Mi’kmaw educator shares history, language and culture on X for Indigenous History Month | Education | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Mi'kmaw educator Jarvis Googoo speaking at Caldwell Elementary in December 2023.

Mi’kmaw educator shares history, language and culture on X for Indigenous History Month

Jarvis Googoo posts daily educational digests for those living in Nova Scotia Mi’kmaki

It all started with Mi’kmaw History Month in 2016. 

Jarvis Googoo had shared a piece of Mi’kmaw trivia each day that October. On the final day, Oct. 31–his birthdayGoogoo shared a story on X, then known as Twitter, about his experience attending his cousin’s high school graduation in his home community of We'koqma'q in Unama’ki/Cape Breton, earlier that June. Significantly, June is celebrated as Indigenous History Month in Mi’kma’ki Nova Scotia and across the country, as it has been since 2009–though at the time it was called National Aboriginal History Month.

Back in 2016, posts on Twitter were limited to 140 characters. Googoo’s Oct. 31 thread began like this: “As you may know, the school in my home community of We'koqma'q is under Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey jurisdiction (MK) and not the province…”

It became a 14-part thread, describing how a non-Mi’kmaw student had transferred to the MK school in Grade 10 after being bulled at his old school, had been welcomed in and had graduated along with his class, becoming what the principal described as an “‘honorary Mi’kmaw,” writes Googoo, which led him to reflect, with pride, on the legacy of the Mi’kmaw embracing people from other cultures, especially in their time of need. 
He wrote, “if I ever had to describe one beautiful thing about my people and culture, it is that we have always welcomed and accepted people to help them try and build a new life, especially after fleeing a past awful one.

“The Mi'kmaq have welcomed and helped others for hundreds of years. It started with the French when they first arrived to trade. We went to Jipuktuk/Halifax shores with baskets of food to welcome newly arriving English. We took in Acadians during the Expulsion…To this day, when one tells me that they're a refugee, immigrant, new citizen, etc... I tell them that, as a First Nations person, I welcome you to this land, the Land of the Mi'kmaq, Mi'kma'ki.

“Happy Mi'kmaw History Month.”

This thread from 2016 nods to the direction Googoo’s future posts would head in every June and October: open learning about the history of Mi’kmaw language, legislation and culture through anecdotes and daily digests.

To appreciate Googoo’s Oct. 31 thread, a brief background on Mi’kmaw education in Nova Scotia is needed.

The Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey–or MK–is a collective voice of chiefs, educators, staff and parents who advocate for Mi’kmaw education in the Nova Scotian Mi'kma'ki territory, both within Mi’kmaw communities and within the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

The MK signed an historic agreement in February 1997 "which transferred control of Mi’kmaw education in Nova Scotia from the federal government to the Mi’kmaq of the province," writes Googoo in a post dated Feb. 14, 2024. "It would be a first of its kind in Canada."

The MK have schools in 12 out of the 13 Mi'kmaw communities in the Nova Scotian Mi'kma'ki territory.

click to enlarge Mi’kmaw educator shares history, language and culture on X for Indigenous History Month (3)
Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey
Their website reports that “83% of First Nation students are educated in MK schools,” and they have a 94% high school graduation rate “among First Nations students in Nova Scotia,” which is higher than the provincial average of just under 91% as reported in 2016-17.

Googoo used his Oct. 31 thread to centre on an MK school in his home community of We'koqma'q as a way into larger conversations about Mi’kmaq.

But, back when he began his first month of daily postings in October 2016, “I figured it was a one-time thing,” says Googoo. Then the next day, “[he] thought it would be fun to post another fun fact–and it took off from there. I wanted to help folks understand the difference between ‘Mi’kmaw’ and ‘Mi’kmaq’.”

Googoo has explained the difference between these two words across the years in June and October. In short, Mi’kmaw is singular and works as an adjective. Mi’kmaq is plural to signify the Mi'kmaw people as a group. Writing “Mi’kmaq people” is therefore redundant.

After his first 2016 thread during October's Mi'kmaw History Month, Googoo took a break for several years. It was in June 2021, “when they started confirming the locations of the bodies of children at former Indian Residential School sites–starting with 215 at Kamloops–” that he restarted, sharing daily stories and knowledge about the Mi’kmaq and about himself for June's Indigenous History Month.

Googoo says that, in the wake of more discoveries of bodies at former Indian Residential School sites in 2021, “I felt that within Canada, not just the region of Nova Scotia Mi’kma’ki, there was this strong desire as well as a strong and urgent need for people to learn about Indigenous people in Canada–history, trivia, culture, language, you name it.”

Since then, Googoo has continued to offer daily doses of education every June and October.

Googoo is an Indian Day School survivor, which further contextualizes his desire to teach others about Mi'kmaw history, language and culture. Googoo was born in 1980 and is Wetapeksit We'koqma'q. Wetapeksit translates from Mi’kmaw to mean “where the roots are from/where they originate from,” although Googoo says it doesn't have a literal translation but rather a purpose and meaning.

Googoo attended an Indian Day School from 1985 to 1993, called 

Whycocomagh Federal School. Indian Day Schools were operated by the Federal Department of Indian Affairs for all Indigenous Peoples in Canada. “They had the same intentions on paper as the Indian Residential School system which was basically assimilation,” says Googoo. “The main difference with day schools was that [they] were based in the community, and so students returned home at the end of the day, unlike residential schools which removed children from the community and placed them away from home.”

When his school closed–it was the second last to close in the province–Googoo transferred to an MK elementary school.

“When that happened, I started learning more about the Mi’kmaw language, more on our history of centralization, Indian Residential Schools, a little bit on medicines, more language and history within the community.”

After graduating high school in community at the former Waycobah First Nation Secondary schoolnow the We'koqma'q Mi'kmaw School, Googoo went to Saint Mary’s University and Dalhousie Law School in Kjipuktuk-Halifax.

“Strictly speaking, I never took any course on Mi’kmaw history or Indigenous law or culture,” says Googoo, who was a sociology and criminology major in undergraduate school. However, he made sure that his school work covered the Mi’kmaq or Indigenous Peoples, studying the Indian Act and how “its intentions were colonization and assimilation on paper when they had no real intent of trying to make Indigenous Peoples a part of Canadian Society,” he says.

Following graduation, during his articling period, Googoo continued what he refers to as his “self-directed learning,” reading Justice Denied: The Law vs. Donald Marshall and non-legal casebooks about the Marshall Decision . “I’m actually reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports right now,” says Googoo. “It’s probably going to take me a while to finish, but I’ll chip away and keep reading when I can.”

“I believe you should be learning about the home territory first.”

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Googoo has learned about the Mi’kmaw language from linguist and L’nu, Bernie Francis, who co-authored the book The Language of This Land, Mi’kma’ki. (“L’nu” is the term Mi’kmaq use to refer to themselves and also means speaker of the Mi’kmaw language.)

Googoo is also a public speaker and lecturer, working with organizations, elementary schools, church groups, and more on sharing Mi'kmaw history, language and culture in engaging ways. For Googoo, “talking to students holds a special place in my heart because it means you're hopefully able to help influence a generation in the time to come.”

On Monday June 17, 2024 Googoo posted the Mi’kmaw word for moon on X, which is “Tepknuset,” although it doesn’t actually literally translate to mean “moon.” Rather, it means “it shines at night,” Googoo writes. His post explains how the root word can be changed, with one letter, to mean “you shine at night,” or “I shine at night.” Googoo ends his post by writing, “remember: Mi’kmaw is a verb-based language, and those heavenly bodies are shining.”

Coming up later in June, Googoo will share a list of resources he uses to inform his daily digests on X, including Francis' book. As for who he’s writing for? “I like to say it is intended here for Mi'kma'ki, for people within Mi'kmaki to learn.”

This is why Googoo refers to himself as a Mi’kmaw educator and not an Indigenous educator, because the latter “implies all Indigenous nations across the Americas,” says Googoo, and it would be unlikely that any Indigenous person can claim to know a lot about all of the “hundreds if not thousands” of different Indigenous nations across the Americas. “I can tell you a lot about Mi'kmaw history, culture, language, the nearby Indian Residential School and the many Indian Day Schools we had in the region,” says Googoo. “But if we went to Banff, for example, which is Treaty Seven, which is Blackfoot territory, I can't really tell you anything.”

Googoo says it’s important for everyone to “learn specifically about where you are,” which in Nova Scotia, is the territory of the Mi’kmaq. While he celebrates June as Indigenous History Month, for him he says, “I feel my responsibility is: if you’re in the [Mi’kmaq] territory, I can teach you about the territory.” However, he would never lecture on Mi’kmaw history in Montreal, which is Mohawk territory. “The only way I would ever speak to Mi’kmaw history or culture in another territory is if somebody of that territory gave me their permission and their support to speak to it,” he says. “I believe you should be learning about the home territory first.”

As an avid marathon runner, Googoo makes a point of learning about whichever territory he’s in for races. “I do my own land acknowledgment of someone else's territory” when travelling, he says. And, if he has a few extra days there, “I try to go out of my way to learn about the respective territory I’m in.

“Likewise, if somebody from [away] ever came to run the Blue Nose Marathon, I would love to have them stick around and learn about the Mi’kmaq–because they’d have ran in Mi’kmaw territory that day.”

For those coming to Mi’kma’ki to run, or otherwise–or already live here and want to learn about the Mi’kmaq in their own territory, Googoo highlights ways to do that–beyond just following his X account every June and October:

This summer, Googoo is working on a new project about Mi’kmaw history, culture and the Mi’kmaw Education Act that will wrap up in August. While he can’t share details yet, Googoo says that “hopefully by the fall I’ll be ready to share it with everyone.”

Lauren Phillips, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Lauren Phillips is The Coast’s Education Reporter, a position created in September 2023 with support from the Local Journalism Initiative. Lauren studied journalism at the University of King’s College, and has written on education and sports at Dal News and Saint Mary's Athletics for over two years. She won gold...
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