50 Years of TUNA: How Trent University’s Native Association Celebrates Half A Century in a Colonial Institution

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The panel at the TUNA Gala. (Left to Right) Brenda Maracle O’Toole, Adam Hopkins, Dawn Martin, Kendra Brightnose, Ocean Cherneski. Photo by Cherylanne James.

Before starting this article, it is important to know the land we occupy is on Indigenous territory, with the land acknowledgement posted on Trent’s First People’s House of Learning (FPHL) page.

“We respectfully acknowledge that we are on the treaty and traditional territory of the Mississauga Anishinaabeg.  We offer our gratitude to the First Peoples for their care for, and teachings about, our earth and our relations.  May we honor those teachings.”

This year marked not only the 50th anniversary of Indigenous Studies here at Trent, but it also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Trent University Native Association, commonly referred to as TUNA. With the year coming to a close, this weekend was chosen to host the celebratory events put on by the Indigenous students currently running TUNA.

In collaboration with Gzowski College, TUNA put on a semi-formal gala where Indigenous students were encouraged to rock their traditional regalia, and attend for a panel, dinner, performance and award presentation.

The panel included Adam Hopkins, Dawn Martin, and Brenda Maracle O’Toole, all of whom are former TUNA members. They spoke about their time and experiences with TUNA, commented on the Association’s progress, and reflected on its position within the Trent community.

It was later during the TUNA gala that awards were given, and Arthur had a chance to speak with one of the award winners, Ceilidh Isadore. Ceilidh is a strongly invested student with First People’s House of Learning, TUNA, and the Chanie Wenjack School of Indigenous Studies, has worked as a Student Ambassador, and is currently the head firekeeper for FPHL’s traditional area.

Ceilidh offered her positionality, speaking on how the gala connected with her as an Indigenous Student on campus.

“The gala was huge for me and it was definitely something I think should happen every year. It was the perfect way to bring community together and make it more familial. It felt like a family gathering, and we were all proud to be there,” she said. “To surpass the obstacles that are involved with being an Indigenous student within our institution, a celebration of our journey. It was huge to me, one of my favorite events I’ve ever been to.”

Following, Arthur inquired about the award she had received.

“The award was to a student that made a significant contribution to Trent,” she explained. “So Betty [Carr-Braint, Cultural Advisor/Indigenous Counselor at FPHL] found that I was able to successfully bring community but more specifically and specifically the Indigenous community together and share space with the traditional area, which is a much needed and reciprocal relationship.”

“It was an absolute honour and I’m still speechless! I still can’t wrap my head around it. But I have some real good helpers out there that is a huge part of this accomplishment. The award also reminds me how much FPHL is on my side and supporting me 24/7, supporting all Indigenous students. It shows us that we are seen, we are appreciated and they are cheering us on. Which as youth, we need from our adults and elders.”

“It was incredible! I was holding back tears the entire time and let it all out when I got back to my house. It’s huge for me because it is a simple sign that I am on the right track. If anything, it drives me to go harder, bring more people together, learn as much as I can. Keep going.”

Following the gala the very next day was the TUNA Powwow. Held in Champlain’s Great Hall, the powwow went from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., hosting dancers from all different nations to come and dance in their regalia, with a familiarity and community built around it.

A big part of the pow wow included the performance by a group of traditional Mishika dancers, including Trent’s own Gutch Salinas, a firekeeper at Trent’s traditional area. The TUNA Powwow acted as a connector between the multitude of different Indigenous nations that already exists at Trent. Trent’s Indigenous population flourished greatly during the powwow: Cree, Anishnaabe, Mi’kmaq and Mishika students alike gathering for a grand celebration of life, and of TUNA.

It was at the powwow that Arthur was able to speak with Ocean Cherneski, the head female dancer, and a prominent member of TUNA.

“We’ve been working really hard to plan this event for the past two months, so to see it all come together from the whole committee felt amazing.”

Ocean Cherneski, head dancer, next to the bust of colonizer Samuel De Champlain. Photo by Cheyenne Wood.

During the Powwow Arthur was also able to catch up with Demi Mathias, a current member of TUNA and a Master’s student. Inquiring about how it felt to hold a key role in TUNA’s 50th, Demi had a lot to say.

“Very, it was very empowering. I was proud of the team I was able to work with, and all that we accomplished. There was no real hiccups or things that went wrong, ‘cause you never know with such large events or the amount of people you have at them. I felt pride in myself and the team — it was very empowering.”

Then another question was raised: what was it like to hold the powwow in Champlain, the college on campus named after a famous settler and colonizer?

“I think that for this powwow and gala celebration it was important to have it on the campus, to reinstate how long TUNA has been on campus, and how important it is to connect with the Indigenous peoples and associations of the area.”

“I would definitely come back and sit on a panel, if there were a celebration for the 75th or even the 100th, to speak on my experiences on TUNA’s executive team,” Mathias replied when asked if she would return to TUNA in the distant future. “Other than that we’re excited to see the new group coming in in the next couple of weeks, and what they will have to offer TUNA.”

All in all, TUNA’s 50thwas a smashing success; bringing together the variation of Indigenous students, elders and community members for an unforgettable event. To another 50 years of TUNA!