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Indigenous Education Week: Celebrating traditional knowledges and looking to the future at U of T

(photo by Hannah James)

Award-winning authors, artists, drummers, Elders and top Indigenous futurists: They are all on the program this year for the University of Toronto's Indigenous Education Week, beginning Monday.

The annual event is hosted by First Nations House – a hub for Indigenous life at the University of Toronto – and offers an opportunity to learn about Indigenous peoples, cultures and knowledge. Learning about Indigenous peoples has been a central theme in recent discussions around Truth and Reconcilation efforts at U of T.  

“[This year] marks the 25th anniversary of First Nations House and we want to celebrate and think about past, present and future in terms of Indigenous knowledge at U of T,” says Susan Blight, an event organizer and student life co-ordinator at First Nations House. “For that reason we wanted to do something big.”

Susan Blight is a central curator for Indigenous Education Week (photo by Craig Tough)

New this year is an Elders’ Gathering that will open Indigenous Education Week on Monday. Elders from a variety of communities and experiences will share traditional teachings at First Nations House Lounge, including members of U of T's Elders' Circle – a group that meets regularly discuss and consult on a variety of topics and issues at the university. 

The Elders will share traditional teachings about land, language and methodologies, says Blight. “I think those things will be really useful to anyone who comes to listen. It’s a really good starting point for understanding Indigenous knowledge,” she says.

Following the Elders symposium, Métis author Cherie Dimaline, author of the young adult novel The Marrow Thieveswhich has been nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award, will be giving a reading and speaking on Embedding Survival Narratives in Indigenous Literature. Rebecca Beaulne-Stuebing, a PhD student in curriculum studies at U of T's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, will open the talk, and Michelle Murphy, a feminist technoscience scholar and professor of history and women and gender studies at U of T,  will moderate the discussion.

Traditional Ojibwe teacher and Elder Jacqui Lavalley will be offering an Asemaa (tobacco) teaching at the Nexus Lounge at OISE, courtesy of the Indigenous Education Network.

“For us as Indigenous people or for many Indigenous nations on Turtle Island, it all starts with tobacco,” says Blight. “It is the establishing of a relationship. It is the beginning of when you set out to learn Indigenous knowledge. The first thing you’re going to do is offer tobacco so it’s really a good core teaching to learn and understand for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”

Also of note this year, is a talk by Billy-Ray Belcourt (below left), a 2016 Rhodes Scholar, author and artist. 

Belcourt, a PhD candidate in the department of film studies and English at the University of Alberta, will deliver a talk: How to Abandon the World.

He says his talk will centre around an archive he’s assembled of objects and texts. 

"I make the argument that terror is one of the conditions of Indigenous life today, but that we manufacture joy despite and in spite of this," he says.

On the final day of Indigenous Education Week, there will be an all-day panel bringing together what Blight calls the “most complex and beautiful thinkers” on issues concerning the relationship between Black and Indigenous peoples and their futures on Turtle Island.

The discussion, Getting Elsewhere: Shared Futures on Selfsame Land, features panel of Indigenous and Black writers and thinkers talking about what their shared future could look like. Eve Tuck, an associate professor of critical race and Indigenous studies, will moderate.

Blight, an artist and  PhD candidate in social-justice education, says her philosophical approach to curating Indigenous Education Week is to create a space within U of T where all guests and speakers are treated as knowledge keepers – whether an Elder, artist, or high-profile academic.

“To us they’re all held in the same esteem and it’s important that as Indigenous people, we offer the space to validate knowledge that is both inside the institution and outside the institution,” says Blight.  “And, I think that’s an important philosophical standpoint for Indigenous people to take.”

A drum social featuring Eagle Heart Big Drum is the final event, put on by Ciimaan/Kahuwe’yá/Qajaq (CKQ) Indigenous language initiative and SAGE (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement) at U of T.

A talk by artist Nicholas Galanin, scheduled for Thursday, has been cancelled.

For a full list of events and updates, join the discussion on Facebook.