By Shirley Honyust
LONDON – Indigenous Awareness Week at Western University in London offered many opportunities for current and potential recruitments to Western.
Staff and faculty, as well as partner organizations from the community, came together to celebrate contributions of Indigenous peoples to the post-secondary venue. Through awareness-raising of culture, arts and scholarships, these activities host an opportunity to learn more about Indigenous perspectives and initiatives and engagement with community members both off and on campus.
Participants were provided with an update on the Western Indigenous Strategic Planning process to set the tone for the week – culturally, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Candace Brunette, Coordinator of Indigenous Services and Angie Mandich, Acting Associate Vice President of Student Experience, delivered the theme “Together We Can” outlining the process of visions and values over a one year period.
Trevor Phillips, who is Metis from Central Alberta, just west of Edmonton, and Wabigesis, a.k.a. Candace Brunette, who identifies as a Cree from Kashechewan and Fort Albany, gave greetings to the audience and panel participants taking part in the discussion, Where are You From?
The panel discussion was sometimes heated and sometimes humble, as the panel took turns with questions presented to them by the facilitator. The panel proved in very adamantly that there is more to identity than the singular questions they might respond to in data collection surveys.
By mid-week there was much anxiety about seeing firsthand the very popular Sampson Brothers, Sam and Micco led by Frank Waln, their acoustic and audio engineer, on their tour of engagements, titled Many Movements, One Sound: Past, Present and Future Indigenous Intersections of Music. The theme for their visit to Western was Sing Our Rivers Red, as they dedicated their performance to support the inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. After their appearance at Western they were invited to Walpole Island and Fanshawe College while they were in the area. The Samson Brothers are sons of Will Sampson, famous for his role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and they were joined by the powerful voice of Tanaya Winder.
Their engagement flowed with that of Tanaya Winder, a lovely and fascinating young woman of Shoshone, Paiute and Ute heritage, who writes poetry for the Sampson Brothers and who accompanied them on this tour. Tanaya is extremely proud of them and uses the touring opportunities to show her blanket devoted to the memory of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) everywhere with her.
One side of the blanket is decorated with one- sided earrings that she collects or are sent to her, as they represent the symbolism of each girl or woman who went missing or was murdered. Some earrings are fragile and will not stand up to the trip as they are shipped from distant communities where the senders cannot come to her but still wish to make a contribution. Like the missing and murdered women, sometimes the earrings arrive in a damaged stated, beyond repair, regardless of how carefully and lovingly they are wrapped and packaged. These ones she buries along with tobacco.
Tanaya led a sewing session at the Indigenous Studies Department where several girls and women, including her sister Nahtanee, shared the task of securing single earrings to the blanket while hearing about the work that Tanaya does back home. Usually in the summer she is employed back home by Upward Bound, and spends her time visiting Native high school students between 13 and 17, teaching leadership skills. What she loved best about the Indigenous Awareness Week was getting to travel with the Samson Brothers who are her peers, and of course sharing information about the blanket she has dedicated to the support of MMIW families and loved ones. She also loved that it gave her the opportunity to visit her sister Nahtanee, who is in London as a student at Western completing her Ph D.
The rest of the week included Narrative Medicine Storytelling, and a Native film fest took place at the downtown London Public Library, Central Branch location. Three films were scheduled: Reel Injun, Trick or Treaty and Photo Voice Videos by a group of young Indigenous secondary school students, based on their real life experiences at school in London.
Elder Dan Smoke and his flag carrier who took a walk through campus with the Eagle Staff placed tobacco ties in the crotch of several medicine trees, including the maple, birch, walnut, cedar, white pine and ash.