open inquiry, Passion Project

Week 4: Research, Story Themes and Characters

Hello Everyone!

Once again, this week has been very busy for me, but I’m sure it’s the same for every student and professor at UVic! Yet, I pushed to find time to meet another professor for help with my story’s theme and characters. I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Onowa McIvor from the Indigenous Education faculty at UVic.

My first question was, “how I should portray aboriginal characters in my work of fiction?” She began with a small history lesson on Cree people and various other Indigenous peoples across Canada and other parts of the world before Europeans arrived. Onowa reminds me that the words “aboriginal” and “indigenous” are homogenizing since each group have different customs, languages, culture, beliefs, etc. These communities should not be generalized into one.

Since education and child growth are the main themes in my short story, I asked Onowa about youth education in these communities. She answered that it depends since youth education was not the same in every tribe. I’ve learned that the Circle of Courage, or Medicine Wheel, is from one people’s culture, taught by one author. It does not represent all First Nation groups in Canada. She informed me that communities in the West Coast of British Columbia have never implemented this form of education since they had a different system. Again, this ties back to diversity between Indigenous peoples. Onowa appreciates Dr. Martin Brokenleg’s form of education, as do many people, but gently cautions to me that the Medicine Wheel is not a belief system within every First Nation’s community in Canada or the US.

We then talked about my characters who are from First Nation communities and how they could be portrayed. After I described the characters to Onowa, she advises me to avoid calling them “aboriginal” (for the reasons above) which I already had planned to do. I asked her if it was a good idea to avoid attaching or labeling these characters to a particular community/group to connect with a wider audience. It was my initial plan. She responds that as long as I avoid generalizing and stereotyping while writing these characters, it is up to me.

She suggests that I learn about my environment, the place I live and call home, to learn about the people who have lived here for thousands of years, through endless generations. By learning about the history and culture from the people who have lived in this place now called Victoria longer than my ancestors did, my characters will be more complex, engaging, and interesting.

Onowa recommended a few sources that I should look at. She suggests Neither Indian Princesses Nor Easy Squaws by Janice Acoose, a small book discussing the basic gender stereotypes and generalization toward First Nation women. Another one is Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film by Peter C. Rollins, which debunks myths of First Nation people commonly portrayed in movies, books, and other forms of popular culture. I will certainly look at these books that will influence my decisions involving my characters. Onowa also recommends 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann which examines the history and archeology sciences in America before the arrival of Columbus and Europeans.

Onowa has certainly broadened my views toward cultures, history, and people as individuals and community members. Our discussion was very interesting, opening new ideas and thoughts for my story and characters. My intention is to portray the characters respectfully and logically, depicting them as complicated individuals with goals and thoughts as they face hardships of their situation. Even now, I still hear of authors and directors making stereotypes for certain characters based on their gender and ethnics, like J.K. Rowling for example. Rowling has made a mistake by revealing that Nagini, the viscous snake that serves the villain Voldemort, is actually an Asian woman with a curse that transforms her into a beast. Many fans and viewers are upset by the choice since it associates Asian women with the ” dragon lady” stereotype ( https://uproxx.com/movies/nagini-controversy-fantastic-beasts-jk-rowling/).

Nagini-top-image-866x487

Photo provided by GQ, edited screenshot of upcoming Harry Potter world movie Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Url: https://www.gqindia.com/content/nagini-fantastic-beasts-2-harry-potter-theory-who-is-nagini-from-jk-rowlings-harry-potter-universe-who-plays-nagini-in-fantastic-beasts-the-crimes-of-grindelwald-claudia-kim/

Hopefully, when this story is finished, I can use what I have learned and teach future elementary classrooms diversity and respect for all individuals and communities.

Sorry everyone, I have done so little on part two of my story that it’s not enough to show yet. I promise next week, I will write more and read/scan the suggested books before posting them. I also want to thank Onowa for taking the time in meeting me for the wonderful discussion. You have done more than answer my questions!

Until next week, see you!

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