Western is marking National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR) with a series of cultural events, art, film screenings and discussions across campus and the city. For the first time, the day is being observed at the university on Friday, Sept. 29, as a non-instructional day, which means no regularly scheduled classes will be held.
“This year, Western will observe NDTR as a non-instructional day. It is intended to provide members of the campus community with meaningful and Indigenous-informed learning opportunities and events that advance knowledge and the ongoing work of Truth and Reconciliation, through activism and change that will benefit us all,” said Christy R. Bressette, vice-provost and associate vice-president (Indigenous initiatives).
The Office of Indigenous Initiatives (OII) leads the observation of NDTR at Western.
“NDTR is a time for all of us to reflect on Canada’s history and take steps to strengthen our relationship with Indigenous Peoples,” said president Alan Shepard. “I encourage all community members to take this opportunity to participate in the day’s events and find a personal way to engage in the truth and reconciliation process.”
Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to use the time to reflect on the meaning and significance of the day, to demonstrate support for Indigenous communities and to participate in events to observe the day.
On Sept. 20, a white pine was planted on campus near Lambton Drive. The tree is intended to honour an oak on campus which was estimated to be more than 340 years old.
The oak, which grew on lands of the Haudenosaunee confederacy near what would become Lambton Drive and was a little more than 12 metres high, was found to have started rotting in 2017. The following year, it was removed and milled. A slab from the oak now hangs in the Wampum Learning Lodge inaugurated last year.
The white pine is considered the Indigenous Tree of Peace and has a deep and long historical connection with the Haudenosaunee confederacy.
To begin the week leading up to NDTR, a ceremony to raise the orange shirt flag was held at Concrete Beach, led by Western’s Indigenous Students’ Association. Oneida hymn singers sang in the memory of children and survivors of residential schools in Canada.
Honouring through music, culture and art
The second annual Riverfest, a celebration of the Deshkaan Ziibii (Thames River) and the communities that live along its banks, has been running since Sept. 6. As part of Riverfest, an Anishinaabe Water Walk is being organized jointly by the Indigenous Students’ Association, Indigenous Student Centre and Western Sustainability on Sept. 28. The event will begin at the Wampum Learning Lodge with a water ceremony and talk by Carol Hopkins, Water Chief of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge, and her mother Irene Peters, Grandmother in the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge, who will speak about the origins of water walks and their healing nature.
On Sept. 29, two recent artworks by local artist Quinn Smallboy will be unveiled in the University College atrium. The works were acquired by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities this year to honour and observe NDTR.
As part of the Fridays@12:30 p.m. Concert Series, the Don Wright Faculty of Music will host a performance on Sept. 29 by Inuk musician Nelson Tagoona. He combines kattajaq (Inuit throat singing) with beatboxing to form a genre called throat boxing. The event will also be livestreamed.
Western’s new Indigenous artist-in-residence, noted beadwork artist Leith Mahkewa, arrived on campus earlier this month. She will deliver a talk titled A Beader’s Perspective at the ArtLAB Gallery on Oct. 5.
Perspectives through film and living memories
The School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities (SASAH) will host a screening of the documentary film N’Satung, directed by Arts and Humanities alum Ogiima Keesis G’Nadjiwon, on Sept. 28. The film is a collaboration between the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and SASAH, and shows the perspectives of Indigenous youths on the province’s education system.
At the screening, members of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded Nation and Indigenous Nations in the London, Ont. area will discuss their experiences and hopes for the education system in Ontario.
The Faculty of Education is hosting a screening of the documentary film The Nature of Healing, at the faculty auditorium on Sept. 29. The film chronicles accounts of seven survivors of the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont. The screening will include a Q&A session with filmmaker Faith Howe and three survivors of the school: Grandmother Roberta Hill, Elder John Elliot and Elder Bud Whiteye.
Sharing ideas, finding paths
On Sept. 29 Wampum Learning Lodge will host the ReconciliACTION Panel and Q&A that will include conversations about what it means to truly reconcile, build good relations among communities and make space for collective healing, reclamations and reparations. The session will be hosted by librarian and educator Tammy Johnson.
Part of the ongoing discourse around truth and reconciliation is the relationship between Indigenous culture and ways of knowing, and other perspectives. On Oct. 2, professor of education and Western Teaching Fellow Candace Brunette–Debassige will speak about Indigenization of institutions, at the Wampum Learning Lodge.
The talk will explore some of the deeper and ongoing structural and ideological challenges that limit institutional indigenization work in Canadian universities. Brunette-Debassige will focus on the lived experiences of Indigenous women administrators.
Also on Oct. 2, actor and wellness advocate Shayla Stonechild will engage with the audience at the lodge. She will discuss her journey of advocacy, well-being and the creation of the ‘Matriarch Movement’, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
On Oct. 3, a panel discussion will be held at Forest City Gallery. Hosted by Métis artist and professor of studio arts Sheri Nault, with guests including Anishinaabe artist Mike Cywink, Paula Hedgepeth and Laura Ramirez from the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, the panel will examine what it means to integrate Indigenous culture into spaces, including art and community relations.
For more information on how NDTR is being marked at Western, please visit the Office of Indigenous Initiatives website.