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How Learning Local History Strengthens Communities

Written by Asha Chloe Craig
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In Central Okanagan Public Schools, there is a program where young students can learn from the land of the Okanagan Valley. Here, indigenous students have the opportunity to celebrate and learn about their cultural history, which existed in the Okanagan for thousands of years before settlers began to arrive in the valley.

This program hopes to preserve cultural knowledge passed down by Sylix elders from generation to generation so that the community of the Okanagan Valley will remain strong and united. But how exactly does learning local history strengthen a community? Let’s take a closer look below.

History engages people

For many students, the ‘grand narrative’ approach to understanding traditional Canadian history is unappealing. Students cannot see the essence of learning history when the lessons feel disconnected from their current and personal lives.

Teachers today are finding out where their students come from to connect them to the multi-faceted story of Canada. Here, lessons discuss all of history’s complexity through local perspectives. This helps students feel and understand that they belong to a community with a deeply-rooted culture which they now carry the task of preserving, improving, and continuing.

History influences art and culture

Many limit history to what we learn in books when it is actually all around us. The culture we imbibe and the art we create tend to be inspired by events in the past that have taught us valuable lessons. See how, a decade after Hurricane Katrina threatened the very existence of New Orleans in the United States, a vibrant arts community is restoring the fabric of this indelibly creative city to recast its future.

This phenomenon of recognizing history in art and culture can be seen even across the world in countries in Asia. The relationship between visual art and history in the Philippines can be seen with their national artists like Guillermo Tolentino. His masterpiece, the Bonifacio Monument, symbolizes the Filipino cry for freedom against colonial rule. This is meant to preserve the patriotic fervour of community members who proudly live in independence thanks to the efforts of their ancestors.

History teaches a community’s mistakes

A community can learn about their past mistakes when taught local history. Consider the holocaust education curriculum of Germany. This intensely sensitive topic teaches young German children the errors of their ancestors. While this may seem contradictory to strengthening a community, these local lessons can unite the current generation of Germans in their resolve not to repeat these ways.

History teaches a community’s strengths

Learning one’s local history can also teach one to take pride in their strengths. Historian François-Xavier Fauvelle says that many African countries’ school curricula focus on local history to distance themselves from an overly Eurocentric vision. This reflects in the younger generation of Africans who proudly use their traditions as the foundation for innovation.

The same pattern can be seen in Okanagan Valley, wherein our indigenous communities sometimes face prejudice from people who mistake tradition for non-innovation. Teaching local history has become key in showing young students our strengths, accomplishments, and role in the global ecosystem.

History creates identity

When we learn about our local history, we learn more about what makes us who we are today. Simply learning about how Okanagan residents struggled to maintain the tracks since the railway first came to Kelowna in 1925 will allow young Okanagans to appreciate the train that has become a key identifier in our community and everyday life.

This shows us that history creates our identity; for many of us, our identities are embedded in a rich, diverse, and proud community. If you hope to learn more about our history and community, the Lake Country Museum & Archives is open every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 1 PM to 4 PM.


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