Listening: Who Killed Alberta Williams?

In December 2016 I listened to “Missing and Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams?” a CBC podcast by Connie Walker.  The podcast focuses on the 1989 death of Alberta Williams on the Highway of Tears near Prince Rupert, British Columbia.  The podcast also discusses Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirits (MMIWG2) in Canada and the history of the Highway of Tears.  Episode four of the podcast also explores the legacy of residential schools and the long term impacts of residential schools on Indigenous communities, families, and individuals.

This eight part podcast was similar in style to the popular Serial Podcast which used investigative journalism to look at a cold case.  I’d also add a warning that it’s not an easy listen and has content that could be triggering to some folks.  That being said I think Alberta’s experience, the experience of her family and of so many other MMIW is an experience that needs to be talked about and needs to receive more media coverage.

A Grade 8 teacher in Saskatchewan used the “Who Killed Alberta Williams?” podcast as a teaching tool in his classroom.  In that case students responded to the podcast through journals and conversations.  I could also see the podcast being used as resource at the high school or post-secondary level as a means of starting conversations about MMIW, residential schools, and colonialism.

Checkout a Person: National Human Library Day

Tomorrow, January 26th 2013,  is National Human Library Day in Canada.  The day is sponsored by CBC and invites Canadians to interact with ‘human books’ at 15 libraries and cultural centers across the country.  The CBC is also hosting an online component of the program where individuals can interact with human books via webcam, text, twitter, and online chat. 

The ‘human books’ are typically members of the community from different walks of life, that might show a perspective that many community members aren’t exposed to on a day to day basis.  For example, the Sudbury Human Library program features a transgendered woman, a former sex worker, a mine rescuer, a first nations Chief, among others.  Rather than checking out a book visitors to the library can sit down and have an informal conversation with a human book. The idea being that by talking to these people you might learn more about different aspects of society.

The Human Library program is great as it provides a reason for people who might not normally visit the library to participate in the event, it raises awareness of marginalized and under represented groups, and is very community oriented.  All the books come from the community and are typically checked-out by other community members.

I also like the idea that each of these people have stories that are worth sharing.  The story of each human book can be looked at as a personal history or an oral history.  The participants often talk about their personal experiences making their talks snippets of oral histories that they are sharing with others. 

In this particular incarnation of the Human Library, CBC has been heavily involved in promotion.  Local CBC programs have been playing recorded bits of personal stories in weeks leading up to the event.  These interviews are currently available on the regional CBC websites which conducted the interviews. The idea that at least part of these oral history experiences are being recorded appeals to the historian in me and brings to mind the importance of the digitization and transcription of oral history.  So many important experiences that can be provide insight to cultural, social and political history can be found in oral histories.

Indigenous-Settler Relations: 8th Fire


CBC has recently been running a series called 8th Fire, this tv and radio series focuses on the relationship between Aboriginal people and non-indigenous communities.  The complete series can be streamed online here.

8th Fire addresses topics such as land disputes, indigenous urban communities, and economic and demographic shifts which impact everyone within in Canada.  The series does a good job of presenting this information in a way that is tangible to everyone – even those with little exposure to Canada’s history or indigenous issues.

The series’ website also includes addition information and resources that has the potential to be used by educators.  For example, the section “Aboriginal 101” uses video clips, and often humour, to explain such topics as what does Métis mean and what does the average Canadian know about Aboriginal people.

The series is well worth a watch, even if the series does fall victim to common Canadian television cheesiness at times. 8th Fire provides a great look at historical and present day indigenous-settler relations in Canada,

The Massey Lectures

This year marks the 50th anniversary of CBC’s Massey Lectures.  The lecture series is named after Vincent Massey, Canada’s first Canadian born Governor General.  Each year the CBC Radio (now in collaboration with the House of Anansi Press, and Massey College in the University of Toronto) invites a well known scholar to present his original research in a lecture series that is later broadcast nation wide.

This year’s lecturer was Adam Gopnik, who’s talk was entitled “Winter: Five Windows on the Season.”   In addition to Gopnik’s contribution, the entire past 50 years of the Massey Lectures are now available online.

Canada Reads Non-Fiction 2012

Yesterday, the shortlist for CBC’s Canada Reads 2012 was announced. This year the contest is focusing exclusively on works of non-fiction and the shortlist includes a couple of history based works. The list includes:

Paris 1919 deals with the peace talks that took place after WWI and takes a look a both the social and political upheaval that existed following the war.  I’m also intrigued by Louis Riel by Chester Brown.  The work focuses on the life of Riel, but does so in as a graphic novel.  The graphic novel medium has the potential to reach audiences that may not normally be interested in a traditional work of history.  I’m interested in how accurately Brown’s work depicts Riel and the era.

Do you know of any other non-fiction graphic novels based on historical events? 

Linguistic Heritage

Language is one of the most commonly used means of expression. A language speaks volumes about the culture that developed it. Despite the value society places on language, there are a number of Aboriginal languages in Canada which are in risk of dying off within a generation. The impact of the residential school system and the Canadian government’s policy of assimilation played a major role in the loss Aboriginal language. By removing children from their communities and forcing them to speak English multiple generations of Indigenous people have lost their traditional language.

A recent segment on Spark discussed the use of digital translators in Inuit communities as a means of teaching dying languages to youth. The digital translator discussed was Phraselator. Phraselator allows language speakers to record as many phrases and words as possible and then their students can listen access these recordings as necessary. At five thousand dollars each and given the fact that the Phraselator cannot compare to being exposed to an actual native speaker, the device seems like a poor solution.

Despite the drawbacks of this particular digital translator’s implementation, it is crucial that we begin some form of language preservation. This may include educational incentives for those wishing to learn a language or preserving both written and recorded language alongside accurate translations. The use of digital recordings, transcription, and OCR software all have potential to be adapted to help preserve Indigenous language and teach a new generation the language.

Digital Overload and Digital Irony

Like most people today I spend most of my day interacting with digital technology in some way. Digital mediums are a crucial part of my job, even though most of the physical material I’m working with was created long before the internet and computer became mainstream. This contrast seems reasonable when you look at it from a preservation standpoint – digitization has the potential to allow documents to exist long after paper has deteriorated.

Despite this logic and being a slight technology geek and addict, I found the recent CBC Doc Zone episode Are We Digital Dummies? oddly appealing. The show provided an interesting look at the impact of technology on business, personal interaction, and how we manage technology. The documentary itself wasn’t anything earth shattering. It built upon the studies which show that we are poor multitaskers and the work of Nicolas Carr author of “Is Google Making us Stupid?” Despite the lack of ground breaking conclusions it was nice to see technology placed in a Canadian context and to be exposed to some Canadian technology usage stats. Am I going to change my technology habits as a result of watching it? Most likely not, I am writing about the show in a blog after all…..