Introduction to the Northwest


Meet Louis Riel

Greetings from these precious few last hours of Spring Break ’13! I hope you’ve had an adventurous and restorative two weeks, and join me in looking ahead at our next socials unit.

When we last last our study of the young Canadian nation, we saw the various forces and factors that led to the coalition government that passed the British North America Act of 1867. But the creation of the new government did not ensure lasting stability by any means, as the threat of American Annexation, unrest in the prairies, and ongoing conflict between French and English Canadians in the House of Commons all sought to undermine the young nation.

In the coming weeks, we will be heading west to the Red River Colony, in what was to become Manitoba, and find the broad expanse of the Northwest Territory – all of non-Confederation Canada except British Columbia – as the canvas upon which our country would write its next collection of introductory chapters.

Here, two trading companies will compete for one of Canada’s first resource booms: fur. Settlers will come into armed conflict with First Nations residents. And the initial agreements regarding land claims and what would evolve as a complicated relationship between colonized and colony through to today.

Keys to understanding many of the conversations about our Canadian present, as well as our future, lie in questions we can ask about these first forays west. Whether it is the debate to transport Alberta bitumen to the BC coast, aboriginal treaties being discussed in the local news, or the advent of resistance movements in Canada, such as Idle No More, British Columbians have a lot to gain in learning the history of our prairie neighbours.

I hope that over the next few weeks, we will each carve out explorations of our own questions about this period of Canada’s past, and in sharing our findings with one another, create a diverse understanding of our shared history.

To get you started, here is a brief introduction to materials you will find on the Northwest to 1870 page on the TALONS Socials wiki:

I highly recommend checking out excerpts of Chester Brown‘s graphic novel, “Biography of Louis Riel” (which you can find in the Gleneagle Library):

TALONS alum Macquire, Alvin and Steph’s Choose Your Own Adventure offers a personalized encounter with the Red River Rebellion:

On November 19, 1869 the Hudson’s Bay Company sold its chartered territory, Rupert’s Land, to the Crown and the governments of Great Britain and Canada. No doubt, the American interest of the the Canadian lands led Britain’s concern about securing the area. Though Britain and Canada were ecstatic over their gain of more land, the Metis that live on the Red River did not seem to share the same feelings… Let the adventures begin. You are Louis Riel, the ambitious, well educated and bilingual fellow, who quickly emerged as a leader among the Métis of the Red River. Click here to start!

Sara, Michelle, Lexi and Louise’s Red River podcast:

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Liam’s description of his quad’s Red River Rebellion video:


You can find the rest of the class’ quad synthesis projects on this page, as well as a succinct notes package on the unit here.

I hope you find the above useful, and am looking forward to our upcoming study of one of the keystone periods in the evolution of Canada.

What to do about the Senate?

The Canadian Senate

As was mentioned in class last week, there has been much discussion in Ottawa (and across the country) about the state of affairs in Canada’s Senate to the point that this week the NDP has tabled a bill which proposes abolishing the Red Chamber altogether.

But before we get to all of that, a little background (courtesy of Wikipedia):

The Senate of Canada (French: Sénat du Canada) is a component of the Parliament of Canada, along with the House of Commons, and the monarch (represented by the governor general). The Senate is modelled after the House of Lords and consists of 105 members appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. Seats are assigned on a regional basis, with each of the four major regions receiving 24 seats, and the remainder of the available seats being assigned to smaller regions. The four major regions are Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and the Western provinces. The seats for Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut are assigned apart from these regional divisions. Senators may serve until they reach the age of 75.

The Senate is the upper house of Parliament, and the House of Commons is the lower house. This does not, however, imply that the Senate is more powerful than the House of Commons, merely that its members and officers outrank the members and officers of the House of Commons in the order of precedence for the purposes of protocol. Indeed, as a matter of practice and custom, the Commons is by far the dominant chamber. Although the approval of both houses is necessary for legislation, the Senate rarely rejects bills passed by the directly elected Commons. Moreover, the government is responsible solely to the House of Commons; the Prime Minister of Canada and Cabinet stay in office only while they retain the confidence of the Commons. The Senate does not exercise any such control. Although legislation can normally be introduced in either house, the majority of government bills originate in the House of Commons. Under the Constitution, money bills must always originate in the House of Commons.

So what to make of the discussion of the Senate in recent weeks? (See the links below to get a clearer picture of the situation.) 

Despite Senate reform being part of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party platform during their minority governments, the recent controversy began surrounding several Senators’ places of residence, and whether they were eligible to claim travel benefits and living expenses from the government (one of these Senators, Conservative appointee Patrick Brazeau, was also arrested for assault related to a domestic disturbance in one of his homes).

Suffice it to say that the above flurry of relevant current events has sparked much legal debate about how Senators’ expense reports are documented and overseen by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (who the Toronto Star recently hailed as a “National Hero“), and even prompted the Senate to seek out a way to have Kevin Page drop his legal challenge against the federal government for failing to disclose its data.

BC has introduced in its own legislature a bill to elect its own Senators, following reforms in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and Conservatives in the House of Commons await advice from the Supreme Court as to whether Stephen Harper can begin reforming the Senate without approval from the provinces.

Not only that, in a bold play that some of the linked headlines might make slightly more feasible, the NDP has tabled bills in the House of Commons that – among other things – propose “immediate steps towards abolishing” the upper chamber.

It is indeed an exciting time to be engaged with our Federal politics, as these to gentlemen may agree:


Further Reading:

Quebec’s Senate appeal proceeds ahead of Supreme Court case

House votes to keep Senate

“I’ve been wanting to write this for ages…”

I came across this post from one of Jabiz‘ students in Singapore on Friday evening and wanted to share it with the TALONS class for a few different reasons:

  • While our class blogging serves to strengthen our own community and connections between the different grades and morning and afternoon programs, I am always looking for ways to connect our conversations to similar ones going on ‘out there’ in the world.
  • What Solal is writing about here is a relevant and universal sentiment that follows thinking people around throughout their lives, but is especially acute in adolescence.
  • I think there are many TALONS, past and present, who would like to join in this conversation, and potentially extend it into different threads to pursue here, and on their own blogs.

Here is Solal’s post, “Being Unsocial:”

Sometimes, I feel kinda bad about being a social outcast. I mean, I don’t know people that well and I have trouble breaking the ice, but I don’t get how you finish this conversation:

Me: “Hello, my name is Solal….. (Awkward silence)
Guy I’m trying to make friends with: (Back away slowly)

Invasive? Yes
Can I stop myself from doing it. Yes
Do I stop myself from being weird. No

Because in my eyes, I’m not.

And I envy those people in the Lunch queue who just turn around, talk to random people and become best friends (and beyond) instantly. I find it hard to go beyond my class. And those lunch groups. ARGHHHHHH. I try to join them, but how? Do I just walk up, come up with something amazing to say and just hang out? Because I can never find the right thing to say. And I’m not popular. And people don’t take me seriously. Because of my size? No, there are loads of popular shorties. Because of my appearance? No, there are loads of popular uglies (no, I don’t mean you). Because of my personality? It seems rational and probably is the reason. But then there are the endless websites that tell you to be yourself and not change your personality. So now what? How do I change the fact that people go “Oh, what’s Solal doing here?”to my face? And if they say that to my face, what must they say behind my back?

That’s also why I don’t really tend to invite people over (yep, the question marks again) What if they don’t like the place where I live? What if my family are embarrassing? What if I embarrass myself? And if any of these things happen, then I leave a lasting impression on the person.

But I think the main reason that I’m practically friendless is because it has become ‘Uncool’ or ‘Unpopular’ to be friends with Solal. (Yeah guys, I’m not stupid. I do care.) I bring this up because recently, I sat down on a bench with two guys, started a conversation with a pun and got into a lasting chat. Because they didn’t know I existed before. Or the sixth graders in my bus. Good friends. Because they don’t know about the fact that they shouldn’t be friends with me.

Beyond being a great piece of brave writing I’d like to highlight for the TALONS class, I think it would be interesting to see this thread continue in our own writing and blogging. For instance, I’d be curious to know how you go about confronting the task of “being yourself in a world that is trying to make you into something else“? What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself on the subject? Is there something your Eminent Person Study has taught you about this process?

Something visible in the (32 as of this posting) comments to Solal’s post is that this idea of social isolation and anxiety struck a nerve across Jabiz’ network of edubloggers, enjoying a mini-viral phenomena that has probably near-crashed his site any number of times in the last week. And so I wonder if the TALONS – even in this week of Notables and Eminents and a host of other teenage stresses – might feel like lending a hand in creating something of a meme around Solal’s initial post.

Because this is something that Jabiz and I feel passionately about: that the reason we find blogging, the potential of the Internet, and this idea of learning in networks so compelling is that it allows us each to gain a foothold in our own searching, just like Solal is doing, and to use this foothold to amplify the fruits of our learning across the blogosphere. So I’m curious:

Does the above post strike a nerve with you? Why?

Does it make you want to write a song, or poem?

Does it show itself to you in the form of an animated GIF?

What about a hipster edit?

Vulnerability Survey – Kelly & Mr. J


Today in class we did a special exercise addressing the fact that people in an elevator will always move as far away from each other as possible. We and a partner (or group of three) had to sit with our knees touching for about 30 seconds.

We weren’t allowed to look away.


We’re talking about vulnerability this week in our class, in preparation for writing This I Believe essays.

We would love to hear from you, and as many people as we can find to answer this survey. Please share our Google Form with anyone you think might be able to share their thoughts with us! These are challenging, but reflective and revealing questions to discuss, and we look forward to putting your inspiration into action in our own exploration in belief and collaborative expression in the coming weeks.

TALONS Vulnerability Survey

What we want to know:

  • How old are you?
  • Where are you from?
  • Are you a risk-taker?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • How did you deal with the situation in the last question?

Answer one, a few, or all of our questions, if you wish / want / can. We’ll appreciate whatever you might be able to share!