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Unsettling Narratives: Indigenous Genocide and the Formal Curriculum in Manitoba and Minnesota

Canada and the United States share difficult histories of dispossession and physical and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. The legacies of genocide, as well as the ongoing structural violence, continues to characterize relations between Indigenous peoples and the nation-state. Thus, settler-colonial societies stand apart from other post-conflict contexts, given the continuing violence that is characteristic of such nation-states. Indeed, settler colonialism, according to Wolfe (2006), “is a structure not an event,” in which sustained settler control of land and resources demands the continued “erasure” of Indigenous peoples from those lands and the collective consciousness (p. 388). Such erasure is an organizing principle, or “grammar” (Calderon, 2014), of settler control, cultural genocide, and “settler futurity” (Tuck & Gaztambide-Fernández, 2013). Such grammars shape the way Indigenous peoples, histories, and contemporary realities are framed within curricula and classrooms. Though public education in Canada and the United States is often seen as inextricably linked to the colonial project, education also holds a transformative potential to disrupt the colonial legacies of mass violence and transform societies.

This paper examines the potential for public education to function both as and for transitional justice in settler colonial contexts, such as Canada and the United States. Especially following the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding education, Canada has been viewed as a model for the United States in terms of moving towards recognizing the genocidal nature of the settler state and unsettling the formal curriculum. However, given the decentralized nature of public education within both countries, where decisions around formal curriculum are determined at the provincial/state level, this paper examines Manitoba and Minnesota as sites for comparison. Using settler colonialism theory (Calderon, 2014; Tuck & Yang, 2012) this paper examines and compares the formal sixth-grade (students aged 11-12) provincial/state history curricula. Data were drawn from legislative mandates and standards, textbooks, and official or recommended curricula. Findings reveal that, in contrast to Minnesota, Manitoban curricula challenges the traditional erasure of Indigenous peoples by providing greater representation, especially of Indigenous resistance and survival. However, such narratives are limited and, ultimately, serve to reify the dominance of the settler nation-state.