Many Indigenous people across Turtle Island celebrate Winter Solstice on Dec. 21. It is the longest night of the year and a time when Indigenous people observe and appreciate our relationship with the cosmos – the sun, moon, stars and other planets – that affect and connect us. We celebrate the Winter Solstice as a time of renewal. According to Indigenous Elder Pauline Shirt, in our territories Mother Earth puts on a blanket of snow, teaching us to slow down, breathe deeply and share stories. It is a time for thinking about the past year as we prepare for the year ahead. We consider the long nights of darkness as a time for quiet reflection, time to nurture our spirit, body, mind and emotions and to think about our interconnections with all of creation.
This year Indigenous communities at York University have continued to live our teachings. Of particular importance during these times is our responsibility to practice care, protection and love in our relationships with each other. It was an especially difficult year as the stories we have always known were finally acknowledged as truth when the bodies of children were discovered in unmarked graves located on the sites of former Residential Schools. We supported each other as we witnessed the response from a nation confronting implication. Working through and with each other we continued our work by cultivating presence, bringing Indigenous knowledges to the academy and in the process transforming this place of teaching, research and learning.
Celebrating the accomplishments of the York Indigenous community
As a community we are reflecting on our accomplishments in research. In September, the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages, which will focus on Indigenous and decolonizing scholarship, opened. Director Deborah McGregor and Co-Director Sean Hillier have already launched the “Cultivating Good Relationships” call for proposals. This initiative will provide seed funding to support emerging Indigenous researchers. In other research stories – Hillier (Mi’kmaw) and Artist Educator Lisa Myers (Beausoleil First Nation) were appointed York Research Chairs. Professor Alan Corbiere received a Canada Research Chair and McGregor’s Research Chair was also renewed.
Affirming presence with growth in our tenure stream faculty compliment this year, the community welcomed three new tenure stream Indigenous faculty. They are scholars Kiera Brant-Birioukov ( Haudenosaunee) and Rebecca Beaulne Stuebing (Métis) to the Faculty of Education, and Artist Educator Archer Pechawis (Plains Cree) to the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design. The Faculty of Science welcomed Postdoctoral Fellow Don Davies (Métis).
We are also celebrating growth in programs. On the path to becoming educators, 25 Indigenous Teacher Candidates started the second cohort of the Waaban Indigenous Teacher Education program, the Schulich Executive Education Centre partnered with the Ontario Native Women’s Association to offer a mini-MBA program to members of their community network. The International Indigenous Student exchange program brought together 16 Indigenous students from various countries and communities to learn about their commonalities and differences, and the program was such a success by September, this eight-week virtual pilot program has expanded into a 12-week course.
We are applauding the accomplishments of community members. In June Professor Delany McKenzie Allen (Oneida Nation, Wisconsin) was awarded the James Welch Prize for her outstanding poem and this month Professor Ruth Green (Mohawk) was acknowledged for her contribution to the well-being and advancement the Urban Indigenous Community of Toronto.
Staff at the Center for Indigenous Student Services continued to support the community with workshops, and gatherings. Beading, moose hair tufting and storytelling circles continued online. We are especially proud of 14 graduates who participated in our spring convocation celebrations.
Reflecting on our accomplishments is about celebrating and being inspired by each other. Importantly it is about remembering the work of our ancestors that made it possible for us to be here and it is about setting good paths for the year ahead. On behalf of Indigenous Council and the Division of Equity People and Culture, I want to extend warmest wishes for a calm and quiet Winter Solstice to all members of the York University Community.
On behalf of the Indigenous Council at York University,
Associate Vice-President Indigenous Initiatives