As a university, Trent is a place of education. You can find many types of knowledge here, spanning across the realms of both arts and science. In addition, Trent also facilitates access to another type of knowledge system, one that is embodied by the very land we stand on.
Traditional Indigenous Knowledge systems have been maintained and passed down orally for generations by Indigenous Elders and Traditional Knowledge Holders. At Trent, we are extremely fortunate to experience regular traditional teachings, such as those held in the Gathering Space and Tipi.
One of the most valuable traditional teaching events is the annual Elders and Traditional Peoples Gathering, which took place this year from February 17 to March 1. The Gathering brought Elders and Traditional Knowledge Holders together from coast to coast to share their knowledge and teachings.
The theme of the weekend, chosen by students, was “Traditional Leadership in Action.” Elders spoke and gave workshops regarding how traditional teachings could be used in community leadership.
“We need more Idle No More,” said Chair of Indigenous Studies Professor David Newhouse during his address at the opening ceremonies on Friday afternoon. “Idle No More started out as a protest, and morphed into a celebration of Aboriginal spirit and survival.” Professor Newhouse emphasized that the weekend was a celebration of traditional knowledge and Knowledge-Holders, who had come together to share their teachings with those attending the Gathering.
These Elders and Traditional Knowledge Holders hosted sessions pertaining to their chosen teaching topics, ranging from Elder Danny Beaton’s teachings on environmental protection to Elder Shirley Williams’ teachings on the role of Indigenous women as community leaders.
Elder Doreen Somers, who is the Industry Relations Corporation Deputy Director for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, mentioned that Trent seemed like a progressive institution. She highlighted its attempts to bridge the gap between Western knowledge and Traditional teachings.
“What I wrote, I’m just going to disregard because you guys seem to be a lot more forward-thinking,” she said when introducing her lecture topic during the opening ceremonies. “So I’ll just speak truthfully and from the heart.”
One of the most anticipated lectures of the weekend was the powerful keynote address given by social activist Wab Kinew, who is also a journalist, university administrator, and hip-hop artist. He was given a rap-intro by the two MC’s of the Gathering, Trent students Shanese Steele and Dawn Martin, and performed his own response song to open his address. The lecture hall was standing room only.
Wab Kinew spoke of reconciling different epistemologies and worldviews, and encouraged young people to further their education, succeed in their chosen paths, and come back to their communities to contribute this knowledge to the overall good.
Kinew argued that, at this point, asserting Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and nationhood would be best achieved through economic power. “We’ve literally tried everything else,” said Kinew. “We’ve tried armed insurrection, we’ve tried protests, we’ve tried legal means, we’ve tried civil disobedience. We’ve tried everything except for economic empowerment.”
Kinew said that despite the inequalities and racism that are still prevalent in Canada today, Indigenous peoples are more than equal to the challenges they are competing against. “It may not be fair, and it may not be right, but that is how we’re going to get ahead,” he said.
He also maintained that it is possible for young people to participate in this mainstream, economically charged world without losing their traditional values. Kinew said that it isn’t so much a matter of ‘balancing’ between the Western and Indigenous words, but rather taking the best of both to create something even more powerful. This concept of combining the most powerful parts of different knowledge systems was an also ongoing theme in many of the Elder’s teachings over the course of the weekend.
“I know my culture is strong. I have no fear of participating in the mainstream,” said Kinew. “I’m absolutely passionate about Indigenous issues […] but I also like the freedom to be considered on my own merits, my own basis.”
Prior to the closing ceremonies of the Gathering, the audience was given a chance to ask Elders and Traditional Teachers questions for a one hour Q&A session. Given the diverse panel of Elders, this was an invaluable opportunity to access traditional teachings and to find any knowledge you might be searching for.
The Elders and Traditional Peoples Gathering was a weekend of learning, sharing, and healing. Acting Director of the First People’s House of Learning, Adam Hopkins, stated during his opening address that although these Traditional Gatherings are now happening all over Turtle Island, Trent was in fact the first place to host a Gathering like this. Such events are important in facilitating the maintenance of Traditional Knowledge Systems from coast to coast.
Many Trent students think the big yellow building on the East side of campus is called ‘Gzowski College’. The name of this building is actually ‘Enweying’, which houses both Gzowski College and the First People’s House of Learning.
Enweying translates from Nishnaabemwin as “The way we speak together,” and it seems only fitting that the Elders and Traditional Peoples Gathering would take place there.
Trent helps to facilitate a learning space where both Western and Traditional knowledges are brought together, in hopes of creating a better world for all of us.