Be Historically Literate

Why should we care about history? It’s in the past. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on what is going on now or look to the future and let the past be?

Let’s look at this from a personal perspective. When we meet someone for the first time, whether it’s a new friend, colleague or a romantic date, what do we do? Typically we provide a few details about ourselves – our name, where we are from and maybe a little about our family, work or other common interests. Then over time, if we choose to become closer to that person, we share more about our background – perhaps a difficult childhood, an illness, a divorce or even an abusive situation.

Why do we do that? Why not let the past go and only talk about the present or future?

I believe that to understand a person intimately one needs to know their history. This knowledge provides a more complete picture of the individual. Regardless of the work the person does to overcome difficult periods in their life, their past can still define them to a certain extent. The greater the trauma, the harder it is to get over and forget. The worse kind of trauma (think PTSD from war) affects us throughout our lives and affects those around us.

Consider a child who was abused. Years later, that same child may struggle with intimacy. A partner who didn’t know that part of their history could feel frustrated and angry at the lack of affection in their relationship. But once they understand where the struggle comes from, they can be empathetic, patient and supportive. Relationships are built on trust, understanding and empathy in those situations. Only then can they work together to make a better future.

For the same reason, it is just as important to understand our past as a nation. It is not to point fingers of blame or feel guilt or shame. We need to do this because currently there are people in our country who are shaped by those historical events. Just as we work to ensure healthy relationships, we need to do that same thing to have healthy communities and ultimately a healthy nation. When we learn the history of an entire group of people, we can be more empathetic, patient and supportive of their current situation(s) and help to make a better future for all.

But first, we need to build trust and understanding by learning the past. Only then can we work effectively together for a better future.

If you are anything like me, you didn’t learn about Canada’s complete history in school. It’s time everyone became historically literate in our country. We all need to learn about the shared history between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples.

There are many ways to do this. There are films and webinars available free of charge as well as excellent books on the subject.

I recently read “Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Indigenous Life” by James Daschuk in my book club. It’s a good place to start regardless of whether you live on the plains or not. If you don’t have time to read the book, you can watch this presentation (below) by the author, James Daschuk. His talk covers the second part of his book and is just over an hour long. A half hour Q&A period follows where you will be privileged to hear from First Nations elders on this topic.

I encourage you to find ways to learn about the true and complete history of Canada. Then we can be part of a more respectful, fair and equitable future.

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