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.

Be Teachable

The definition of teachable is “apt and willing to learn.” Are you that person? Specifically, are you willing to put aside what you think you know… to learn another truth?

I’ve been doing that a lot lately. The pandemic and lockdowns have seen me with more time on my hands and because there is a plethora of free (or low cost) webinars and courses available right now, I’ve taken advantage of many.

I’m on a mission to learn as much as I can about Indigenous Peoples in Canada. What I have discovered has been enlightening, shocking and humbling on a very personal level. I realize that I’ve held preconceived notions that have proven to be so far from the truth that I can’t believe I ever thought the way I did.

As European descendants, many of us were led to believe that Indigenous Peoples were somehow “less advanced” than us. That way of thinking isn’t surprising because in the 1800’s the Government of Canada labelled Indigenous Peoples as “primitive, child-like and uncivilized.” They did that on purpose as a way to put them down and allow settlers to take over their land.

Sadly, that same attitude continues today in so many people.

What I have discovered in my education is that Indigenous Peoples pre-1800’s were exactly the opposite. They were incredibly advanced in languages, economics and trade, pharmacology and agriculture, animal behavior, astronomy and weather systems, political and reformatory systems, and spiritual wisdom and ceremonies.

In their rush to take over the land, the government actively destroyed Indigenous Peoples’ ways of living for the purpose of assimilating them. They removed children from their parents for generations as a way to eliminate their language, culture and knowledge. They arrogantly assumed that European ways were more intelligent and somehow better.

Separating generations of children from their parents and community, along with the horrible abuse they suffered in residential schools, left a legacy of shame, humiliation, pain and loss of identity that has resulted in domestic abuse, alcohol and drug addiction and so much more. The ripple effects are still felt today.

The resilience, self-determination and strength shown by Indigenous Peoples after enduring so much is truly remarkable.

After close to 200 years and generations of abuse, some of the Indigenous knowledge and ways of living have been lost. Fortunately, some have survived, and there is an effort now to bring more back through Elders holding this sacred knowledge.

There is much to learn about our shared history and current issues happening today. For reconciliation to happen, it is vitally important that every Canadian do their part and learn the truth for themselves. There are many ways to do that – books, videos, webinars, courses, social media groups, websites, etc.

Allow me to share just a few ways to get started. These are free or charge a small fee:

Indigenous Canada is a 12-lesson Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. It explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada.

Cultivating Compassion is a four-module workshop to create awareness and understanding of Indigenous and Canadian history in order to build bridges from the past to the present and subsequently our future.

KARIOS Blanket Exercise is a two-hour interactive workshop that allows you to learn the history most Canadians are never taught. While this is an amazing event in person, KAIROS has developed a virtual Blanket Exercise workshop that is now available.

Take a look online to see what courses are available that interest you and fit in the time that you have available. I’d love to hear what you take!

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