Coteau Books in the Schools: Batoche
by Kim Morrissey ISBN 0-919926-91

Wilma Riley - Lesson Plan
for the poem "Dialectics"
from Kim Morrissey's Batoche

(suitable for secondary school students)


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The teacher would have briefly explained the significance of the Northwest Rebellion. It was the last armed confrontation in Canada of an Aboriginal and Metis group and the Canadian government. It comprised issues of Aboriginal rights, land use, Ontario's exploitation of the West, English Canadian imperialism as perceived by French Canadians, the constitution, land rights, the railroads. These issues could be listed on a notes sheet for the students, with room to add their own notes.

Begin by handing the students a sheet of paper with paragraphs written in a language they cannot understand. This could either be a real language, such as Arabic, or something the teacher has made up. They are told that this document contains information which is important to their future and they are to reply to it. When they are sufficiently engaged with the impossibility of the problem, they can be given another sheet of paper written in German (or any other language) and told that it contains the same information and they can decide which of the two languages they will learn for the purposes of a discussion and reply. They do not have the option of using the language which they already know. It must be one of these two.

The poem "Dialectics" can then be read. After this reading the discussion of the poem should then proceed on the issue it has raised about language - language of the people and language of the government. Why did the fate of Riel and the Northwest rebellion raise such passions in Quebec and Ontario? Why did Quebec feel that the handling of it was an affront to Quebec? Was the barrier of language used as a stalling tactic on the government's part? How did this issue contribute to the decision of the Metis and Indians to resort to force? Was there any significance in the decision to learn Cree rather than English? Whose decision was that? Riel's? The Indians?

The literary aspect which the poem demonstrates so well is the idea of poetry itself, the idea of 'enjambment'. How, in the unfolding of this poem, the background and issues of the Northwest Rebellion are revealed, but with the direct, to-the-gut emotion of sheer frustration, of impotence in the face of this refusal of communication on the part of the government and its agents.

What does the poem reveal about the speaker? Does he seem like a hot-headed person? Does the response of the Indians in their endeavour to learn Cree seem like a reasonable attempt to fit themselves to the government's conditions? How would you explain their MP's silence on this matter?

Is the speaker telling "the truth"? How could we find out? Is it a joke? If it is a joke, who is the joke told against?

As a writing challenge, ask the students to explain to a friend, in sixty words or less, the problems in dealing with parents who insist on moving to another city - a move which the student absolutely doesn't want and for good reasons - school progress, social circle, loss of friends, loss of opportunities to participate in sports, in theatre, etc. The parents' motive is financial gain.

As a follow-up activity the students could be given copies of the Metis constitution of the Provisional Government to read and discuss.

© Wilma Riley 1998

If you like this lesson plan, please Email Wilma Riley, and let her know, at  Coteau Books

TEACHERS, PLEASE NOTE: As an educator I am concerned not only with the student's maximum comprehension of the work but also that they use four aspects of language - listening, speaking, reading and writing as part of their own development.  Wilma Riley.



Certificates: TESL, Concordia University, 1981 Degrees: B.A. (Distinction), University of Saskatchewan; B.Ed., University of Regina Courses Taken: Eli Mandel, 1977 (poetry); Robert Kroetsch, 1978 (prose). Winner: Saskatchewan Writers Guild Major Fiction Award, (judge: Geoff Hancock).

Wilma Riley is a Regina school teacher and writer who loves to travel and is intrigued by other languages and cultures. She has won several awards for writing.

Her short story for children, Pies, was broadcast on CBC radio, published as a book by Coteau Books. Pies was also made into an award-winning National Film Board animated film (American Film festival 1986) and was chosen as one of the best films of 1986 by the American Librarian Association. It is a recommended text for multi-cultural courses in Canada.

Her adult espionage novel about France and the Algerian Crisis, CUT-OUT was published by Coteau Books in 1993, and optioned for a film in 1997. This is the last year (1999) of a three year option.

Wilma Riley - more details