What began as a research project to bring the youth and the Elders of the Mushkegowuk region together has become one of the most innovative Cree leaning websites on the Internet.
A few years ago, Stan Louttit (not the Mushkegowuk Grand Chief) was working on a research project and started looking at how to teach the youth of the region about Treaty 9, the 1905 James Bay treaty for the Cree and Anishinabe, from an Aboriginal perspective.
His original idea was to create a website that would give an oral understanding of the treaty from the perspective of the Elders through videos and put them on a website so that it would be in a medium the youth would find attainable and then provide education kits to go with the interviews.
With that in mind, Louttit began to videotape interviews with Elders in the communities about their knowledge of Treaty 9 and then what they had learned about it from their parents and grandparents.
Developing a video game was never part of the plan, but as the project grew and Louttit developed partnerships with Carleton University, Blackcherry Digital Media, the Mushkegowuk Council and Pinegrove Productions, the idea for a simple learning site grew into a high-tech interactive site with a role-playing game.
“The idea was to build in all of this relevant Cree cultural content into each part of the game so that students who were playing the game and having fun would not realize that they are actually learning about their own culture,” said Louttit.
In researching how to set up the content of the game, Louttit said he came across studies on B.C. First Nations communities that were some of the healthiest in Canada and had the lowest rates of suicide. Because these communities had control of their own education, strong economic and social infrastructures, knowledge of their culture and high employment rates, all of these aspects of healthy communities are incorporated into the game.
At the end of the game, players can achieve self-governance by renegotiating Treaty 9 but they first have to develop trapping, culture, health, economy and services.
The youth-oriented game is not the only element on the site as there are many other facets available for learning about the history of the First Nations communities in the region.
The site also contains all of Louttit’s interviews with the Elders in both English and Cree with English subtitles.
There are also galleries of over 300 photos that Louttit and his team obtained from the Catholic archives in Ottawa that were taken by the missionaries during colonization in places like Moose Factory, Fort Albany and Kashechewan.
In keeping with the concept of bringing the Elders’ teachings and history to the youth, Louttit said he and his team were able to obtain a number of Mushkegowuk narratives done by researcher C. Douglas Ellis in the ’60s and ’70s. On the site, visitors can click to go into a digital teepee to listen to these interviews.
Also on the site is an essay Louttit wrote on the history of Treaty 9 and its development from an Aboriginal perspective for more enhanced learning. However the essay is written simply so that Grade 6 or 7 students can comprehend it.
While the project has not been developed for in-class learning, for any teacher who wishes to use it as a teaching tool, the website also has a teacher’s guide so that it could be used in such a context.
From Louttit’s perspective, the site should not just be limited to youth in the Mushkegowuk region as he has discovered that non-Aboriginal children living elsewhere found the game and the site just as interesting. Though the game is set up so that elementary-school students can understand and play it, he has seen Grade 12 students enjoy it.
Louttit is hoping that this can become a learning tool for schools and First Nations communities all across Canada.
“For us it is a really ambitious and innovative way of trying to convey historical information and then also documenting Elder Cree languages and Elders’ stories while providing it over the Internet, which most First Nations communities now have access to. One of the most important things was to do this in a medium that the youth would understand,” said Louttit.
To see it for yourself go to: www.pathoftheelders.com