New history lessons for and by the Atikamekw

Gone are the days when young people from Wemotaci, Opitciwan and Manawan had to learn a history that is not theirs. History lessons prepared for and by the Atikamekw are gradually being rolled out in the secondary schools of the three communities.

Rosalie Niquay opens the door to her classroom, the largest at Nikanik secondary school in Wemotaci. The class is empty, there are no students, but the history teacher is beaming.

She takes out from her library the binder distributed to the students for their history class. When I think about it, I am proud to know that I am like the first in Atikamekw history.

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Christian Coocoo and Rosalie Niquay are part of the committee behind the development of the new history courses.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Yoann Dénécé

New content

The document she presents to us was not published in Montreal or Quebec like most of those found in Quebec schools. The binder was carefully prepared by a team of experts in the field of history, the Atikamekw language, teaching and pedagogy.

Rosalie contributed greatly to its writing. The challenge was great. No such document existed. Indigenous knowledge has been passed down orally for centuries.

The course content leaves a lot of room for Atikamekw ancestral knowledge. For example, teenagers learn the names of the 16 types of trees present in the region in their mother tongue, as well as the history of the great people who left their mark on the nation. We also deal with other indigenous communities around the world.

Increased motivation

The interest of young people is undeniable. Quickly, everyone concludes with success. I see the pride in everything they learn in my class. I even had parents talk to me about it […]. Parents told me that they learn from their children.

There are good grades, it’s because I see that there is interest, a lot of interest.

A quote from Rosalie Niquay, history teacher at Nikanik secondary school in Wemotaci

The students particularly appreciated the teacher’s family tree project. The idea was for young people to trace their ancestors to better know where they came from. There are those who [m’arrêtent] in the corridors. “I found so-and-so!” It stimulates them!

That we teach our own history to our young people, I had always had this ideasays Christian Coocoo, a man from Wemotaci who also contributed to the development of the program.

He recognizes that indigenous history is covered in history classes in Quebec. However, the place reserved for it has not always been very important. It is certain that we have improved the program, but at the time of what I remember in terms of indigenous history it was just a page or two.

Knowledge to preserve

The grand chief of the Atikamekw Nation Council, Constant Awashish, studied in town, in La Tuque. He would have liked to be able to benefit from such teachings.

I think things are changing, things are evolving. Governments are more open to hearing indigenous stories. I think that this program is a bit of a reflection of this openness which is slowly taking hold and which is taking up more and more space.he explains.

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The Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation Council, Constant Awashish, during the launch of the program on May 29.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Yoann Dénécé

Things have changed over the centuries as a result of colonization. The Atikamekw, a nomadic people, were forced to settle down.

We frequent the forest less. Young people have less chance to practice their activities. I think that with a history program like that, it will allow these young people not to lose elementsadds Constant Awashish.

The courses are a small consolation, a balm for the elderly, a legacy for future generations. They allow us to preserve what has not yet been forgotten.

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