Two summers ago, Chastity Davis-Alphonse decided it was time to finally take a chance on a project she'd been dreaming about to help bridge the Reconciliation gap between many Canadians and First Nations communities.
For the project, Davis-Alphonse – who is a mixed-heritage woman of First Nations and European descent and also a proud member of the Tla'amin First Nation (she also recently married into the Tsilhqo’tin Nation) – partnered with six other women from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, to create a four-module course that includes audio, video, and written content about Canadian history, as told from the perspective of Indigenous women.
Davis-Alphonse had been working in Indigenous Relations for over 15 years, delivering training to governments, corporations, and not-for-profits in-person. Creating an online course was a first for her to be able to capture a larger audience than she could on her own delivering sessions in-person. There was such a high demand for her work that she wanted a way to scale it while elevating the voices, knowledge, wisdom, and lived experience of Indigenous women. The goal was to create an impactful course that could help companies, organizations and individuals learn about how the events leading up to the creation of Canada as well as the creation of the Indian Act have affected – and are still affecting – people from Indigenous communities.
Eventually, the course content would be used to create an expanded, self-directed, online learning course that was launched last spring named Deyen – An Invitation to Transform. Deyen is a Tsilhqot’in word that translates to 'person with the power to transform.'
Digitization turned into a huge success
"The initial feedback was excellent, and we sold out of all four cohorts of the in-person course and needed more," says Davis-Alphonse from her home in 150 Mile House about the initial success of her idea.
"I realized I was onto something in helping transform negative perceptions and assumptions of Indigenous Peoples by giving people access to the traditional knowledge and lived experiences of women from Indigenous communities. To scale this up I needed to digitize this."
With the help of the Indigenous Digital Accelerator program (IDA) at Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Deyen was launched in April 2021 as a self-directed online course made up of four modules. Each module takes about two hours to complete and features videos, audio clips, group discussions, and quizzes. In all, learners can complete the course over an average time period of approximately eight to ten hours, or about seven weeks.
The IDA program is sponsored by the TD Ready Commitment (the Bank's corporate citizenship platform), which provided funding that made it possible for Davis-Alphonse to work with two students to develop a business plan, marketing materials, and then to design and launch the online learning site. Davis-Alphonse also worked with INDIGINEXT—a B.C.-based business accelerator, while Anishinaabe artist, Bridget George, was also commissioned to create illustrations for the course.
"The most challenging part of launching this was funding the help I needed,” says Davis-Alphonse. "That’s where the IDA program and TD came through by providing two students who have been amazing and worked with me for six months to get this business idea to the next phase."
Bridging the Reconciliation knowledge gap
Davis-Alphonse is hoping the course helps learners develop a fundamental knowledge of Canadian history through the lens of Indigenous women, by showing the impact that certain events and policies have had on Indigenous Peoples.
"The Indian Act of 1876 for example, had targeted legislation that displaced women from Indigenous communities as leaders; most of these communities were matriarchal and women were leaders," says Davis-Alphonse, adding that the policy outlawed women from running for elected chief positions or to vote from 1876-1951.
"In many communities, traditionally governance passed through maternal lines but this and many other things changed with the implementation of Euro-Catholic/Christian centered values and laws. That's part of the reason I wanted women to deliver their perspectives on how these moments and policies still impact their communities."
Davis-Alphonse says her experience as a consultant who has worked with more than 125 First Nations, companies and government bodies to share knowledge in the spirit of Reconciliation made her realize just how big a knowledge gap there is when it comes to Indigenous history in Canada.
She points to the discovery of unmarked graves at several former Residential School sites in Canada as underscoring the increased need for greater understanding and education.
"People ask: 'What can I do?'," she says.
"I tell them, they can learn about our true history. Now's the time for Canadians to spend some capital on learning about these events through the mothers of children who went to these schools."
Since launching the paid course in April, Davis-Alphonse says more than 1,200 people have registered without any advertising or a marketing push.
Her next goal is to get one million Canadians to sign up.
"If I have to get a million Canadians through the door one person at a time, I'm happy to do that," she says.
"This knowledge is a fundamental starting point to any conversation you would have with Indigenous Peoples."
This article first appeared on TD Stories and is sponsored by TD Bank.