Polenta at Midnight: Tales of Gusto and Enchantment in North York.


208 pages
ISBN 978-1-55065-224-6
DDC 971.3'541





Reviewed by Anna Migliarisi

Anna Migliarisi is an assistant professor in the English Department at
Acadia University, Nova Scotia.


This volume springs from a doctoral dissertation undertaken at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Dion, of Aboriginal ancestry, analyzes the place of Aboriginal people in the Ontario school curriculum, particularly their marginalization. In the dominant Canadian narrative, which is the foundation of the curriculum, Aboriginal people are seen as “romantic, mythical and Other.” She argues that the Canadian belief in their inherent fairness and compassion has coloured the reality of a much sadder Aboriginal history. Dion has determined that more reflective narratives or stories rooted in Aboriginal voices would allow non-Aboriginal students to have a better understanding of Aboriginal reality. More important, she believes that Aboriginal narratives rooted in reality, the past, and the present would give a sense of value and belonging to Aboriginal students. She developed three narratives with Aboriginal voice: that of her mother, Audrey; that of Shanawdithit, the last Beothuk; and that of Mistahimaskwa, the great Cree chief who was sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary after Frog Lake. With the narratives developed, Dion takes Audrey and Shanawdithit’s stories, and introduces them into the classroom with the assistance of several non-Aboriginal teachers. The question then becomes whether these new narratives have disrupted the existing “moulded” images of Aboriginal peoples, held both by the people themselves as well as non-Aboriginal Canadians.


By using Aboriginal stories, careful questioning, and student involvement Dion shows that it is possible to change the dominant Canadian narrative. Dion’s study proves that while the structures of teaching have reinforced a dominant structure, if teachers can engage in self-reflection about how their own belief structures impact learning, there is hope. While the book will be of value to teachers interested in challenging their belief structure, it is not written in the most accessible language and in many ways is still too close to the dissertation that was its parent. Could plainer and more accessible language have done justice to such an important and complex subject?


Carley, Glenn., “Polenta at Midnight: Tales of Gusto and Enchantment in North York.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28226.