Last week marked the second annual Indigenous Awareness Week at the Trent Symons campus.
Trent University Native Association (TUNA), Gzowski College and the TCSA collaborated and held several events from March 2 to 7 that showcased Indigenous culture.
Karly Decaire, TCSA Indigenous Students Commissioner, organized the awareness week to shed a positive light on Indigenous culture and people.
“Everytime I hear about Indigenous people in the news it’s always portrayed in kind of a negative way. So I think this way, doing [the] awareness week is a good way to create identities that are positive and [create] appropriate perspectives of what it means to be an Indigenous person at Trent.”
Jenny Patterson, vice president of TUNA, said the week is about education. “[It’s] a week that’s not just for Indigenous peoples, but for allies to come and learn about culture, and asking questions around issues and awareness.”
On Wednesday, Gzowski College and TUNA held a vigil called Shining a Light on our Global Sisters. The vigil started on the Bata podium with a smudging ceremony and a welcoming song.
The name came from a mash-up of two campaigns that are dear to Gzowski College Student Life Programmers Brenna Farren and Patterson; the Shine a Light campaign and the Sisters in Spirit campaign.
Farren is also a member of the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) at Trent and talked about the Student Refugee Program (SRP).
In this program a university sponsors someone from a refugee camp to come to Canada and receive a post-secondary education.
“Each year, Trent sponsors one student. Other schools can do more, but this is all we have the capacity for,” Farren explained.
From Bata—with candles in hand—the group walked, led by drums and the Strong Woman’s Song, across Faryon Bridge to Gzowski College and into the Gathering Space. There, two speakers shared their stories.
Tabitha Chol, Trent’s current sponsored student for the past three years, told her story of life in a refugee camp and the struggles girls face when pursuing education in Canada.
Tasha Beeds, an Indigenous Studies PhD student and professor at Fleming College, spoke about the issues still faced by Indigenous peoples across Canada.
She spoke of how Indigenous men in Saskatoon, Sask., were taken out to fields by police officers in -40 degree weather and left there to freeze (called “Starlight Tours”).
Beeds told the group that Indigenous women are seven times more likely to go missing or be murdered in Canada. In 2014, the RCMP released a report on the numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women; 164 reported missing, 1,181 reported murders, and 225 unsolved cases.
She read a moving poem called “Idle No More, Oh Canada” about a friend of hers, a missing and murdered Aboriginal woman. Beeds said the Idle No More movement and the outrageous handling of her friend’s case inspired this poem.
Beeds also spoke about respecting the land and the ceremonies she has recently attended in the community.
“For the last seven years I have made my home in this Anishinaabe territory and I honour the people whose ancestors are a part of the land,” said Beeds.
However, this issue is not one that will be put to rest any time soon. Some are only just realizing this has been an issue in Canada.
“Coming here to Gzowski it has been amazing and eye-opening. Working with Jenny and other members of TUNA, I learned so much. It’s incredible to learn this part of history that is kind of hidden and we don’t know all that much about,” Farren shared.
“We as Canadians think of ourselves as being totally accepting. I’d like to see us fix what happened in the past and try to forge a new future.”
Beeds said although the government is calling for inquiries, the real difference is going to be made by the individuals living in the communities.
“If you are living on Indigenous territory today, then it’s part of your responsibility, as well, to learn about who we are.”
We would do well to take instruction from the poem Beeds read at the vigil and open our eyes to the issues around us.
“Oh Canada, look outside your windows, coast-to-coast Aboriginal women’s bodies have been numbered.”