By: Alexandra Paul
Winnipeg Free Press
The first of four books to capture aboriginal cultural teaching, never written down before, was released Thursday in Winnipeg in a glossy paperback packed with stunning photographs.
The book is the product of years of painstaking work in almost every First Nation community in the province.
It took nearly a decade to interview 228 elders from 62 communities but now that the inaugural volume of the Oral History Project is complete, Manitoba is well on its way to preserving some of the most important First Nations teachings of the past century, Treaty Commission James Wilson told a conference of aboriginal educators Thursday.
"First Nations have oral cultures. The elders are really the knowledge carriers, the scholars, the society, so every time and elder passes away – and we’ve have 26 elders pass away since we started this project — if they haven’t passed on that knowledge it goes with them," said Wilson.
The loss of a living link to history through death was as significant as losing access to a treasured manuscript or parchment in European society. But with the revitalization of aboriginal culture, there’s a lot of focus now on reviving traditional perspectives.
The release of the first volume was made with the flourish of a formal aboriginal traditional presentation.
Two youngsters were called up on a stage where each handed a packet of tobacco to elder Doris Pratt of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and elder Harry Bone of Keeseekoowenin Ojibway Nation, both based in western Manitoba.
The pair were instrumental in bringing the project to life, as a way to pass on knowledge and pride in indigenous history and culture.
Pratt said, "This volume brings forward First Nations’ stories from the perspectives of the people who are responsible for the preservation of histories for future generations."
It’s a gift for the whole province, to new generations of aboriginal people and to non-native cultures alike.
"In order to know where you are going, you need to know where you come from which is why the Oral History Project is so important," Bone said.
The title of the first book is Untuwe Pi Kin He, which means Who We Are in Dakota. Together, the group of four will cover aboriginal history and its relationship with the land, the immigrants who settled here and the treaties to guide relations between them.
The second volume is due out in mid-March with the other two later this year. Eventually the set will find its way into classrooms around the province and bookstores for the public.
Already the first 500 have already snapped up; they’re going to public schools and First Nation schools that teach treaty education. Another print run for 1,000 is in the works.
The books are the brainchild of a committee of experts, with the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the commission’s Council of Elders.