New CBC podcast reclaims Indigenous history one word at a time

The series examines the meanings of 11 words that were twisted by centuries of colonialism

Kaniehti:io Horn (Wikimedia.commons) and Ossie Michelin (submitted)

“Discovery” and “reserve” are the first two words broken down in “Telling our Twisted Histories,” a CBC podcast that was released in late May.

Hosted by actor Kaniehti:io Horn and directed by journalist Ossie Michelin, the 11-episode series educates listeners on decolonizing words through conversations with 75 people from 15 Indigenous communities whose lands now overlap with Quebec, New Brunswick and Labrador.

“Words have the power to shape how we see the world and each other. A word that may be innocuous to someone might be associated with trauma for someone else,” said Horn in the first episode as she spoke about the word “discovery”.

The first episode discusses the widely known story of European explorers “discovering” new land and the problems behind this narrative. People from various Indigenous communities share their perspectives on the term “discovery” and why it’s untrue. The episode also touches on the Indian Act that was formed in 1876.

“The word ‘discovery’ is not just used to claim Indigenous lands, but also used to claim Indigenous knowledge. Time and time again, scientists, archaeologists and yes, explorers discover what was already known by Indigenous peoples,” said Horn.

The second episode builds the discussion on legislation and examines the word “reserve”. The podcast talks about Indigenous communities feeling trapped, the conditions on the reserves, and trying to decolonize the idea of borders.

The podcast was first produced in French called “Laissez-nous raconter: L’histoire croche” before being translated to the English version “Telling our Twisted Histories.” The French podcast was released last year and did so well it won an award at the Paris Podcast Festival, leading to the creation of an English version.

The CBC asked Michelin to help write and direct the English version of the podcast. The broadcasting company had over 20 hours of audio recordings in English and offered Michelin to write the script last December.

“The interviews were so good, and we had such great content because it’s just regular Indigenous people talking about their perspective and that’s it,” says Michelin. “There’s no expert telling you how you should think or how you should feel.”

Michelin and the rest of the production team wanted to make the podcast digestible for listeners.

He said the podcasts being 20 to 25 minutes is a nice amount of time to digest the information or talk about the episode with friends or family.

“It’s kind of hard to find where to begin in some of these big, complex conversations. So if you just start with one word, you can really [let] the conversation just pour out,” says Michelin.

Michelin wants Indigenous people to hear the podcast and feel they’re accurately represented in the media. He also hopes the podcast is a way for others to learn more about Indigenous communities who come from other backgrounds.

He hopes other Indigenous peoples on the other side of the country hear the podcast to learn about other communities ranging from the West to the East coast.

This week’s episode is about the word “school”.

Episodes will be released weekly on Mondays until Aug. 2.

“It’s important for Indigenous people to tell Indigenous stories [and] it is important for people to tell their own stories in general. This is a really good example of that,” says Michelin. “It’s just a chance to connect and learn, and I think that it’s good for anybody.”