New online encyclopedia will be a hub for Indigenous teachings
Debby Wilson Danard holds up a white hardcover book – it has a simple pencil illustration and the title in a serifed typeface “The Sacred Scrolls of the Southern Ojibways”.
It sounds unpretentious, but the 1975 anthropology book contains a lot of teachings and knowledge, says Danard, who is Anishinaabe and a member of Manitou Rapids, the Rainy River First Nations.
“I wanted this book for a very long time. But it’s US $ 1,400, ”she says. She obtained a copy from the University of Toronto, where she teaches, and has kept it.
Danard is a traditional teacher and since her teenage years she has traveled across Ontario to meet different communities. As a survivor of The ’60s Scoop and “a little troubled teenager,” she says lore and knowledge saved her life.
Now that she is older, she wanted to find a way to give back and make knowledge more accessible to First Nations people in particular. So, she and some members of her family are working on the creation of a new resource: Indigipedia.
Over the summer, she, her son and daughter-in-law crowdfunded approximately $ 6,000 and worked on the design of a digital encyclopedia of Indigenous teachings to be edited by community members. and consulted by a wise counselor. The site is expected to launch in January 2022.
“Our history has been shaped through the prism of anthropology for so long,” said Danard, and it will be a living document created by the community.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation it necessitated caused Danard to consider other ways to meet.
“Part of it was because if we couldn’t meet in community, how could we share our knowledge? How would these cultural transmissions take place? How could we connect through disconnection? Danard said.
“It was a way to use the modern technology available and provide another format,” she said. “I just think it’s important that we use all the technology at our disposal. ”
And increasingly, Indigenous peoples are using digital platforms to find community, amplify their voices, and educate in their own words.
Much of this is already happening on social media. And there, it’s more than education, it’s community.
The #NativeTikTok hashtag on the video app is full of jokes, skits and humor; clothing and make-up displays; history lessons, news and information on native culture.
Sherry McKay, an Anishinaabe TikTok designer, has humor in most of her videos. Sometimes there isn’t so much of a punchline as a quick-busting myth. Like the idea that Indigenous people don’t pay taxes in Canada – she holds up a handful of receipts to clear up any confusion.
McKay said the atmosphere online is a lot like real-life for Indigenous communities.
“A lot of our ceremonies… powwow for example, is where we get together,” McKay said. “It’s almost like a really big powwow sometimes, like you have your dancers, your singers, your comedians, your MCs… it’s literally like a digital gathering of nations”, one of the biggest pow- wow from Turtle Island.
“I feel like with the pandemic… because we couldn’t get together in person… with the community, we found a really cool place on TikTok to do these things,” she said.
And then for non-Natives, McKay feels that the allies are “waiting for a time like this where they can actually learn from the people themselves rather than whitewashed history books.”
Accessible learning was the goal when Shanese Steele, an African-Indigenous educator created her Instagram account @learnwithshanese, where she amplifies black and Indigenous stories in the Canadian context.
“I honestly think social media and these online platforms have really created a space for indigenous voices that weren’t necessarily heard or sought after in the past,” she said.
For Devon Saulis, she was able to use social media as a language tool. Saulis is Wolastoqew, a community in what is now New Brunswick and Maine that has very few fluent speakers. Today, his nation has fewer than 100 Wolastoqey speakers.
For Saulis, his father was sent to a day school, which took away his language skills, so he could not convey it beyond a few words and sentences.
As Saulis got older it became more important to reclaim the language. “If you want to know more about the culture, you have to learn the language because the culture exists in the language,” she said.
Along with online classes, walks with his dad to practice identifying animals and trees, and a weekly video call group with fellow Wolastoqiyiks, Saulis launched @ wolastoq.wednesday on Instagram.
Listen: Wolastoqey speaker Devon Saulis asks, “How’s your mind?” “
With the help of community elder and language carrier Allan Tremblay, Saulis creates graphics of words and phrases, their phonetic pronunciations, and literal meanings, such as the greeting “Tan kahk olu kil?” which means “How’s your mind?” “
“I created this page because I thought that people like me, who are particularly out of touch with their language and have no resources, can at least have something to expose them to it,” Saulis said.
For those who are not Wolastoqew, this is a way to learn parts of the culture that are appropriate. And rather than having information filtered out by outsiders, indigenous peoples can write it down and send it online, on their own terms.
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