Joseph Boyden Brings History, Literature and First Nations Culture Together at Class of ’58 Lecture

“Critical Thinking” Lecture a Success

Article and Photos by 25366 Pte Mike Shewfelt

The annual Class of ’58 Lecture is, as 4183 Ron Neville says, “intended to get Cadets thinking critically about our world.” To that end, the Class of ’58 has, over the years, brought in a number of prominent speakers. This year’s was Canadian author Joseph Boyden, who presentation was entitled “Warrior Soldier: Canada’s First Nations Volunteer for Battle.”

Boyden, who is of Irish, Scot and Anishanaabe descent, and who comes from a military family (his father was a decorated Second World War veteran, and his nephew 25445 Cpl Zachary Boyden was in attendance at the lecture), certainly has the background to speak on First Nations involvement in Canadian military history. “I am my father’s son,” he said. “My novel Three Day Road grew out of the stories of my childhood, and of wanting to know more about my father who died when I was 8.” The novel was originally intended as a Second World War story, but Boyden moved it to the First World War after reading of Native snipers who served in that conflict.

“I see my role as enlightening about First Nations culture,” he said. “It’s not a job I wanted, but it’s one that was given to me.” The cultural differences, he said, really come down to worldviews. “You have the Western worldview, where mankind is given the Earth for our use and we’re at the top of the proverbial totem pole. The First Nations’ perspective is a complete contrast. Mankind is at the bottom of the totem pole. We need everything the Earth provides, but nothing on the Earth needs us. Once you start looking at the world that way, it changes things.”

Boyden used that background as a starting point to talk about First Nations’ involvement in Canadian history. “The current situation, which is exemplified in the Idle No More movement, is nothing new. This problem has been around a very long time. First Nations World War 1 veterans almost disappear from history. They enlist with promises of being given the vote if they fight, and of being allowed to own land (none of which they have at the time), and they return to find that all those promises have been broken and nothing has changed for them. First Nations people don’t get the right to vote in Canada until the 1960’s, and the last residential school doesn’t shut its doors until the 1990’s.”

“History does not exist in a vacuum,” he said. “We’re not dealing with the problem in a way that will resolve it. The system in which First Nations youth find themselves is still set up to make them fail. At least now we’re talking about it, but there is a groundswell movement going on, like the Idle No More movement, and it’s a positive thing. It’s not something to be afraid of. If you are afraid, then you’re afraid for the wrong reasons.”

Whether you agreed with him or not, Joseph Boyden certainly had those present thinking critically about the world around them, and that’s what the Class of ’58 Lecture is all about.

Photos from the evening (click to enlarge):