Indigenous Awareness Week is a focus on “thriving, beautiful communities”

Photo from the TUNA Powwow, the last event of Indigenous Awareness Week 2015.
Photo from the TUNA Powwow, the last event of Indigenous Awareness Week 2015. By Jenny Fisher.

Last week, Trent University Native Association (TUNA), First Peoples House of Learning (FPHL), Gzowksi College, and the TCSA brought another year of Indigenous Awareness Week to Symons campus.

Featuring a number of events, ending Saturday with TUNA’s Powwow, the week aimed to shine a light on Indigenous issues as well as celebrating Indigenous culture at Trent and elsewhere across the globe.

TCSA’s Indigenous Students Commissioner and events coordinator for TUNA, Karly Decaire, said the purpose of the week was “to promote an Indigenous identity and presence on campus. This year I really wanted to focus on creating positive identities and building strong relationships.”

“The importance of an Indigenous awareness week is to bring to attention that there are Indigenous people here on campus,” said Edward George, Co-President of TUNA.

“We’re not irrelevant. This country needs changing—it has to [change],” continued George, “I feel like a lot of conversations don’t include that—the Indigenous perspective.”
Decaire added that the week “brings out the Indigenous students’ presence on campus.”

At the “What it means to be Indigenous/What it means to be an ally” workshop on Tuesday, “what we did is we had canvases and we were painting what those phrases mean to us,” explained Decaire (see page 12 for more).

On Wednesday, there was the “Shining a Light on Our Global Sisters” vigil and walk for “missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada but also women all over the world.”

Attention was payed to issues specific to the Trent community as well.

Referring to the recent desecration of the tipi near Gzowski College, George said, “That’s been an ongoing issue. And I’ve talked to other people who have actually held positions here before and that’s been happening for a long time.” One major issue is people using the area to use drugs. “This can’t happen anymore […] this can’t happen at this institution.”

Moving beyond the week, George hopes to start a conversation about a mandatory Indigenous studies credit at Trent.

George spoke of University of Saskatchewan’s Max FineDay and his letter to The Globe and Mail. “[FineDay] put out an open letter stating what Indigenous education should look like. … It was really great to see that. Man, somebody’s actually saying let’s address [the problem] by saying what [the  academic system] should actually look like.”

FineDay asks for academia to include consideration of Indigenous issues “and how we as Indigenous people would create our own [systems],” George explained.

“Since then, there has been a small, growing movement […] it started at Lakehead University. They’re introducing a mandatory Indigenous Studies class to all undergrad first year students. And that’s one of the recommendations that this individual put out there,” George said.

He continued, “people have to be educated that this country was founded on Indigenous people – their land.”

“I’m going to be advocating for this myself—introducing here at Trent a mandatory Indigenous Studies class,” said George. “My job, my role, is to represent the voice of TUNA.”

George also shared an anecdote about talking with a man in a cab who asked George, an Indigenous Studies Major, what he was studying: “I told him and he’s like ‘Oh wait, so you’re going to work in a museum?’ And I was like ‘No!’”

“There are thriving, beautiful communities, spheres of Indigenous consciousness throughout this entire country,” said George. “And it’s growing. And the genocide [of Indigenous nations] wasn’t ever successful. It’s actually the opposite—we’ve resisted, we’re resilient. Indigenous youth are the fastest growing demographic in this country; that’s a statistic, that’s a fact.”

As for the future: “We need reform. This country needs that Indigenous voice. And it’s going to set a precedent for the rest of the world.”

George paraphrased from Wab Kinew’s talk from his visit to Trent at the end of February: “What right do we have to go out into the world and disrupt—to push our agenda […] impose our will on other people when we can’t even solve the problem here in our own country? The only way to solve that problem is interacting with each other.”

Speaking to the importance of Indigenous Awareness Week, Decaire said, “It promotes a good, positive identity, and relationships on campus,”

With the number of murdered and missing Indigenous women, issues of poverty, racism, and land rights, our country has a long way to go, but George spoke hopefully of change. “If we start to address these core issues within this country, it will go beyond just the dynamic between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” he said.

Article written with files by Ayesha Barmania

About Simon Semchuk 51 Articles
Simon Semchuk writes primarily on the arts and queer issues. A third-year English major, he is also interested in theatre, literature, and fluffy animals.