it speaks to the issues of tribal identity and nationality that are at the centre of recent governmental negotiations in both Canada and the United States. Native tribes, on both sides of the border, continue to pursue land claims, the opportunity for self-government, and the recognition of their status as autonomous nations.13
14If the guards accepted the mother’s answer, they would, on the one hand, acknowledge that the boy and his mother are neither Canadian nor American, but Blackfoot and on the other they would question their own authority and their national border.
- 14 See “Introduction” by Matthias Merkl, “Images of Canada: From a Eurocentric Perspective to Multipe (...)
15The title of the story evokes a multitude of images and ideas. Borders are dividing lines that separate. Yet, lines can and should, even sometimes also have to be crossed. Then there is something new, something different, something that has been left behind, in the worst case there is no way back. The title of the story not only refers to the border between the Canada and the US, but also points to borders that separate reserves from the rest of the country—pieces of land that the Indians were given and placed in after their land had been taken away and the only places where their cultures and identity could survive. When the Native peoples leave their reserves they cross cultural borders and, obviously, have to leave behind their native identity be it Blackfoot or Ojibwa or Iroquois. Unless they are either Canadian or American they will end up in no-man’s land. They are not even considered hyphenated Americans or Canadians14. “Borders” clearly illustrates how difficult it has been for the native peoples to live up to the ideal of Canadian multiculturalism, which guarantees its citizens the right to preserve their heritage and identity and provides a home and a sense of belonging.
- 15 Cf. Thomas King (Ed.), All My Relations, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1992, xiv f.
16King’s story subtly hints at the fact that the native peoples’ identity as a distinct people and the survival of their traditions and cultures, in particular, have always been at stake. They have always had a strong sense of family15 and belonging, and their families have always been a stronghold for the survival of their cultures. Therefore, the policy of taking young Indians away from their families and homes and putting them into residential schools where they were educated according to white people’s norms and traditions must have been a particularly painful experience. The narrator’s sister is called Laetitia, Latin for joy and happiness, no doubt a reference to the practice at residential schools where the young native boys and girls were given new names and where they were not allowed to speak their mother tongues any more. Deprived of their language, culture, families and names, they had their identity taken away. Today, however, influenced and attracted by the "blessings" of western civilization, young Indians often leave the reserve on their own initiative, start to forget their roots, prefer to speak English rather than their mother tongues and slowly lose interest in the old beliefs and traditions.
17Mothers are always sad when their children, and especially their daughters, leave home, but at the beginning of the story the narrator explains why Laetitia’s mother had been particularly worried. Her daughter had “crossed the line.” She had left the reserve on her own at the age of seventeen and had gone beyond the safe borders of family and culture, because she wanted to see the world and go wherever she wanted to, and to Salt Lake City, in particular, since her father was a Blackfoot from the American side. Fortunately, “She did real good” as her mother finally proudly has to admit. Laetitia did not suffer from the same fate that befell many other Indian girls, who had left the reserve, ultimately losing their way in the jungles of the big cities and trying to seek their fortune in the white man’s world:
She had not, as my mother liked to tell Mrs. Manyfingers, gone floating after some man like a balloon on a string. She hadn’t snuck out of the house, either, and gone to Vancouver or Edmonton or Toronto to chase rainbows down the alleys. And she hadn’t been pregnant.16
18In his story, Thomas King sounds humorous rather than reproachful. He does not depict a black and white situation with the native peoples on the one side and the white settlers on the other. Rather, he creates a story that reminds the reader of the native peoples’ oral tradition, though mixing contemporary issues with aspects of Native mythology. It is almost satirical and borders on caricature, when the story presents the guards as cowboys. Not only white people have prejudices; but the boy’s mother also adheres to stereotypes and clichés, actually assuming the attitude of a Canadian rather than a Blackfoot when she complains about America’s bad water or assumes that they are all badly dressed.
- 17 Thomas King points out: “The trickster figure is an important figure for native writers for it all (...)
19The narrator tells the story from the young boy’s perspective and, in the course of the story, the reader learns what happened on this trip. Flashbacks also tell him about the circumstances that led to this situation at the border between Canada and the USA and how it finally ended up. The narrator’s limited view does not reveal any of the thoughts, ideas and feelings of the other characters and the reader wonders why his mother decided all of a sudden to visit her daughter, something she had never wanted to do before. Perhaps she wanted to show her son what it means to be Blackfoot and how important it is to know who you are, where your roots are and how to defend your identity, and that there is nothing that would justify leaving the home of the reserve. When they are stuck in this no-man’s land, the place that may still be theirs, where they are neither American nor Canadian, she tries to tell her son old stories from the past, how the world and the universe were created and what role Coyote,17 the trickster figure, played in all that. At the time, the narrator does not seem to understand what she is trying to tell him, why she refuses to give in to the customs officer’s demands. Rather, he is too curious to see this beautiful place, Salt Lake City, to visit his sister, and above all, is interested in the American culture and way of life—especially American food. Has he now understood, when telling his story, what his mother tried to teach him? How old is he now and where is he living at present? Does he still live on the reserve and tell this story to his children? Where is Laetitia and what happened to his mother? Finally, why is he recalling this incident, in particular, anyway? There are no direct answers to these questions. Yet, the boy’s mother seems to have been successful in some ways. In Salt Lake City, her son finally gets bored, noticing after a week that the United States is not as spectacular as he had thought before their visit and her daughter is also thinking about moving back to Canada. Moreover, this incident is stuck in the son’s mind now, urging him to tell it to other people. Here, the story even shows characteristics of a story of initiation. Yet, we can only speculate, whether he will now continue to accept what the guards want from his mother as he suggested back then: “It would have been easier if my mother had just said ‘Canadian’.”
- 18 Margaret Atwood sees literature as a “geography of the mind,” as a map that can help readers to fi (...)
20Reading a country’s literature can open a door to a foreign culture. Literary texts, in particular, offer, to some extent, an opportunity to empathize with characters and to learn about their thoughts and feelings and to experience their daily lives or even to identify with them.18
21Hence a good story or book need not be a classic; rather, it has to be a text that reflects parts of the students’ own experience or deals with situations they can relate to. They might understand differences between the characters’ behaviour and how they themselves would have reacted. Literary texts tell stories. They can demand and elicit responses and questions from students, although or even just because the settings lie outside their familiar surroundings and experiences. Ingrid Johnson argues:
- 19 Ingrid Johnson, “Literature and Multiculturalism,” in Mary Clare Courtland and Trevor J. Gambell ( (...)
Good multicultural literature can provide this sense of familiarity even when the characters and setting are outside our own familiar milieu. [...] there is a useful tension set up in such texts that challenges us to move outside our familiar perspective and allows us to connect with the experiences of the characters we are reading about.19
22Needless to say literature is not a true mirror of reality. It remains a fictional and subjective representation of a writer’s view of the world. Literary texts are neither a substitute for in-depth discussions and information on cultures, nor is there any doubt that “there will always be references we do not understand, expectations we do not meet, attitudes we do not share, experiences we have missed. Any reading will therefore, of necessity, be imperfect.”20 Moreover, different people react differently to the same texts, perhaps even more differently at different times.
23Therefore, it is important that a discussion on cultural differences is carried out only against the background of the texts, because literature can only be an incomplete substitute for immersion into a country’s culture itself. Yet, it can serve as an essential springboard towards making students sensitive to different cultures and accepting and tolerating their traditions and their views on life. So, it seems only natural that the teaching of fictional texts assumes an important role in the German curriculum for secondary schools.
- 21 Thomas King sees one important reason because beforehand “the native peoples have only been seen t (...)
24The underlying intention in a teaching unit should be to present materials that, on the one hand deal with the foreign peoples’ ways of life, their issues and problems, but, on the other hand, also provide a platform from which comparisons with and discussions of similar problems in other countries can be initiated. Authentic texts with an authentic voice can—better than others—initiate discussions in the classroom and make students compare their views with those that often sound “foreign”21 to them.
25How successful can a literature-led immersion into a foreign culture be? A discussion of different cultures in the classroom is often determined by stereotypes which are based rather on prejudices than on profound information. Yet, stereotypes can also be helpful at the beginning, be they negative or positive, because their obvious simplification can trigger an initial understanding in students and make them aware of their own hidden prejudices. The readiness to understand differences has to be a reciprocal and two-way process. Students have the chance to experience at least a glimpse of this different culture and to approach it via empathy.
- 22 An in depth discussion of Coyote, the trickster figure, for example, would go beyond the teaching (...)
26Teaching and discussing a fictional text in the EFL-classroom at secondary schools is substantially determined by the teaching objectives outlined in the various ministerial guidelines. The aim cannot be a thorough scholarly analysis of a text. Rather, it must be about having young people open up and become ready not only to tolerate but also to accept different cultures. In school, in contrast to university level, didactic and methodological rather than scholarly approaches are asked for and even required.22 Consideration should not only be given to the fact that young students must be led carefully to the appreciation of literature; indeed, the ministerial guidelines also clearly see texts as background material for active approaches and ask for the students’ creativity when working with a given text.
27Yet, literary texts as such do not automatically lend themselves to classroom work. They must ask for spontaneous reactions and criticism and must elicit student responses that trigger discussions, initiate changes of perspective, serve as counterfoils and support the foreign language learning process, because intercultural learning and the acquisition of intercultural competence in foreign language teaching always go side by side with the acquisition of linguistic and communicative competence and the texts are above all meant to stimulate speaking and writing in the target language.
28Students have to use the target language and express their feelings, their sympathy or even their rejection. They have to ask and express what they feel and why they feel that way. Intercultural learning means accepting that there are different cultures, it does not necessarily include a complete understanding, but rather an acceptance of cultural differences. Thus, they have to ask themselves whether their reaction is determined by prejudices or rather by simple ignorance. A variety of methods on and approaches to literature in school have been suggested and tested, be it, for example, writing new endings to a story, finding new titles, or transforming a short story into a play.
- 23 See <www.education-canada.de>. (...)
29When planning a teaching unit on indigenous peoples, one of the main teaching objectives aims to transcend the stereotypes and the clichés of the “noble savage,” on the one hand, and images of the cruel, uncivilized and wild creature, on the other, that still linger in young people’s minds. In addition, the native people’s situation as a minority in an officially multicultural society and their fight for survival, for recognition as distinct cultures make them an important source of discussion for students. What does it mean to grow up on a reserve? What are their living conditions like and have they found a solution to cope with problems such as unemployment, alcoholism, bad housing or health care? How important are old traditions and beliefs or the experience of close family ties and personal relationships for the native peoples? Questions and topics as, for example, growing up, generation conflicts, home and family can easily be integrated into various teaching units covering topics such as education, individual and society or social and political institutions and would thus be in line with the requirements of the ministerial guidelines issued by the Bundesländer.23
30Today’s teaching in the “English as a foreign language” classroom has to be student-, process-, action- and product-oriented and the discussion of texts should include pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading activities. In this respect, “Borders” can be a rewarding text, especially with regard to the various teaching goals mentioned above. In addition, the story does not pose any major language difficulties and students should have no problems reading and understanding it, even without extensive annotations.
31Various ways of starting a discussion of the story in the classroom are possible. One activity before handing out the story could be to have the students speculate about the title or have them express any personal experiences they may have had when crossing a border on their holidays. However, a more concrete approach is to give students the text of the exchange at the US border and have them speculate about the story contents. Then they should read the story and later express their personal reactions and compare these with their initial hypothesis.
32Another, even more student-oriented approach, is to have them read and prepare the story at home and then formulate their reactions and express what struck them most. Finally, students should be asked what they themselves consider worthwhile issues. This will soon lead to a discussion of the different characters, their relationships and possible motives and ideas. Further aspects could be, for example, the stereotypical portrayal of Americans, the role of the media and, last but not least, the intentional use of various narrative techniques, such as point of view, flashbacks or examples of how King deliberately uses language.
33The story also offers a multitude of post-reading activities that motivate students not only to reflect on the story, but also have them productively use the target language. The border scene, for example, could easily be turned into role-play or the whole story into a radio play. Students could write a newspaper article for the reserve’s newspaper, the “Reserve Chronicle,” or produce a TV report. The whole story could also be told from one of the customs officers’ points of view, since they, too, were only following their strict instructions and regulations.
34In addition, students might do intensive research on the Internet. The story is set in real places and students could prepare, for example, a presentation about these places or also find out about the customs regulations. They could also write papers about and do presentations on various native peoples of Canada and their living conditions. A particularly interesting project could be a research paper on the Blackfoot and comparison of their living conditions in the United States and in Canada. Borders change, people do not. The discussion on the story could be expanded beyond the special situation described in the story and students could find out where in the world borders divide and separate people as well.
35“Borders” meets the framework set by the above outlined curriculum in many ways. It is not only a story that tells Canadians something about their native peoples; it also offers a rewarding read and multiple points of discussion for students of English in the EFL-classroom, eventually also leading to a discussion on the Canadian concept of multiculturalism. But it is more than that: it can trigger young students’ interest in learning more about the native peoples’ history, attitudes, problems and cultural background and can, eventually, also help to overcome clichés and promote mutual understanding. It offers an opportunity to gain an idea of the situation in which the native peoples in Canada are living, but, above all, it can motivate students to continue reading Canadian literature.