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Content Alert

Some of the stories and artifacts in this module use the harmful language and imagery of eugenics. This includes the forced institutionalization of people with disabilities and people labelled with intellectual disabilities; forced placement of First Nations children in Indian Residential Schools (in effect until 1996) and Training Schools; sexual assault, rape, murder, and theft of First Nations and settler children; forced and coerced sterilization; and mass media advocating for the elimination of First Nations and settler peoples who did not fit white settler colonial worldviews.

Harmful words such as insane, lunatic, idiot, moron, retarded (r-word), imbecile, or feebleminded are referred to in the module. Because the r-word continues to be especially harmful, we have placed a Harmful Language warning label directly next to video media that contains that term.

We request that you not use harmful language in or beyond the classroom except when reading and referring to language used in the materials themselves.

Those who have experienced harm from colonial and eugenic violence may have differing and/or heightened responses to this module, including trauma responses.1(footnote) You may not know in advance what will trigger a trauma response. We strongly recommend you visit the Prepare and Work with Care module beforehand — it is intended to aid learners with engaging with this content. Recognizing the ways settler education has asserted authoritarian and non-consensual power relations within the space of learning, our hope is for learners to engage with maximum informed consent.2(footnote)

In presenting this challenging subject matter we find disability studies scholar Margaret Price’s advice helpful. She says, “please do what you need […] to take care of yourself. You may need to take up a different position, engage in some manual activity—knitters, feel free to take out your work—you may simply need to leave.”3(footnote)

What this Module Strives to Do

In this module you will engage with activist and survivor Peter Park’s personal story. His narrative begins with a message of hope, dignity, respect, and inclusion. He shares the dehumanization he experienced at the Oxford Regional Centre. Park provides learners and educators with tools for disability rights advocacy and activism.

This module supports disability rights activists and their accomplices’ ongoing fight to end colonial human race betterment. As part of that fight, the module centres on plain language activism, disability rights-based activism, activist art, lived experience, and ongoing efforts of rights-based organizations to prioritize disability communities and the voices of people labelled with intellectual disability.

There are key threads of understanding that weave through this module.4(footnote) We have purposefully centred experiential or cultural knowledges that celebrate difference as primary to all life. These act as a counterpoint to the circulation of dominant eugenic knowledges and discourses that seek to narrow and reduce difference. Such counternarratives disrupt and intervene in dominant narratives by telling stories that offer other possible ways of being. This allows us to imagine and build a more just future.5(footnote)

This module focuses on the relationships between disability, institutionalization, and rights activism. You will be asked to consider how and why certain people and systems aligned themselves with ideas of human race betterment. Also, you will be asked to think about how these “race betterment” ideas evolved in institutions that attempted to control, change, and eliminate people they deemed unfit under the cover of care, therapy, and education.

The experiences presented here relate specifically to epilepsy and labels of intellectual disability. They give one local and context-specific glimpse of the larger harm done to disability communities across this land and globally.

We widen the story of lived experience so learners will gain knowledge of the different institutions and mechanisms that agents of eugenic race betterment have used—and continue to use—in attempts to control, change, and annihilate disabled peoples and their relationships to loved ones. Such institutions and mechanisms include educational spaces (such as museums, universities, colleges, and training schools), disability focused residential institutions, chemical and physical restraints, emotionally and physically abusive and pathologizing approaches to controlling behaviour, controlling and preventing relationships, marriage restrictions, sterilization, exclusionary communication practices, and incarceration in spaces meant to provide care.

You may encounter knowledge that is not necessarily familiar:

Proposed Process for Ethical Engagement

This overview offers suggestion for engagement.

We model an approach to learning from the powerful knowledge of survivor-activists. As such, we have woven together many layers or strands that are meaningful to the survivors and the larger team of collaborators who developed this module. These strands include prioritizing lived-experiences, presenting those lived-experiences in multiple accessible ways, justice-oriented and active reflective thinking and learning, and countering oppressive ideas with specific tools. We intentionally foreground land-based learning that challenges unthought occupation and single stories and worldviews. We believe learning is a transformational, process oriented, and life-long journey—not a one-off transaction.

We encourage you to braid, weave, and knit with the many strands you will encounter. Some activities ask you to intentionally weave specific strands. Other activities ask you to reflect on how those strands change what you see and understand.

We want you to feel safe as you reflect on these challenging stories and information. When you reflect, keep in mind that it is perfectly valid to not know how to process this information at this point. Your current environment may impact your opportunities to reflect. Remember that reflective thinking can involve multiple modes of response (land-based, creative movement, written, video, music, etc.) and take place over longer periods of time.

You will build skills and critical understanding of knowledge that has often been erased, silenced, and diminished.

Below are some additional suggestions for how learners might move through the module:

Investigate

  • Investigate the eugenic and euthenics artifacts from the past and present to understand more about how Peter Park’s story speaks to larger systems of annihilation;

Identify

  • Identify shifts in your own thinking and commitments to action before, during, and after module activities;

Reflect

  • Reflect on the tools, strategies, and systems of ableist human race betterment and ways that are presented here to counter them;
  • Think through your own intentions as a learner. What do you have to offer in terms of your own lived experiences? This is a prompt for reflection, not a request to disclose personal information;

Examine

  • Examine concepts and terms and how and why they carry different meanings in differing contexts;

Engage

  • Engage with the lived experiences of Peter Park multiple times. His story is presented in text, audio/video, and visual forms;
  • Engage with this learning as a process, relationship building, and part of an ongoing journey—not a one-off transaction;6(footnote)

Practice

  • Practice land-based activities to locate yourself in relationship to the land while acknowledging the land is the ancestral lands of the Original Peoples and that they continue to be dispossessed to the benefit of all settlers. Consider how you can care for the land which sustains you;

Explore

  • Explore your own family history, lived experiences, and educational experiences in relation to human race betterment ideas and practices in Ontario and beyond.
Footnotes
  1. Naomi Bird (2019) has written about the way emotional labour can be used to uphold settler colonial education frameworks. For example, settler colonial educational spaces often call upon Indigenous learners and educators to become informants and to expose their own private lives for the benefit of non-Indigenous learners. This labour can negatively affect the learning process, retention, educational achievement and well-being of Indigenous students. For more on the (re)traumatization and coerced emotional labour that Indigenous students experience, see Naomi Bird, “The Emotional Labour of Indigenous Post-Secondary Students: A Trauma-Informed Autoethnography” Bachelor of Community Design, major research paper, (Dalhousie University, 2021).

  2. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson also explains the relationship between pedagogy and informed consent. Quoting Simpson, “Coming to know also requires complex, committed, consensual engagement. […] The word consensual here is key because if children learn to normalize dominance and nonconsent within the context of education, then nonconsent becomes part of the normalized tool kit of those with authoritarian power.” Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 162.

  3. Margaret Price quoted in Alison Kafer, “Un/Safe Disclosures: Scenes of Disability and Trauma,” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 10, no. 1 (March 2016): 1–20, 2, (Source).

  4. The notion of braiding different strands of knowing and being comes from the work of Elwood Jimmy and Vanessa Andreotti in their June 2019 booklet “Toward Braiding.” They explain, “[b]raiding is not a form of synthesis”; “[b]raiding is also not the result of selective combinations in which one side emerges triumphant over the other. Instead, braiding is premised on respecting the continued internal integrity of […] [the strands], even as neither side is static or homogenous, and even as both sides might be transformed in the process of braiding.” Elwood Jimmy and Vanessa Andreotti, “Towards Braiding” (Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures, 2019, 21), (Source).

  5. Jackie Leach Scully, “Disability Bioethics: Moral Bodies, Moral Difference,” Feminist Constructions, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

  6. Consider the artwork of Potawatomi-Lenapé disability-identified artist Vanessa Dion Fletcher titled “Relationship or Transaction?”(Source). The artwork uses rolled up Canadian five-dollar bills in place of traditional wampum beads (made from seashells) to represent the 1764 Western Great Lakes Covenant Chain Wampum Belt between the British and specific First Nations (also known as the Treaty of Niagara). Representing one of Canada’s foundational treaties, Fletcher’s artwork asks people to re-consider the “treaty relationship---not as a finite transaction that begins and ends when people exchange money, lands, and resources but rather an open-ended agreement, in which people enter living relationships and commit to upholding certain values, rights, and responsibilities as an integral part of maintaining those relationships. The work thus offers important commentary on a profound rub between the worldviews informing settler and First Nations approaches to reciprocity: between those premised on capitalism, which instrumentalize and reduce exchanges of activities and things to commodified transactions; and those premised on holism or monism, which recognize the inherent interconnectedness of all things and emphasize a shared responsibility for sustaining good relations, with both the human and non-human world.” Carla Rice, Susan D. Dion, and Eliza Chandler, “Decolonizing Disability Through Activist Art,” Disability Studies Quarterly 41, no. 2, pp. 7,8/26 (June 15, 2021),