Thunder Bay·Audio

Online project aims to preserve voices, knowledge of First Nations elders

An elder based in Treaty 3 Territory in northwestern Ontario hopes a new website will help preserve traditional Anishinaabe language and culture for generations to come. "We must know where we come from to know where we are going," says Alo White.

New and growing website contains videos, podcasts, songs by elders in northwestern Ont.'s Treaty 3 Territory

Alo White, seen holding a completed Tikinagan, is lead elder for the Ki'eshgitabaaning Cultural & Healing Lodge in northwestern Ontario. The traditional healer and knowledge keeper, and original member of the Whitefish Bay singers, is spearheading a new website to preserve traditional Anishinaabe language and culture. (Ki'eshgitabaaning Cultural & Healing Lodge)

An elder based in Treaty 3 Territory in northwestern Ontario says he hopes a new website will help to preserve traditional Anishinaabe language and culture for generations to come. 

The recently launched features podcasts, videos and songs recorded by elders eager to share their knowledge.

"We have a lodge called Ki'eshgitabaaning Cultural & Healing Lodge, and it's a teaching lodge," said Alo White, of Naotkamegwanning First Nation, who is spearheading the effort.

"It's a ceremonial lodge and we help people in all kinds of different ways, ceremonies and healings and things like that. So we wanted to find a creative way to share our traditional knowledge, and that's why we came up with this website."

The site seemed the perfect way to reach out to young people in particular, he said, especially while so many in-person programs are shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Elders of Ki'eshgitabaaning Midewiin Lodge are pictured in this photo, part of a collection of 'images of the past' featured on the website. (Ki'eshgitabaaning Cultural & Healing Lodge)

He first began thinking about the idea years ago, after the devastating loss of his 23-year-old son, Edward Nathan White, to suicide.

"He always had a craving for knowledge of language, culture and history," said Alo White. "So that's when I started thinking about it.

"We started to talk to the elders about it, and they were all in."

There are currently 25 contributing elders, and he said more are welcome to join the project. Once they are all fully vaccinated, and feel safe, the elders will be invited to record additional material for the site.

The ultimate goal is to make sure their knowledge isn't lost, he said. 

"My grandfather ... if I could just turn on the internet, go onto a website and hear him talk and sing and share his knowledge, that would be really, really good for me. But I can't. They didn't have this kind of technology back in their time."

White said he hopes the site will help to offer younger generations a sense of meaning and purpose, by connecting them to the past. 

"We must know where we come from to know where we are going. We want a good solid cultural foundation for our grandchildren, and the ones yet to be born. That's why we're doing this."

In the heart of Treaty Three territory, a new initiative is aiming to document and share traditional Anishinaabe stories, teachings and songs. A group of elders from Treaty Three have created a living website. Alo White spoke to Amy Hadley about 7:44