Aboriginal students to hold symposium with powwow

close up view of participant in the pow wow

Dancer at 2010 powwow at YorkAboriginal students are launching a two-day symposium to share knowledge about indigenous issues as part of this year’s 10th annual Aboriginal Awareness Days & Powwow, beginning Thursday.

Dancer at 2010 powwow at York

Titled Knowledge in Sharing Stories: 8thfireyorku, the symposium is a student-run, student-led initiative “created from a desire to share and gather knowledge regarding indigenous topics and issues from our peers,” says Megan Bertasson (BA ’11), vice-president of the Aboriginal Students Association at York (ASAY). The “8th fire” of the title refers to an Ojibwa prophecy that predicts when people of all cultures come together in mutual respect, a radical shift of enlightenment will unfold.

That’s what Bertasson had in mind when she dreamed up the symposium. A Cree from Norway House in northern Manitoba, she had difficulty adjusting to university and to a major metropolis when she arrived in 2007. Five years later, she has emerged as a student leader with a goal.

Megan Bertasson“I want to build bridges,” says Bertasson, a graduate student in socio-legal studies who plans to do advocacy work in the Aboriginal community when she graduates this spring. “I feel Aboriginal issues tend to be invisible.”

Megan Bertasson

The symposium takes place Thursday and Friday in 214 Calumet College and will be followed by the big powwow Saturday afternoon in Vari Hall Rotunda, featuring dancers, drummers and native arts and crafts vendors.

Instead of celebrity guests this year, about 20 students, faculty and community members will give short presentations at four sessions Thursday and Friday.

Highlights include the following talks:

  • “Normalizing the Sacred”, by environmental studies Professor Robin Cavanagh, on bringing ceremony into the classroom (part of the Thursday morning session on Education & Knowledge Transmission).
  • “Pre-colonial Feminism”, by environmental studies student Janine Manning, ASAY treasurer, exploring the voice women had in pre-contact indigenous societies (part of the Thursday afternoon session on Aboriginal Feminism).
  • Youth advocate Tannis Neilsen will talk about her work at Toronto’s Native Canadian Centre (part of the Friday afternoon session, Breaking Barriers: Urban Aboriginal Perspectives).

Bertasson will also give a talk, “Remembering Helen Betty Osborne”, the 19-year-old Cree murdered in 1971 in The Pas, Man. She, too, came from Norway House and Bertasson has Indigenous Warrior – Bear vs. Tank by Erin Marie Konsmobeen haunted all her life by Osborne’s violent death. “It’s important for me to talk about her. Every time I do, I get to bring her back to life,” says Bertasson, who believes violence against Aboriginal women gets far too little attention. She carries in her head these words by novelist Thomas King: “If we stop telling the stories and stop reading the books, we will soon find that neglect is as powerful an agent as war and fire.” (Her talk will be part of the Friday morning session, Literature & Feminism.)

Indigenous Warrior – Bear vs. Tank by Erin Marie Konsmo

Entertainment and art will bookend the symposium. Thursday opens with the White Pine Dancers at 10am in 100 Calumet, and closes with a display of art by Antoine Mountain at 4pm. Friday opens with the Eagle Women Singerz in 214 Calumet and closes with art by Erin Marie Konsmo.

Saturday’s powwow begins with a grand entry at noon. The afternoon will be filled with dancing and drumming, broken by a feast in the Underground Restaurant at 4:30pm, followed by another grand entry at 6pm in Vari Hall Rotunda.

All events are free and open to the public. Everyone is welcome.

The 10th annual Aboriginal Awareness Days & Powwow is presented and supported by the Aboriginal Students Association at York, the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services, First Peoples @ Seneca, the York Centre for Human Rights and Calumet College.

For more information, contact the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services at 416-736-5571 or by e-mail at cassyork@yorku.ca.