Board game teaches youth about colonization
- Memory Mcleod | July 20, 2023
Those attending the 2023 Treaty 4 gathering may be able to jump onto a trap line and try your luck in bagging a beaver or two!
In the spirit of reconciliation, Andre Boutin-Maloney, a teacher at Bert Fox Community High School created a game to bring the past alive for students. The game is based on the Fur Trade and was developed originally to bring Canadian history into a high school financial literacy class.
“Looking at the fact that 70 per cent of our students are from an Indigenous background, I wanted to create something that brought their history to it,” said Boutin-Maloney. “We also wanted to create educational content that reflected the calls to reconciliation. So we began, with our students, to research the history, to learn the details of the fur trade. A lot of work went into it and the students did a lot of that too, so it was theirs too.”
The game, simply called the Fur Trade simulation, was created specifically for the annual Treaty 4 gathering, where each fall students from schools all through the territory come together to learn about the history and legacy of the land and the signatories.
While the fur trade hails back to an older era, the game brings to life the time before treaty signing and perhaps reveals clues about relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of the region.
“Depending on the age of the kids we adjusted it, but basically we introduced European colonialism and how that eventually led to trade and treaty making,” said Boutin-Maloney. “Visiting students took on the role of fur-trappers/traders. We made a whole bunch of item cards that were commonly traded as well as a description of the technology Indigenous people used before European trade goods came along. A bunch of my students were introduced as “beavers” and they had to be caught out in the Treaty 4 grounds. If caught, they handed over “made beaver pelt cards” which the students could bring back to trade for items at the trading post or with an in-land trader,” he explained.
The game premiered during the 2022 gathering and was well received by both students and other teachers. A point of pride for Boutin-Maloney who wanted to create an educational tool that could be adopted and used in other classrooms.
“We wanted to show that while the Europeans had items that created a bit more convenience, their technology was not superior,” said Boutin-Maloney. “For instance, early rifles, they would rust easily, hard to repair, ammunition and gunpowder was hard to come by, whereas the boy and arrow were easily repaired in the field, light weight and mobile. Other factors to consider in determining the value of a trade item was its suitability to the region. So a heavy ax would not be a suitable item to the highly mobile people of the plains. So such an item would be traded for others of greater value to them.”
He said, describing the elements of the game that bring special insight about life on the plains leading to treaty signing.
“The items acted kind of like chance cards. Some items were useful and gave people a bonus modifier on their trades, some of the items were not helpful (alcohol, some blankets carried disease, pistol). Some items could be “traded up” if you found the person who needed it, etc.”
Boutin-Maloney’s efforts did not go unnoticed.
In May, he received the Award for Excellence in Teaching Economics for middle school teachers from the Bank of Canada Museum.