The Fox Tail Singers performs a contemporary song in the Mi’kmaq language during the First Voices Week Opening ceremony. (Natalia Fedosieieva, The Eastern Door)
First Voices Week (FVW), led by Concordia University students and staff, started its event series this Monday to celebrate Indigenous peoples and to recognize the importance of their cultures.
With various presentations, workshops, drumming and singing, these events help to create a space on campus to promote awareness of Indigenous languages and knowledge.
The opening ceremony, Understanding Allyship Panel Discussion, and Visions of Nature in Indigenous Cinema were held on the first day of the FVW.
Sarah Paul, a member of the Wsanec nation, BC, and one of the FVW main coordinators, said for some of the events they had more people than expected and the organizers had to adjust a bit.
“It wasn’t a challenge, just a matter of making sure everyone organized and everyone feels that they’ve been informed enough,” she said.
Paul said the whole objective is to demonstrate the diversity of Indigenous cultures.
“There is still a lot of racism and ignorance. There is a system that hasn’t always been welcoming for Indigenous people and it’s important to recognize those different nations and cultures that exist within Canada,” she said.
The opening ceremony was a first FVW meeting with the Indigenous leaders and community that have put the week-long event together.
Otsitsaken:ra Charlie Patton, an elder and faith keeper at the Mohawk Trail Longhouse in Kahnawake, spoke first.
“I think any time Native people educate non-Native people, it is important. If you talk to a hundred or a thousand people, and one of those people will really understand where we are coming from, it changes the relationship of non-Indians to Native people, whether it is government or education, it is valuable tool,” he said.
Concordia’s newly-formed drum Fox Tail Singers started with a song to gather people around the drum.
Wahéhshon Shiann Whitebean is currently enrolled in Concordia’s Individualized Master’s program, pursuing a degree based on First People’s Studies.
Whitebean came to launch the elder protocol, which she wrote with her colleagues for the Indigenous Directions Leadership Group.
“My role in the protocol was really gathering the minds here at Concordia and all this Indigenous engagement that we’ve been doing for the past many years,” she said.
She explained the protocol is a path for Concordia to keep following to build relationships because “one of the things that I witnessed here as a student is how fast things change, so it is very difficult to maintain a relationship, because they are coming from a Western kind of view and approach to education.”
Understanding Allyship: Panel Discussion and Workshop was about different roles that anyone can take in supporting Indigenous people in relationship building process.
Five panelists, Maya Cousineau Mollen, Innu, adopted by a Quebec family and encouraged by her parents to be a writer; Dakota Swiftwolfe, Women’s Studies/First People’s Studies student at Concordia University; Elizabeth Fast, Metis from Manitoba, PhD in Social Work from McGill University; Laurence Lainesse, MA student in sociology at UdeM, and Allison Reid, the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy network employee, shared their experiences and thoughts about Allyship, and provided guidelines for Allyship.
Vicky Boldo, a moderator of Talking Lunches of the FVW, provides cultural support to the Indigenous students over the Aboriginal Student Resource Centre at Concordia.
“This event is to really celebrate what they are learning academic wise. In an opening ceremony I was watching, it was nice to see individuals to come and joining in and listen to the elder when he was speaking and the songs, that is how we are going to bridge these gaps,” she said.
Boldo thinks the more people keep pushing for reconciliation, the better it will be for everyone.
Mollen, part of the Sixties Scoop, shared her experience of being raised in a non-Indigenous family.
“I lost my language, I lost my culture, but my parents always led me forward to be proud of me, to defend me, to give me a university education; so the ally was not just now, it has been for long time, too, ” she said.
“There is not only bad in Canada, there are people who are open and curious. I think we don’t have to close the door to dialogues,” she said.
At the Land of Reciprocity: Visions of Nature in Indigenous Cinema, Nicolas Renaud, a member of the Wendat First Nation, a filmmaker and a part-time teacher at Concordia University, showed five short excerpts of documentaries made by Indigenous filmmakers to represent the aspects of relationship with the earth.
One of the presented films, Brave New River by Renaud (2013), explores the paradoxes of the human control over nature.
“This documentary is about the Hydro Quebec project on the Rupert River in the Cree territory of James Bay. Although the Cree signed an agreement to allow the project, the film implies that transforming nature cannot be done without changing traditional practices of using the resources of the land, and that giving in to the ideology of development is difficult to harmonize with Indigenous culture,” Renaud said.
The Wendat Nation’s traditional point of view is a circular vision, where the world and people are all included in the circle, and there is no a hierarchy, where God is the highest value to express appreciation to, he said.
“The idea of reciprocity is that you respect things from the land, but animals and the plants of the land respect you, because they know you care,” he said.
“The obstacles to change things to protect the earth is not science, it is not technology. It is Western culture and the idea of growth, domination and development,” Renaud said.
He thinks it is good that in recent years the Fine Arts department at Concordia offered two courses on Indigenous cinema for master’s students and undergraduate students.
“For many of them, it is a real encounter with reality of Indigenous people and history, because we learn very little at school in Canada,” he said.