Nova Scotia

Cape Breton University to offer Mi'kmaq 'Knowledge Keepers' course

A new course being launched at Cape Breton University will try to share Mi'kmaq history, culture and wisdom with the world. It's the school's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Course in Mi'kmaq history, culture and wisdom is CBU's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A Mi'kmaq home in Nova Scotia around 1890. A new course at Cape Breton University will teach about Mi'kmaq history, culture and wisdom. (Nova Scotia Archives Twitter)

A new course being launched at Cape Breton University in the new year will try to share Mi'kmaq history, culture and wisdom with the world. 

It's called Learning from Knowledge Keepers of Mi'kma'ki and is CBU's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many of the whose 94 recommendations relate to education.

"The problem all along was that Mi'kmaq history was never taught in the schools," said Stephen Augustine, dean of Unama'ki College and Aboriginal Learning at CBU. "I never learned anything about my own culture and history in elementary and secondary schools."

Augustine will be one of the instructors for the new course. He says it will cover topics ranging from the Mi'kmaq creation story, to the residential school experience to indigenous governance of the future.

He's hoping students will come away with a better understanding of where Mi'kmaq people come from and who they are, and will learn about the language, ceremonies and traditions such as drumming and the sacred eagle feather.

Augustine says those are some of topics the general public asks about, but many Mi'kmaq people themselves know little about their own history and culture. 

"A lot of our people speak our language," he said, "but if you ask them what do the treaties mean, or what happened in 1610 when Membertou was baptised? 

"Those are things that are very important and integral to our culture and our society, and I think it is time right now that we all learn from that experience. And I think we can create a better Canadian society."

Talk to the whole world

To that end, the course material will be available to anyone, anywhere. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission talks about the importance of educating all Canadians, says Keith Brown, CBU's vice-president of international and aboriginal affairs.

"We were very mindful of that, whatever we do here," she said. "Of course, we want to talk to Cape Breton, to Unama'ki, but why can't we talk to the whole country or the whole world on Mi'kmaq issues? So that was our decision, to take it to the world."

The course material will be available for free, as CBU's first open-access online course. Students who pay to register will earn three CBU credits, and can participate in class, or online through live-streaming.

Brown says the goal is to make the credit course mandatory for all CBU students by 2017.