Oral history book ensures aboriginal elders' stories live on

More than 200 First Nations elders from around Manitoba want to make sure their stories live on. Ten years in the making, Manitoba now has the first volume of its oral history.

Extensive volume of Manitoba oral history 10 years in the making

More than 200 First Nations elders from around Manitoba want to make sure their stories live on. Ten years in the making, Manitoba now has the first volume of its oral history. 1:54

More than 200 First Nations elders from around Manitoba want to make sure their stories live on.

Ten years in the making,  Manitoba now has the first volume of First Nations oral history, called Treaty Elders Teachings: Untuwe Pi Kin He (Who We Are).

It is the passing on of elders' knowledge, in their own words, for the younger generations.

These traditional oral teachings have been written down to preserve part of First Nations history

"When an elder passes away, if they haven't passed on that knowledge they are taking a lot of knowledge with them," Jamie Wilson, Manitoba's treaty relations commissioner, said Thursday.

This book is the first of four volumes, which will end up in classrooms throughout the province.

It took the The Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, along with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, nearly 10 years to interview more than 200 elders.
Manitoba now has the first volume of First Nations oral history, called Treaty Elders Teachings: Untuwe Pi Kin He (Who We Are). (CBC)

"There is an overwhelming urge to want to share their stories, stories that they heard themselves from their grandparents," Wilson explained.

As many of the elders wanted to share in their own languages, each story is written in English and one of five First Nations languages.

Anishinaabe elder James Cote shared the stories passed down from his grandparents. He's proud those words will now teach the younger generations.

"They need to know. We need to tell them who they are and where they came from," said Cote. 

The 73-year-old elder is a residential school survivor. He never knew what it meant to be First Nations.

"We were not taught anything in regards to … who we were, who we are today," he said.

"We weren't taught that. We were taught the famous reading, writing and arithmetic, but nothing about our treaties, nothing about who we really are."

Cote said he was angry for many years and travelled down the wrong path, but then he started asking for help.

"I had to find ways and means of finding my sobriety, and I did that with help of the elders," he explained.

As Cote began learning the teachings, he changed. He now passes those stories on to his own grandchildren.

"We as elders have to teach them that," he said.

Cote said the oral history books will help young people understand who they are for years to come, long after the elders are gone.

About the Author

Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been reporting for a decade. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor