Each session begins with Dr. Bear lighting a small piece of sage and wafting the smoke over her face, arms and hair in a smudge, or “spiritual cleansing.” The sessions, it becomes clear, are as much about Indigenous ways of knowing and learning, as the historical content.
“You can’t just read about it abstractly in an ethnography and absorb it in the Western possessiveness sense of knowledge,” said Dr. Gareau, an expert on Metis history who sees his role in the sessions as bringing levity. “The Indigenous articulation of knowledge is through experience and visiting.”
“A big part of what I love about this thing we do with Dan,” he added, “is we are visiting.”
On the other side of country, in his parents’ Toronto home where he’s returned to weather the pandemic, Mr. Levy is an earnest listener, absorbing each lesson, extrapolating from it and mixing in his Jewish ancestry and experiences as a gay person.
“The word discovery is used time and time again in our learning,” he said in a discussion about the fur trade between First Nations and colonial merchants. “They didn’t discover a place. It was inhabited. They just visited a place and happened to take over.”
He continually repeats how grateful he is for the weekly discussions. He calls them “my favorite part of the week.”
For fans, the experience has been a giant consciousness-raising session.
“It made me ashamed of my country and the lack of my knowledge,” said Sharon Thirkettle, a 70-year-old artist from Calgary. Although it was Mr. Levy’s participation that inspired her to sign up for the course, she said she had stuck with it because of the engrossing subject matter.
Marla Taviano called the Sunday sessions a “spiritual and emotional experience.”
“Not just my brain, but my heart and body is connecting with this,” said Ms. Taviano, a 44-year-old writer in Columbia, S.C., who takes copious notes throughout the sessions and has ordered many of the books mentioned by professors.