Above: dancers performing traditional pow wow
York recently celebrated its first Annual Aboriginal Awareness Days and Pow Wow, called “Celebrating New Beginnings,” and organizers are jubilant about its success. One of the highlights of the event was the presence of The Hon. James K. Bartleman, right, lieutenant-governor of Ontario – the first Aboriginal person to attain this position – and member of the Mnjikaning First Nation.
The two-day cultural event was hosted by the First Nations and Aboriginal Student Association (FNASA) and the First Nations and Aboriginal Law Student Association (FNALSA). The planning group – members from the two Aboriginal student associations and York’s Aboriginal counsellor – structured the event to include educational and social components aimed at promoting Aboriginal culture and heritage to the York University community.
Here is an account of the event by Randy Pitawanakwat, York Aboriginal counsellor.
The ceremonies started with an opening prayer in the Ojibway language from Toronto community Native Elder Lillian McGregor and a welcoming song from Spirit Wind, a Native women’s hand drum group. The Hon. James K. Bartleman was the keynote speaker at the opening ceremonies.
Later, Bonnie Neuman, VP students and alumni, underlined the significance of the theme, “Celebrating New Beginnings,” by touching on initiatives at York in the past year, such as the appointment of the University’s first Aboriginal counsellor and the formation of the York Aboriginal Education Council.
The event also included workshops on Aboriginal traditional teachings and perspectives of the Anishnawbek and Haudenosaunee Nations.
Capping the event were a traditional pow wow and feast. The sounds of singing and drumming filled the hall as a crowd of approximately 150 people was treated to a spectacular display of male and female dancers of all ages in colourful regalia. Afterwards, everyone was treated to a traditional feast that included fish and wild rice. In addition, vendors were set up through the two days displaying and selling Aboriginal arts and crafts, paintings, jewellery and much more.
Left to right: Greggann Isaacs, president, FNASA; Randy Pitawanakwat, York Aboriginal counsellor; Robin Cavanaugh, VP, FNASA and co-chair, York Aboriginal Education Council (AEC); and Professor Susan Dion, education faculty advisor to FNASA and member of AEC