Canadian actor Dan Levy took to Twitter Monday to thank those who donated to a cause close to his heart on his birthday.
“A group of people on the internet raised over $50,000 for the Faculty of Native Studies on my behalf,” he said in a video posted online.
“I felt absolutely compelled to come here and say thank you so much.
“Thank you for making my day, thank you for doing such a good thing, thanks to everybody who donated and the wonderful people who organized the fundraiser for my birthday.
“There is good on the internet. Who knew?”
The actor and writer best known for the smash hit Schitt’s Creek decided to enroll in the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in August 2020.
Then, the online course got a major boost when he encouraged his millions of social media followers to join in.
“It’s a 12-lesson, massive open online course that explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues from an Indigenous perspective,” Levy said in a video he posted to Instagram and Twitter. “And I thought, if I am going to sign up and learn, maybe some other people would want to join me, and we could do this as a group.
“If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to actively re-learn history — history that wasn’t taught to us in school — to better understand and contextualize our lives and how we can better support and be of service to each other,” he said.
The Indigenous Canada course is free to the public, but can also be taken for a fee as part of a university degree. A third option, with a smaller fee, gives the participant a certificate.
It was first offered in 2017 — but saw enrollment increase through COVID-19.
“Dan Levy especially has been a big draw for interest in the course,” Paul Gareau, academic lead for the Indigenous Canada course, said Tuesday.
When the MOOC launched in 2017, about 1,000 students a week would take the course.
“When Dan took it, the week he started… we had 50,000 learners who came on board, which is really incredible,” Gareau said.
“It’s been a really good education for people on the questions of Indigenous experiences in Canada,” Gareau added.
He’s grateful for Levy and his fan base for bringing more attention to the issue.
Gareau, who is Métis, credits the work of course developer Tracy Bear and the positive way Levy worked with them.
“Dan was there as a settler, he was always positioning himself as a settler. He said who he was and where he’s from and what he’s doing and then listened.
“And we were able to bring in all these other people who think about these topics deeply and have these great conversations that interacted with the student learners.
“It’s always about listening. It’s never about possessing Indigenous stories or Indigenous people or Indigenous material culture; it’s always about hearing and recognizing Indigenous collectivities, and giving leadership space and opportunities for Indigenous people to go with it and continue to flourish.”
Gareau said interest in courses through the Faculty of Native Studies increased again when the unmarked graves of children at residential school sites were found.
“I think a lot of people don’t know where to go. Because in most Canadian experiences in education, it’s always been: ‘We didn’t know.’ Nothing was in the curriculum, everything was so silenced over and over again.
“But Indigenous people, they know their history. The Métis, we know our history.
“It’s just really great to hear other people finally acknowledging those multiple histories of Indigenous nations.”
Gareau said the Indigenous Canada MOOC offers a great first start.
“It’s easy to access, it’s done in 12 modules that are really easy to engage in, done in plain language, done by Indigenous people, organized and produced by Dr. Tracy Bear.
“The first thing that settler Canadians can do is see the legacy of colonialism on … the silencing of Indigenous experiences — First Nation, Métis and Inuit in Canada. I think that self reflexivity is a great start and that’s been a big change since TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) really.
“More and more people are accepting the truth of that legacy and the impact of residential schools and residential students and survivors.”
Gareau said the money raised through the Levy birthday fundraiser is “very significant.”
Native Studies is one of the smallest faculties, he said, and is independent from other big faculties like Arts or Humanities.
Gareau said the funds will support things like programming for students, community research-based initiatives and programming for public engagement. The final decisions will be made by the dean and provost, he said.
“For us, this is a really big boost and a really big surprise too.”
Levy’s fans are very engaged and very giving, Gareau said.
“I was really surprised and really heartened by the response that people have to the work that we’re doing as an institution in the Faculty of Native Studies and what we’re doing at the university.
“I’m really humbled by it and I’m really excited by the excitement that people have for these stories and these experiences of Indigenous people in Canada.”