By Mike Foster
When uOttawa law student Caitlin Tolley was 12 years old, she had a dream that she was dancing. As an Algonquin growing up in Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, near Maniwaki, she took it as a sign that she should learn the cultural traditions of her ancestors.
On March 17, Tolley and Dara Wawatie-Chabot, a second-year political science student at uOttawa, performed a jingle dress dance at the Agora in the University Centre as part of Aboriginal Culture Week. They were among several First Nations, Inuit and Métis students who shared their cultures in the form of stories, songs and dance.
“Our Indigenous culture is something that we live every day. We are not extinct, we did not go away, we are not conquered,” Tolley said.
Tolley hopes to practise law with a specific focus on the rights of Indigenous women when she graduates. This summer, she will be working with the Ontario Women’s Directorate as part of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Wawatie-Chabot said performing traditional dances is one way to preserve her culture at a time when it is rare to find young people in her community who can speak fluent Algonquin.
“A lot of people don’t really know much about our culture. There are a lot of stereotypes that need to be broken down,” Wawatie-Chabot said.
Students from Nunavut Sivuniksavut, an Ottawa-based college program for youth who are beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, also performed a series of dances and games.
Thomas Lambe, a first-year student of Inuit studies, shared some astonishing facts with the audience, such as, “Did you know that in Clyde River in Nunavut a 12-pack of water costs $104.99?”
Other events organized by the University’s Aboriginal Resource Centre last week included talks by Rick Revelle, author of I Am Algonquin, his first novel of the Algonquin Quest series, and Alice Blondin-Perrin, a residential school survivor and author of My Heart Shook Like a Drum: What I Learned at the Indian Mission Schools, Northwest Territories.
Earlier this month, three Indigenous University of Ottawa students took part in round-table discussions about how to take forward recommendations of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Brittany Matthews, Marissa Mills and Brittany Tremblay attended the Imagine Canada event on March 1, 2016, at Rideau Hall, in Ottawa. The event, designed to get students from across Canada involved in truth and reconciliation, included round table discussions and an art and essay competition.
Matthews, a fourth-year student and a Métis/Michif who grew up in Treaty 7 territory west of Calgary, says one thing she emphasized during the discussion was the importance of involving young people from all backgrounds in reconciliation.
“We will be the ones who carry reconciliation and the actions of reconciliation forward into the future,” she said. “It’s so important to empower and provide spaces for youth to be involved, and to listen and learn about reconciliation. I would love to see events like this held in more forums, such as schools and community centres.”
Imagine Canada is a national umbrella organization for the charitable sector.