I have recently joined a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered by the University of Alberta through Coursera to become better informed about the Canadian Indigenous histories and the issues resulting from the colonization practices. Since the course only has 12 lessons, it cannot cover all aspects of Indigenous history and the effects of colonization.
Yet what it does cover is far more than what I’ve ever known. I wonder if I was informed at one time but I didn’t realize the significance of the information. Or if there had been brief murmurings along the outer edges of my consciousness but in the heyday of my life, were easily ignored. Or if the information was simply not readily available. In The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative, Thomas King ends each chapter with the phrase, “But don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now” (Toronto, ON: Dead Dog Cafe Productions Inc. and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2003). That’s how I feel about the information I’m learning in the Indigenous Canada MOOC.
I invite you to join me as I explore my learnings through this blog.
The first module introduced the traditional names used by Indigenous peoples. What I’ve always known as the Cree people are actually called Nehiyawak, while the Mohawk people are called Kanien:keha’ka. I’m curious as to where the word “Cree” and “Mohawk” came from.
Another insight from this module resulted in clarifying my understanding of Indigenous ways and how each group’s worldview was a product of where in space and place the group resided. For example, the harsh northern climate shaped the Inuit worldview that includes the principles of working for the common good and continually planning and preparing for the future. The strong ties the Kanien:keha’ka in Eastern Canada had with the land was reflected in the balance of power between the genders and the kinship within the clans. Since the Nehiyawak – the largest population of any Aboriginal group in Canada, extending from BC to Quebec – were extremely mobile, travelling over long distances, their worldview embodies the phrase “all my relations.” This phrase connected each person with every other person, an important concept for any traveler. The last Indigenous group discussed in Module 1 is the Tlingit, who reside in northwestern BC. The food and resources found in that area were abundant and resulted in accumulations of material riches. The potlatch ceremonies were the methods used to redistribute the wealth and resources throughout the communities.
Unfortunately, these worldviews were seen as threats to the settlers arriving from Europe and many of the traditional practices, such as potlatches, were outlawed by the Canadian government. And we’re left with the devastation from this attempted cultural genocide that remained unchecked for well over a century.
If you’re interested, you can access the MOOC through: https://www.coursera.org/learn/indigenous-canada#faq. You can take the course for free and complete it at your leisure. If you want a certificate upon completion, there are deadlines, small quizzes, and a fee.